It’s kind of weird that I haven’t talked about it very much on this site, but if I’m ever put in the position where I’m forced to name what my favorite movie of all time is, and I’m unable to wiggle out of it and list a handful, my main go to is Cameron Crowe’s 2000 love letter to rock and roll Almost Famous. It’s a movie that I love completely and without shame, and amazing story that I could probably quote verbatim, and which hit me at the exact perfect moment. Because, until I went to college, I had spent my life believing that there was no better music than rock and roll from the sixties and seventies. I have since grown in my musical tastes, but classic rock was my world, and I still find myself drawn to that type of music, either through intense nostalgia or just a foundational sense of musical taste. And, as my love of Almost Famous shows, I also find myself being drawn to stories set in that world. The larger than life, insane world of rock and roll, self-destructive, artistically free, and full of absurd moments that have created the music that scored generations of people is one that I find endlessly fascinating, and movies, books, or TV shows that attempt to replicate that world will almost always be enough to at least pique my interest. So, when I heard about the new novel from Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six, I figured it would be something up my alley. But, when I then learned that it was presented as a fictitious oral history, a narrative gimmick that I found incredibly effective with Elizabeth Hand’s Wylding Hall, a novel I discussed last year, I knew that this was going to be something worth my time. And, after ripping through it at a breakneck pace, I’m glad to say that I’ve found a book that I loved quite a bit.
Daisy Jones & the Six is the story of a rock and roll band from the 1970s who really only existed for one album, but one album that is considered one of the finest ever recorded. But, it doesn’t start like that. It starts as two distinct groups of performers, a hard rock band called the Six and an immensely talented by deeply troubled singer/songwriter named Daisy ones. We chart the two separate entities for a while as they make their bones in the business, setting themselves up for greatness. The Six are a popular band with a lot of potential, being ran by an egotistical lead singer and principal songwriter named Billy Dunne. But, with six members of the band there are occasionally too many chefs in the kitchen, leading to a lot of tumultuous fights. But, the music is able to keep them together, pushing aside Billy’s terrible behavior. That takes a bit of a turn when Billy becomes a womanizing alcoholic and drug addict, leading him to leave the band and get sober, eager for a new direction. And, simultaneously, we learn of Daisy Jones, a naturally gifted and beautiful signer who has grown up in a life of leisure, getting anything she wanted, while succeeding off her raw talent. And, eventually she begins a career as a singer, although constrained by the record label’s uneasiness at her songwriting abilities, and forced to just cover other people’s work.
However, after the Six release a very popular album, and seek to launch themselves into something special after Billys newfound sobriety, and Daisy’s slow rise in success, their mutual record company decide to have them go on tour together. And, after using Daisy’s vocals on a duet Billy had written in honor of his wife, it becomes clear that they have something magical together. So, their musical careers are joined, and Daisy Jones & the Six are formed, ready to begin work on their first album together, which will be called Aurora. And, the story of this album, which went on to become one of the most influential and powerful rock albums ever recorded becomes the main premise of this book. Told through interviews with all surviving members of the band, and people involved in its production, we start to learn about what a miracle it was that this album existed at all. Between internal strife, a love affair between multiple band members, Daisy’s slow descent into drug abuse, Billy’s war with sobriety, and a burgeoning romantic infatuation between Billy and Daisy, we see everything that could go wrong with an album happen. And yet, they make something magical together. And promptly flame out, crashing and burning in the middle of their tour. Never making music again, but leaving behind something special that people for generations can love, all thanks to their efforts, pains, joys, and souls.
When I wrote about Wylding Hall I talked about how much I enjoyed the gimmick of having a novel be structured like an oral history, made up entirely of interviews of different characters. With that novel I considered it a gimmick that saved an otherwise kind of by the numbers haunted house story, which weirdly enough was also about a band recording a legendary album. But, in the case of Daisy Jones & The Six, this gimmick was used to tell an already great and engaging story in a way that just enhanced everything about it. The story of this novel owes a lot to the real life stories behind many rock bands, specifically Fleetwood Mac, which could have made for a really great book regardless, especially when put in the context of Taylor Jenkens Reid’s wonderful writing skills. But, when placed within the structure of an oral history, a very different aspect of the story is brought out, in a way that maybe wouldn’t have been clear if told in a more traditional manner. Because what this novel ends up being about, aside from the story of a rock band making a popular album, is the way that we can all see things different. Ostensibly each of the characters are telling the same story. They, for the most part, were all there, and they all experienced it together. But, by utilizing the oral history format we were able to see them all describe these events in different ways, through their own personal perspectives. And, through that, we get to see that no one sees things the same way. Minor things like disagreeing over what day something happened on, or what drugs they were taking at the time go hand in hand with larger things like who wrote what song, who was in love with who, and the reasons why they do the things they did become so much more clear, and as a result the whole situation becomes more nebulous. We get a special kind of insight into these events that only serves to complicate things, showing that we all have out own point of view, our own recollections, and that even the people who lived through an event will sometimes remember it differently. Tell the tale differently. And, at that point, you’re left to wonder what even the real story was. Was one person right, was another? Or were they all wrong, some combination of the different stories, creating less of a definite narrative, and more of a tapestry of different possibilities, all telling one story, but in a manner more true to life. Open to interpretation.
Daisy Jones & the Six was written by Taylor Jenkins Reid, 2019.
Categories: Page Turners