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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

With a Dream

I've been a follower and online friend of SK Waller for years now, through a lot of incarnations of her blog and through a lot of her creative endeavours. Her current project is a book trilogy which she is publishing herself, called Beyond the Bridge. I recently read the first volume, With a Dream.

The trilogy apparently follows the life of rock-and-roll musician Gordon Hammond, as he makes his way through most of the history of rock-and-roll itself. Covering the years 1966 through 1971, With a Dream introduces us to guitar 'legend' Hammond and then depicts the formation and eventual end of his band, Tuppence. Along the way Hammond meets a model named Felicity, who rapidly becomes the love of his life. Their relationship, however, is deeply turbulent and troubled, mirroring the time itself. I actually wish that the book spent a bit more time on the relationship between these two; the tragic nature of the love between these two, the feeling that their couplehood is doomed from the start, could have been played for a lot more emotional pathos. But the Gordon-and-Felicity love story comes to its end in a manner that I found surprising, and I look forward to seeing how it shapes Gordon's life to come.

With a Dream ultimately reads like a love letter to the rock-and-roll era itself, using a fictional musician as a way to explore rock without delving into it too deeply. The idea here is to try and illustrate what it might have been like to live through that era on the inside, and the overwhelming impression formed is that it was just a turbulent time for the musicians as it was for the fans, the record-buyers, the listeners, the groupies, and whomever. Hammond is active sometimes and oddly passive at others, and as the book marches on – depicting the sad way life can spin out of control for someone who really, at heart, only wants to write songs and play his guitar. It's perhaps this nature of Hammond's character that results in the book making surprisingly less mention of the politics of the time than I might have expected otherwise. For a book set in the 1960s music scene, there is an interesting lack of politics.

The novel has an interesting structure. There are standard chapters of narrative, but there are also interviews with Hammond and the other members of his band, who are all colorful characters in their own right. Waller has an interesting tightrope to walk here: she has to show that Hammond and his Tuppence bandmates are a part of music history, but she can't make them such a big part of music history that it ends up unbelievably warping what we know about music history. She has to have a band that is able to hobnob with the Beatles and the Stones, without having them usurp some of the success of the real-life bands. She is mostly able to make this work, although I do wonder how she'll continue walking that tightrope in the next two books. 

I'll find out when I read them, though!

(As I'm writing this, I now see that Book II, With a Bullet, is available on Kindle.)

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