Less Cowbell

‘Daisy Jones and the Six’

Being in a rock band has a desperate, barely-held-together feel—money, drugs, sex, creativity, drummers who won’t play the songs the way you wrote them. The written word more often than not resists bringing this world to life. Such is the problem of the rock novelist, who often takes it upon herself to conjure a rock band’s specific chaos. When reading a book about a band, I’m tuned into whether the author gets this chaos right. I crave accurate renderings of it almost as much as the music itself.

 

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s tale chronicles the evolution of The Six—a Pittsburgh ensemble in the early seventies that manages to score a record deal and some national success—into Daisy Jones and the Six, thus creating a band with two lead singers. I know. Why not just light the thing on fire? It doesn’t help that Daisy is an L.A. scenester with a gravelly voice á la Stevie Nicks and a soul that keeps the pain away with any number of consciousness-altering chemicals. The Six’s singer, Billy Dunne, recognizes in Daisy both the last piece he and the band need to create great art and a monumental challenge to his fragile sobriety and more conventional life as a husband and father: “[Daisy’s] biggest asset was that people couldn’t take their eyes off her.”

Billy’s attraction to his new bandmate risks everything that matters most to him. Daisy, equally smitten, deals with her passion for Billy with pills, booze, and destructive behavior. The unravelling of the tale centers on the rise of Daisy Jones and the Six to superstardom. Who will light the fuse that blows the band to smithereens, Billy, or Daisy?

One of the most compelling aspects of Reid’s story is that she doesn’t settle for just one perspective. Mimicking an oral history, the author lets everyone in the Six’s orbit have their say. Billy’s brother, guitarist Graham, serves as an able second in the mold of Glenn Frey, always doing what’s right for the mothership while covering his brother’s back. “It’s a losing battle if you’re going to try to compete with Billy,” he narrates. “That’s why I don’t.”

Still, even Graham bristles when Billy rejects his song for inclusion on their album. This kind of inter-band striving is common in most acts. Someone always has a song someone else doesn’t want to play. As keyboardist Karen puts it, “You want to know if you’re an integral part. You want to believe they couldn’t have done it without you.” The lure of being even a small player in a big success is too much for any of them to walk away from.

Listen to any great rock band in its prime, and you’re listening to individuals giving too much of themselves. The siren call of the music begs it from you. It’s practically your duty. Why become a musician if not for this moment? Many have tried to render this specific bloodletting on the page. Few have achieved what Reid has accomplished in Daisy Jones and the Six. Daisy and Billy love each other and even more urgently need to get the fuck away from each other. Their penance for flying so close to their dark hearts is the memory of how good it felt, and the songs that keep reminding them. Soon, this novel will be a 13-episode series on Amazon Prime. So we’ll be able to hear the songs for ourselves.

(Ballantine, March 5, 2019)

Art Edwards

Art Edwards’s reviews have appeared in Salon, Los Angeles Review of Books, and Kenyon Review, among many others. He was cofounder of the Refreshments. His recently finished novel is called Nineteen Ways to Destroy Your Rock Band.

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