Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six. Hutchinson, 2018

A bit of a departure in today’s post.

Mrs TD and I heard this novel recommended on the BBC Radio 4 book programme A Good Read last month (always worth catching the podcast). She read it and urged me to. I hated it – and quite enjoyed it as a guilty pleasure. I’m old enough to remember the seventies era in which it’s set, and secretly quite liked ‘Rumours’ (though I claimed at the time in public to prefer Dylan, Cohen and The Grateful Dead).

Daisy Jones cover

Daisy Jones goes her own way…

I found the last quarter quite moving. It was the most interesting aspect of it that was least interesting: the structure. It’s written as a sort of transcript from a mockumentary about a seventies American rock band, mostly in oral interviews. It veers horribly close to Spinal Tap, without the laughs or irony. Pop and rock music novels generally fail to match the music behind them, or non-fiction accounts, as this Guardian review by Neil Spencer of The Thrill of It All by Joseph O’Connor suggests.

The band is initially The Six; the name is expanded when solo artist Daisy joins them. It seems to be based on a soft-rock outfit like Fleetwood Mac (I believe this genre of music is now known as Yacht Rock). It has the usual rock cliché pairs of rival siblings, struggles for artistic and dynamic control, sexual tensions, and so on. The lead singer and guitarist, Billy, is an autocrat, and makes his bandmates seethe with resentment and frustration as he hogs the limelight and dictates the direction of their career.

It’s got all the usual tropes of such stories of the era: sex, drugs and alcohol addiction, manipulative chancers, mayhem, hedonism and excesses on the road. Their desperation to make hit records and become famous means compromising on their musical values (yes, it’s super pretentious). Inevitably band members fall in and out of love.

Because everything is told in fragments by members of the band, engineers, managers, rock journalists and a few others, the style is highly colloquial and largely monotonous, predictable, and laden with the slang of the era: young women are ‘cool chicks’, as the musicians get rich they buy ‘a pad’ in Laurel Canyon, that kind of thing.

The prose is generally flat and tediously repetitious. Rock stars talking about the ‘rush’ of making a crowd go crazy is interesting mostly for themselves. Hearing it repeated every few pages becomes, like, a drag, man.

The plot development is as predictable as their world tour: the trajectory of such bands has been traced countless times, as in the recent film about Queen. There’s the usual rise from obscure origins to superstardom to disintegration when the band splits.

The lengthy exposition of song lyrics and ‘laying down of tracks’ is laboured and sometimes laughable. Let’s face it, most rock lyrics don’t stand up to much close scrutiny, except for Dylan’s. The lyrics for the band’s breakthrough album ‘Aurora’ (that’s a ringer for ‘Rumours’) – the making of which forms the heart of the novel – are given in full at the end; they’re passable pastiche, but like most lyrics of the time (as Christopher Ricks concedes about Dylan’s), they work best when performed. Seeing them in print exposes their banality.

There are some neat touches, as when a character tells us their version of an event, then the next speaker gives an account that contradicts it completely. An example: Daisy says Billy wrote the song ‘Impossible Woman’ about her. She quotes: “She’s blues dressed up like rock ‘n’ roll/untouchable, she’ll never fold”. (That’s fairly typical of the prosody.)

Then Billy says: ‘I absolutely never told Daisy the song was about her. I wouldn’t have done that because the song wasn’t about her.’

His denial shows his evasion of the truth about his suppressed feelings for her, but that’s about as emotionally deep as the story gets.

In fact most of the band members reveal themselves (unsurprisingly) to be shallow and egotistical – though some of their annoyance with Billy is understandable.

There’s a twist near the end that I hadn’t seen coming, and as I said at the start, the final part of the novel is quite poignant. The love-hate relationship in the triangle involving Daisy, Billy and his faithful, trusting wife Camila is handled pretty well. I also liked the feminist critique of the music industry at that time (probably not much changed, even in the era of #MeToo). Daisy is far more radical and in-your-face than the Stevie Nicks (or Janis Joplin?) types she’s vaguely modelled on.

This aspect is spoilt for me as Daisy is increasingly shown as the stereotypical little-girl-lost, searching-for-love character: the rock chick wildness is all a veneer to cover her, gulp, vulnerability. Not such a feminist after all.

More convincing and rounded is the character of Karen, the band’s keyboard player (Christine McVie? I remember her as a gritty blues singer, Christine Perfect): she deliberately plays down her sexuality, while Daisy flaunts it. I’m not convinced by Daisy’s claims that her skimpy, revealing clothes are a reflection of her feminist confidence. She says of the see-through top she wore for the album cover shoot of their hit album ‘Aurora’:

I dress how I want to dress. I wear what I feel comfortable in. How other people feel about it is not my problem.

Protesting a little too much? Revealing in a different way, she goes on to say that she and Karen disagreed on this. Karen knows the game Daisy plays, and perhaps envies her attitude, while also disapproving of her methods; Karen’s found that relying on her talent as a keyboard player doesn’t get her the recognition she craves. A woman has to compromise her sexuality to do so, and Daisy knows that.

But there’s still that annoying prose and over-familiar storyline.

PS Harriet Gilbert on that radio programme I started with likens Daisy Jones to David Keenan’s 2017 novel This Is Memorial Device, also written in the form of interviews and the like, about a post-punk rock band from a windswept part of Scotland that couldn’t be more different from the sunkissed swimming pools and baked deserts in which Reid’s novel is set. I just looked it up; there’s a link HERE to a Guardian review by Toby Litt. It sounds rather more original and interesting.

Dinky, Dimension D – review

Album cover, 'Dimension D' (from Blogcritics)

Album cover, ‘Dimension D’ (from Blogcritics)

Released by the innovative Visionquest on 25 June, Dimension D is Dinky’s fifth studio album, but her first venture into singer-songwriter territory. She sings and plays several different instruments on this atmospheric, melodic album, co-produced and mixed by her husband, Matthew Styles. Three years of polishing and refining went into the final product, and it shows – it’s an ethereal, other-worldly blend of elegant tunes, snappy beats and dramatic novels compressed into just a few minutes per track. Over the catchy tunes floats that lovely voice, at times sweet and lyrical, at others menacing and edgy.

Born in Santiago, Chile, Alejandra del Pilar Iglesias Rivera’s name was abbreviated to ‘Dinky’ by her sister. Since the early ’90s she’s been at the forefront of the minimalist techno music DJ scene based in Berlin. That’s what makes this album so adventurous for her.

 

She studied opera and jazz, trained as a singer and classical guitarist/pianist, but favours an extraordinary Moog guitar on most tracks here, which gives the songs a twangy sound redolent of the sea, big surf, nature and sunshine.  Chris Izaak seems to be an influence here; she says she’d been listening a lot to the Cocteau Twins, too – but the album is sui generis and highly original.

 

There’s darkness in some songs, too. ‘Falling Angel’ was, she says, inspired by a saintly person who had a secret, evil past; for the video she filmed her sister who sits blinking enigmatically in a Berlin cemetery, apparently enamoured of a tree. ‘Feel free to survive’, she urges in the chorus.

 

Many of the lyrics were improvised over the melodies, layered in with that inspirational guitar. ‘Measures’ has pensive, trippy elements textured with live drums, percussive clapping and an organic, bluesy synth sound that’s her trademark across the album. Again, that angelic voice cuts through strange lyrics: ‘I start climbing through the wall’, she sings happily. The title track turns house-y beats into a playful, transgressive anthem.

 

Duke Orsino in Twelfth Night refers to sweet music with a ‘dying fall’, and that’s what Dinky has perfected here. She favours trochaic metrical patterns, with gerunds prominent: ‘dying’, ‘falling’. The song ‘Witches’ consists of strings of these celestially harmonised rhythms, with their inherent sadness and introspection. In ‘La Noche’ she sings in her native Spanish, where the haunting, gentle words are whispered with fervour and delicate vehemence.

 

Dylan bemused trad folkies when he plugged in his electric guitar and told his band to play as loud as they could (or words to that effect); when the Beatles went trippy-psychedelic, their teen pop fans didn’t get it. This exciting new direction that Dinky has taken will no doubt puzzle her electro-clubby fanbase (though the minimalist Berlin sound is still there in the mix). But their loss is our gain. Dinky has produced a triumphantly eccentric and diverse set of songs that reward multiple plays. There’s a maturity, range and depth here that suggests she is going to continue to get just better and better.

Blind - the single

Blind – the single: picture from liaoliao website

Update: ‘Blind’ was released as a single on 3 August, with alternative mixes available – it’s a stormer! The video featuring members of her family has some haunting images, like the song.

A slightly shorter version of this review appeared at Blogcritics on 3 July

 

Acoustic Endeavors play bluegrass at Fincastle Winery & their album ‘On a Farm’

A slightly different version of this piece was published by Blogcritics on Mon. Jul. 8, 2013

My wife, G, and two friends called R were on a road trip from New York city to Miami Beach; en route we stayed at the charming Fincastle Winery b&b just outside Roanoke VA.

Fincastle W houseThe winery house where we stayed

The Fincastle Winery logo from their website

The Fincastle Winery logo from their website

Playing in the natural amphitheatre of the field below the parcels of chardonnay vines was the local bluegrass band Acoustic Endeavors.

ac endv band pic 2

Much of their set consisted of a selection from  their album On a Farm, which has 14 self-penned songs and two instrumentals (by Warren Amberson, guitars, mandolin, bass and lead vocals, and Kelly Green, guitar, vocals).  Their gig kicked off with the wistful but catchy “Hills of Home” (‘I’ve been living on the other side of happiness for way too long’ Warren sings, ‘right where Virginia kisses Tennessee’).  It’s a heartfelt song about the trials of being in a band, always on the road and far from home and loved ones. The long, looping lines blend perfectly with the solo instrumentals and vocal harmonies.

The haunting “Tennessee Iris” reworks similar sentiments to those in Wordsworth’s Lucy poems: a boy grows up in the hills of Roan County, ‘young and carefree’, falls for Iris, whose beauty is the same as the flower’s; she returns his love, but when he’s made his fortune and searches for her he’s told ‘In the cold winter winds she had died’.

There’s a lot of death in these songs, as well as heartache, betrayal and desertion by lovers, which kind of goes with this country genre –“‘I Could Leave Here”, “Never Go Through This Again” and [you hurt me for the]”Last Time Today” are sung by Kelly and tell of feckless, heartless men and their inconstancy and infidelities.  But the bruised, resilient hearts of the women portrayed in the songs will surely mend and lessons will be learned.

Virginian women can be cruel, too: a farmer’s cheatin’ wife has left him to “Hoe This Row Alone,” caring for the children without her, nursing his broken heart.  But love isn’t always doomed. “To You I Wed” shows that married life can be harmonious and fulfilling. Men and women can face the ‘trials of life’ strengthened by love, ‘faithful and true’.  It’s a song of optimism, sung with spirit-lifting honesty, just about avoiding mawkishness.

Not on the CD was a jaunty, witty song about Virginia’s emblematic corn snake; as Kelly cheerfully pointed out when she announced they were going to play it, nobody dies in this song, and even the corn snake is alive at the end!

But ultimately it’s not really the lyrics that make this band and their album so endearing. The mix of sorrow and pain with occasional happiness and faith is conventional country music fare. It’s the musicianship and joy with which they play and sing, with banjo, guitars, bass and mandolin in their live set and an extra fiddle in the mix on the CD.

During the interval they came and visited with us (Southern idioms are catching) as we drank the excellent Fincastle chardonnay.

Fincastle W wines

The band were delighted to hear we were all the way from England and asked if we had any requests; we were equally delighted when they announced our presence and went on to play for us  the only covers they sang all night.  They rocked through Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” and “Senor” (can’t make a Spanish tilde on this laptop I’m using while in the US).  This made us feel, as they say in those parts, ‘right welcome’.

Acoustic Endeavors CD On a Farm from Common Folk Productions 2005.

On a Farm CD cover

On a Farm CD cover