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Local songwriter Chris Crabtree writes a novel and songs to accompany it

Inspiration can come from unexpected places, even tragedy half a world away.

Chris Crabtree was visiting Tokyo in March 2011 when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the east coast of Japan.

“We arrived 24 hours before the quake,” he said. “Buildings shook and swayed for a long time, but we never witnessed any damage.”

Fukushima, about 150 miles north of Tokyo, suffered the brunt of the damage, but Crabtree and his family left early, worried the entire island could be quarantined.

“News out of Fukushima got worse every day,” he said, “so we cut short our stay.”

The experience affected Crabtree heavily. When he returned to Kansas City, he started writing about it.

“(Japan) had a big impact on me,” he said. “It made me think a lot about the important things in life, things like faith, hope and love.”

So he wrote the well-crafted pop song “Counterfeit Love,” which became the second track on “Counterfeit Heart,” the 11-track recording he will officially release on Friday. As he wrote more songs for the album, Crabtree was unexpectedly inspired to start another writing project: a novel.

“I was writing the song ‘At the Time of My Passing,’ ” he said. “And I started thinking about what it was about and about the characters in the song and what happened to them and how they’d reached this point in their lives.”

He pursued that theme separately in an essay, which, six months later, became the draft of what would be his first novel, “Zen and the Art of Killing Your Self.”

Friday at the Buffalo Room,” Crabtree will celebrate the releases of “Counterfeit Heart” and its literary companion, “Zen.”

The book chronicles the “existential crisis” of a 27-year-old dealing with the suicide of a close friend. He’s in graduate school studying religion and astrophysics, Crabtree said, “but he doesn’t think either has the universe figured out.”

A woman friend accompanies him to the funeral, but he’s in a dark place and oblivious to her intentions.

“The story is about whether he will follow his friend down the path of darkness or figure himself out and realize the girl with him is perfect for him,” Crabtree said.

Some of the songs on “Counterfeit” can be heard as soundtracks to moments in the book.

“In the song ‘Electric Blue Disguise,’ one character is talking to the other,” he said. “She has electric-blue eyes, but he can’t see past them. He sees them as a disguise. He wants to know what she sees in him and why she is there.”

You’ll have to read the book to find out how it concludes. But there will be a happy ending to Crabtree’s release party at the Buffalo Room. He will be joined by two songwriters from Nashville: Salar Rajabnik, a former Kansas Citian who worked on “Counterfeit Heart,” and Warren Pash, whose songwriting resume includes a co-write on the Hall & Oates hit “Private Eyes.”

The three will each perform a set of their own songs, then together in a songwriters’ circle.

“Salar has been a great music friend for years,” Crabtree said. “I invited him to come up and play the show. He played on a lot of songs on (the album). He bumped into Warren and they became friends. Salar said, ‘I’ve been talking about your project a lot and playing your music to Pash and he’s into it. We’ve been talking about coming to Kansas City to do a show and we’d like to do your show.’ How about that? Who would I rather have?”

FRIDAY

Chris Crabtree will be part of a singer/songwriter night at the Buffalo Room, 817 Westport Road. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.

Crabtree will be celebrating the release of his recording “Counterfeit Heart” and its accompanying novel, “Zen and the Art of Killing Your Self.” He will be joined by two Nashville songwriters, Salar Rajabnik, a former Kansas Citian, and Warren Pash, who co-wrote the Hall & Oates hit “Private Eyes.”

Admission is $7. It includes a digital copy of the recording; the novel will be available for a reduced price.

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