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Songs for Camden Joy

Wednesday, Aug 29 2001

”Have you been smoking any bad weed lately?“ David Geffen asks Terry Melcher in Camden Joy‘s Palm Tree 13. Perhaps it’s Joy who‘s been smoking some weed, since his new trilogy of novellas evidences the pothead’s propensity for zooming in on a few eccentric fascinations and exaggerating them. Joy has invented three adventures revolving around some of our favorite, and least favorite, musicians: Mark E. Smith of The Fall, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Gram Parsons, the Eagles, America and Bob Dylan. And movie stars, River Phoenix and Drew Barrymore among them. In this, the trilogy mirrors Joy‘s first and best-known novel, The Last Rock Star Book or: Liz Phair, A Rant, in which Joy obsesses over Phair in order to make sense of his own messy relationship with his girlfriend.

Pan is a tale about a Welsh guy, Colin, who scores a stone figurine, depicting the God of Panic’s head, that instructs him to buy a plane ticket to New York City to see a gig by The Fall. Hubcap Diamondstar Halo, whose title is a quote from the T. Rex song ”Bang a Gong,“ opens with a car-crash scene reminiscent of Marc Bolan‘s fatal accident, and tells the story of a percussionist who takes every incident in his life thereafter as inspiration for music and a film he directs. Palm Tree 13, a satirical look at L.A.’s music industry, is set as a Western, in which all the cowboys are country-music studs recruited at Doug Weston‘s Troubadour. All three books, like psychedelic drugs, warp your sense of time.

One good thing about dipping into someone else’s fantasies is that you‘re inspired to ruminate about people you would never have found attractive before, such as Glenn Frey. Joy passes on his crushes as if they’re joints -- you have to take a hit, out of politeness, and then you‘re into it.

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After reading the books and wanting to talk to Joy in his own language, I made him a mix tape full of songs about time, western lore, mythology, the ’60s, bad classic-rock drum solos, New Wave, unleashing demons, and parallel universes. (Camden: If you ever read this, the tape is real and you can claim it at any time.) What follows is a song list for the tape, separated into three sections, one for each book. The songs either feature or pay tribute to some of the male protagonists, who seem to be of a very particular type: young, white, handsome, musically inclined, sensitive and enchantingly talented.

***

Songs for Pan

A little gothic (circa 1984), a little epic, fatalistic, New Wave -- what Pan might listen to if he were an indie-rock hipster.

1. ”The Keeper of the Games“ -- Sagittarius

Brian Wilson‘s cohort Gary Usher recorded this song by Curt Boettcher in 1968, as a tribute to the psychedelic overseer of all things. Pan, Joy’s own ”keeper of the games,“ is ”occult.“ He‘s a master of creating ”mind-altering coincidences“ and eventually convinces Colin, the protagonist, to surrender control to the forces of chance. Joy says of Colin, ”His certainties had stampeded away like so many Who fans.“ Colin buys a ticket to New York to see The Fall just because Pan tells him to. Pan symbolizes time suspended, the need to give your soul up to rock & roll. Colin is perceptive enough to heed the god’s request.

2. ”Instant Hit“ -- The Slits

The Slits‘ message here is universal to all rock stars. Colin justifies going to see a washed-up Mark E. Smith on a reunion tour by telling his friends that true fans stay loyal to the end. Joy brilliantly showcases Smith’s downfall onstage as he drunkenly cusses out other band members and makes a complete fool of himself, while simultaneously setting up a metaphor that compares Smith to Pan himself.

3. ”Play of the Waves“ -- Pram

”Colin and his mates often thought about The Fall so much they got headaches and had to masturbate just so‘s they could think of something else.“ In a Welsh dialect, Joy writes about how much we love our favorite bands because they take us off to distant lands. The Fall does that, literally, to Colin. Joy also reflects on the nature of idol worship: ”Our generation lacked democratic role models, because, as for myself, I knew only The Fall.“

4. ”Everything Beautiful Is Far Away“ -- Grandaddy

Pan is a book about taking risks for adventure’s sake. Although Mark E. Smith is ruined as a rock icon, many of the book‘s characters convene at The Fall’s gig, a time warp created for strangers who share something in common: obsessive fanhood.

  • Songs for Camden Joy

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