Fantastic review by Simon Warner, author of “Text and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll: The Beats and Rock Culture.”
TRUE LOVE SCARS
Michael Goldberg (Neumu Press)
Review by Simon Warner
The great rock novel? The pursuit of that ultimate piece of fiction that distils the primal energy, the ecstatic power, the neurotic craziness, of popular music has been something of a holy grail in recent decades and, in True Love Scars – a deeply ironic nod to Buddy Holly’s ‘True Love Ways’ – one-time Rolling Stone journalist Michael Goldberg is the latest contender for this Lonsdale Belt of rock‘n’roll writing.
His protagonist Michael Stein is a Californian teenager in the later 1960s, tangled to distraction in the sound and image of his hero Bob Dylan, a paradoxical blend of cocksure kid and deluded hipster, bruising his fragile ego in the choppy shallows of high school romance, then sabotaging his increasingly complicated love tangles in a haze of drug indulgence and casual disloyalty, and all to a backbeat of Highway 61 Revisited, the Stones and the Doors.
It’s the story of a disaffected geek and self-imagined king of cool who turns out to be much more naïve nerd, as his promising upward trajectory hurtles into reverse. But True Love Scars, the first part of Goldberg’s ‘Freak Scene Dream Trilogy’, is as much about style – the way he tells the tale – as it is about content. Penned in a staccato amphetamine grammar, its narrative is fractured and deranged, often unsettling but frequently compelling, an unsparing portrait of the teen condition: assured then despairing, would-be sex god then impotent has-been, from erection to dejection, an only child battling the wills of his domineering father and interfering mom in the anonymous, suburban fringes of Marin County.
Goldberg’s work recalls a number of those post-war stylists who have tried to capture the uncertainties of adolescence into adulthood, the lure of escape and the quest for forbidden fruit. It has elements of Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, a flavour of Richard Fariña and his smart college satire Been Down So Long It Seems Like Up to Me, and more than a dash of that frenetic gonzo gabble that Hunter S. Thompson utilised to frame the madness of the modern world as the American dream unravelled, around the very time that Stein is doing his incompetent best to grow up. The great rock novel? Perhaps we still await it but, for sure, this writer has made a creditworthy tilt at this literary crown, and produced a very good one.
Simon Warner is the author of Text and Drugs and Rock’n’Roll: The Beats and Rock Culture. He’s a lecturer, Popular Music Studies, School of Music, University of Leeds, Leeds, United Kingdom
— A Days Of The Crazy-Wild blog post —