'The Haters': Jesse Andrews' tale of a Pittsburgh band on the run (but with nothing to say).
July 10, 2016 6:13 AM
By Donald E. Simpson
Wes is a Pittsburgh kid whose New Age Buddhist parents have sent him to jazz summer camp in Shippenburg to pursue dreams of electric bass, and high school best friend Corey is a drummer who accompanies him. The duo have already bonded over hating on Kool and the Gang, but are discouraged to realize they just don’t have the chops to make a top practice ensemble with the best horn and rhythm players, or can hope to make any kind of music they could really love. Assigned to the Gene Krupas, the most deficient squad, Wes and Corey bond with Ash, a 19-year old guitarist with a chip on her shoulder. Her muse-like fascination and relative ability to shred when freed from the confines of chord changes inspires the friends to form an unlikely trio each wants to believe doesn’t sound half bad. Defecting from camp, the haters hit the road to seek trial-by-fire live gigs that will truly test their mettle.
“The Haters” (Amulet Press / Harry N. Abrams, $18.95) Jesse Andrews’ follow up to “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl,” is a likeable, fast-paced read that is riotously funny and highly profane, with frequently vivid, if not graphic, depictions of sexuality. Parents may not find it suitable for readers younger than 16, although the publisher suggests a much younger baseline. Snarky teen angst gives way to more sober young adult reflection over the course of the narrative, but only Wes and perhaps Corey feel at all rounded. Ash remains somewhat distant and undeveloped, and the grown-ups, while plausible, are mostly stock expressions of adult concerns over safety, health, and planning for future happiness, or emblems of failed dreams.
Secretly Wes, Corey and Ash want to call off the ill-fated tour before it has even begun. But neurotic insecurities compel each to egg the others on to the bitter end, an inevitable flight home to Pittsburgh on their parents’ tab. Interest is sustained over the course of 300-plus pages with rude observations on the vicissitudes of popular music, rendered in pseudo-hip short-hand invented by the friends. Musicians that are lame are designated “Herbs,” in honor of slick pop trumpeter and A&M label founder Herb Albert, while musical and other experiences that are either joyful or excruciating are registered in obscene references to private parts that want to self-strangulate or simply leave the building. Short chapters and scenes alternate between first-person narration by Wes and laugh-out-loud dialogue sequences replete with awkward, incredulous pauses following astonishing assertions or queries. For example:
Ash: Item one: band philosophy.
Ash: I think it’s going to help us if everything we do comes from a central unifying philosophy.
Needless to say, hours of travel, miles on the road, and even ungratifying intra-band sexual experimentation fail to yield such a philosophy. Several disastrous performances take place in venues that don’t really want them there, such as a Chinese buffet where the drum kit blocks patron access to the egg rolls. But the band is paying their dues.
It is always difficult to portray talent, or lack thereof, convincingly, and the reader can never be sure that Wes is completely reliable in his estimation of his own or his companions’ relative musical ability, or whether the group has any shot of ever getting better. Clearly, the music in their heads to which they aspire is beyond their ken, but they can jam on a simple blues and approximate a few pop songs. Still, they have difficulty rising even to the mediocrity of the mainstream drivel they had been so eager to hate on. But they really kinda knew that all along.
Donald E. Simpson currently at work on a satirical graphic novel “Megaton Man: Return to Megatropolis” for release in 2017.
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