This is disappointing. 4 its 1st 2/3rd's, John Eskow's SMOKESTACK LIGHTNING (1980) is a solid, involving, very-well-written rock&roll novel, as good in its Dtail & Dscription of life in an up&coming R&B/bar band as the 1st 5 chapters of Jesse Sublett's ROCK CRITIC MURDERS.
But w/ the unXpected, un4shadowed murder of Ollie the Roadie -- who's bn protecting the band since pg. 1 of the book -- Eskow loses control of the story & never regains it. The last 3rd spirals down in2 cliches & plotlessness, & tho there's a bittersweet 1-nite reunion scene at the Nd, it's not enuf. Nothing has NE payoff.
Which is 2 bad, Bcos Eskow was on2 a very good thing.
Singer/lyricist Jimmy Caine & brilliant but ever-more-shaky lead guitarist Alan Landreaux head-up NYC bar band Cakewalk, who score a break & start attracting record-co attn just when they thot their ride was over. An oddball Col. Tom Parker-wannabe named Harry Seely offers 2 manage them & guarantees them a record contract within a yr. It happens even faster.
The early chapters, showing Cakewalk in their element, playing in smoky bars & dives around the NYC area, R by far the best part of the book. Eskow has a good eye 4 Dtail, moves his story along w/o straining, & has a way of closing off a good scene w/ a telling line of Dscription or dialogue.
Caine, Landreaux & wisecracking drummer Mikey Martelli R real, believable characters w/ their own odd quirks, bigger than the story they Nd up trapped in. Bassist Paul Baker is a quiet cipher, basically the same at the Nd of the book as he was at the Bginning. The women the band members get close 2 R fully-realized people w/ their own drives & goals, 2.
It's only at the mgmt & record-co Nd that things get a little unreal. Seely is clear as a "type," but he doesn't come across as a real person -- 2 many odd, stagey hangups that don't Cm real. & record-co Bad Guy Wayne Harmon is just a big shadowy-evil presence, clearly in the book Bcos the story needed a Bad Guy.
The story follows Cakewalk thru their last few NYC shows, thru their sessions 2 record their 1st album, & thru their 1st nationwide tour -- during which things go weird & Landreaux is eventually 4ced out of the band 4 what Cms like stupid reasons.
Landreaux goes steadily more nuts. Meanwhile, Caine holds Cakewalk 2gether, & the band records a 2nd, more-commercial album. But the band's growing success doesn't make Caine happy.
Landreaux Nds up heading another band, playing 1-nite gigs until sometime in the future when he won't B able 2 do it NEmore. Caine loses his soul reaching 4 fame & $$$. The only happy people at the Nd of the book R Martelli & his wife Carla, who have made enuf $$$ 2 live comfortably, settle down & raise a family.
& the murder-conspiracy plot that develops in the last 1/2 of the book doesn't help. Seely Nds up w/ a trashed career when 2 people R killed thru the conspiracy, & Harmon -- the Bad Guy -- Gets Away With It. But 4 WHAT? 2 protect a stash of world-class bootleg recordings -- that nothing's ever done with? Nothing has NE payoff.
MayB Eskow didn't have a big, dramatic, fireworks-filled way 2 Nd his novel. But the disappointment Xpressed by mosta the characters & the brief reunion at the very Nd Rn't enuf, either. MayB Real Life turns out this way when U discover yr career wasn't worth the effort U put in2 it, but a successful novel requires something more, something bigger. Thru the final 3rd of the book it's obvious Eskow didn't have it. & I can't figure out what he was aiming 4.
If U liked the portrait of bar-band life shown in Sublett's ROCK CRITIC MURDERS, there's a lot more of it here. The 1st 2/3rd's of the book is well worth tracking down.