May 1, 2009

Difficulties of writing about music, solved


“Novels about pop music are exceptionally tough to pull off,” observes Paul Constant. “The combination of thoughtful literary writing and the music’s wild, gloriously disposable nature can make for a strangulated Frankenstein’s monster of a book. The first half of Jonathan Lethem‘s novel Fortress of Solitude, about the birth of hiphop, is probably the closest any author has come in the last 20 years to really capturing the essence of his musical subject in words, but the book couldn’t sustain the crazy energy of the first half and collapsed on itself by the end.”

But someone’s finally done it, says Constant in a review for Seattle’s The Stranger: Ben Greenman, in his new book from Melville House, Please Step Back. “The creative process has rarely seemed so animated in modern fiction as when Greenman describes it,” says Constant. “Please Step Back, is a Day-Glo-colored ecstatic mess about rock and roll…. It’s not a very long novel, but it runs all over the place, getting its fingerprints on everything — race relations, the love generation, the creative process, and the birth of what became modern pop music — without a care for politeness or propriety …. Please isn’t some tired reiteration of the Icarus story. Instead, it’s a love story about the divine and difficult relationship between a man and the beauty that he can make with his mind.”

Dennis Johnson is the founder of MobyLives, and the co-founder and co-publisher of Melville House. Follow him on Twitter at @mobylives