Saturday, February 11, 2012

Wayward Saints

Suzzy Roche

I first encountered The Roches on vinyl around 1984, when I began hosting a folk music radio show at the surprisingly powerful high school station, WKHS. Warner Brothers sent me their first three albums, The Roches, Nurds and Keep On Doing in a neatly wrapped package. It was one of my first acquisitions from a record company. I was using a pile of old LPs borrowed from storage a friend's barn for most of my music.

I played the grooves off of those three albums. Their clever lyrics with their smart humorous tales of life for three young sisters in New York, trying to break into the music business, were priceless. Having left the radio game now for more than a decade, (where does the time go?) I had lost track of Maggie, Terre and Suzzy, the three sisters from New Jersey that I loved so much. So I was surprised to see this book on the new books display at my local library.

The cover art shows the silhouette of a skinny girl with an acoustic guitar over an orange psychedelic vortex, with a smaller silhouette of a woman in white gloves in front of a row of lime green identical suburban houses in the corner. The first chapter, featuring a punk rock band just formed in England, and filled with f-bombs, almost made me close the book and return it. I was afraid that it was going fantasy nightmare of sex, drugs and rock and roll with intimate scenes on the tour bus.

After what, to my relief, turned out to be a short bit of exposition, the novel moves on to the later life of Mary Saint, former punk rocker, living in San Francisco and working in a coffee shop, and her mother, living alone in quiet suburban upstate New York.

The book is a story of forgiveness and redemption and is quite touching, while still gripping. There are lots of colorful characters from the music business, from San Francisco's tenderloin and from the small, imaginary,  town of Swallow, New York. I particularly liked Mary's San Fransisco roommate, Thaddeus, who is described as a "chocolate tranny." Thaddeus works at the coffee shop but also dances at a storefront non denominational church of vague theology. Thaddeus is a big hit in Swallow New York. He is one of two possible incarnations of the virgin Mary in the book. All done very tastefully, of course.

Yes, there is a big concert at the end, in the auditorium of Swallow, New York's high school. This concert is the vehicle by which Mary and her mother are reunited. In the real world a concert of songs like The Back of My Ass and Tom's Dick and Harry would never have been allowed to happen. Instead it would would cost the high school English teacher that thought of this bonehead idea his job. Fortunately this is art.


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