I know i promised a Juliana Hatfield overview but as I started researching I realised she wrote an autobiography, “When I Grow Up,” last year which I have just downloaded onto my kindle and will give a quick read before I attempt my usual brief to the point of incoherrence think piece.
This kindle (my nephew bought it for me) is so easy and inexpensive I’ve been on a book buying binge. I am a big fan of Jonathan Lethem, both “Gun With Occasional Music” and “Motherless Brooklyn” are among my fave novels of the past twenty years. However, his masterpiece “The Fortress Of My Solitude” was a disappointment I thought and “You Don’t Love Me Yet” (about a rock group) is a schitzophrenic mess.
The problem with “Fortress” is that Jonathan’s writing about both hip hop and r&b is hopeless. He seems clueless as to how rock critics function. And it’s not because Lethem can’t write about music -his Dylan interview was first rate and i believe he plays in a band himself, it’s because… well, I don’t know why it’s so bad but I think it’s endemic of rock novels. “You Don’t Love Me Yet” is pitch perfect except when he is writing about the band and then it doesn’t sound right; it doesn’t ring true to life, he suspends my belief in his story.
Lester Bangs was the crown prince of rock critics but in the John Morthand anthology the extract from Bang’s retelling of Maggie Mae in a fiction setting is dreadful.
There are a lot of rock novels out there but the handful I have read are bastard children to real fiction writing: they are penny dreadfuls. “Platinum Logic” and “High Fidelity” are the best for disparate reasons. Tony Parson’s potboiler is a fun fast read and Nick Hornsby “High Fidelity” about an independent record store owner would be better if he had a wider taste in music but is still damn good.
But the rest seem to suffer from the same place: whether its journalists on tour or groupie’s obsessions or minor bands trying to make it big, or big bands being chopped down to size, it is very difficult to write about music that doesn’t actually exist.
Also, rock musicians are so far away from everyday life they appear fictional to start with!
I’ve wondered about this problem as i’ve spent a lifetime writing fiction and hiding it in my sox draw. I have found it a very difficult nut to crack. In the mid-90s I wrote a story (can’t remember its name) about a Blondie like rock group fallen out of favor whose lead singer’s five year old daughter is kidnapped and murdered. The death leads to the bands resurrection. Writing about the music was very uncomfortable -very poorly written. It ruined the story.
In 2005 I wrote a short story, “Transmission,” about a girl driving through Europe while listening to dance music on the radio . The music was not front and center but in the deep background; a rhythmic counterpoint to the roar of the engine. I wrote about music by not writing about music. In 2007 I wrote “A Musical Novel” called “Me In Honey” about a guy devasted after a hard break up with a much younger girl. I interrupt the story to suggest a slew of great break up songs and ended a review of Mandy Moore’s “All Good Things” by noting “Much later in ‘Me In Honey’ I’ll be telling you about the last time I ever saw Julie. I imagined this song playing in the background.” An attempt to write around the problem of day dreaming about pop music by not imagining the mechanics of stardom.
In the end the problem with Rock novels is it is a minor art form waiting on a Phillip K. Dick to pull it out of the netherland of literature where it curently lives.