The teetering pile of books on the bedside table has been slowly reducing since it first took on Jenga-like proportions around my birthday in the middle of November before growing a couple more spines in height at Christmas. Amongst others, the much-maligned Philosophy of Modern Song, Bob Dylan‘s multi-genre critique of music through the ages has been dipped in and out of and, despite the rising consensus that it’s misogynistic, plagiarised and not worth the lovely, thick recycled paper (mmm, the smell of it!) that it’s printed on, I really like it, even if I can’t be certain I’m reading Bob’s own words or not. It does read like a printed version of his scripted Theme Time Radio Hour shows, and perhaps the credited thanks to ‘fishing buddy’ Eddie Gorodetsky – coincidentally the producer of those radio shows – tells you all you need to know with regards to just how much input Bob may or may not have had. The scamp. Thankfully, no one shelled out on a ‘signed’ copy for me. That’s a whole other can o’ worms. But you knew that already.
Nige Tassell‘s Whatever Happened To The C86 Kids? will have to wait a wee bit longer, as I’m about to dive deep into Douglas MacIntyre‘s Hungry Beat, a tome that celebrates an era – The Scottish Independent Pop Underground Movement (1977 – 1984) – that I was born just too late to appreciate first time around, but a book that will no doubt have me scrambling and scratching around for the appropriate soundtrack as I read. So, expect a raft of niche Scots’ post-punk to start drip-feeding on these pages once I’ve properly digested Douglas’s book, probably sometime around the start of March.
I’ve a whole stash of Stephen King on my Kindle, and I periodically select one I haven’t read. I ploughed my way through 11/22/63, wanting to give up at times but making myself finish it. It wasn’t a bad story – the concept is great; man discovers portal, goes back in time to stop Lee Harvey Oswald killing JFK and suffers the consequences of changing history, but man, it was just so damn long. The love scenes (of which there were more than enough) were toe-curlingly excrutiating too.
The other book I’ve recently read where history is intertwined with fiction was so much better…
I’ve just finished David Ross‘s multi-faceted Dashboard Elvis Is Dead, a proper page turner that I read over four nights last week. A quick disclaimer: David is a friend and very kindly gave me a copy in return for a review, so it was a relief to reach the final line, brain a-whirring, and not feel worried about having to contrive a few paragraphs of praise.
Dashboard Elvis Is Dead is a right good read, a Forrest Gumpish run through the people and events of the ’80s to the 2000s – the Scottish Independence referendum, 9/11, high school shootings – intertwined with fictional characters including a mixed-race American photojournalist eager to find comfort in her murky roots and a Scots indie band (The Hyptones) who self-implode almost as soon as their one great song starts making ripples on the music scene. The song, or rather, its origins, are the cause of much soul-seeking and anguish to the band’s guitar player, as you discover as the story unravels. And what a story it is.
There are two seemingly separate threads running through the book – one featuring Jude the photographer, the other following Jamie, The Hyptones’ hot-shot guitarist, but of course, they are interlinked. For a while, the novel’s early themes (love and belonging, travel, violence) run in parallel; at one point Jude finds herself embroiled in a ripe-for-Tarantino road trip and the star-crossed lovers she falls in with drag her life in a new direction while, travelling the same roads, The Hyptones zig-zag across the States in a converted van, the drummer lamping the singer who thumps the guitar player while the bass player sleeps through it all, before the crowd of rednecks and punks who mix like oil and water at the band’s showcase gig cause it to end in predictably time-honoured Longhorn Ballroom fashion…
Dashboard Elvis Is Dead reads like the wordy equivalent of a well-considered album; fast paced and attention-grabbing at the start, the serious stuff in the middle, the reflective and philosophical stuff towards the end before the big closer at the finish. A four-parter that can, and should, be read in four sittings.
Indeed, if this was a record, the pages where the two characters come face to face would be the big, noisy, side-closer; London’s Burning, perhaps, or Problems, more likely… something to draw a line under what you’ve just listened to (read) before you flip over and dive back in again.
The nightspots of New York City give way to Glasgow’s Red Row flats. Arty advertising agencies are succeeded by Glasgow School of Art. The movers and shakers of NYC’s cultural scene – Seymour Stein, Madonna – are replaced by the movers and shakers of Scottish politics and the Glasgow underworld. Characters that you meet in one section invariably pop up in key roles in another. The trick, which Ross does well, is in getting from one to the other without contrivance or over-reaching.
Bonus points too, Mr Ross, for naming the bass player ‘McAllister’. I’m sure it’s entirely coincidental, but that earns you a Plain Or Pan rating of nine and a half out of ten. (A half point off for not calling her ‘Craig’).
You can get Dashboard Elvis Is Dead in all good book retailers, digital as well as print. You should seek it out. I think you’d like it.