It has thrown up some notable duds and embarrassments in its time, but the hunt for the Great Rock Novel goes on. Quite right, too. It seems wrong that today's kids, with Arctic Monkeys or Muse playing on their iPods, still have to reach for On The Road as literary accompaniment.
Part of the problem is that rock music has always excelled at excavating its own mythology. The traps and trappings of fame, the dislocation of life on the road: a novelist would have to dig pretty deep to get beyond the lyrical content of your average Difficult Second Album. Otherwise you run the risk of ending up obvious (Rushdie's The Ground Beneath Her Feet) or abstruse (DeLillo's Great Jones Street).
Toby Litt makes some clever choices with I Play the Drums in a Band Called Okay (which would make a pretty good band name, right now). He rarely pins his Canadian "mid-level indie rock band" down to specifics (few dates, fewer lyrics) and he avoids any narrative arc by making his book a novel in short stories narrated by the drummer, Clap, from the far side of fame.
If the manic thrill of the gig, and the compulsive intensity of the studio, are the moments when rock and pop happen, then Litt shows us the moments between the moments. We get the band kicking around town before the show, or holed up in the sticks between records, à la Dylan and The Band.
Where there is cliche, Litt sidesteps it. Not that Clap and his bandmates don't indulge in excess, but Litt assumes we don't need to hear it all again. He is more keen to tell us about the teenage groupie who accidentally gets left behind in a London hotel while the band is rushed around Europe on a promotional tour. When they get back, 10 days later, she's still there, "beyond-ghost: inch-thin arms and panda eyes", having survived on tap water and chocolate.
At times, Litt achieves a pleasingly contemplative, Coupland-esque style, as he considers what it might be to achieve your dreams and then have to act them out for thousands of other dreamers night after night. Elsewhere, he is vapidly sentimental (Clap goes Buddhist, gets married and has kids). But at least he has thought a bit about the music. And that, apart from turning it up, is all you can ask for.Reuse content