Rock & Roll Books

Any Old Way You Choose It

Rock & Roll Books

Say Goodbye

by Lewis Shiner

St. Martin's, 256 pp., $23.95

Even though he hasn't lived here for a few years, Lewis Shiner is in many ways still an Austin writer. Not only do his characters tend to shop at HEB and cruise I-35, but they also tend to epitomize certain Austin stereotypes, particularly the laid-back loner/slacker or, in this case, the ambitious would-be rock star. Say Goodbye's heroine, Laurie Moss, is a San Antonio-born singer-songwriter who moves out to L.A. for a go at mainstream success. What follows is a classic tale, narrated by a rock journalist with an unhappy home life and a big crush on Laurie, of near scores and near misses, of contracts and tours, of exaltation and disillusionment.

One might expect a novel about the music industry to involve plenty of sex and drugs, but aside from Laurie's fling with her guitarist, the legendary Skip Shaw, there are few vicarious thrills to be had. For a fictional work, in fact, Say Goodbye is astonishingly realistic, full of the kind of logistical details more typically the prerogative of VH-1's Behind the Music than of fiction. Say Goodbye is so painstakingly authentic-seeming that it begs many (really interesting) questions about the relationship between fact and fiction. Occasionally the story becomes monotonous, but were Laurie in reality a beloved idol, even the most menial of tidbits about her life might have carried the book.

Salvation is a recurrent theme and the hero's saving grace in Shiner's novels (Slam, Glimpses, Deserted Cities of the Heart) usually takes the form of women or music, or some combination thereof. Say Goodbye is in one sense no exception. The journalist-narrator is profoundly affected by his obsession with Laurie, and yet his voice comes into the fray so seldom that this plot device remains weak. What's more, his fascination is never entirely believable, for while Laurie comes off as sweet and ambitious, her character never entirely acquires a third dimension and it's hard to see how her music (sample lyrics: "People die and leave you needing more/And it's so hard letting go/ Something broke inside and I'm afraid to let it show/And it's so hard letting go") compensates.

For the music industry buff, Say Goodbye inhabits a familiar world of set lists, sound-checks, and drummer jokes. Shiner nails certain band dynamics, subtly illustrating the way bands, with all their thrilling unions and painful break-ups, can resemble the paths of lovers. For anyone with mainstream ambition, Say Goodbye provides an antidote to the major-label fantasy, via a plausible vision of the road to and from the land of platinum records, a road littered with rising stars and many a broken-down washup. In the end, though, for better and for worse, Shiner expertly demystifies ambition, revealing the deep dark secret that, aside from a few peaks and valleys, the quest for fame involves nothing so much as tedium.

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