Was first-novelist Smith--a.k.a. composer/performer Sonny Knight--unsure whether he wanted to write a commercial novel, a...

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THE DAY THE MUSIC DIED

Was first-novelist Smith--a.k.a. composer/performer Sonny Knight--unsure whether he wanted to write a commercial novel, a history of the pop-music record business, or a treatise on the exploitation of black musicians, performers, and writers? So it seems, because the book he did write is an overlong, uneven one that tries to do all those things--with four or five separate (though occasionally overlapping) music-biz plots ambling along from 1956 to 1963. In Hollywood, there's idealistic Mark Donovan, a movie star's son who's just been given control of the new ""youth"" label at old-fashioned ITRC Records; through the years he tries (against stiff corporate opposition) to give black music the up-front treatment it's been denied--by hiring a black ""a & r man,"" by fighting for fair distribution, fair contracts, etc. In Nashville, super-salesman Carl Clinger builds up a C&W company (also using black music, white-covered when possible), then moves it to L.A., where he's in the forefront of the payola schemes--and is swallowed up by ITRC. In N.Y., slimily aggressive Paulie Schultz gets rich quick by stealing tunes off old black records. And in Chicago, independent black producer Monroe Wilcox battles to make and sell records (despite savage discrimination); he exposes Schultz's plagiarism; and he builds his own company--which white gangsters try to move in on with threats and bribes, Las Vegas-style. True, Smith is certainly knowledgeable, with scads of music-biz details. But any one of these stories--especially Monroe's, which is the most vividly written--would have made a better novel than Smith's choppy multiple-focus attempt at a music-business panorama: you keep waiting for solid inter-plot connections that never happen; too many of the characters receive detailed attention for a while but then abruptly disappear. Furthermore, Smith also drops in disjointed subplots--like the one about Mark's unstable singer-girlfriend (booze, drugs). And, most seriously, Smith regularly allows the action to stop dead for talky presentations of record-biz history or technical details or preachy harangues. Sometimes zesty, then, more often tedious or crude (the mostly Jewish villains are cartoonily drawn)--this is spottily entertaining, ill-paced fiction. But the worthy message about exploitation--though hardly news to students of pop-music--comes through loud, clear, and heavy.

Pub Date: May 1, 1981

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Grove Press--dist. by Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1981