Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction
(Vagabondage Press) Edited by Roland Goity and John Ottey
by Scott Deckman
I must admit, I originally agreed to review this because I saw Dee Dee Ramone’s name in the press release. Therefore, I was a little surprised to find out much of this was rock fiction, title notwithstanding, my Ramones jones needing a fix bad enough to be Pavlovian. See Ramone, send for copy.
Anyway, Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction is an anthology of short stories and essays all connected by one theme: Rock’n’roll. I can’t say all the stories rock, but some of them do indeed roll. And I can’t tell you how disappointed I was with the small Dee Dee offering (“Dee Dee’s Challenge”) taken from Ed Hamilton’s larger work Legends of the Chelsea Hotel: Living with Artists and Outlaws in New York’s Rebel Mecca, a very short piece about Dee Dee’s anger at both ongoing hotel renovations and something a little spooky.
Dee Dee being Dee Dee, we learn how the mercurial punk gets management to constantly change his rooms, including once after he’s unknowingly placed in part of one that used to belong to Sid Vicious and Nancy Spungen. (I say “part of one” because the story states that after Spungen’s murder, the room in question was basically sliced and diced, with the resulting portions added onto surrounding rooms). The psychic one somehow realized it the first night, threw a fit, and fled until another room became available. Wherever he is in the afterlife, one can bet Douglas Colvin is still complaining about something.
The anthology’s first short story, “Steal Your Face,” starts with a bang. A just-graduated newbie Deadhead has a mystical vision while tripping at a show with his older brother, then decides to follow the traveling circus with him, despite romantic misgivings. He does more acid, meets a whacked-out fellow traveller at a show, a VW bus explodes, he loses his Dartmouth-bound girl to a 30-year-old high school baseball coach while away, does more acid, is consumed by his vision, and ends up meeting the fellow traveller again – this time in said vision – during a lysergic climax which was a bit too abstract for me to understand. I guess I’m a fuddy-duddy that way. Ending aside, Tim Weed’s prose is strong. (And yes, that’s his name.)
We get coming-of-age story “Bodies on the Moon” from veteran rock critic Jim DeRogatis, the familiar kids-sitting-around-talking-about-forming-a-mythical-band workout “Songs in the Key of E” from David Menconi, an explanation from former Guided By Voices bassist (and SPIN scribe) James Greer in “Hunting Accidents (Being the Further Adventures of Guided By Voices)” on why Bob Pollard didn’t quite work out with Warner Bros. Records, and, fittingly, in the book’s finale, we read “If a Tree Falls” by Carl Peel, an end-of-the-dream tale about a rock lifer without much to show for it, and how his dreams of rock stardom are likely ending in his late 30s at a small dive bar in Chapel Hill playing to a listless few. It’s poignant and more than a bit sad, and not recommended for those still playing shit bars, trying to nab a decent record deal and working as a waiter at 38 to support their habit.
Rock, like all artistic endeavors, is a tough, tough road for all but the lucky few. Bon Scott got one right, but at least that brute poet got him some. Hell yes.
There are 16 stories in all, with another notable selection being Corey Mesler’s “The Growth and Death of Buddy Gardner,” a mythical take on a Memphis blues rocker who abandons future greatness for bland Southern California singer/songwriter glory and eventual death, both artistic and physical.
And all you wannabe punk rockers out there, listen up. “Tour Diary (Excerpts)” by Sean Ennis is a fictional primer of life in a rented van (written as multiple diary entries), about sleeping on people’s floors, playing to fluctuating audiences and having to visit an urgent care doctor. The protagonist wasn’t getting laid, either. Ouch. But it was an adventure the likely-20-something wouldn’t have traded for anything else, and it’s why we listen, play, and revere this all-American art form.
Not all the writing is good, like the stream-of-consciousness piece on Madonna by Harold Jaffe. This indulgent claptrap is unfortunate, because the guy can likely write a lot better than this modern mess. That aside, none of the writing really stinks, either.
If you’re a fan of rock and fiction both, you’ll most likely find something in Experienced: Rock Music Tales of Fact & Fiction to float your SS Stratocaster.
Writer’s note: I myself have written a little rock-related fiction. Check out my three-part excerpt – “Deborah and the Spaztastics” – from my novel The Life of Brian Garry, published last year at Origivation.
(Part One, Two, Three)