You know that fantastic rock band from the ’70s, Daisy Jones and the Six? The one that had all those incredible hits? The one with the gorgeous party-girl lead singer who had all that crazy chemistry with the other lead singer? You know...? The band that suddenly broke up at the peak of their career one night and no one ever explained why?
Never heard of them? Probably because they don’t exist, except in Taylor Jenkins Reid’s latest novel Daisy Jones & the Six, presented as a very believable oral history of a fictional band from the 1970s, with all the sex, drugs, rock and roll, free love, glitter and hippie fashion the decade had to offer. Reid strings together ‘interviews’ with band members and others close to the band, to form the multiple point of view narrative of the book, and she does it with great care not to reveal who is putting this story together until the very end. Are any of the characters unreliable narrators? Probably, but one also wonders if the person interviewing them is telling us the whole story, objectively.
As beautiful as she is talented, Daisy Jones is a raw, powerful, rebellious force. She embodies quintessential ’70s rock chic, paired with some terribly self-destructive habits that stem from a lonely, albeit privileged, childhood. Daisy grows up rich but largely unloved by her parents and, as a teenager, searches for what passes for affection by becoming a groupie to bands, moving through clubs and concerts and musicians who know her only for her looks and enthusiasm for their music and drugs. By the time she’s figured out that she can write songs and sing them, and is introduced to a band known as The Six, she’s knee-deep in the sex, drugs and rock-and-roll lifestyle, convinced she’s in control, but not yet smart enough to avoid the men who use her — boyfriends, managers, band members — those who keep her pockets full of pills and encourage her bad habits. Daisy is broken and vulnerable, but soon grows to be powerful and ambitious too, demanding her rights professionally once she joins The Six. As she says, “I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody.”
A new novel presents a very believable oral history of a fictional band from the 1970s, with all the sex, drugs, rock and roll, free love, glitter and hippie fashion the decade had to offer
The Six are meant to be a democracy, but only lead singer Billy Dunne thinks so. The other band members all know that Billy — as lead songwriter and singer — has always led the way even when he falls prey to the clichéd life-on-tour of hard drugs and random sex. But by the time Daisy is introduced to the band, Billy has realised that being with his pregnant wife and focusing on their future together is worth more than anything that comes with fame. He enters rehab and never falls off the wagon, but many of his demons remain. Daisy, with the ease with which she lives the life he once had, embodies many of his demons. There is undeniable chemistry between the two, causing arenas full of fans to wonder if it is professional or more.
But the chemistry isn’t just sexual. Daisy — as high as she often is — is also just as ambitious as Billy. She refuses to take a back seat or be denied her due as a songwriter or performer. She wants success just as much as Billy does and she’s not afraid to work for it. The dynamism of their relationship makes for really entertaining reading — Jenkins is known for her romance, and while this book can be sentimental, there’s more to it than that. The yearning for someone to share a creative chaos with is what holds Daisy and Billy together, rather than just a physical attraction or a romantic one.
“But knowing you’re good can only take you so far. At some point, you need someone else to see it, too. Appreciation from people you admire changes how you see yourself.”— Excerpt from the book
The multiple perspectives are not difficult to follow, as Jenkins arranges the conversations around incidents, events and a chronological timeline shared by all the characters, so the reader still has a linear sense of what happened when, and to whom. How it happened, or why it happened, becomes a matter of perspective, and the book is all the more interesting for it. It’s a fun Rashomon effect: one story told from multiple perspectives and voices, similar to ways employed in behind-the-scenes rock documentaries. No one ever remembers an incident the same way, no one feels about a certain incident or time the same way and so a patchwork narrative is constructed, allowing for Reid to play with humour, nostalgia and drama.
The late ’70s aesthetic in the book is consistently strong, as is the influence of bands such as Fleetwood Mac. There is the music, the fashion, the excessive American lifestyles of the rich and famous, the rampant drug abuse and sexual freedom with no fear of STDs or HIV, and often even of their own safety or future. Sure, the book sometimes leans rather sentimentally towards ’70s pastiche, but it’s a fun, well-paced, well-written read, ripe for television (and being produced for Amazon as a limited series, original songs and all). It’s a love song to the decade, its music and its artists and it makes no apologies for it.
The reviewer is a book critic, editor of The Djinn Falls in Love & Other Stories and hosts the interview podcast Midnight in Karachi at Tor.com
Daisy Jones & The Six
By Taylor Jenkins Reid
Published in Dawn, Books & Authors, June 16th, 2019