Still hearing the siren song of rock-and-roll
“There are some of us who never had a choice,” Andy Abramowitz writes in his soul-searching first novel, “Thank You, Goodnight.” “If we can make music, we make it and there’s no hope of turning off the spigot. And if we can’t, we listen and obsess.”
If you have no idea what the heck Abramowitz means there, you might have a tough time finding this novel’s beat. But if you’re the kind of guy who, after a beer or three, can’t help but dust off that old six-string, you’ll probably get a kick out of it.
“Thank You, Goodnight” is about a 38year-old one-hit wonder turned lawyer whose midlife crisis triggers an irresistible urge to reunite his old band. The novel is a little uneven, but it’s often fun and unfailingly heartfelt.
Teddy Tremble and his band, Tremble, were once, briefly, on top of the world. Their first album went multi-platinum, and one of Teddy’s songs won an Oscar. But when Tremble had a chance to tour with an even hotter act, which surely would have secured the group’s future, Teddy’s ego got the better of him. He took Tremble out on a tour of its own — and it was its last.
When the novel opens, Teddy is in Dublin for a deposition, and he gets a cryptic message from his old drummer: The frontman’s “legacy” is hanging in the Tate Modern in London.
That turns out to be a cringe-worthy photo of Teddy, titled “It Feels Like a Lie . . . and It Looks Like a Mess.” When Teddy confronts the photographer in Switzerland, he’s shocked to find that Tremble still inexplicably rules there. The visit inspires him to start writing again, and with a little luck— and the help of his estranged, quirky bandmates — Tremble might, once again, rock.
“Thank You, Goodnight” deals with a special brand of male legacy anxiety. Even though Teddy is gainfully employed in a lucrative profession, and even though he has had dream-worthy success in a dream-worthy industry, he still feels vaguely unfulfilled.
Abramowitz vividly imagines the lives of musicians and lapsed musicians while gleefully skewering lame music and bands. He also serves up a particularly biting take on the legal profession. “The irony of law firms,” Abramowitz writes, “is that they’re stocked with hypereducated drones whom you hire for zealous advocacy but who are only there because they didn’t feel particularly strongly about doing anything else with their lives.” What Teddy feels strongly about — and what this novel so enjoyably portrays — is that we can do better than that.
“Listen — it’s not enough to be good,” a producer says late in the novel. “We have an obligation to be interesting.”
John Wilwol is a writer in Washington.
THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT Andy Abramowitz Touchstone. 340 pp. $26.