Friday, November 6, 2009

Shiner strikes again!

Lewis Shiner's SAY GOODBYE: THE LAURIE MOSS STORY (1999) is a low-key, gritty, realistic novel about the late-'90s music bizness, focusing on a fictional singer-songwriter & her band who Don't Quite Make It -- tho Shiner leaves the story open at the Nd 4 a possible return.
4 at least 1/2 its length this book is as down-2-earth & "normal" as Shiner's earlier, brilliant rock-music-novel GLIMPSES was fantastic (tho GLIMPSES was absolutely concrete-accurate on the Dtails). I think Shiner's choice 2 treat the novel as something of a documentary of Laurie Moss's rise & virtual disappearance was something of a mistake -- it makes the opening a little dry, & the 1st 1/2 of the story Cms told from a bit of a distance. It takes awhile 4 the story 2 get rolling, compared 2 GLIMPSES, which grabs U from the 1st pg.
But every time Shiner shifts 2 1st-person 2 narrate Laurie's story, the intrest-level increases & the story Cms effortless 2 read. The magic starts working. & 1nce Laurie finishes recording her 1st album & her band starts on tour, the story is involving 2 the finish. Then it's over 2 soon.
Along the way we learn a lot about Laurie's past (good, solid, Blievable Dtails about her Texas roots -- Shiner lived in Austin 4 quite awhile), the dream band she meets almost by accident, the "living-legend" guitarist Laurie falls 4 & then hasta put-up-with, the album they record piece-by-piece, their early adventures playing live at LA clubs, gaining increasing publicity, signing 2 an (incompetent if not evil) major-label record co., a 6-month U.S. tour, then minor disaster(s) & back 2 oblivion, with a postscript that Laurie May B Back.
While we learn about Laurie's past, we don't Xactly learn what drives her, where her songs Come From (I always want 2 know EVERYTHING about this stuff) -- dead father, nagging mother, grandpa in precarious health, string of nowhere jobs, etc. -- U know, Normal Life. At 1 point in the book, Laurie's mom turns 2 her & says "You're such a cipher." & after 245 pgs, she still is. All we really know is she has this incredible talent & drive 2 B famous thru her music. Self-pitying, self-Dstructive "living legend" guitarist Skip Shaw is probly a better-realized character than Laurie herself, & Laurie takes 2 long 2 fire him from the band B4 he Dstroys it. & after he leaves, the band does better 2gether than even they ever dreamed.
Along the way, we learn The Real Secret about the electric guitar, there R some great band-camraderie jokes, & some of the writing, as usual w/ Shiner, is just lovely: "Remember this, she told herself.... Know that there was a time when you were not alone, but were part of something bigger than yourself. Know that you made music that was both solid and full of beautiful detail, that you moved people physically and emotionally, that you lived this and it will always be inside you."
Quibbles: I know it's pointless 2 complain about typos & bad copyediting/proofreading in modern novels (the all-time winner 4 most typos in 1 book is Gael Baudino's GOSSAMER AXE, a book SO great U'll 4give the stupid errors, & there R 100's of them....), but SAY GOODBYE has a coupla errors U may trip over. Near the Nd, a mistaken drop of the word "be" in typesetting turns a sentence in2 nonsense, tho it's EZ 2 figure-out what was in10ded; & earlier Shiner notes that atta band rehearsal Skip Shaw was "drinking rum and belligerant...," a booboo so obvious that I really did look up from the book & say 2 myself "I've never heard of a drink called a belligerant." & mayB the 1st music-fact error in 2 books: I thot it was Charlie Rich & not Jerry Lee Lewis who sang "Lonely Weekends"....
But I feel bad pointing these things out Bcos the book's well worth reading, specially if U're a fan of current alternative or folk-style music. Is it better than GLIMPSES? Well, no. But it's a totally diffrent kinda book, sorta the flip-side of GLIMPSES. & the low-keyness of it may have worked against its success -- Shiner talks about this in the book itself, that the story he's telling may not attract or appeal 2 NE1, & he notes in his long autobiography posted at that, even tho GLIMPSES won the World Fantasy Award, it was "a sales disaster," & that SAY GOODBYE sold even worse.
This hasn't stopped Shiner tho, thank Ghod. Pushing 60, he's still writing, w/ a career-retrospective short-story collection & a new (non-music-related) novel issued recently. SAY GOODBYE isn't fantastic, & it coulda bn warmer, but I'd sure look at a sequel....

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