Email this review


From the author of the nonfictional Shadow Dancing in the U.S.A. (not reviewed) comes this woolly account of an aging rock-and-roller that far surpasses a similar recent effort by Marcelle Clements (Rock Me, 1988). For one thing, Ventura captures the music's anarchic spirit and its pulsating energy in a narrative that's as down and dirty as the rock played by its protagonist. Jesse Wales, born Guiseppi Andriozzi, adopted his nom de piano in order to remake himself as an authentically American musician. And even though he seems to have sold his soul for rock-and-roll, fame and fortune never come his way. By the time this discordant riff plays itself out--the novel spans over ten years--Jesse's "too old to be a star and too deep in to quit." Along those lonesome highways from Baton Rouge to Austin, this honky-tonk Faust sacrifices his marriage to his former lead singer, Nadine, and his relation to their young son. While Nadine finds Jesus in all the conventional places, Jesse continues to seek transcendence in the Devil's music. His best friend and fellow performer, Danny, indulges in much caffeine-induced philosophizing, a "spacey brand of bullshit" that generates the book's title. For a musician's life, he claims, unfolds during those hours when "no matter how late at night it gets, it's never too late." Here, drugs and booze open both the doors of perception and the doors to degradation. Jesse's shakes and his visions of snakes make real the mythological import of a quintessentially American music--and he's eventually accorded the status of "Living Legend," as a local Austin paper dubs him, in reward for his noncommercial integrity. The author of that piece, the fiery redhead Elaine, steals her way into Jesse's bed, enacting a bizarre ritual with him in a Mexican motel room, their hoodoo hideaway. After lots more soul-searching, Jesse eventually finds some redemption in the arms of a frank and scared-tough young woman who brooks no abstract, philosophical garbage. A blurb from Norman Mailer is worth noting since Ventura seems to share much of his wacky sexual metaphysic, and to have developed some hocus-pocus notions of his own. All of which is right in tune with this raw and intense piece of fiction.

Pub Date: March 24th, 1989
ISBN: 671-62373-7
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online: