As many of us scribes and scribblers have discovered, writing fiction about our complex and talent-focused industry is not for the faint-hearted. That seasoned music journalist Howard Massey has taken on that task so successfully in his first novel,Roadie, is testament to the care and attention that went into the planning and eventual execution of his 370-page, highly readable tome.
The book chronicles the fortunes—and numerous misfortunes—of a rock-and-roll band from York, PA, that grew up during the Seventies and eventually—without giving too much away—hits the big time. With his eye for details, and ready access during interviews with a cornucopia of real-world musicians, producers, roadies, engineers, agents and attorneys as well as other bottom feeders of our industry, Massey knows of what he writes. A musician and recording engineer/producer, he worked previously as editor at Musician and Performing Songwriter magazines.
Interweaving possible scenarios with true fiction is a delicate dance, with the author adding many real locations for extra piquancy, including landmark performance venues and recording studios both here and within Europe. The balancing act between the author wanting to develop his own story of these fledgling members and how they change roles within the band is convincing if sometimes a little labored. But the alternating chapters of now and then helps the narrative, with the pursuit of a missing band member occurring alongside a long-form interview with a founding member.
At its core, Roadie follows the trials and tribulations of one Bernard J. Temkin, a successful author whose 25th book looks doomed because the subject of an unauthorized biography—Thomas Aloysius “Hinch” Hinchton—goes missing during a European tour. Because Temkin is now faced with having to return to his publishers a large advance, he is off in hot pursuit of his reluctant subject.
Meanwhile, we learn of the band’s origins, a saga that follows—why wouldn’t it?—the typical fortunes of a three-member ensemble that grows and morphs while it learns how to negotiate the pitfalls of life as full-time musicians. We watch the trio grow to a quartet and then five members, including its new manager. The latter soon learns how to navigate the complexity of club gigs and eventually breaks into the college circuit, discovering during that journey the ultimate Catch 22: To secure larger gigs required the help of a booking agent, but such people expect record releases, while labels want to see a healthy audience for a band’s offerings before signing an act. Of course a solution is found, but the band’s first record deal is not all its members would have hoped for, such is their unashamed naivety. And then we meet the band’s newly appointed English producer, who starts spending the recording advance on a first album.
This is all pretty standard fare, and the stuff of many fledgling ensembles, but Massey always brings it back to earth with realism and a human empathy that makes the reader genuinely interested in these fictitious heroes. Of course, being aimed at a generalist audience, Roadie plays off stereotypes and the clichés with which professionals are all too familiar, but with a realism that maintains our interest. It has been said that rock-and-roll is hardly an adult pursuit, but there is no denying that millions of people around the world either knowingly buy into the dream, or simply don’t care about the hedonism and chauvinism of what remains a male-dominated pursuit.
That Massey has fully mastered the paradigm of music journalism is well-documented; his recent books include The Great British Recording Studios; Here, There and Everywhere: My Life Recording the Music of the Beatles with Geoff Emerick; and Behind the Glass—Top Record Producers Tell How They Craft the Hits in two volumes. Obviously his first novel draws strongly on conversations with real-world members of the rock-and-roll community, but which are suitably morphed to protect their identity…and confidentiality.
All in all, rock fiction has come a long way since 1984’s Studio Life: The Other Side of the Tracks, by Mr. Bonzai, a self-conscious, whimsical journey through the hidden world of the recording industry. Now, with access to biographies of such luminaries as the hedonistic Keith Moon and the gregarious Graham Nash, in addition to the documented excesses of Led Zeppelin and its formidable manager Peter Grant, recent works are based more on reality versus fictionalized reports inside the Technicolor dream. Howard Massey is to be congratulated for offering a well-written and constructed novel that interleaves recent history with a convoluted detective story. The book is the stuff of legends, and highly recommended.
Roadie on Amazon