Off The Record

Off The Record

by David Menconi


The story of TAB, the Tommy Aguilar Band, that is presented in David Menconi’s Off The Record is pretty standard and predictable, at least for the first 300 pages or so. This is by no means Menconi’s fault — the trajectory of talent, stardom, and self-destruction in the music industry is as predictable as a freshman physics ballistics problem. To deviate from that arc would be to compromise the believability of the tale.

Off The Record‘s Tommy Aguilar is a typical musician’s musician. Oozing talent and stage presence, Aguilar is moody to the point of being psychotic at times, is prone to fits of vanity and superstition, and suffers from the self-destructive vulnerability that leads many an artist down the path of sex and drugs and rock and roll. With the level-headed Michelle on bass (I dig chicks on bass!) and journeyman drummer Ray taking care of the van, the trio gain the management of local club owner Bob Porter, and soon enough, giant sleazebag promoter Gus DeGrande, who quickly (and not too cleanly) steals them away from the naive Porter. With Ken Morrison (who, like Menconi, happens to be the local newspaper’s music critic) providing support in print, the band sets off on the path to, ahem, glory, culminating in a hit record they didn’t really make and a full-scale stadium riot which would have shut down the band’s career, if Tommy Aguilar’s actions later that night hadn’t guaranteed that.

Up to this point, things lie along the expected path. This is not to say that they’re boring — on the contrary, Menconi’s style is engaging, and he sprinkles enough camouflaged music industry lore (like Jim DeRogatis’ Hootiegate and the Nymph’s infamous desk-pissing incident) and characters (producer Don Dixon, key record label executives) to provide some real authenticity — yes, gentle reader, the business is really that messed up. But the story continues for a good time after the band ends in the caterwaul of a riot-inducing Sex Pistols cover, and after that is where things get really interesting. I won’t give anything away; I’ll just say that it’s definitely worth it to stick around for the encore, where things truly get weird and unexpected, if a bit less realistic than the tale preceding it.

Off The Record is a great read, a gripping tale for people inside and outside the music industry. The characters are real and quite believable, though those unfamiliar with the biz will sometimes have a hard time believing people do some of these things (trust me, they do). Those struggling artists dreaming of lounging by the pool while the butler brings the phone on a silver tray definitely need to read this and spare themselves living through the ugly truth. Regardless, Menconi has put together a real page-turner of a story for everyone and it’s well-worth tracking this one down.

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