- File Size: 9854 KB
- Print Length: 570 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1444799428
- Publisher: Random House (July 14, 2020)
- Publication Date: July 14, 2020
- Sold by: Random House LLC
- Language: English
- ASIN: B07YK2DL7S
- Text-to-Speech: Enabled
- Word Wise: Enabled
- Lending: Not Enabled
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,155 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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“In 2020, there is something utopian about the idea of people gathering together to make and record and play music, to create a scenius together. We’ll get back to the garden someday.”—Los Angeles Times
“Mitchell, whose novels range through different modes and genres with extraordinary facility, has a lucid, kinetic style at all times, but he is never more impressive than when writing in close third person about characters in altered mental states—captivity, physical pain, madness. . . . A conventional story of a band’s rise turns into a book on another plane entirely.”—The New Yorker
“For his first novel in five years, the author explores the universal language of music. . . . It’s Daisy Jones & the Six on acid.”—Entertainment Weekly
“For his first novel in five years, the author explores the universal language of music . . . it’s Daisy Jones & the Six on acid.”—Entertainment Weekly
“The British pop-folk-rock band Utopia Avenue this novel focuses on seems so true to life, at least one reviewer (who shall not be named) may have Googled them just to confirm that they were a figment of the author’s imagination.”—AARP
“Utopia Avenue’s got all the sex, drugs, and broken dreams you want in a rock novel, plus guest appearances by Jagger, Jerry, Janis, and Jim (Morrison).”—The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Mitchell continues to use the rhythms of surface reality to dig much deeper, but without ever losing the beat.”—Booklist (starred review)
“Mitchell unspools at least a dozen original song lyrics and descriptions of performances that are just as fiery and infectious as his narratives. This is Mitchell at his best.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Those whose musical tastes end in the early 1970s—and literary tastes are up to the minute—will especially enjoy Mitchell’s yarn.”—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Dean hurries past the phoenix theatre, dodges a blind man in dark glasses, steps onto Charing Cross Road to overtake a slow-moving woman and pram, leaps a grimy puddle, and swerves into Denmark Street where he skids on a sheet of black ice. His feet fly up. He’s in the air long enough to see the gutter and sky swap places and to think, This’ll bloody hurt, before the pavement slams his ribs, kneecap, and ankle. It bloody hurts. Nobody stops to help him up. Bloody London. A bewhiskered stockbroker type in a bowler hat smirks at the long-haired lout’s misfortune and is gone. Dean gets to his feet, gingerly, ignoring the throbs of pain, praying that nothing’s broken. Mr. Craxi doesn’t do sick pay. His wrists and hands are working, at least. The money. He checks that his bankbook with its precious cargo of ten five-pound notes is safe in his coat pocket. All’s well. He hobbles along. He recognizes Rick “One Take” Wakeman in the window of the Gioconda café across the street. Dean wishes he could join Rick for a cuppa, a smoke, and a chat about session work, but Friday morning is rent-paying morning, and Mrs. Nevitt is waiting in her parlor like a giant spider. Dean’s cutting it fine this week, even by his standards. Ray’s bank order only arrived yesterday, and the queue to cash it just now took forty minutes, so he pushes on, past Lynch & Lupton’s Music Publishers, where Mr. Lynch told Dean all his songs were shit, except the few that were drivel. Past Alf Cummings Music Management, where Alf Cummings put his podgy hand on Dean’s inner thigh and murmured, “We both know what I can do for you, you beautiful bastard; the question is, What will you do for me?,” and past Fungus Hut Studios, where Dean was due to record a demo with Battleship Potemkin before the band booted him out.
“HELP, please, I’m—” A red-faced man grabs Dean’s collar and grunts, “I’m—” He doubles over in agony. “It’s killing me . . .”
“All right mate, sit down on the step here. Where’s it hurt?”
Spit dribbles from the man’s twisted mouth. “Chest . . .”
“’S okay, we’ll, uh . . . get yer help.” He looks around, but people rush by with collars up, caps down, and eyes averted.
The man whimpers and leans into Dean. “Aaa-aaaggh.”
“Mate, I think yer need an ambulance, so—”
“What seems to be the problem?” The new arrival is Dean’s age, has short hair and a sensible duffel coat. He loosens the collapsed man’s tie and peers into his eyes. “I say, my name’s Hopkins. I’m a doctor. Nod if you understand me, sir.”
The man grimaces, gasps, and manages to nod, once.
“Good.” Hopkins turns to Dean. “Is the gentleman your father?”
“Nah, I never seen him till now. His chest hurts, he said.”
“Chest, is it?” Hopkins removes a glove and presses his hand against a vein in the man’s neck. “Highly arrhythmic. Sir? I believe you’re having a heart attack.”
The man’s eyes widen; fresh pain scrunches them up.
“The café’s got a phone,” says Dean. “I’ll call nine-nine-nine.”
“It’ll never arrive in time,” says Hopkins. “The traffic’s blue bloody murder on Charing Cross Road, do you happen to know Frith Street?”
“Yeah, I do—and there’s a clinic, up by Soho Square.”
“Exactly. Run there as fast as you can, tell them a chap’s having a heart attack outside the tobacconist on Denmark Street and that Dr. Hopkins needs a stretcher team, pronto. Got all that?”
Hopkins, Denmark Street, stretcher. “Got it.”
“Good man. I’ll stay here to administer first aid. Now run like the bloody clappers. This poor devil’s depending on you.”
Dean jogs across Charing Cross Road, into Manette Street, past Foyles bookshop, and through the short alley under the Pillars of Hercules pub. His body has forgotten the pain of his fall just now. He passes dustmen tipping bins into a rubbish van on Greek Street, pounds up the middle of the road to Soho Square, where he scares a pool of pigeons into flight, nearly loses his footing a second time as he turns the corner onto Frith Street, and bounds up the steps of the clinic and into a reception area where a porter is reading the Daily Mirror. donald campbell dead, declares the front page. Dean gasps out his message: “Dr. Hopkins sent me . . . a heart attack on Denmark Street . . . needs a stretcher team, on the double . . .”
The porter lowers the newspaper. Flakes of pastry cling to his mustache. He looks unconcerned.
“A man’s dying,” states Dean. “Didn’t yer hear me?”
“’Course I did. You’re shouting in my face.”
“Then send help! Yer a bloody hospital, aren’t yer?”
The porter snorts inwards, deep and hard. “Withdraw a hefty sum of money from a bank prior to your encounter with this ‘Dr. Hopkins,’ did you?”
“Yeah. Fifty quid. So?”
The porter flicks crumbs off his lapel. “Still in possession of that money, are you, son?”
“It’s here.” Dean reaches into his coat for his bankbook. It’s not there. It must be. He tries his other pockets. A trolley squeaks by. A kid’s bawling his eyes out. “Shit—I must’ve dropped it on the way over . . .”
“Sorry, son. You’ve been hustled.”
Dean remembers the man falling against his chest . . . “No. No. It was a real heart attack. He could hardly stand up.” He checks his pockets again. The money’s still missing.
“It’s cold comfort,” says the porter, “but you’re our fifth since November. Word’s got round. Every hospital and clinic in central London has stopped sending stretchers for anyone called Hopkins. It’s a wild goose chase. There’s never anyone there.”
“But they . . .” Dean feels nauseous. “But they . . .”
“Are you about to say, ‘They didn’t look like pickpockets’?”
Dean was. “How could he’ve known I had money on me?”
“What’d you do if you were going fishing for a nice fat wallet?”
Dean thinks. The bank. “They watched me make the withdrawal. Then they followed me.”
The porter takes a bite of sausage roll. “Hole in one, Sherlock.”
“But . . . most o’ that money was to pay for my guitar, and—” Dean remembers Mrs. Nevitt. “Oh shit. The rest was my rent. How do I pay my rent?”
“You could file a report at the cop shop, but don’t hold your breath. For the Old Bill, Soho’s surrounded by signs saying, ‘Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here.’ ”
“My landlady’s a bloody Nazi. She’ll turf me out.”
The porter slurps his tea. “Tell her you lost it trying to be a Good Samaritan. Maybe she’ll take pity on you. Who knows?”
Mrs. Nevitt sits by the tall window. The parlor smells of damp and bacon fat. The fireplace looks boarded up. The landlady’s ledger is open on her writing bureau. Her knitting needles click and tap. A chandelier, forever unlit, hangs from the ceiling. The wallpaper’s once-floral pattern has sunk into a jungle gloom. Photographs of Mrs. Nevitt’s three dead husbands glower from their gilt frames. “Morning, Mrs. Nevitt.”
“Barely, Mr. Moss.”
“Yeah, well, uh . . .” Dean’s throat is dry. “I’ve been robbed.”
The knitting needles stop. “How very unfortunate.”
“Not half. I got out my rent money, but two pickpockets did me over on Denmark Street. They must’ve seen me cash my bank order and followed me. Daylight robbery. Literally.”
“My my my. What a turn-up.”
She thinks I’m spinning her a yarn, thinks Dean.
“More’s the pity,” Mrs. Nevitt continues, “you didn’t persevere at Bretton’s, the Royal Printers. That was a proper position. In a respectable part of town. No ‘muggings’ in Mayfair.”
Bretton’s was indentured cocksuckery, thinks Dean. “Like I told yer, Mrs. Nevitt, Bretton’s didn’t work out.”
“No concern of mine, I’m sure. My concern is rent. Am I to take it you want more time to pay?”
Dean relaxes, a little. “Honest, I’d be ever so grateful.”
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“Jellyfish of colored light breed and smear the dancers and Jasper’s mind is set adrift.” Then in italics, “Abracadabra, it’s a boy, why not name him Jasper?” (stop italics) “Why this name and not another?” (start italics again) “A friend? The stone? A long-lost lover?”
“Plenty more where we came from. A million per droplet of the stuff of life.”
Yeah, heavy, brother. Groovy.
I should have been warned when Mitchell decided that Utopia’s first album would be “Paradise is the Road to Paradise.” Is this supposed to be clever? Mocking? He takes this novel seriously, and the levity is at best, puerile. How about these lyrics to their first hit, Darkroom:
“We hid under trees from the rain and the dice; but under the trees the rain rains twice.”
These aren’t lyrics from counterculture music; it is the trivial stuff of a bubblegum chorus. (Exceptions are Richard Harris and Donna Summer, who can eloquently leave the cake out in the rain).
It opens in 1967, and the premise is the rise and fall of a British rock band. The novel is structured in six sections by the three Utopia LPs (A and B sides), and each song centers on a different band member: Romeo-ish, cheating Dean, the bassist; Lennon-ish Jasper, the watchful and schizoaffectve-ish guitarist; Elf, singer and keyboard player with man problems; and Griff, the brash and nervy drummer from Yorkshire. The characters, like the story, are trite and swirl in the self-referential Mitchellverse. Levon, the manager, is a meta-reference to Bone Clocks. Jasper de Zoet’s reference to Jacob is purposeful but insubstantial, like all of the meta- bombs. Perhaps Mitchell is reminding the reader that he once wrote novels with staying power.
The author hammers home that it is the 60s by all the name-dropping and cameo appearances: Jagger, Bowie, Sandy Denny, Zappa, Joni Mitchell, Hendrix, Jerry Garcia, Nina Simone, Pink Floyd, and the list goes on. Unfortunately, like the novel, their function is flimsy and clumsy, like Marc Bolan’s, “If you want to understand me, read The Lord of the Rings. It’s that simple.”
590+ pages of buzzwords, bromides, and banalities, swirling in Mitchell’s past novels. A solid narrative stands on its own, without weak wink-wink plugs to an author’s oeuvre. The Mitchellverse feebly tries to cover the shortcomings of this hubristic epic, but I wasn’t fooled by this impersonation of an Experience. Gimme Jimi any day instead.
I really dislike giving one star. So, in the spirit of 1.5, I’ll round it up to two stars.
The band Utopia Avenue reminded me a bit of Pink Floyd, and probably will draw other comparisons. Three of the four members are songwriters, and Mitchell writes surprisingly good song lyrics. The mixture, with cockney poor boy Dean Moss on bass, folky Elf Holloway on piano, mentally disordered but genius Jasper on lead guitar, and reliable Griff, great for on-target, funny one-liners, on drums, is not only believable, but is company I was happy to keep.
As you may have read, a number of characters are either from or connected to characters in earlier Mitchell books, e.g. guitarist Jasper de Zoet (pronounced "Zoot") is a descendant of Jacob de Zoet from The Thousand Autumns. Many real life music stars make appearances: a lovely and funny Leonard Cohen, Mama Cass, Janis Joplin, David Bowie and on and on. The time period for much of the book is the late '60s, and Mitchell portrays the music scene as akin to Paris in the 1920s for writers like Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and the Fitzgeralds, or Montmartre for Picasso, Matisse and other artists (and Stein!) a couple of decades before. They all knew each other, they all debated and discussed technique and content, and they all inspired each other. They all also had love, life, sex, mortality and purpose on their minds just like regular folks.
There is something about Mitchell's writing that goes down so easily, with an appealing flavor. This novel about the band's rise from obscurity to some success, and perhaps a lasting legacy, was fairly conventional until . . . it wasn't. A bit like The Thousand Autumns. It's a great read, and it makes me happy to have been part of it as the reader.
There's a lot of quotable wisdom in Utopia Avenue. This one is from Mitchell's Frank Zappa, after a discussion of the Garden of Eden that I really enjoyed.
"I'm saying", replies Frank, "that if you ever think, I've found Paradise, you are not in possession of the facts. Don't be dazzled by peacocks either. They're vain, ornery sons-of-bitches who shit like it's going out of style."
Here's an epiphany from Elf about labels and freedom:
"“Labels. I stuck them on everything. 'Good.' 'Bad.' 'Right.' 'Wrong.' 'Square.' 'Hip.' 'Queer.' 'Normal.' 'Friend.' 'Enemy.' 'Success.' 'Failure.' They're easy to use. They save you the bother of thinking. Those labels stay stuck. They proliferate. They become a habit. Soon, they're covering everything, and everybody, up. You start thinking reality is the labels. Simple labels, written in permanent marker. The trouble is, reality's the opposite. Reality is nuanced, paradoxical, shifting. It's difficult. It's many things at once. That's why we're so crummy at it. People harp on about freedom. All the time. It's everywhere. There are riots and wars about what freedom is and who it's for. But the Queen of Freedoms is this: to be free of labels.”