I play the drums in a band called okay – Andy gets his rocks off, honey

January 4, 2012

… or maybe not.

Toby Litt is exactly the sort of writer this blog is all about – highly regarded, with quite a lot of stuff out there, none of which Netty or I have gotten around to reading just yet. Until now.

I play the drums in a band called okay is a fictitious rock memoir, ranging from a band’s teenage beginnings through to middle-aged almost-kinda-vaguely contentment. Along the way, of course, there’s booze and chicks and trucklods of drugs, flirtations with dubious spirituality, tours, splits, reunions, romance, burnout, everything you’d expect from a middle-aged muso looking back on his frenzied existence.

Except it’s not – not quite, anyway.

The narrator is Clap. One of the smirk-worthy elements of the story is the band members’ names, all slang terms for STIs – there’s also Syph, Crab and Mono. Early in their history the band falls into two camps – Clap and Mono are (marginally) more grounded, while Crab is stupendously alcoholic and Syph, the lead singer, is mired in sex and totally drug-fucked and absolutely fucking loving it.

I play the drums is entertaining and amusing, but it didn’t exactly wow me out completely. Despite Peter Hook’s slightly cringe-making comments on the first page of my edition I’m not sure that it’s an entirely genuine reflection of rock band excess – I’d have expected it to be several degrees more extreme than this. On one level I can understand why Litt decided to narrate his story from Clap’s perspective – he has his weaknesses, his tastes for corruption; but he’s also slightly more level-headed than Syph and Crab. Still, I’d have preferred a lot more of the drug and alcohol abuse, the casual fucking, the deranged delusions of philosphical grandeur, and a little less of Clap’s domestic bliss. Clap settles down, you see. Gets married. Has kids. Becomes concerned about the impact of band life and touring on his home life. Now this happens for plenty of musos, I’m sure. I’m just not sure I want to read about it. One of the most enjoyable chapters is Golden, where Syph has some sort of drug-induced revelation about the future of humanity and the double album the band is going to release to send his message out the the world. The message involves an unbelievably offensive (and rather hilarious) element of racism, and the double album includes songs with titles like  Star Child (Brilliant Love) and Rain of Hopeful Promise on Children of the Stars. It’s a great chapter. I could’ve done with more of this weirdness. A fictitious rock memoir from the likes of Syph or Crab – sure, it’d be completely insane. But geez it’d be fun.

The chapters where Litt goes for “poignant” and “moving”, as some of the reviewers suggest, didn’t quite ring true for me. I’m not really sure why – he writes really, really well, but these sections weren’t convincing. Perhaps that’s just not what I was looking for in this book.

I play the drums in a band called okay was good enough to leave me wanting to read some more of Litt’s work. But I’d have to say I’m slightly disappointed, and not nearly as impressed as I’d hoped to be.


One comment

  1. I think pretty much all the chapters in this were published as stand alone short stories, so that may go some way to explaining the slight mish mash. I quite like Litt though, he keeps pumping them out. You know each book title starts with a subsequent letter of the alphabet? This was followed by Journey into Space, then King Death. Both pretty interesting. You’d like the space one, I imagine.

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