”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.
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.
5. ”Golden Hours“ — Brian Eno
Betsy, another fan, asks the doorman at the club, ”What time does The Fall go on?“ and he responds flippantly, ”That‘s like a metaphysical question . . . It really depends upon your conception of time.“ Then there’s mention of ”eternal Nows,“ as if time is a succession of moments that are current and simultaneous.
6. ”Living Too Late“ — The Fall
Pan‘s fictitious narrative is clearly rooted in a tribute to Smith. In the lengthy appendix, Joy reveals his truly geeky obsession with The Fall by highlighting every move that Smith made in his career. Joy also turns his nerdiness into coolness as he reminds the reader of the passion we feel when we discover an epic band, an idol, or songs we can relate to.
Songs for Hubcap Diamondstar Halo
Sincere, sad, intimate, percussive.
1. ”Idle Hands Are the Devil’s Plaything“ — Palace Brothers
Before the opening car-accident scene, the main character, G., has nightmares about Chris Cornell (of Soundgarden) loading Mesa Boogie amps into a van. Given Soundgarden is his worst nightmare, G. must be a little less hard-rock than Cornell, more hippie, more mellow. He‘s the drummer in a band that has just been signed, and knows how to use metaphor better than Soundgarden-ish, hard-core, cheesy alternative rockers. As he tumbles down into a ravine, ”He is the shoe in the dryer: the bean in the maraca: the rock in the cement mixer.“
2. ”Don’t Ask Why“ — My Bloody Valentine
G. gets stuck wondering, while pitching a Felliniesque film he wants to direct, ”How to pinpoint the present when everything, once pinpointed, is past?“ The film he goes on to make must feel like an accident, he says. Joy‘s book feels like an accident too, in a well-crafted way; he has chronicled a series of short scenarios into tragedy. The last chapter recalls River Phoenix’s overdose at the Viper Room in West Hollywood.
3. ”I Found a Reason“ — Velvet Underground
”You“ are an integral part of Hubcap Diamondstar Halo because G. meets you after you smell ”gaseous vapors“ coming from a nearby source. You have been camping, sleeping ”badly with the sense of missing someone.“ This second-person narrative makes you out to be a person who‘s lonely and aching for excitement. You grow to adore G., to think of him as ”a pet,“ as he is in shock from car-wreck trauma. This lends a sense of intimacy to the narrative, and serves as a way to retreat into the mind of G.
Songs for Palm Tree 13
Country rock, late 1970s, Rock Star vs. Cowboy, sexy male Jacuzzi parties, Los Angeles, in the spirit of Jimmy Buffett.
1. ”Hotel California“ — The Eagles a
In Palm Tree 13, Glenn Frey wanders into Doug Weston’s Troubadour, ”the sort of drain that got clogged with fleeting legends,“ and Glenn was there to stay. That‘s why the Troubadour is like Hotel California: You play there, you party backstage, sign a contract, start living the rock-star lifestyle, and then you’re trapped.
2. ”My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys“ — Willie Nelson
So many country-song lyrics describing the cowboy life mimic the music-industry life — loneliness, independence, uncertainty, high-rolling, gambling, glamour, travel, drinking, women — and Joy parallels the two gracefully. Glenn meets up with David Geffen, who plays the ultimate entrepreneur, and helps Glenn not only to become rich, but also to meet all the big shots: Bonnie Raitt, Gram Parsons, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, America, The Band . . .
3. ”Elegy for All the Dead Rock Stars“ — Thurston Moore
This is an instrumental released on David Geffen‘s label, an homage to all those who died for rock, country men included — Townes Van Zandt, Gram Parsons. Throughout his career, Geffen has released some of the finest young males, and Joy takes that as a sign. Palm Tree 13’s David is a raging homosexual who, ”left alone, [finds] himself sneaking into the boy‘s bathroom, which [is] down the hall from his own, and [buries] his face in the towels, inhaling the glorious tang.“ He’s the archetypal lascivious producer who, later in the story, fiendishly gambles away his bands to feed his poker addiction. His music industry truly is the ”dying frontier.“
4. ”Horse With No Name“ — America
Neil Young is the leader of America‘s rival horse-riding posse when Frey comes into town and tries to win the rodeo. Young rides his Horse With No Name through sagebrush in order to threaten Frey and America, but to no avail. Throughout the book, competition between Young and America reiterates Joy’s belief that America were just poseurs compared to Young; at one point, cowboys are disgruntled about the ”Englishmen . . . dressed in crisp new duds . . . with [enough] presumptive arrogance“ to call themselves America.
5. ”Tumblin‘ Tumbleweeds“ — Sons of the Pioneers
One theme in Palm Tree 13 is the notion that rock stars and cowboys will always have songs to sing because they lead adventurous lives. Joy writes, ”Like geldings in a tee-hee, the years galloped past,“ as if time itself will provide the bounty of stories for any great man to snatch up and retell.
Theories about time appear in all three books, as if Joy has done some time traveling himself and presents the results in classic cowboy fashion, with confidence, humor, good rhythm and bravado. Add in the pot smoking, and you really have some reading — and listening — to do.#