Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Don't drink, don't smoke, what do you do? (Rock Star)

I had scheduled another dispatch from SUMMER SCHOOL for today’s blog entry, and planned on analyzing Jackie Collins’s Rock Star (another book from DFW’s Literary Analysis: Prose Fiction syllabus). But I find myself not really having enough to say about the novel to carry an entire post. Rock Star is not very good, but then again it’s not exactly bad enough to really tear into with any amount of gleefully eviscerating snark. (Or maybe that’s just a reflection of the mood I’m in, given current conditions at work and a low ebb of energy in between one very busy weekend and another.)

I’d never read any Jackie Collins before, but it was my understanding that her novels had a reputation as enticingly salacious trash. Maybe Rock Star is an outlier, but I was fairly underwhelmed. It’s clearly trying to be risque, but in the safest, tamest possible ways. I find myself in a critical dilemma: do I say that the only people I can imagine finding this novel exhilarating and transgressive would be bored, dead-inside suburban housewives from the booniest parts of the heartland, OR do I reject that stereotype as so absurd as to be non-existent in reality, and therefore say I can’t imagine a single soul on the planet finding this exhilarating and transgressive?

The title is a bit of a misnomer, as the story (such as it is) really centers on three different rock stars: Kris, an English bloke who combines natural charisma and musical talent with a drive to be the biggest act in the world; Rafealla, a biracial beauty who grows up in France and England and stumbles into a singing career after a string of failed romances; and Bobby, an African-American who goes from child-star has-been to soul legend. Kris never does drugs, though he does have lots of sex, although after an early shotgun marriage (which he later gets out of when she cheats on him) he always insists on using protection with his partners. Rafealla also never does drugs, and has a fair amount of sex but is a serial monogamist at least. Bobby does do drugs and drinks a lot too, and is presumably having lots of magically consequence-free sex, and at one point is beaten by a rival so badly that he goes blind, although it turns out to be a psychosomatic blindness which goes away when most conducive to the plot. At the end of the book, Bobby ends up happily married to his personal assistant and Kris and Rafealla are making romantic overtures toward their own happy ending together. It’s unrealistic soap opera gussied up as even more unrealistic glamour-porn, although “porn” does feel like too strong a word for something that seems like it could have been dreamed up by a twelve-year-old girl (particularly one who had never met a person with a British accent or a black person, ever, but that may be neither here nor there).

The book is set on the occasion of a private command concert being performed by the three main characters, as they all owe favors to the sleazy rich villain. The bulk of the story is a sequence of flashbacks showing how all three rock stars grew up and launched their careers and became who they are today, and then someone tries to rob the sleazy rich villain and the rock stars get embroiled in a hostage situation, and then they get out of it, and then the aforementioned wedding and flirtations take place in an epilogue. Throughout, no character feels an emotion without Collins bald-faced stating what it is, and no one ever shows an iota of complexity in their personality. The main characters are basically decent people who want to be successful musicians, and everyone else is either a cartoonishly selfish obstacle or a helpful plot device. Almost no one on any page acts or speaks like a living, breathing human being. It’s escapism, obviously, and therefore shouldn’t necessarily be beholden to rigorous standards of realism, but at a certain point it goes well beyond wish-fulfillment and into a kind of brain-dead reverie which is almost fascinating in and of itself.

Maybe allowances must be made for the fact that Rock Star came out in 1988, during the Just Say No era, nearly a full decade before Behind the Music taught all of us that there is no high road in the entertainment world and everybody, regardless of intentions, eventually ends up in the patented Nightmare Descent Into Booze and Pills and Trouble With the Law. As an early attempt to peel back the curtain and demonstrate what life would be like for the princes and princesses of the rock and roll universe, it’s a cute artifact. Not least because there are several passages in which Kris compares himself to his idol Mick Jagger and wonders if he still wants to try hauling his own aging carcass around on tour when he’s that old. Again, this was 25 years ago. Just sayin’.

Moves like jagger? What’s a jagger?

OK, so, dumb book, dumber even than I expected. And somehow I squeezed a post out of it, how about that! Tomorrow, back to the more familiar environs of my obsessive wheelhouse(s).

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