Read This, Then That features literary pairings for the voracious reader. As big readers ourselves we know you always want your next book picked out before you finish your current one, so let us help you out with a two-fer recommendation.
Read this: I Was There the Night He Died by Ray Robertson (
One man attempts to cope with the sudden death of his wife and his father’s irretrievable slip into Alzheimer’s disease. Another man just wants to get his “bass face” on.
On the surface, these men have very little in common. Below that surface is a fervent commitment to rock music and all that comes with it; hard drug use, tenuous audience loyalty, and, inevitably, people dying before their time.
Robertson’s Sam Samuelson takes this last part of rock n’ roll lore to heart. A novelist, he returns to his hometown of Chatham, Ontario, to manage his ailing father’s affairs and pen his next book: about a fictional roadie who happens to be in the dressing/hotel/green room of every significant dead rock star. Sam is spurred to finish his book when he meets a troubled teenaged girl – also named Sam – who appears indifferent to everything save the novelist’s project. Sam is someone everyone knows: a person with strong, almost unflinching convictions on everything from transportation to work habits, but especially on music.
Edgar Martin, the eponymous bass player in Edgar Gets Going, is probably also an everyone’s-met-this-guy candidate, but for entirely different reasons than Sam. Hapless, alcoholic, and still clinging to his past as a member of the one-hit wonder hair band Rock Viper, Edgar takes a job in the children’s troupe The Garden Guys, led by a man dressed as a giant squirrel. Author Strong’s narrative weaves between Edgar’s viewpoint and those of the people once and again in his orbit: bandmates, managers, and ex-girlfriends. Unlike Sam, Edgar is always content to make do, whether through eating days-old pizza left on the kitchen counter, fantasizing about home shopping channel models, or dancing in a bumblebee costume in front of hordes of children.
And yet, both characters have a commitment to music that is unflinching: Sam fastidiously collects rare vinyl pressings off eBay; the only thing that Edgar does read is Bass Player Magazine. Sam proselytizes his favourites to his teenage foil; Edgar is subject to moments of bass-playing fervour, tapping his fingers up and down invisible frets.
Another commonality these books share: both characters are so well-formed that you’ll greet them like old acquaintances; they are indeed too musically absorbed to have ever been your friends.
Put on your favourite 45 and read I Was There the Night He Died, then Edgar Gets Going.
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