Lewis Shiner -- to my mind, one of the more underrated American novelists of the last two decades -- has been silent for much too long. In 1993, he published
Glimpses, an award-winning rock ‘n roll fantasy about a 40-year-old stereo repairman who travels back in time to the 1960s, and attempts to influence the lives -- and the music -- of a number of the era’s iconic figures, such as Jim Morrison, Brian Wilson, and Jimi Hendrix. Now, more than six years later, Shiner has surfaced once again with Say Goodbye, the pseudo-documentary account of the rise and fall of an aspiring singer/songwriter named Laurie Moss.
Laurie’s story is presented to us by a nameless, vulnerable rock journalist who first encounters Laurie through her music, and eventually falls in love with her (or with his own intensely subjective image of her.) Using interviews from a wide variety of sources -- friends, neighbors, fellow musicians and, most, centrally, Laurie herself -- the narrator pieces together an empathetic portrait of a woman defined by her love of music, and of an industry dominated by the brutal exigencies of the bottom line.
Laurie’s saga begins in 1994, when she leaves her home in Texas and heads for Los Angeles, in hot pursuit of the American dream. Unlike most of the musical wannabes who flock to the Coast, Laurie is talented, aggressive and -- for a while, at least -- lucky. Early on, she acquires a following as half of a popular singing duo, then says goodbye to the duo when a better opportunity presents itself. This new opportunity takes the form of a garage band composed of three veteran, behind-the-scenes musicians and one certified, over-the-hill legend: Skip Shaw, a self-destructive rock ‘n roll archetype whose career flamed flamboyantly out a number of years before. Laurie quickly casts her fortune with this gifted, disparate group. Almost as quickly, she enters into a doomed but inevitable relationship with Skip Shaw.
These are the basic elements from which Shiner creates an authoritative account of the short, furious arc of Laurie’s career as a rock star in a "disposable culture." Through Shiner’s indefatigable narrator, we are permitted to participate in the entire, exhaustively detailed process, which includes: Laurie’s initiation into the harsh realities of the LA music scene; her betrayal of her friend and fellow vocalist, Summer Walsh; the gradual formation of a new, cohesive musical partnership; the endless rehearsals; the grinding poverty; the tension and exhilaration of public performance. All of this is followed, with astonishing speed, by the Holy Grail of the music business: a recording contract with a major label, and a decidedly unglamorous national tour.
In the end, though, love and success prove equally elusive. Laurie’s relationship with Skip Shaw collapses under the combined weight of drugs, stress and mutual recriminations. At about the same time, her record contract is abruptly terminated, a result both of the relatively modest sales of her debut album, and of a general lack of support from the upper echelons of General Records. In a rueful, bittersweet conclusion, Laurie returns to Texas, where she gradually accommodates herself to life in the slow lane of American music.
Say Goodbye is a remarkable novel, written with artistry and passion, and filled with an assortment of closely observed characters and vividly realized moments. Shiner’s renderings of the club dates, the concerts, the rehearsals -- all of the moments when his characters are actually making music -- are imagined with particular intensity, and are the heart and soul of this book. I defy anyone to read this novel without wanting to listen to the imaginary soundtrack that Shiner describes with such astonishing verisimilitude.
It’s a bit surprising that rock ‘n roll -- such a prominent element of the cultural landscape of the twentieth century -- has inspired such a small number of genuinely memorable novels. Several titles spring immediately to mind -- Tender by Mark Childress, The Armageddon Rag by George R. R. Martin, The Rich Man's Table by Scott Spencer, The Commitments by Roddy Doyle -- but there aren’t too many more. With the publication of Say Goodbye, Shiner now has two such novels to his credit, which might just make him the field’s the leading fictional interpreter. Say Goodbye may have taken six years to reach us, but it was worth the wait. It is an honest, impassioned novel by a man who loves and understands his subject. It illuminates its corner of American popular culture with style, intelligence, and grace.
Shiner's tenderhearted story of a young woman rock 'n' roller's rise to fame plays perfectly on audio--thanks to the author's fresh and unobtrusive style, his doggedly realistic portrayal of 1990s-era music industry workings and his gift for fine characterization. A listener can feel genuine sympathy for Texan Laurie Moss as she struggles to write songs and put a group together while working as a waitress in L.A. Her "band of dreams," the Mighty Mosstones, includes Laurie's hero, veteran scenester guitarist Skip Shaw, who unfortunately is a drug casualty waiting to happen. When Skip begrudgingly comes on the road for a tour of small club gigs, tensions rise. Laurie's record company shoots a video, but this leads to inevitable disappointment. The story is told from the point-of-view of a smitten rock journalist, whose observations render the tale bittersweet throughout. Shiner is an astute reader of his own material: he knows just when to milk it for emotional punch. Simultaneous release with the St. Martin's hardcover. (Oct.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Fictitious biography of an ambitious Gen-X singer-songwriter cut down by the slings and arrows of the music industry, and the haunted journalist who finds meaning in her struggle. Shiner's fourth (after Glimpses, 1993, etc.) isn't another rewrite of A Star Is Born, although the biographer-narrator here sees ample signs of impending greatness in his subject. An alienated product of a broken middle-class marriage, Laurie Moss, 27, leaves San Antonio, Texas, with a notebook of lyrics and a guitar given to her by her father shortly after he abandoned her mother and younger brother. She drives her battered car to L.A., determined to fulfill her adolescent dreams of pop stardom, and discovers some equally disaffected musicians who help her record her first demo tape. Among them is Skip Shaw, a grizzled, self-loathing 1960s relic who recorded a few hit songs before burning out on drugs. Flattered by Skip's respect and intrigued by his painful past, Laurie risks breaking up the band when she takes him to bed. More humiliations follow until Laurie and her band sign a contract with a record company whose gassy executives seem more interested in selling her work as a comeback vehicle for Skip Shaw. Laurie makes an MTV video, embarks on a small club concert tour where she realizes that, as long as she can cut loose onstage, she can endure anythingthe defections of Skip and her keyboard player, the company's decision to drop her when her record doesn't sell fabulously. Finally defeated by a family tragedy and excessive bad luck, Laurie returns to Texas, where an awkward meeting with her biographer suggests that what is failure for some may be inspiration for others. Gritty, funny, cynical,and sentimental: a sharply focused epic that brings welcome revision to the sunny, pop-culture success gospels that have led so many naive talents astray.