From Blue to Black - Joel Lane
If he slipped the catch from the razor of his needs, who would it cut?
I think that line sums up this novel, not only its bleak beauty, but its startling commentary on a life lived on the edge between madness and genius.
David becomes the bass player in an up-and-coming Indie band called Triangle. Karl, the enigmatic lead singer begins a passionate affair with him.† Played out in the grimy post-industrial north of England, their relationship underpins their music: harsh, bleak, obsessive.
Told in the first person by David, the novel charts the bandís rise from obscurity to some level of fame. The authorís knowledge of the British music scene is awesome, and the book is so well written that even if you arenít into Indie or the British music scene in general, you wonít find the music references dull
The real power of the story, however, is the relationship between Karl and David. Karl, bi-sexual and troubled, David gay but damaged from a previous relationship. Their lifestyle is all so damagingódrink, drugs, lack of sleep, stressóthatís itís a wonder to me they can find as much love and comfort as they do together.
The novel is a mystery story, too. Who is Dean? Why does Karl feel heís being haunted by him? Everything in this book is authentic: the settings, the writing and characters.
Itís not an easy read; itís not to be thought of if youíre feeling blue. But I guarantee you wonít be able to put it down, and you wonít be able to forget it.
Having read the cover proclaiming a novel about rockíníroll I approached this book thinking it wasnít my cup of tea.† Itís about an indie rock band called Triangle, set in Birmingham in 1992, and† most of the musical references went over my head.† But the real centre of the book is a compelling romantic relationship between its two main characters, David, bassist and narrator, and Karl, lead singer/songwriter.†
It doesnít matter if youíre not too into early 90s bands and the music scene.† The music is there, running like a soundtrack through the novel, to illuminate the story of Karl Austin, founder of Triangle.† Karl writes arresting songs about dark subjects like murder and exile, blood and drowning, expressing fear, pain and loss.† He also writes of gay love:† ďI drank the whisky from his mouth/He drank his seed from mine.Ē† Karlís voice, says one critic, comes from another world, beyond the blue, in the black (Radiohead came to mind).† He uses music to escape from himself, sending messages in bleak lyrics; David as he listens worries Karlís slipping beyond reach of help.†
Thereís a wicked interview with gay magazine ďFlounceĒ, where Karl and David are accused of not showing gay sensitivity because of their style of music.† Karl rightly gets angry at the assumption that because you love another man you should fit some stereotype.† To Karl the music is more important than his sexuality.† He doesnít define himself as gay or straight.† Right now heís with David, but heís divorced with a child and has a fling with a female journalist.† Karl says heís Ďa little bit gayí but those more confident or accepting of their sexuality think thatís rubbish.
As Triangle achieves success in the business, struggling with touring, producing albums and record company deals, Karl is under pressure.† In an attempt to explain his deep-seated psychological problems he takes David back to his childhood home, the scene of events that have shaped his life.† An Irish kid growing up in the shadow of IRA bombings in Birmingham and racist hatred stirred up by the National Front and local politicians like Enoch Powell, Karl was subject to physical and verbal abuse.† Karl has a secret that causes him to resist fameís lure. Karl cringes when David first takes him, yet heís aroused by pain.† The book raises questions about punishment and redemption, how violence changes you, and homophobia, internal as well as external.† Is love enough to prevent Karlís disintegration, and with it the future of Triangle? As Karl wanders off the map, a book about a band becomes a haunting excursion into the shadowlands of the mind.
The poetic quality of the writing contrasts with its grimy, post-industrial Black Country setting.† The novel is tinged with foreboding, moody and atmospheric, frequently depressing, yet thereís humour too- admittedly of the black, dry-as-dust kind.† Conspicuous consumption of alcohol and drugs features heavily, as youíd expect.† Itís erotic even though there isnít much in the way of graphic sex- passive smoke, blown by Karl across Davidís face and kissed into his mouth, leaning together as in drunken support when they dare not kiss in public.† It has disturbing scenes, and its bleak realism might not suit everyoneís taste.†† Its power to move lies in details like the offering of hope towards the end, when David goes to a concert and with tears in his eyes watches a fan and the bandís singer openly kissing at the edge of the stage, rock music absorbed into gay culture. Definitely recommended reading.
Publisher: Sperpent's Tail. ISBN: 1852426187
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