Writing a great rock novel is a whole lot harder than it sounds. There have been countless attempts over the years and the result is usually a collection of boring tour urban legends and rejected VH1 Behind the Music scripts. Itâ€™s a pretty big feat then that both Michael Shilling and Jason Buhrmester have managed to turn in solid rock stories just months apart from each other. Shillingâ€™s Rock Bottom revolves around a once-promising band playing their last shows of a European tour before imploding.
The L.A. band, Blood Orphans, were signed with much fanfare, but then pegged as racists by a rock critic, essentially killing their spot at fame and fortune. The band members, all of whom pretty much hate each other, include the drummer/founder and son of a porn king; a wimpy guitar player who is actually too good to be playing in a band like Blood Orphans; a mediocre bass player with a skin condition that is literally ripping the flesh from his hands; a born-again front man, now groping for a new religion; and their coked up female manager/co-founder. The characters are strikingly compelling and the situations are told as only someone who has been through them before can describe (Shilling, it should be noted, used to drum for a Seattle band and spent his fair share of time touring in a van).
Like Shilling, Buhrmester sets his first novel in the world of rock. Black Dogs takes a real scenario, the unsolved 1973 theft of $200,000 from Led Zeppelin, and uses it as the basis for his book. A handful of childhood friends in Baltimore, none of them big Zeppelin fans, by the way, conspire to rob the British band when they play New York at the end of their latest tour. The band apparently always insisted in getting paid in cash. Buhrmesterâ€™s characters, like those in Rock Bottom, are well thought out and beyond the typical burn out, rock fan stereotype. The end of the book is pretty much a foregone conclusion, but Buhrmester unravels the story in such an interesting manner that itâ€™s worth racing to the end. Two solid efforts from first time authors. Canâ€™t wait for the encores. Rock Bottom by Michael Shilling/2009/Back Bay Books/371 pages
Black Dogs: The Possibly True Story of Classic Rockâ€™s Greatest Robbery by Jason Buhrmester/2009/Three Rivers Press/256 pages