Please Step Back
“Fresh and explosive … takes readers behind the rhythm and into the soul of a musician ….” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
A swirling Sixties saga of the rise and fall of a true American icon: A rock star …
… But not just any rock star. Rock Foxx is one of the special, genre-busting stars of the era who created a new kind of music that both embodied the times and took it someplace exhilarating, the way Sly Stone did, or James Brown.
Foxx is an outrageous showman whose unprecedented mixed-race/mixed gender band makes socially conscious music that’s tribal and infectious, taking him to the height of worldwide rock stardom. But then his contagious, upbeat music begins to darken, get edgier, angrier … then ends abruptly amidst rumors of sexual debauchery and drugs and violence, even as the culture itself explodes into assassinations and massive riots … until people ask themselves: Whatever happened to Rock Foxx?
New Yorker editor Ben Greenman answers the question by getting inside the turbulent life of Foxx and the people who love him to make Please Step Backmore than a tale of fleeting pop stardom. Instead, it’s the absorbing story of a complicated moment in our history, when music played a key part, and an artistic genius could lead the way.
“Please Step Back sings of the back-street, back-stage hyper-kinetic moment when music, stardom, and cultural sea changes pushed America irrevocably forward. Light-stepping and hard-hitting, Greenman gets it right from the power of the beat to the devastation when the silence takes over.” —Walter Mosley
“Please Step Back is a literary funk-rock novel with weight and power. Greenman nails the outsized characters who, in the midst of a cultural revolution, birthed the most thrilling movement in American popular music.” —George Pelecanos, author of The Turnaround, and producer and writer for The Wire
“Ben Greenman seems incapable of writing anything dry or familiar or expected. He is one of the most versatile, constantly surprising writers at work today.” —Dave Eggers
“Anyone who has ever fallen in love with popular music knows the story of Rock Foxx and The Foxes: boy meets gift, boy meets girl, boy meets success, boy forgets to choose sides, demons take boy. Please Step Back doesn’t decode or interpret Foxx’s story—it does something better; this book sounds like a song, working with the rhythm of words that are like speech but never just talking. Greenman’s dialogue is as terse, piercing and easeful as Sly Stone’s lyrics. —Sasha Frere-Jones, pop music critic for The New Yorker
“Ben Greenman’s mind contains, among other things, a literary critic, a cultural commentator, a cowboy, a satirist, a scientist, a surrealist, a nut, a genius, a child prodigy, and a poet.” —Susan Minot
“[G]ood fiction about music is harder to find than a snow-free trail on Mt. Hood in April—but in Greenman’s hands it works…[He] gets deep and has a sure feel for rhythm.” —Jeff Baker, Portland Oregonian
“Greenman delves deeply into the cultural history of the period, tracing an arc from the idealistic, hedonistic ’60s as it peaked and then tipped into the ’70s, as the nation lowered its collective fist.” —Time Out New York
“[A] love story about the divine and difficult relationship between a man and the beauty that he can make with his mind.” —Paul Constant, The Stranger
“[Please Step Back's] got an encyclopedic audiophile’s heart, the sort of house-party guest who ignores you entirely and spends hours poring over your record collection instead.” —The Village Voice
A “funny, freaky novel…”
—”Pick of the Week,” Time magazine
“A sharp, ebullient novel…. Each character is sharply drawn, each place immediately conjured in the imagination. The narrative pulses with life and natural beat, with never a stray word or scene, instantly drawing you into its current and never settling down until the last sentence.” —Christine Thomas, Miami Herald
“Greenman maintains a playful and elastic style.” —The New Yorker
“What’s admirable about Greenman’s roman à treble clef is how seamlessly Foxx fits into history.” —Miami New Times
Hear Ben Greenman and Swamp Dog discuss their collaboration. —Studio 360 (NPR)
“In Please Step Back, the songs and styles are recognizable and familiar, making for a compelling listening experience that exists only on the page. And these fictional musicians play songs we can’t help but imagine at their best.” —Tobias Carroll, Los Angeles Times
Living With Music: A playlist by Ben Greenman —New York Times, Paper Cuts blog