Thursday, June 21, 2012

Naked – Kevin Brooks

Being in a band is pretty much the most exciting experience life has to offer. Why is it then that I’ve read so few books that adequately convey that? Perhaps I just read the wrong books. The only book I’ve come across that really gets the idea across was Terry Pratchett’s Soul Music – so nothing based in the real world. Until, that is, I spotted this book in Waterstones.

It looked promising – set in the long hot summer of 1976, the summer of punk before it made the mainstream. I think that must have been a very exciting time in music (I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it at the time). At least going by this book. It starts off with two of the main characters in school, and the main character – a girl (hoorah! A girl who plays a musical instrument rather than being the singer!) is asked to play bass in the band because the guy has seen her playing Debussy on the piano. (Quite realistic: bass is very easy to play but requires a good degree of musicality and understanding of harmony to play well). Which leads to the first really great scene: invited to a band practice and handed a bass when she has never played one before in her life, she starts by hitting the notes and playing a simple line until she really gets into it, then finally stops when her hand gets too sore. “You might want to stop shaking your hand like that,” a band member says. “You’re getting spots of blood all over the floor”. She’s got so into it she’s played until her fingers bled (quoting Bryan Adams) without even noticing. If you’ve never been in a band you may find that hard to believe, but trust me, that’s exactly what it’s like.

From that point I was hooked, as the characters finish the year at school (the bloke drops out) and get more and more involved in the band (and with each other – a relationship that is only touched upon and is a bit troubled). The story meanders a bit – the band sack their guitarist and need a new one, who turns out to be the key character in the book and yet only comes in a third of the way through – but the description of the gigs, the band, the early punk scene, it’s all pretty riveting.

I said before that I thought the story meandered a bit. Some key things only come in quite late on. Of course, life is like that, but you don’t necessarily expect it in a book. But that just makes the plot unpredictable; it doesn’t make it any less gripping.

This is still not the ultimate rock-and-roll novel – not quite. I don’t know whether that novel even exists yet. But other than Soul Music it’s the only novel I’ve ever felt accurately conveyed the experience of being in a band. And that made it a pretty excellent read.

Incidentally - if you know me and fancy borrowing any of the books I've read, just ask. Some of them I've borrowed, some I give away when I've finished reading them, the best ones I tend to keep. Always worth an ask.


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