Sunday, November 21, 2010

I play the drums in a band called okay

There aren't many good novels about rock bands: plenty of good true stories, but not many made up ones. In fact, even after consulting my shelves I can only think of one other which I would put in that category. And that isn't even really about a rock band. It is all about the band's frontman – allegedly based on Fish the ex-lead singer of Marillion (who didn't get his nickname because of his drinking habits but because he used to spend so long in the bath when working as a forester in Fochabers) – and how his life has dissolved post-band.

Published twenty-one years apart the covers are spookily similar, but they don't have much else in common. (You can see how far cover printing technology has come in that time – the embossed vinyl effect on the more recent title is a lot more convincing.)

Toby Litt's okay are a moderately successful Canadian indie band and this is their story from school-days formation up to and beyond the death of guitarist crab twenty years later. The story is narrated by the drummer – clap (the other members are singer syph and bassist mono) – who is, handily for Litt, the most sober and self-aware of the group.

Although the book manages to stay entertaining through all the overdoses, break-ups and excesses, what really makes it a great read are the two or three key moments related, which bring a depth and humanity to the story. Plenty is borrowed and modified from well-known rock myths – the fishing obsessed band member and the giving away of a suitcase of money to name two I noticed – and half the fun is spotting the ones you know, but it only really works because of the skilful way he has created a bunch of people that seem real, not like rock stars.

Also smart is the way Litt neatly side-steps the key point of what they actually sound like, letting you hear your own soundtrack. For what its worth, I thought they would sound a bit like a cross between Coldplay and Snow Patrol. (Coldpatrol or Snow Play maybe?) Horrific I know, but don't let that put you off reading the book.

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