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A Novel About Rock and Roll and Big Burnished Balls

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Rock and roll—not the music but the experience, the lifestyle—is not as interesting as the people involved think it is. That swaggery, smug, don't-give-a-fuck-but-secretly-give-all-the-fucks-in-the-world self-importance. The bourbon and the van and the dirty pants, because that's life on the road, man! You won't understand unless you've lived it, unless you've fucked sweet lady rock and roll all night long with the dirty pants and the bourbon and the van. Maaaaan.

Michael Shilling's Rock Bottom wants to help you understand, and, to its credit, pokes a little deeper into the psyches of its decaying rock gods than you might expect. Blood Orphans, a semi-ironic up-and-coming outfit, are on tour in Amsterdam and (due to shenanigans) have just been dropped from their major label. Darlo, the drummer, has a sex addiction—he refers to ejaculate as "warm sex tears"—and a porn-king dad under indictment for tax evasion. Adam, the guitarist, is the nice one. Shane, the singer, is spiritual and hard to care about. Bobby has eczema. And Joey, their manager, loves cocaine and will sometimes press her "perky B-cups" against stuff.

Shilling—who has freelanced for The Stranger—has obviously poured a lot of sweat and care into these characters. The book cycles deftly through five points of view, detailing sordid pasts, bleak presents, and uncertain futures. Blood Orphans' rapid rise to fame and even swifter downfall leave a void that might be interesting—but some piece of grandiose language or self-congratulatory smut or yet another description of shredded eczema sores elicits a wince on every other page.

Bobby recalls some sex he had: "The one time she and Bobby had slept together, she had whispered, 'Hit that magic kitty' over and over into his ear, her breath a mixture of pork and whiskey, until he went soft." Uuuuugh. Darlo gets nervous: "But now doubt crawled up his dirty pant leg and seized his balls. His balls, normally so big and burnished, experienced a sense of entrapment. Doubt shrank them down, filling him with a lightheaded sense of foreboding." Okey-dokey. Shane punches Bobby in the face: "When he felt the tooth go, right on his middle finger, he had the same sensation as sliding his cock into a warm, wet, welcoming pussy. He went rock-solid, standing there breathless as Bobby fell to the floor, clutching his face." Yikes. Someone does this: "'Fuck memories,' he said, and popped a pimple on his chin." It's just all so forcibly rock and roll. And so, so uninteresting. recommended


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ugh, so unnecessary. why waste the space to trash a book? the stranger's books section has shown me recently that it can do better.
Posted by julavitzy on January 21, 2009 at 7:50 PM · Report this
the book is horrendous, julavitzy. lindy is doing us all a favor here.
Posted by rock-n-roll drummer on January 25, 2009 at 12:14 AM · Report this
Jesus, why do the people at the Stranger hate this guy? Is it commonplace to publicly humiliate a former co-worker?
Posted by Ger Kilmer. on January 25, 2009 at 4:09 PM · Report this
was this one of the purchased strangercrombie reviews?
Posted by josh on January 25, 2009 at 6:09 PM · Report this
I don't know what the problem is. Sex is exactly like punching out a tooth. In fact, that's how we refer to it in my house: "how would you feel about a little tooth-punching-out right about now?"
Posted by Don orthondist on January 25, 2009 at 7:33 PM · Report this
This reviewer's assessment of Michael Shilling's novel seems to have less to do with judging whether the book achieved the author's vision and more to do with their reaction to the content of the language. And despite the "wincing" that some of these descriptions elicit, they do serve a purpose. However, it's not necessarily to imbue the book with a Rock and Roll bravado. Rather, Shilling is trying to do a very interesting thing: To capture the EMOTIONAL reality of touring (a mixture of boredom, excitement, love, and despair) through an exaggerated PHYSICAL reality that is populated by grotesques. These characters, like those in a Dickens novel, have psychic maladies that manifest themselves physically--the untalented drummer literally can't use his hands, the stunted manager is actually crippled, et cetera. And the crudeness of both the humor and the sexual content of this book are pushed to the boundaries not merely for laughs or to test one's sense of decency, but rather to destabilize the reader. Specifically, so that by the novel's end we are surprised--even challenged--to find ourselves sympathetic with these characters who at first glance seemed little more than ridiculous, exaggerated caricatures.
Posted by J on January 26, 2009 at 2:50 PM · Report this
J, it's actually the untalented bass player who can't use his hands.

I had mixed feelings about this book. I thought most of the writing was amateurish and overblown, but it did keep me reading and it had its moments of genuine humor and emotion. I wouldn't encourage anyone to buy it, but it would probably be a good read on an airplane or something like that.
Posted by Levislade on January 29, 2009 at 11:59 AM · Report this
The writing reminded me of the rock music videos of the past decade, where every single visual shot is composed as the most epic rock moment ever, regardless of what is actually going on in the song.

Shilling constructs nearly EVERY SINGLE SENTENCE out of tortured metaphor. No one ever just DOES something in this book. They always do something like something else that does it's thing in a very graphic and grandiose manner—whether it's the way hands ooze pus, penises enter vaginas, or peanut butter falls out of hair.

It's like trying to play a show with dynamic highs and lows accompanied by a guitarist who's only talent is shredding wankery of the most self-conscious guitar center variety. And between every song he throws the horns and yells' "ROCK-N-ROLLLL!"

Plus dude has a martyr complex that stinks up every page.
Posted by local musician on February 3, 2009 at 3:58 PM · Report this

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