Here is what is so captivating about Daisy Jones even before she was “Daisy Jones.”
You’ve got a rich white girl, growing up in L.A. She’s gorgeous—even as a child. She has these stunning big blue eyes—dark, cobalt blue. One of my favorite anecdotes about her is that in the eighties a colored-contact company actually created a shade called Daisy Blue. She’s got copper-red hair that is thick and wavy and … takes up so much space. And then her cheekbones almost seem swollen, that’s how defined they are. And she’s got an incredible voice that she doesn’t cultivate, never takes a lesson. She’s born with all the money in the world, access to whatever she wants—artists, drugs, clubs—anything and everything at her disposal.
But she has no one.
I suppose I should open with a disclaimer here: I am not a music fan.
As other people have playlists and favourite albums, I just don’t. And that’s fine. Not, as one colleague once declaimed, a symptom of my having something missing in my soul… No, that comment hasn’t rankled at me for the last five years at all!
I did, however, when I was at school, get swept up into the music of The Doors: People are Strange, Alabama Song, Break on Through, The End… The heady mixture of poetry, Aldous Huxley, Jim Morrison, the mythology of the ’60s… the enticing idea of Van Morrison and Them playing with Jim Morrison and The Doors in June 1966.
In hindsight, perhaps a rather cliched teenage fascination, but it is there, and those songs take me back to the 1990s far more than the music of the time.
And this is the precise same effect that Daisy Jones and the Six had, reading it.
The book feels utterly authentic as it catapults you, from the first page, into a roiling thumping world: the heady brew of the American music scene of the ’70s awash with music and lyrics, talent and triumph, sex and drugs and rock and roll.
The Six were an up-and-coming blues rock band headed by Billy Dunne as lead singer and songwriter, supported by his brother Graham as lead guitar, Warren Rhodes as drummer, Eddie and Pete Loving as rhythm guitar and bassist, and Karen Sirko as keyboardist – and we hear all of these voices through the novel, some more than others.
However, there is no doubt that Daisy Jones eclipses The Six – first billing on the title of both the book and the band, the focus of the first lines of he novel, she is its heart and soul and, at the opening of the novel, having skirted over her troubled childhood, we find her starting out as a singer struggling to find the credibility to put her own songs out there with an untaught natural raw voice.
The format of the novel was different: no narrator, no single narrative point of view but a series of interviews between the different band members, managers and friends. And that worked surprisingly well. I loved the unreliability that ran through the whole novel: contradictions and conflicts came out beautifully, sometimes making the narrative feel unsettling as if it were built on shifting sands where the truth will never be discovered. Can we trust either Billy or Eddie’s accounts of the tensions between them? Can we trust either Billy or Daisy’s often contradictory descriptions of their tempestuous relationship? Where is our objective reliable narrator in all this? Often, though, it was played for simple humour, not unlike Much Ado About Nothing with which I think it shares a number of connections: I loved Warren’s misunderstanding when Graham and Karen got together
Graham: I stepped right into her room, I shut the door behind me, and I grabbed that woman and kissed her good.
You don’t usually wake up in the morning and think, This is going to be one of the most exciting days of my life. But that day was. That day with Karen … that was one of them.
Warren: Here’s something I’ve never told anyone. No, this is good. You’re gonna like this.
When we were doing our show in Glasgow, sometime after sound check, I’m taking one of my beer naps—which is what I would call having a beer and taking a nap—and I wake up because Karen is having sex with somebody in the next room! I can’t even sleep it’s so loud.
I never found out who it was but I did see her being a little flirty with our lighting tech so, anyway, I think Karen had a thing with Bones.
Billy: After I left Daisy, I tried to find Graham for lunch but he wasn’t anywhere.
Bones continues to get a few other honourable mentions for a few chapters too as the relationship is kept secret – a lovely little comic misunderstanding
Warren: I swear to you, Karen had this “I just got laid” vibe to her all night. And I was convinced Bones was lighting her special.
There is a little twist in the format towards the end – our putative author comes out from behind the video camera, so to speak – which I had neither expected and which did make me re-adjust some of my reading by that stage.
This is, however, without a doubt, Daisy’s book: her life, her narrative and she is the sparkling star around which everyone revolves. It cannot be denied that she is a wonderful literary creation: she is luminous and vulnerable and dangerous all at once. She is very … Fey character. Just that opening description of her which is all colour and shape – dark, cobalt blue eyes; copper-red hair – seems to make her something other, and her self-absorbed and effectively absent parents give her the air of a foundling, adrift in the mundane human world. Adrift and anchorless. Seeking solace, seeking validation in the worst possible place. The way she succumbs to the drug culture is truly – terrifyingly – credible:
From then on, it was dexies to get through the day, reds to get through the night. Champagne to wash it all down.
The good life, right? Except the good life never made for a good life. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
It is surprising that a character like Daisy this effervescent, fey girl, can survive having her own voice heard – she is the sort of character who seems like smoke, impossible to catch and solidify into a specific voice, but Taylor Jenkins Reid manages to keep that quality whilst letting us hear her words – which is a remarkable feat.
Now, I am going to be honest – I do not like drugs. Drugs make me uncomfortable. Books that revolve around drugs are usually non-starters for me. Books that glamorise drugs – and this one does in places; it would be impossible to explore this scene at that time without it – I feel are dangerous. But drugs are toxic throughout the novel: Billy’s addiction on tour leading him to cheat on his wife and walk out of the first six months of his daughter’s life; Daisy’s addictions which send her spiralling out of control, missing recording sessions, losing herself in dangerous abusive relationships. And the terror and horror that Billy felt, as a recovering addict, being brought into proximity with Daisy felt genuine.
So, summing up so far, I loved the characters and the style of the book, I loved the authenticity of it… and yet… I felt something lacking. Something hard to define, which has made this review hard to put into words. Perhaps it comes down to that same word “authenticity”. The world created was vivid and vibrant but ultimately vacuous (that is possibly too strong but I was heading for alliteration there and enjoying myself too much!) There felt like an emptiness at the heart of it… a lack of substance… it is really hard to put into words. The fallout of the Chicago Tour – the band’s “abrupt and infamous split while on tour in Chicago on July 12, 1979” as is revealed in the author’s note before we even begin reading – is a little too rushed, a little too safe, a little too positive…
A great rush to read… but ultimately just a little less substantial than it feels it should have been.
Plot / Pace:
Publisher: Arrow, Penguin
Date: 9th January 2020