Tuesday 22 October 2019

Sex, drugs and the unravelling of a rock 'n' roll band - rock romp takes you back to music's golden age

Fiction: Daisy Jones & the Six

Taylor Jenkins Reid

Hutchinson, hardback, 368 pages, €16.99

Wild days: Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, the band Jenkins Reid loosely based Daisy Jones & the Six
Wild days: Stevie Nicks of Fleetwood Mac, the band Jenkins Reid loosely based Daisy Jones & the Six
Daisy Jones & The Six
Darragh McManus

Darragh McManus

Daisy Jones & the Six is already in pre-production as an online series for Amazon - Reese Witherspoon is producing - and it's easy to see why.

This is, as one character notes, "pure Americana": a classic rise-and-fall story of fame, art, money, sin, redemption - plus the Holy Trinity of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll - in the brilliant California sun, during a pop culture Golden Age of the 1960s and 1970s.

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Taylor Jenkins Reid's fourth novel is a fictional account, presented as real, of a band and singer who come together with spectacular results: rising to unparalleled professional heights before crashing to unbearable personal lows. It was inspired, the author has recently said, by Fleetwood Mac and their hit album Rumours.

We begin with an "Author's Note" - a clever late twist challenges what we think we know about said author - before plunging into this faux-oral history. Structured as a series of first-person accounts, it's reminiscent of Mark Yarm's classic grunge retrospective, Everybody Loves Our Town.

The band are The Six: formed by charismatic blue-collar frontman Billy Dunne and guitarist brother Warren, their melodic Fleetwood Mac/Eagles-esque rock sees them move from Pittsburgh to LA in the late-1960s. Billy falls in love, falls into substance abuse, misses the birth of his first child and, shamed, gets clean and fights to stay clean.

The singer is Daisy Jones, the beautiful, intelligent and damaged daughter of a famous painter and model. Part-Janis Joplin, part-Edie Sedgwick, she's a latchkey kid, and by her mid-teens is partying on LA's legendary Sunset Strip, taking drugs and sleeping with musicians.

Daisy is already hooked on bad habits that will assuredly come back to bite her. But she's also an immensely talented singer-songwriter, and when British producer Teddy Price comes across both acts, something clicks in his mind: Daisy and The Six are good on their own, together they could be magic.

By the late 1970s, Daisy Jones & The Six have gone supernova. Her and Billy co-write an album, Aurora, which sells millions and make them one of the biggest acts on the planet. Then in July 1979, the band plays a gig in Chicago, splits up immediately afterwards, and never play together again. The book, we're told, is an attempt to explain what happened.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable read, especially if you're into music and music books. Reid puts it together so deftly that, more than once, I forgot I was reading about made-up people and events. Daisy Jones & The Six feel so vividly real that part of my mind was trying to recall the chorus of such-and-such a song or the sound of Daisy's raggedly beautiful voice.

She really immerses you in it, the crazy rollercoaster of life in a band. Be careful what you wish for, it might just come true: adulation, creative satisfaction and a fortune in the bank sound fantastic, but they tend to play havoc with your mind and soul.

Everyone, bar Billy's solid-gold wife Camila, seems almost permanently drunk, high or wracked by the wrong kind of love. Two band members have an unwise romance which ends very badly. One person is ticked off at being sidelined by domineering Billy, another "never wanted to be in a soft rock band anyway" and plans to quit. At the centre of this mad vortex is Daisy, the global dream girl adored by millions but staggering through an absolute shambles of a private life.

The character type sounds so iconic that she could have been a cliché, but Jenkins Reid sidesteps that with skill, empathy and clear-sighted honesty.

There's depth to Daisy, both as a person and how well she's portrayed. I didn't particularly like her, but she's fascinating and real.

It's not all bad, of course - otherwise people wouldn't become musicians in the first place. And it's when these guys and gals are on stage, transformed by that wondrous alchemy between art, performers and audience, that Daisy Jones & The Six really soars.

Anyone who ever dreamed of being in a band will find themselves thinking, "yeah - that's what it's all about". That's what makes all the hassle worthwhile.

 

Darragh McManus's novels include 'Shiver the Whole Night Through' and 'The Polka Dot Girl'

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