Writing about rock and roll bands is a hard ticket. We all have our pre-existing notions of what that is, whether it's The Beatles or The Stones, Motley Crue or Van Halen, Tool or Trivium. So it's difficult to present a work of fiction - based on a rock group - and present characters who will ring true enough for us to let loose of our already-imbedded conceptions.
Here, Perrotta bashes down those doors with The Wishbones, a New Jersey wedding band who would never make it big but held on nevertheless. Dave Raymond, the band's rhythm guitarist and backup singer (the author is already telling us something about our main character - the fact that he is not the lead guitar player nor the front vocalist reveals bundles), loves his band.
"Every now and then, when the chemistry was right, things got raucous. And when that happened,
The Wishbones knew how to crank up the volume and rock, with no apologies to anyone."
Those are the moments for which he lived. And when that cosmic synch amongst band members
isn't happening, he lives for his girlfriend, Julie Muller. She is bright, beautiful, passionate about his music - and wants to be married. And for 290-odd pages, the music of electric guitars runs headfirst into the sweet melody of matrimony, and our major character performs a wondrous and witty literary balancing dance. Fame over family.
If you've ever played in a band, wanted to play in a band, or even thought about it, read this. Perrotta is an American Nick Hornby, a man sympathetic to his character's flaws and desirous of giving to them what they want - though not necessarily what they need.
Still, when the writer combines the real with the imagined, there are problems.
Perrotta does bring in the names of real bands and real song titles, and when these come in contact with the names of fictitious bands and other made up entities, it's a tough nugget to swallow. The reader is caught - and this happens every time a book of fiction, particularly one dealing with rock and roll, lunges into non-fiction - between the real and the imagined, and the words come off as lifeless, forced.
Particularly troublesome, and there is no excusing this, are Perrotta's non-fiction mistakes. Dave and Ian, the band's keyboardist
and lead singer, are always playing guess-who games. Ian tosses out the name of a musician, and Dave has to guess the group. Band members do these types of things (you saw a mutated version of this in a scene from Spinal Tap) and for that the author is to be commended. But he blows it.
Ian says, "Mick Box." Dave says, "I want to say Mott the Hoople, but that's Mick Ronson." This happens on page 14, and for hardcore musicians and followers of rock history, this is an almost insurmountable blow,
enough to make you want to discard the book. After all, if the writer can't get this right, how good can the rest of this possibly be?
To clarify, Mick Ronson was NOT in Mott the Hoople; he was in David Bowie's band Spiders From Mars. The guitarist in Mott the Hoople was Mick Ralphs. Ensuing dialog, however, makes no mention of this. It's not meant to be an intentional faux pas - Perrotta believes Ronson WAS in Mott. Not.
And later, someone is talking about the release of the first Bad Company album as happening in 1975, when
in fact it came out a year earlier.
If you're going to write a book about a fictional rock band based on real people and even use the names of real musicians to re-enforce your story, then you
had better do your homework.
Beyond this, however, The Wishbones is a sweet and passionate embrace of the Seventies. A truly terrific book.
Oh, and Mick Box? He was in Uriah Heep.