Have you been smoking any bad weed lately? David Geffen asks Terry Melcher in Camden Joys Palm Tree 13. Perhaps its Joy whos been smoking some weed, since his new trilogy of novellas evidences the potheads 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 Joys 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 Panics 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 Bolans 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 Westons Troubadour. All three books, like psychedelic drugs, warp your sense of time.
One good thing about dipping into someone elses fantasies is that youre inspired to ruminate about people you would never have found attractive before, such as Glenn Frey. Joy passes on his crushes as if theyre joints -- you have to take a hit, out of politeness, and then youre into it.
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 Wilsons cohort Gary Usher recorded this song by Curt Boettcher in 1968, as a tribute to the psychedelic overseer of all things. Pan, Joys own keeper of the games, is occult. Hes 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 gods 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 Smiths 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 sos 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 adventures sake. Although Mark E. Smith is ruined as a rock icon, many of the books characters convene at The Falls gig, a time warp created for strangers who share something in common: obsessive fanhood.