So I was on the road. Nothing unusual there, of late. And I hadn’t read anything in quite a while, and Ron was driving and playing the audiobook of The Lord of the Rings, which of course I love but think it’s a little like listening to the inside of my own head. And I had my Kindle with me. So I bought a book.
I decided it was time to read Susan Helene Gottfried’s Trevor’s Song and participate in her “read a book about rock music in October” thing. She’s calling it “Rocktober.” (I typed that delicately, thinking of a friend of mine who once refused to order a “Yumbo” at Shoney’s, but confused the waitress by asking for the “ham and cheese sandwich, please”).
Anyway, Trevor is the bass player for a heavy metal band he put together and calls ShapeShifter, and the band has made it big. The lead singer is his best friend Mitchell, whose family took Trevor in when he was young, and who, at the time the novel begins, is falling in love with a perfectly wonderful girl named Kerri. The conflict of the novel, amusingly enough, is that Trevor can’t bring himself to hate Kerri. In fact, watching Kerri and Mitchell together gives him an inkling that true love is possible, life has meaning, and love might be more than a punch in the face.
The insights into what it might be like to be a big-time rock star are the most fun part of reading this book, and it manages to show Trevor and Mitchell in human terms without doing too much of what Trevor is most afraid:
“Why not just let a rock star stay up on that stage? You lost a lot of the glitz and glamour when you took him down and made him a person, and a rock star should never be a mere person.”
The details about Trevor’s life are sketched in mercifully brief terms, as in this quick exposition, early on:
“He straightened up to stretch that kink out of his back, push his hair over his shoulders and out of his face, and take a few deep breaths before facing the lock for the fourth fucking time. It made no sense; when his sister’s life had been at stake, he’d jimmied her door with his eyes swollen shut, but now, when he doubted the big idiot was actually dead, he was, once again, a useless shit. Just like Hank had spent all those years insisting he was.
Just like Mitchell’s parents had spent more recent years trying to tell him he wasn’t. And just like ShapeShifter fans proved beyond any doubts, at every record store and every concert. Trevor Wolff was not a useless shit. He was important. His fans said so.”
And it’s amazing that the author manages to create sympathy for a character whose greatest joy in life is messing with people and seeing if they’ll get angry:
“Usually, it was fun to sneak and be a dick, like the night he and Daniel had walked out on stage and pretended to be part of the crew. They hadn’t gotten too near the edge of the stage, and they weren’t noticed by the stampede of people, but it’d been fun to talk about later on.”
Actually, Trevor had my sympathy from the part where it’s revealed that he “dropped out of high school three days before graduation just to make a statement no one understood.” That’s a character description, right there. I had a high school friend, now apparently a fairly successful actor, who once failed a class he was quite capable of acing, and I remember admiring his courage; it was a kind of Holden Caulfield move, proving he wasn’t a “phoney,” but it was also a protest against the system that landed him in that particular class, one far beneath his abilities.
As the novel goes on, we get to know Trevor’s secrets, like that he doesn’t drink much and that “made it hard to be in a band…Trevor kept telling himself drunks were a down side of his job, nothing more—certainly not a harbinger of violence. He liked that word. Harbinger. It made him sound smart.” Knowing a silly thing that make a person feel good for a moment is intimate, and this one reveals that perhaps his dramatic gesture—dropping out of high school—has left him feeling more defensive than he admits. In fact, when he gets sick, he can’t even say the name of the disease out loud. I would probably have thought this was hyperbole before last month, when I saw it happen to one of the people I know and love best in the world. So the conclusion, in which Trevor’s friends and bandmates rally around him in the expected fashion, struck me as more genuine than it might have otherwise, especially because when it happens, “Trevor wanted to gag at the melodrama.”
Trevor is an interesting character, and I was unpleasantly surprised that the rallying around point is the end of the novel. That’s the weird thing about reading on a Kindle; if you don’t pay attention to the little percent mark at the bottom of the screen, you don’t know you’re coming to the end. I wanted more.
But it was great to be able to inject a new book into my brain that way—the immediate gratification was worth the reduced price of the book in Kindle form, and it’s good to have new stories putting up wallpaper so that when I listen to the inside of my head, I hear a few new voices over the road noise.