Sleeping with the NME

Mary Wright reads a first novel that's in love with rock journalism; The Lonely Planet Boy by Barney Hoskyns Serpent's Tail, pounds 8.99
It is easy to imagine the ghost of Nick Hornby's High Fidelity hovering over The Lonely Planet Boy. Both feature rather average, middle- class obsessives who feel compelled to make music-spotters' lists (Top 10 Guitarists, etc) to sum up their current experiences. One soons lets the comparisons drop, however, as Hoskyns's effort lacks Hornby's punchy, witty prose and, more importantly, the elements that make a story grip.

Like most 13-year-old boys in 1973, Kip Wilson finds his musical allegiances changing with bewildering rapidity, depending on the tastes of more sophisticated mates. He discards glam and progressive rock with few regrets, then settles complacently on "classic rock". Within eight pages he is mown down by MC5, Iggy Pop, the New York Dolls (from whose first album the book's title is taken) and the Ramones. "I have seen the future of rock and roll," he says. "Not sure if I like it."

Oh, but he does. Instead of doing what half the young male population aspires to do (form a band), he comes to London to do what the other half dreams of doing (be a music journalist). He hangs around the grubby offices of the music weekly, Cover, gratefully picking up any scraps of review work that are tossed to him and other would-be Paul Morleys. His break comes in the form of a Teutonic siren called Mina, a cross between Nico and the ex-Christian Death singer Gitane Demone. His championing of her pays off when he is asked to accompany the band on their American tour, where be promptly gets in over his head.

The Lonely Planet Boy is misleadingly subtitled "a pop romance". The pop is overwhelmingly present. Hoskyns drops the names of every cult band from the last 20 years and turns the book into a monotonous litany of muso-cultural references, leaving only a rather lame story. And romance? Not much of that either, as the forms of love depicted are either dismal, university-type sex or humiliating scenes of dildo- buggery to appal Kip's middle-class soul. Unlike The Buddha of Suburbia, in which music is the soundtrack to a cracking good story, The Lonely Planet Boy's story is the music, and not a very good one at that. The narrative is not allowed to develop. Promising subplots are strangled at birth. Hoskyn's strength lies in depicting the world of early-Eighties music journalism, as befits a former writer on NME. Indeed, his normally sparse and perfunctory prose style disappears when he recreates Kip's articles for Cover. But pastiche Mojo-crit, sadly, does not a novel make.

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