It scared me that the only thing between this moment of calm and the biggest tragedy of my life was me choosing not to do it.
Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins appears to be an oral history of Daisy Jones and the Six, one of the greatest rock bands of the 1970s. Except it’s not. Daisy Jones and the Six never existed. None of the “interview subjects” ever existed. Daisy Jones and the Six is a completely fictional novel that uses the format of an oral history book to tell a classic tale of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s pretty dang great.
For those not familiar with real oral histories, they are composed kind of like a collage.* The Writer/Interviewer interviews a bunch of people about the Topic, and then edits, cuts, and splices those interviews together into some sort of narrative. If you’ve never read an oral history before, I’d suggest reading a couple before tackling Daisy Jones and the Six as I believe that will enrich your appreciation for what the author accomplishes. Oral histories are popular, so you can find examples of them on almost any subject, including: films, albums, music scenes, cartoon episodes, the immediate reaction to September 11, and late-night weirdness on Adult Swim.
The history of rock music is replete with stories of band conflicts and breakups. Cream, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac, Creedence Clearwater Revival, a solid percentage of bands that ever appeared on VH1’s Behind the Music – they all fell apart due to some combination of big incompatible personalities, greed, drugs, fame, pressure, constant travel, sex, jealousy, money, and exhaustion. And the number of people involved with a band makes it an especially good subject of an oral history. The producers, engineers, managers, friends and family, fans, reporters, and the actual band members all provide a multitude of (sometimes conflicting) perspectives. Daisy Jones and the Six fits right in with the true-life stories of band conflicts. It all feels like it COULD have happened!
That realism is only possible due to the excellent, easy-to-overlook craftsmanship by the author of Daisy Jones and the Six. Remember, it’s not a REAL oral history. The author made up all of the quotes and interview responses. It’s the work of one person. Somehow, though, the author makes all of the interview subjects FEEL real, as if they are all different people, with different personalities, each giving answers that feel true to themselves. That’s so hard to do!! I have watched many movies where it feels like the characters are just manifestations of the screenwriter/director talking to himself (*cough* Tarantino *cough*). I have read a bunch of books in which all of the characters all speak in the same sort-of voice, and it’s weird when they all share the exact same sense of humor, manner-of-speaking, and basic personality. Not so in this book! Everybody feels true, dynamic, complex, individual, and, well, REAL! The author did all that with what amounts to almost 100% dialogue. Reading the book felt like I was reading about a real band, as told by the real participants in the story.
If the realistic fun soap-opera type of drama I kind of described above was all the book had going for it, it would be a pretty good read, maybe nice for something to read on an airplane or at the beach. But the true excellence of this book is all that stuff is just what’s on the surface. The book has layers! Turns out, Daisy Jones and the Six is a powerful exploration of faith, love, redemption, addiction, temptation, feminism, work, jealousy, creativity, family, and the nature of art. The rock star stuff is just the (really fun) vehicle used for exploring those more universal themes and conflicts. And what is has to say is deep, thoughtful, and beautiful.
Daisy Jones and the Six is a book that everybody should read this year. I highly recommend it.
Stars: 5 Stars
*I only have experience with the journalistic or literary variety of oral history. Serious scholarly oral historians probably have different ways of doing things, but I don’t know what they are.