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Espedair Street

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Futura, London, 1988
(price: 4.99; 250 pages)
(first published by Macmillan in 1987)

dedication: For Les, and all the People's Republic of Glenfinnan

The blurb on the back:

'The great white hope of contemporary British literature' - Fay Weldon

'Two days ago I decided to kill myself... Last night I changed my mind and decided to stay alive. Everything that follows is... just to try to explain.'

Daniel Weir used to be a famous - not to say infamous - rock star. Maybe still is. At thirty-one he has been both a brilliant failure and a dull success. He's made a lot of mistakes that have paid off and a lot of smart moves he'll regret forever. (However long that turns out to be.)
Daniel Weir has gone from rags to riches and back, and managed to hold on to them both, though not to much else. His friends all seem to be dead, fed up with him or just disgusted - and who can blame them? And now Daniel Weir is all alone. As he contemplates his life, Daniel realizes he has only two problems: the past and the future. He knows how bad the past has been. But the future - well, the future is something else.

'Engagingly told, cleverly constructed' - Time Out
'Glittering pockets of wit ... Banks is undoubtedly a natural' - the
'The most imaginative British novelist of his generation' -
The Times

Daniel Weir, who tells this story, is a six-foot-six retired rock star, formerly the bassist and songwriter in Frozen Gold, a Scottish band who made it huge in 1975 ...

And there I've got problems straightaway. Because no one made it big in 1975. It was an awful year for young groups. The closest thing we got to a new band breaking through was ... who? Sailor? Dr Feelgood? Fox? Pilot?

So what kind of music are we supposed to be talking about? 1975 was the interregnum. Glam was dead, pub rock had passed its peak, having failed to make the breakthrough, punk was not yet born, and no new hard rock bands would emerge until the New Wave of British Heavy Metal (remember that?). Into this vacuum stepped the novelty acts: Telly Savalas, Typically Tropical and Billy Connolly all had #1 hits in '75, whilst other records to make the top included reissues and covers like 'Bye Bye Baby', 'Oh Boy', 'Stand By Your Man', 'Whispering Grass', 'Tears On My Pillow', 'I Only Have Eyes For You' and 'Space Oddity'. If it weren't for the fact that I was thirteen that year - and therefore pop music was, by definition, at its absolute peak - I'd have to admit that it was something of a disaster zone. Frankly it was chaos in the charts; certainly no place for a new British band to break in any lasting kind of way.

In a nutshell, that's my problem with this book. It lacks reality. To a casual observer, it may seem reasonable, but pop music is so obsessive about detail, so fixed in its cycles that a deviation this great simply doesn't add up. I understand that my obsession with 1975 makes for a fantastically superficial reading of a book by an author that everyone from the NME to the Daily Telegraph has heralded as a genius, but there you are. If you were after serious criticism, what would you be doing on a site called Trash Fiction?

Get past my reservations, of course, and you're on safer territory. For those like me who gave up on Banks when they realized how over-hyped his debut The Wasp Factory was, this book's something of a pleasure: nowhere near as good as those cover quotes claim, but a decent little story about someone who reached the peak of their life at far too early an age and has nothing much left to do but spend a few decades waiting to die. Well-written, even if - unlike, say, Fuel Injected Dreams - it ultimately seems more about pop culture than of it.

Banks went on to adapt this for a Radio Four serial, but really that's best avoided. He's a decent writer, and the lyrics to his songs aren't bad when read - you don't want to hear the things as well.

Just out of interest, there was a major band that broke through in 1975, but I don't think they've got anything to do with this story. Kraftwerk scored their first hit with 'Autobahn', a record that was to change the face of modern music, but since they were (a) German, and (b) not rock as such, they don't count in this analysis. Anyway the self-indulgent posturings of Queen got more attention at the time.


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