A whimsical novel of the rock industry that frequently delights with its wry humor and insider’s knowledge but ultimately falls short of its promise.
Few would seem as qualified to write an incisive novel about the life of a touring musician as Stace. He initially attracted a cult following as a British singer-songwriter billed as John Wesley Harding and has also written three novels (by George, 2007, etc.) that attracted a readership beyond his music fans. He now seems to be bringing those two identities together, recording most recently under his own name and turning his novelistic attention to his experiences in the music industry. Not that this is thinly disguised memoir, for it details a parallel history of rock through the career arc of the fictitious Wonderkids, formed by two brothers (think Kinks, Oasis, Everlys) who discover that they fill a previously unknown niche: “Rock Music for Kids.” Or, with their hint of misbehavior, “Punk for kids. Punk for kids whose parents like punk. Music for kids with cool parents.” The band experiences its own version of pivotal moments in rock—Beatlemania, Altamont, an extended feud with the censoring Parents Music Resource Center (who term their seemingly playful music “one of the greatest evils facing America today”), a drug bust, a Jim Morrison–style indecent exposure incident, and the inevitable personnel changes, disbanding and reunion. The narrator, for reasons initially inexplicable, is a Dickensian urchin named Sweet who is adopted by the band (specifically frontman Blake Lear) to escape the tedium of his British boyhood. Sweet eventually figures more critically in the plot, but he seems like a contrivance, the coincidence of his meeting the band straining credulity, and his perspective is an odd one for telling this story. Yet the bigger problem with the novel, as with the touring rock life it depicts, is the tedium of repetition, the day-to-day-ness in which not much happens beyond stereotypes (manager, record execs, etc.) behaving like stereotypes while the author has some fun with obscure references (fans of Spirit, for example, will delight in the command to the bus driver: “Randy? California!”).
The novel makes the point that all rock is kid’s music (“Aren’t we all just big kids?”) and makes it again and again.