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Posts Tagged ‘1970s’

Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll. Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & the Six (Ballantine, digital galley) has it all. Think of it as your fun, flashy ride back to the 1970s. Just put Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” on shuffle, shift into cruise control and off you go. Sure, yesterday’s gone, but that doesn’t stop the characters in Reid’s novel from talking about the past.

The talk is essential because Reid structures the book as an oral history of a ubiquitous ’70s band that mysteriously combusted 40 years ago at the height of its popularity. Imagine a Rolling Stone cover story expanded into a book, a mockumentary charting the early rise of Billy Dunne’s blues-rock band, the Six, which really takes off when a producer suggests adding aspiring singer and songwriter Daisy Jones. Free-spirited Daisy — tall, blonde, gorgeous, with a distinctive raspy voice — has been hanging around the Sunset Strip since her early teens, popping pills and sleeping around with rockers and roadies. She and Billy — dark, denim-clad, sober after rehab — have both creative and physical chemistry. But he’s married to high school sweetheart Camila, who keeps him grounded after he went off the rails on the Six’s first tour. Bandmate Warren remembers those days: “I was getting laid, Graham was getting high, Eddie was getting drunk, Karen was getting fed up, Pete was getting on the phone to his girl back home, and Billy was all five, at once.”

If Daisy Jones & the Six were just a compilation of cliched memories, it would be pretty boring. Fortunately, Reid offers soapy drama, star-crossed romance, bad-band behavior and a lot of authentic-sounding details about making a hit album. The stock male characters play second fiddle to the more complicated women in their lives — Daisy, Camila, keyboardist Karen. There’s a photo shoot in the desert for an album cover that sounds so familiar as to be iconic. There are all-night sessions in the recording studio¬† and sold-out, weed-hazed gigs in anonymous cities. Reid also provides the lyrics to the songs that underscore Billy and Daisy’s rollercoaster of yearnings and regrets.

What she can’t provide is the music itself, which is why I’ve been listening to Stevie Nicks and Fleetwood Mac, and why I’ll probably add Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and The Eagles to my playlist for the book. But Daisy Jones & the Six may yet get a soundtrack of its own. Reese Witherspoon is reportedly working with Amazon on a 13-part streaming series, and someone’s got to write those songs. I hear Lindsey Buckingham might be available.

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cityonfire“Big as life.” That’s the kind of novel that Georgia native Mercer hopes to write when he moves to New York in the mid-1970s to teach at a girls’ prep school. But Mercer is distracted by the bright lights, big city, and especially by his boyfriend, William Hamilton-Sweeney, who prefers art, punk music and heroin to his wealthy uptown family’s financial empire. No wonder Mercer, already struggling with his identity as a gay black Southerner, is overwhelmed by the rich pageant stretching from the East Village to the Upper West Side. “In his head, the book kept growing in length and complexity, almost as if it had taken on the burden of supplanting real life, rather than evoking it.”

Garth Risk Hallberg evokes the heck out of real life in his ambitious doorstop of a novel, City on Fire (Knopf, digital galley). It has length (900 plus pages), complexity (dozens of intersecting characters), extras (photos, documents, coffee-stained manuscript) and a youthful exuberance that doesn’t know when to stop. So, yes, it’s digressive, excessive, over-the-top, and also sort-of-amazing. Hallberg is only 36 and yet he nails the gritty, glittering milieu like a modern-day Dickens with some Richard Price thrown in. His book made me remember what a rush New York was back then. I found myself ¬†humming Patti Smith’s “Because the Night” while I was reading; now it’s an earworm I don’t regret.

Although City on Fire has flashbacks and flash forwards, it begins in December 1976 and continues through mid-July of ’77, culminating in the infamous blackout after a lightning strike brought down the city’s electric grid. The blackout comes across as almost apocalyptic in the novel, but it’s also where Hallberg brings together the many plotlines and characters spiraling out from the shooting of Long Island teenager Samantha in Central Park on New Year’s Eve. Mercer finds her after coming from a ritzy Hamilton-Sweeney party he went to without William and where he meets William’s estranged sister Regan for the first time. She and her husband Keith have recently separated and she’s moved to Brooklyn with their two kids. It turns out that Keith knows Sam, now lying in a coma in a hospital, while a detective grills Mercer at the police station and Sam’s pal, awkward asthmatic Charlie, searches for her friends from a punk band headed by the anarchist Nicky Chaos, who knows William as drummer Billy Three-Sticks.

Got that? Because there are many, many more characters with overlapping stories and lives, like Sam’s father, who oversees a family fireworks business, and the magazine writer, who profiles the father and knows the detective and lives next to the gallery assistant who works for the dealer who was once William’s mentor. And so on. You may remember the old TV drama tagline: “There are eight million stories in the naked city. This has been one of them.” Hallberg would like to tell a million or more with few degrees of separation.

Happily, Hallberg can really write in a take-no-prisoners, eat-my-dust style, and my eyes only glazed while reading some of Nicky Chaos’ rants or trying to decipher Sam’s zine writings. Sure the book could be shorter. Possibly it would be better, and more people would read it. Still, New York, New York. The good old bad old ’70s. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll. What a rush.

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