Book Review

Author: Dave O’Leary

Publisher:  Booktrope

Website:  http://www.daveoleary.net/

Author Interview: Here

2 + 2 = 5

If you’re a solid proponent that 2 + 2 = 4 no matter what, then this book will certainly expand your horizons.  At its most base level, this seems to be the goal of Dave O’Leary.  His tale of the rough and winding road of a music reviewer in the Seattle rock scene makes you at times envious of the lifestyle and at other times thankful to the music gods that you are nowhere near Seattle.  The characters run the spectrum from those rock musicians on top of the world, living for their craft, to those fans living lives of quiet desperation, grinding out the 9 to 5 and trying to find meaning to their lives.  The crux of the issue is living life in the moment.

If you’re at all interested in music, this is a great read.  It reminded me of being a teenager, how music was everything in my life.  Remember when that all important song came on the radio and time stopped?  If someone was talking you shushed them, you turned up the radio and lost yourself in the song.  That’s what this book does, it makes you want to turn up the radio and tune out everything around you.  Just like a song, the book can at times hypnotizes you with its descriptions of bands and songs in the Seattle music scene.

O’Leary does a wonderful job of transporting the reader to a place they’ve never been.  It would have been easy for him to leave the reader behind, to go to a place that only a musician would understand, but he masterfully keeps the experience common enough that you are taken away to that rapturous state where you are one with the music.  Quite an accomplishment for a reader who wouldn’t know a G chord from a monkey wearing a clown nose.

“And suddenly life seems easy. All it takes is the length of a song, a melody of only three words, two of them repeated before dropping on the “me” as the last chords fade into silence. And that’s the way of things. Pain and heartache can linger, but they can vanish in a second, in an A chord on the keyboard that fades as the applause kicks in. “Woo woo!” Maybe music is the constant. 2 + 2 + M = 4 until the likes of Julia and Geoff and Dominic step on stage. Then it’s 5. The M transforms. It’s like an element that takes up two spots on the periodic table. In one, it’s a stable thing, light, a component of life, always there but inert. It doesn’t affect things. It’s background. In the other, it’s heavy, unstable, radioactive. The slightest neutron passing through its core will spark a nuclear reaction, and from there, nothing is as it was, but only as it is played out by the jangly unclean chords of the blue guitar .”

At its core the book seeks a meaning for life through the transformative mantra of music.  There’s a commonality to everyone in this concept.  Who hasn’t been transformed by a work of music?  Whether it be a child enthralled by a nursery rhyme, a teenager swooning in the throes of the latest pop hit, or an adult closing their eyes at the symphony to a rendition of Mozart, everyone at some time in their lives has let music enrapture them and gone to an existence where 2 + 2 no longer equals 4.  Life takes on a greater quality, or rather, perhaps those notes that are so skillfully arranged give life quality.

If there is a shortcoming, it is in the narrow focus of music’s effect on the lead character and his search for meaning beyond his life.  There is an atheistic tone that clips the quality of the story, at times making you want to slap the character on the back of the head.  He is so close, yet so far away.

“The whole idea of religion has never made much sense to me with its whole afterlife thing of burning in hell or halos and wings. I’ve just never been able to shake the idea that there is nothing at the end, that death is death, infinite darkness. It’s why I turned to music early on and to writing these days. These things bring joy now. They bring consolation now. They bring meaning now, before the darkness. Sometimes, they even bring women. I think about the ending of Hard-Boiled Wonderland again and just can’t help thinking it spot-on.”

If he had ever sat in the pews during a masterful playing of Amazing Grace, or clapped his way through a service at a soul filled black church in the deep South, he might strum a different tune.  It’s a minor thing, but it’s sort of like playing only one side of a .45 vinyl single.  There’s the flip side that is a whole different story.  Perhaps one day O’Leary will round it out.

All in all, it’s a fun read.  Not too serious, though at time you might think that the life of the story is going south.  I’d recommend also checking out the website.  There is a CD for sale with songs from the bands in the book that really round out the experience.  All proceeds go to charity for the CD, so in reading and listening you can actually do something good for someone.

Bottom line:  Get some McDonald’s, kick back with a Blue Moon, and if you live in Colorado, finish it off with a bowl of weed.  Along the way, read the book, it will take you to a different place!


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