#2: Rock Bottom (by Michael Shilling)

51ieqjgpttl_ss500_2I sort of know the guy who wrote this, at least inasmuch as he comes into our bookstore all the  time to browse. We chat and crack wise, and he usually buys something, so I’ve labeled him in my head as one of our “nice” customers, and therefore a local author whose writing is potentially worth my attention. Never let it be said that I am an impartial critic, because I ain’t.  Be nice to me, I read your books.

But whatever, I’d be predisposed toward this book regardless because it is about music and being in a band and going on tour and that’s all stuff I do, and I’m, you know, SUPER into my own scene. Plus, the jacket design is alarmingly (and I’ve got to assume, intentionally) similar to the cut-and-paste rock n roll flier aesthetic of Please Kill Me, Legs McNeil’s ridiculously cool compendium of punk history.

Rock Bottom covers one day in the life of “ironic” L.A. cock-rock outfit Blood Orphans (awesome band name? yes). It is 2004, they are in Amsterdam, and it is the last day of their enormously unsuccessful European tour. The band has not fared well: bad press, worse PR, arrests, riots and abysmal album sales have fueled the fires of personal and professional resentment and now all of them – the sex-addicted drummer, the talentless eczema-plagued bass player, the proselytizing lead singer, the cringing doormat of a guitarist – hate each other. On top of that, their manager (a tiny blonde dervish described on the flyleaf as “heroically coked out”) has flown in from the states to try to salvage whatever remains of her integrity and her boys’ careers.

The book could have easily been kind of bad, it could have ridden on stereotype and shock value, but thankfully it’s not and it doesn’t. The writing is sharp and bawdy, the pacing quick and the characters equal parts sympathetic and maddening, sort of like those drug and drink addled friends you can’t help but love, even as they are driving you insane by skipping out on their bar tabs or starting fights with strangers. Everyone’s a fuckup, but in equal measure, and ultimately our flaws make us all brethren.

Which is actually almost exactly like being in a band.

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