Defunct Press, 2007
212 pages, Fiction
5 out of 5 stars
Every once in awhile you come across something that’s a pleasure to read. The story isn’t so important – you’re not necessarily attached to the plot. It’s about prose that oozes with subtext. Imperfect characters you can relate to. Witty little metaphors that make you smile. Words flowing naturally, falling right into place. They fit right in there. A book that is not so much about itself than it is about you. Books by Kurt Vonnegut, J.G. Ballard and the early writing of Chuck Palahniuk immediately come to mind. Art Edwards may one day join such company.
I liked Ghost Notes before I reached the end of the first page and when I finished I knew it was a book I’d revisit some day. Some books get set aside and forgotten, stuffed in the back of a cabinet, sold used on amazon, even recycled. Then there are books that occupy a place of prominence on your bookshelf: Fight Club, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, The Godfather, Lord of the Rings. These are books I’ve read more than once and will probably read again. I think I may even have multiple copies of a few of them. I know that, for some reason, I definitely ended up owning two copies of The Godfather and I can swear I saw an extra copy of Fight Club lying around here somewhere. Will Ghost Notes be so revered? Let’s be realistic, probably not. But it was one of those books that was just fun to read, and one that I will probably read again.
Ghost Notes is set in the mid-1990’s. Right on the money. When grunge was king and musicians in thrift-store clothes sang pure, powerful, melancholy songs like Black Hole Sun, Down in a Hole and My Name is Mud. It’s about a guy named Hote, who quits his band in the middle of a tour and then lingers nearby contemplating his purpose, reliving his past, and meeting interesting characters like the confident, wannabe teenage punk-rock goddess Pippy Longstocking aka “Betty”. The story is filled with rock and roll minutia and Edwards is clearly an experienced musician. It felt like we shared similar musical experiences, like we both once lived in the same world Hote occupies as he struggles to find his place. I was in my early 20’s during the grunge era, in college, playing rock guitar in bands with names like The Juice Crew, Waiting for Gina and Better Than Better Than Ezra. I thought I was cool.
Nowadays it’s Kelly Clarkson, Demi Lovato and the Black Eyed Peas. Rock is dead they say.
If you don’t have a similar background, don’t possess a passion for pure rock music, didn’t push to the front of the crowd at House of Blues to see Primus up close, or walk back to your car disappointed after witnessing how much Smashing Pumpkins sucks live, or lost your friends (and your ride home) during a Beastie Boys concert, then you probably won’t love Ghost Notes as much as I did. But for all you power-chord players out there, all you Zepp-heads, everyone of you who was awestruck while touring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, even the folks who wondered where all these passionate Nirvana fans were before the guy shot himself, you need to dedicate a few days to Ghost Notes.
But don’t be misled: this is not a book about rock music. It’s a book about people and Edwards has mastered their lives in a way that will make even the most unfortunate country music fan appreciate his work. He’s good with his words. It’s hard to describe what music sounds like, but Edwards does it beautifully:
His guitar tone was loud – like Cobain’s and a million others – but also clean, like someone had broken into the Beach Boys’ practice room and turned their amps up when they weren’t looking.
With elements of minimalism driving the story, like Palahniuk, Edwards’ scenes unfold with just enough to let our imaginations run wild, and we love him for it. An encounter with Goo, with his green Mohawk, his jaw crunching ice from a foam cup as he cultivates his boredom, gives us all we need to know about the guy while giving us hardly anything at all. We know these people. We’re right there with them.
Not every character seems necessary and the use of first person, for every character, was a little confusing at first. But his delicate writing works quite well. It’s natural. Each word fits almost perfectly into place. And while we celebrate rock, we also look at ourselves. Where we’ve been. Why we’ve been. And what’s next? There is real feeling here, as if this book has some cosmic purpose.
Like Jimmy Page’s ripping, ice-cold guitar solo in the middle of Whole Lotta Love (the greatest 16 seconds in the history of rock and roll) Ghost Notes called me home.
Long live rock!
Reviewed by Mark McGinty, January 2010