21 August 2008

FLYING SAUCER ROCK & ROLL (Richard Blandford) – 2008 – Book review

FLYING SAUCER ROCK & ROLL (Richard Blandford) – 2008 – Book review
Alright – so strictly speaking - this isn’t a music review - but it is a review of a novel about a band, although strictly speaking, the band is not what you’d really call funk, soul or hip hop either. Alright. They’re metal. At least at first. But hey - the Monkey likes to rock occasionally and used to be down with both Eric B & Rakim and Jane’s Addiction - back at the very start of the nineties when Flying Saucer Rock & Roll, Richard Blandford’s second novel, begins.

Looking back, it was a good time to be into music, hip hop was in a golden era, and alternative rock was exploding all over the mainstream’s face like a giant grunge money-shot and if you lived in suburbia (in this case the fictional suburb of Quirely in the fictional southern town of Sholeham, “…remarkable in that it’s spawned virtually nothing of note, nobody who’s achieved anything in any field. Not even a decent serial killer…” ) as narrator Chris does – it’s one of the few things that made suburban life bearable. And make no mistake this novel is as much about teenagers and suburbia as it is about music. For all Chris’s self-deprecatingly humourous rhetoric about how his teenage years in ‘the band’ were a golden age (and you get the impression that the character consciously believes this at least), he’s not fooling anyone and his ‘golden age’ comes across as time spent with a group of people of who were for the most part pathetically and even casually cruel to each other in a place notable only for its hellish tedium. A fairly accurate portrayal of suburban teenage existence then.

More character than plot driven (though this is not a criticism) the plot such as it is revolves around the relationship between Chris and the person who was initially his best mate – the almost tragic character of Neil who drifts off and onto centre stage throughout the book. Basically Chris is an awkward teenager and Neil (while intelligent) is an increasing embarrassment who likes Morrissey and is therefore probably gay. Chris decides he needs to position himself, “at the most advantageous point in the secondary school hierarchy,”and makes a point of learning guitar and hanging out with Ben who is into metal. Before long Neil is forgotten – although not before he has committed social suicide with a precocious stab at performance art at the school talent show involving ‘singing’ and ‘playing’ his keyboard – “in the end,…[they]…had to literally pull him off stage, his legs flailing. There was a round of applause. It was for the Deputy Head”. Meanwhile violent, speccy bastard Thomas Depper, (who’s so hard he’s into INXS for fuck’s sake) has decided that Chris and Ben (although basically a pair of cunts) can play in his band. Well, I say his band – there’s the mellow drummer Jase of course – one of the few characters during the course of the novel with any strength of character. Eventually realising that instrumental covers of Need You Tonight aren’t really going to nail them any gigs (and therefore fame, money or girls or at least the chance to touch “a girls’ tit”) they decide they need a vocalist. And so it is that a phonecall or so later, Neil is in the band. And then Thomas Depper gets himself a girlfriend, the spiteful and manipulative Jenny who takes an instant and epic dislike to Neil with sadistic consequences.

But, like I said, it’s the characters that drive this narrative and if Neil’s precocity occasionally seems a little too over the top, Thomas Depper’s tyrannical hold over his ‘friendship’ group is both colossal and hilarious. Even though most of his mates have girlfriends who are filthy enough to go ‘all the way’ with them, they’re all (apart from Jase) too scared of his violent nature to shag anyone until he has, and so it’s a massive relief when Jenny finally lets him. Then there’s the hilarious rivalry between Chris’s band Animal Magnets and The Horned Gods – a group of jumped up little kids a few years below Chris in school who think they’re better than Animal Magnets because…well, they kind of are. And finally there’s Chris’s guilt. Guilt that he didn’t stand on his own two feet more often. Guilt that he had to go along with the crowd. Guilt that he didn’t do more to stand up for Neil.

More hip than Hornsby, you’d maybe find a closer comparison to Blandford’s dryly tragi-comic narrative in William Sutcliffe’s Are You Experienced though there is a darker thread running through Flying Saucer Rock & Roll than in the work of the other two writers. Definitely worth checking out, especially if you were a teenager in the early nineties, this will have you smiling and feeling both guilt and shame in equal measures.
Out now - published by Jonathan Cape.
Richard Blandford - Myspace
MONKEYBOXING.COM (coming soon)

No comments: