DAVID GOO’S BOOKS FOR THE ROAD
#1: The Price Is Right
I go on the road a lot – on trains, tubes and coaches – and I presume a lot of musicians reading this article do the same on their way to various gigs and venues. As you know, one is prohibited from smoking, drinking, having sex or being rock’n’roll on these forms of public transport. Banter with band mates wanes after an hour, and iPods will make your ears ring before you’ve even reached the show. Magazines don’t cut it; a discarded newspaper or two will keep you company for a brief moment but will ultimately leave you feeling empty inside. What I and, I presume, a lot of you are looking for is something with substance, something that won’t be discarded in the recycling bin a month from now; something that doesn’t have an advert with an airbrushed naked couple every few pages. Something so riveting you’ll hope the journey will last for longer than necessary; you’ll even hope your gig gets cancelled on the way so you can finish reading it. Books, ladies and gentlemen, are the traveling musician’s friends. If you don’t believe me, ask Lemmy of Motorhead what he does to occupy himself on the road. Go on. Ask him.
You see, I’ve spent the last eight years hopping on different public methods of transport and I’ve read a shitload of things in that time. I’m here to help you because in my experience, when you don’t have an author to keep you company, those hours on the road can feel like a lifetime.
The pun of this article’s title refers to my favorite writer, Richard Price. You may have seen his name pop up occasionally in the Crime sections in bookstores. I don’t particularly like crime novels – they’re formulaic and samey. It’s those tedious twist-double-twists in the end. They drive me insane. Alas, Mr Price has also succumbed in his latter years to writing this kind of genre-based material. His later books aren’t bad or anything but - and this is a big-ass but - his first three novels are everything a guy our age could hope to read. They are funny, gritty, dirty, realistic yet surreal, painful, adventurous and extremely and totally readable. Most importantly, they are definitely not crime novels - though crimes do often occur in them.
His third book, Ladies Man, is like the Bible to me. I admit, it’s annoying to have your favorite book called Ladies Man, because people immediately think you’re some kind of Casanova wannabe, or are a fan of books like The Game (which I’m not, and which this book is nothing, I repeat, nothing like… God, I can’t even believe I mentioned that god-awful book The Game - twice now - in an article about Richard Price - basically, if you want to learn how to treat and think of women like Nintendos, buy The Game; if you want your life genuinely enriched by a work of art, buy, borrow or steal Ladies Man).
The gist of it is: A 29 year old dude in New York is having problems with his live-in girlfriend. But, you see, that doesn’t even matter. What matters is how great every line of description is. See, I’m going to describe one of the best chapters in the book now in one sentence: Our man, the main guy, watches a late night TV show. On his own. That’s it. That’s one of the best scenes – and believe me when I say, it is so funny, you won’t believe this was written in the seventies. In other words, this book, like a lot of the best books, isn’t so much about plot, but about character, the hero’s inner struggles and jokes, his hilariously painful thoughts, and his interactions with all the weird and not so wonderful people he meets in New York.
This is why it’s The Bible for me. I can dip into any page, at any place and time, and I’ll find something worth reading again. (Another book I’ve enjoyed this kind of relationship with is Hi-Fidelity by Nick Hornby - and if you don’t like About A Boy or Hi-Fidelity the books by Nick Hornby, you may as well not follow these articles).
Price’s first two books, The Wanderers and Blood Brothers, are told not from inside the head of any particular main character, but from an outsider’s viewpoint. They’re both great books with all the qualities of the first one mentioned – ie, funny, gritty, dirty, realistic yet surreal, painful, adventurous and extremely readable – though I myself do not have the same Biblical awe with them as I have with Ladies Man. Mind you, they are still some of the best novels I’ve ever read.
The Wanderers is a string of vignettes revolving around a gang of the same name. It was a sensation when it came out, and it was Richard Price’s first book. It has a real edge of nasty humor to it, like the young Price was cackling away to himself as he was typing. Pretty much every section in it made me go, “Huh?” at some point or another, twisted lip and all. The violence is also extremely visceral and grotesque, if you like that kind of thing.
Finally, Blood Brothers, his second book, is about a confused family in New York and is equally fucked-up as both Ladies Man and The Wanderers; and as with those other books, sometimes the best bits have nothing to do with the main thread of the ‘plot’.
Seriously though, if you’re gonna listen to me at all, go for Ladies Man first. It’ll keep you happy on all those train and coach rides; you won’t even notice the doors opening, even when it’s your stop. You won’t even care. You’ll probably cancel your gig just to keep reading it. And if the promoter’s not even paying your travel expenses, why shouldn’t you?
Words: David Goo
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