“I mean true fame, not the sombre renown of weary statesmen or chinless kings. I mean long journeys across gray space. I mean danger, the very edge of the void, the circumstance of one man imparting an erotic terror to the dreams of the republic………….
( is it clear I was a hero of Rock ‘n’ Roll)
So starts Don Delillo’s 3rd novel, Great Jones Street. The hero, Bucky Wunderlick, has left the group high & dry, by dropping out of a national tour at the height of their fame & success. His reasoning is to seek out an alternate existence, outside of his public persona, by seeking refuge in some crummy bedsit on Great Jones Street. The problem with this is everyone knows he’s there, his manager (the building is owned by his management company), members of a cult, fellow band members etc & they all want to or already do own a piece of him. Some are after some experimental super drug & some for some tapes of music he has made.
In trying to write this piece, I’ve checked out various resources & they make comparisons between the hero & Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison & even Kurt Cobain (amazing as the book was out in the early 70’s), discussing the relationship between self & public persona. In the book there is no division, the public perception has as much credibility as the individual, Bucky & us, as readers, constantly learn of his exploits all whilst constantly aware he hasn’t left Great Jones Street, making rumour & publicity at least as real as his private self.
Also mentioned a lot is the connection between the underground movement & rock. There's a cult called the Happy valley farm commune, who have set up home in a lower eastside tenement & seem to connect themselves with Bucky's withdrawal from society (or his perception of it). Personally I think Delillo points us elsewhere to what he perceives as the real underground, through the character of Watney(named after the English beer comp?) an old retired English rocker who says on page 232
“The presidents & prime ministers are the ones who make the underground deals & speak the true underground idiom. The corporations. The military. The banks.This is the underground network. This is where it happens. Power flows under the surface, far beneath the level you & I live on. This is where the laws are broken, way down under, far beneath the speed freaks & cutters of smack. Your not insulated or unaccountable the way a corporate force is.Your audience is not the relevant audience.It doesn’t make anything. It doesn’t sell to others.Your life consumes itself”
If this book has a message, its something like, rock & its rebel underground image has no real status, no power, it is merely a way of selling a particular commodity. That the real status,those that really stick their fingers up to the man, are the man. This was probably true then & it definitely resonates with what makes the news today.
This book also left me with a dilemma, a question. Can you still like a book that has no redeeming characters, that has no likable quality in its ideals, individuals or even the images it portrays…..In the end it’s saved by the sheer power & beauty of the writing, it is strong, erotic & has a insular nature suited to its main character, in fact it reminded me of a book I read years ago, that was also in a confined setting & had a poetic nature & that was Lawrence Durrell's The black book.