A blog about Bloomsbury Academic's 33 1/3 series, our other books about music, and the world of sound in general.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Music from Big Pink

It never occurred to me before this series started that we might end up publishing works of fiction. One of the books we're publishing later this year is a novella by John Niven, who (not so long ago) played in a band called the Wishing Stones. I still have a 12-inch single of theirs.

Anyhow, John's book is great - it's a powerful story of musical creativity, intense friendship, drug addiction, unrequited love, the joys of the Catskill Mountains, and lost dreams. I honestly think it's one of the best first novels I've ever read. We'll be printing up some advance copies in a couple of weeks, for reviewers. But if you want one just for fun, email me (david@continuum-books.com) - I'll send a copy to the first five people.

In the meantime, here's how Music from Big Pink, by John Niven, starts:

Toronto, 1986

I don’t know why I was crying like that. I hadn’t seen the guy in years and he hadn’t crossed my mind in months. But here I was, standing right in front of the Mini Mart, reading the newspaper and bawling my fuckin’ eyes out. The stuff I’d just bought – canned soup, Wonderbread, turkey roll, processed cheese slices – spilled from the dropped brown bag and rolled over the sidewalk.

Sitting down heavily on the curb (I’m in my forties and weigh nearly 300 pounds: I do everything heavily these days) I stared at the photo in the Star of a gaunt, bearded Richard. I looked at the headline again, hoping the words might have changed in the last few seconds. That ‘DEAD’ would somehow have become ‘ALIVE’. Or ‘PARTYING’. But it hadn’t. It still said:


Suicide, it said. He’d fuckin’ killed himself. Richard had done that. He’d killed himself. I kept right on crying. I’d had a shitty week and I’d just had an argument in the grocery store – the guy who runs the place accused me of passing him a bum bill (I hadn’t, although I had twice before, getting away with it the first time and around it the second) and we wound up getting into it. I was on an economy drive until the welfare check arrived at the end of the week and I hadn’t shot up since breakfast. It was now late afternoon and I was jerking, man: my sweat just froze in the early March breeze.

After a while an old girl stopped and – this being Canada – asked if I was OK. I looked up and caught my reflection in her Foster Grants: the rotted, broken teeth, the starbursts of broken blood vessels across my yellowing cheeks. Neither of us needed to be seeing this. Bravely, like a child, I sucked the sobs down and nodded. She handed me a dollar and walked on. I wiped my face with a ragged shirtsleeve, gathered up the cheap food, and hurried home.

The place was a living shit-house. It had taken my parents thirty years to own the house and me just three to run it into the ground. I would have drawn the shades but they were already down. I did the thing with the spoon and the lighter, the brown powder and cotton ball, the old hypodermic. (Glass and steel, pre-war, my father’s.)

A heavily treated guitar came in like an ancient tramp wheezing his last, then the woody toms, deeper than a crack on the floor of the Atlantic. I took my shirt off, found a halfway decent vein, tied off, put the needle in, and pressed the plunger. I turned the old stereo (also my father’s) way up, lay down on the rug, and let the intro go through me as I started to glow; the tempo of the song good and slow, slow as memory, the beat of my heart. Finally, here was Richard’s voice, trembling in fuckin’ agony; ‘We carried you in our arms, on Independence Day.’ He sang the words the way he’d sung everything: as though the information contained in the lyrics would end him.

I stared into the black rippling pool of the speaker, feeling every tremor and pulse like breath on my face, wondering if over the years the fibres of the cone itself had somehow become stained, impregnated with the thousands of songs, the millions of notes, that had shivered as they passed through and out into the air: electrical impulses becoming sound that became meaning and heartbreak. I turned away and looked up. It took me about a minute. There was a crack in the ceiling above me and, like magic, a tiny fleck of plaster broke loose and came floating down, like a sorry kind of snowflake, or maybe a leaf.

Sixteen bars, a spoonful of Iranian heroin, and I was two decades back into myself, floating happily through another time, another place. A time when we were all making money, driving good cars through the mountains, getting high, getting laid. A time when we were all living, not just waiting. Life is all just waiting after a while.


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Anonymous said...

I have just read this book and it ROCKED!!
My favourite in the series so far. I couldn't put it down.