Evening's Empire

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Overview


THE YEAR IS 1967.

In England, and around the world, rock music is exploding—the Beatles have gone psychedelic, the Stones are singing "Ruby Tuesday," and the summer of love is approaching. For Jack Flynn, a newly minted young solicitor at a conservative firm, the rock world is of little interest—until he is asked to handle the legal affairs of Emerson Cutler, the seductive front man for an up-and-coming group...

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Evening's Empire: A Novel

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Overview


THE YEAR IS 1967.

In England, and around the world, rock music is exploding—the Beatles have gone psychedelic, the Stones are singing "Ruby Tuesday," and the summer of love is approaching. For Jack Flynn, a newly minted young solicitor at a conservative firm, the rock world is of little interest—until he is asked to handle the legal affairs of Emerson Cutler, the seductive front man for an up-and-coming group of British boys with a sound that could take them all the way.

Thus begins Jack Flynn’s career with the Ravons, a forty-year journey through London in the sixties, Los Angeles in the seventies, New York in the eighties, into Eastern Europe, Africa, and across America, as Flynn tries to manage his clients through the highs of stardom, the has-been doldrums, sellouts, reunions, drug busts, bad marriages, good affairs, and all the temptations, triumphs, and vanities that complicate the businesses of music and friendship.

Spanning the decades and their shifting ideologies, from the wild abandon of the sixties to the cold realities of the twenty-first century, Evening’s Empire is filled with surprising, sharply funny, and perceptive riffs on fame, culture, and world events. A firsthand observer and remarkable storyteller, author Bill Flanagan has created an epic of rock-and-roll history that is also the life story of a generation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Evening’s Empire is epic.” —Vanity Fair
Ben Sisario
…as long as a Yes concept album and as wittily observed as a Kinks song. Following the members of a second-tier British band called the Ravons, it winds through the standard historical mileposts of the last 40-odd years—the fizzy mid-'60s, the turgid and bearded '70s, the reunion tours and charity mega-concerts since the '80s—and leads to a sobering coda: the end of the party, the twilight of the rock gods.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
As in his previous novel, A&R, MTV executive Flanagan presents a life in the music biz, this time in the form of a perhaps too-sprawling history of rock and roll and the men behind the scenes. In 1967, young attorney Jack Flynn ingratiates himself to budding British rock act the Ravons by easing singer Emerson Cutler out of a messy divorce, getting the band out of a disastrous contract and taking the rap for the musicians' attempted drug smuggling, the last of which gets Flynn disbarred. For the next four decades, his fate is intertwined with the band, even as it dissolves at the first whiff of success: Emerson goes solo and becomes a minor sensation in America, while keyboardist Simon's dreary tunes send him touring the Communist bloc. Tragic bass player Charlie fades quickly into obscurity, but nearly strikes it rich through other avenues. Flynn's role as manager is a wonderful balancing act, both for the protagonist and the author, and Flanagan, despite his tendency to leave absolutely nothing out (and, curiously, a missed opportunity with a devilish producer), pulls it all together into a complex, humorous and touching story. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
Satisfying, near-epic tale of a British rock band, from the fresh young faces of the '60s to the melting-cheese faces of today. For his latest fictional foray into the entertainment biz (New Bedlam, 2007, etc.), MTV vice president Flanagan takes as his narrator/protagonist Jack Flynn, a born rock 'n' roll manager who is therefore destined always to be a disappointment to his pious Irish parents. Especially when the budding young solicitor is disbarred after a drug arrest, a bum rap that puts the members of The Ravons forevermore in his debt. (He pocketed their dope.) These young British rockers are, of course, spoiled children with enormous appetites for sex and drugs; they're also on a mission to conquer the world. Relating his tale in a bittersweet voice from the vantage of the present, meaning that he is now in his late 60s, Jack charts The Ravons' rise and eventual fall; their demise, naturally, is a sordid matter of money, jealousy and publishing rights. Flanagan is note-perfect, particularly on the small details of life back in the day: "We forget now that airplanes, restaurants, movie theaters, taxis, offices and homes were all full of smoke then. There were ashtrays in every armrest." The Ravons are one- or two-hit wonders, and they break up a third of the way into the narrative, but there's much more to the story-many more opportunities, that is, for egos to swell, tempers to flare and adenoids to trill. In the end, Jack pulls off the near-impossible, reuniting The Ravons for a world tour that has all the earmarks of a Spinal Tap outing. Suffice it to say that in the end he learns once again that no good deed goes unpunished. Assured, often lyrical and true to the world ofthe star-maker machinery behind the popular song. A lively complement to Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, Mark Hudson's The Music in My Head and Laurence Gonzales's Jambeaux.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781439148464
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • Publication date: 10/19/2010
  • Pages: 648
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Bill Flanagan

Bill Flanagan’s books include the novels New Bedlam and A&R. His work has appeared in Esquire, Vanity Fair, GQ, Rolling Stone, Spy, and many other publications. He is executive vice president and editorial director of MTV Networks, and an on-air essayist on CBS News Sunday Morning. He lives in New York City with his wife and their three children.

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Read an Excerpt

I don’t know where my life has gone. I was a young attorney in London when the senior partner asked me to run an embarrassing errand for an important client. Next thing I knew I was in Barcelona, up a tree with a camera. That led to my stuffing a bunch of drugs in my pockets as the border guards came down. Then I was in California and I was rich. I was married and I was not married anymore. My children have no use for me. My oldest friends blame me for their self-inflicted failures. I look around and forty years have passed and I am old and I don’t know where it went. Now I am a wealthy old man on top of a mountain in Jamaica and I don’t understand how I got here.

I do know this, though. I know the poison that infected my life just by its proximity and that ate up many of my comrades. That poison was the pursuit of fame. I fell in with a crowd who had more than almost anyone–they were beautiful, they were loved, they had talent, and they lived like antique nobility. But, having so much more than others, they became obsessed with what they did not have. They wanted to be famous and if they got famous for a while then they needed to be famous forever. They made a terrible mistake. They assumed fame was the same as popularity. They thought if they were famous, everyone would love them.

They learned too late that fame does not mean everyone loves you. Fame means everyone knows you, and many of the people who know you dislike you. Fame means people mock and misunderstand you. Fame does not boost one’s ego. Fame destroys egos. My friends who became famous grew bitter and mistrustful. They thought everyone leeched from them and they dismissed whoever disagreed with them. They dismissed their wives and their children and eventually they dismissed me.

The ones who did not remain famous spent their lives consumed with jealousy. They became more desperate with each year for something that does not exist. They thought that someone else had stolen their portion of glory, and that if they could fix that mistake all of the bad things they had done would be erased and their lives would be healed. The ones who had a little success and then lost it never forgave me for that, and they never blamed themselves.

I found a box of vinyl records yesterday. I put on a Van Morrison album that I bought in London in 1968 and which somehow has stayed with me ever since. I played it and memories flooded in.

I will stroll the merry way and jump the hedges first

It transported me to a flat in London, to a cottage in California, to a loft in Manhattan, to a hotel suite in Prague, to a glass room in Africa, and to the Paris apartment of a girl I have never been able to find my way back to.

And I will never grow so old again

I was raised in England but I have lived abroad for twice as long as I lived there. My English friends all say I talk and dress and carry myself like an American. I use American words. I have an American passport. My children are American. It is only Americans who consider me English. I live now in Jamaica, a former British colony. I feel like an old colonial, dispossessed of his land and left behind when the army withdrew. I don’t know what the Jamaicans think I am. An old white man sitting on a hill. Perhaps they expect me to be dead soon. Perhaps they are right.

I don’t feel old. I feel like the same young man whose life was all laid out for him in London in 1967. If only I had known then what it took me all these years to learn.

© 2010 Bill Flanagan

Mr. Difford was a senior partner and he wanted to see me. I was a young lawyer. Ah, but you see, I am transposing my memories into American. I was not a young lawyer then. I was a young solicitor. When I began dealing with Americans, they thought a solicitor was someone who hired a prostitute. A solicitor was not a lawyer; a solicitor was someone who needed a lawyer.

I was a young attorney with an old London firm called Difford, Withers & Flack. Mr. Flack had gone to his reward the year before I was hired, and when I saw Mr. Difford pass in the hall he looked to be only half a step behind him. I was just out of university and had an office the size of a storage closet with a narrow window and a view of a steam pipe. I was earning two thousand pounds a year. Mr. Difford wanted to see me.

I was shown into a brown office that seemed big to me then but would seem small to me now. Mr. Difford was there with Edward Withers, the partner to whom I reported.

“Here he is,” Withers said when he saw me. “Mr. Difford, you know Jack Flynn.” We exchanged handshakes and they gestured for me to sit. Withers spoke. Mr. Difford exuded the regret of a man watching a servant clean up after a sick dog.

“Do you know who this is?” Withers said, handing me an eight-by-ten-inch photograph of a smiling young man with long hair and a floral shirt and tight white pants and the beginnings of a mustache.

“Is it a Beatle?” I asked.

Withers looked at Mr. Difford and smiled and said to me, “Very close. Have you heard of a pop group called the Ravons?”

“Yes.” I was pretty sure I had. I had heard the names of a lot of pop groups and a lot of animal species and they all blended.

“We represent the Ravons,” Mr. Withers said. I would not have been more surprised if he had told me we represented Nikita Khru-shchev. “You know we have always done a bit of theatrical work. Their manager is the son of Sir Carl Towsy.”

I must have projected blankness. Withers was a bit annoyed when he had to explain, “The impresario.”

“Oh yes.”

“Towsy’s son Dennis manages this pop band the Ravons. He also manages that girl, Tildie Gold. We look after Dennis and so we do a bit with his clients, too.”

“I see.”

Withers seemed bothered that he had to go into all this. Withers often acted as if he preferred subordinates to read his mind and save him the trouble of having to explain himself. Mr. Difford was sitting behind his desk with the casual alertness of a cat on a couch.

“One of the Ravons has a complication and we need to help him deal with it.”

“Divorce case,” Mr. Difford said. He was telling Withers to stop dithering.

“Divorce case,” Withers echoed. “Ugly stuff. This young fellow, Emerson Cutler, is being sued for divorce by his wife on grounds of adultery.”

I asked if we were contesting that claim and both of the older men looked at me as if I had belched.

“It would be awkward for us to claim that Emerson has been a faithful husband,” Withers said.

“He’s deflowered half of Piccadilly,” Old Difford suddenly cried. “If there were a virgin left in Mayfair he would have ruined her, too!”

“We have been quietly settling up with girls wronged by young Cutler,” Withers explained. “We cannot ethically maintain that he has been pure after marriage.”

I said it sounded as if his wife had a good case. Here old Difford twirled and smiled and pointed at the ceiling.

“Except for one thing! Mrs. Cutler has not herself been loyal to her vows!” he said

“Ah.” I began to dread where this was heading.

Mr. Difford began to softly sing an old army chorus: “Tramp, tramp, tramp, the boys are marching.”

Withers said, “Mr. Cutler has informed us that his wife is tonight in Barcelona, in the arms of another man. If we can bring back proof of her infidelity, we greatly improve the prospects for a reasonable settlement of the terms of separation.”

I tried to find a way back from the abyss toward which my superiors were nudging me. “So you would like me to hire someone in Spain to follow Mrs. Cutler . . .”

The two older men looked at each other with regret. Among that generation of Englishmen it was poor form to ask questions about touchy subjects. Instead one would tiptoe up to the edge of an uncomfortable topic and then declare, “Well, it needn’t be said.” For example, if you were a British soldier, an older officer might offer you a smoke and ask you to take a walk with him and tell you, “Damn tough thing about Pedro. The general’s coming for inspection tomorrow and the silly bugger cannot learn to salute straight. It would be a good thing if you took him out and . . . well, it needn’t be said.” This left the subordinate unsure if he was expected to stay up all night training Pedro, hide him in a hamper until the general left the camp, or shoot him. I dare-say that many the unfortunate Pedro got a bullet in the back of the head when all the officer intended was to have him sent to the kitchen for a day. That is the downside of discouraging underlings from asking questions.

I was of a new generation. I came right out and asked. “Mr. Withers, what exactly would you like me to do?”

Mr. Difford let some air whistle out from between his teeth. Withers said, “We would like you to fly to Barcelona this afternoon and take some photographs of Mrs. Cutler in flagrante.”

All I had to qualify me for such an assignment was a camera. I said, “I don’t imagine Mrs. Cutler will want to go along with that.”

Here Withers gave me a look that suggested I was making him look bad in front of his boss and I had better fix that fast.

“Mrs. Cutler will not know about it, Flynn. We will give you a ticket and the name of the bungalow where she will be. From what her husband tells me, it is a place they have stayed before and security is lax. You should be able to get some pictures of her with her paramour and get out of there without announcing yourself.”

I looked at the two old lions. To say anything other than yes would have been to consign myself to ten years of filing folders in a basement vault. I said I would buy a toothbrush on my way to Gatwick and be back with the pictures. They nodded.

But I was, as I said, of a new generation and I had to ask, “Sir, why me?”

Difford looked at Withers, who looked as if he were contemplating the dissolution of the British Empire. Withers said, “Because you are young, Flynn. You are part of this . . .” He waved his fingers as if looking for a word to pluck out of the air; he settled on, “new vogue.”

I considered that all the way to Spain. I had not thought of myself as part of any vogue at all. I was a young man, certainly, born near the end of the war, brought up on rationing, pushed by my parents and teachers to take advantage of the opportunities purchased for me by the sacrifice of so many. It was quite a burden for a child to carry–to justify through his success the casualties of a long and brutal war–but, of course, one did not voice such rude ingratitude.

I was aware, of course, of the image of young London as a swinging hot spot of mods and dolly birds, but that seemed to exist only for a few dozen celebrities and attractive children of the very rich. It seemed to exist mainly in magazines. Swinging London was a marketing phrase that no more represented the lives of most young Londoners than Dodge City was full of gunfighters.

On that plane ride, though, I smoked a cigarette and looked at my reflection in the darkened glass of the window. Something in me began to change. It was as if Withers had by his assignment and assessment baptized me into a new idea of myself. Perhaps I was not as much like my superiors at the law firm as I had supposed. Perhaps I was more like Emerson Cutler than I had imagined.

© 2010 Bill Flanagan

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 13, 2014

    Excellent novel. So believable that I had to keep reminding myse

    Excellent novel. So believable that I had to keep reminding myself it is fiction.

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  • Posted December 14, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful, humorous, sad, and powerfully nostalgic for anyone ov

    Wonderful, humorous, sad, and powerfully nostalgic for anyone over the age of 45. The novel traces the careers (or non-careers at some points) of a British rock band from the dizzy days of the 1960s to the disillusionment of the 21st century. The story is told from the point of view of 65-ish Jack Flynn, who has managed the band members on and off for over 40 years. Emerson, the lead vocalist, charismatic and handsome, with enormous talent and an ego to match. Elfin Charlie, who seems hell-bent on sabotaging his career. Gloomy Simon, whose darkly political edge saturates all his music. And Danny Finnerty, the American, ultimately more committe to being an entrepreneur than a drummer. All these, and many more memorable characters, are drawn into a story that is at once hilarious and melancholy. Not to be missed by anyone who recalls the glory days of rock and roll, or who just loves an unforgettable. story.

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    Posted January 7, 2010

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