Never Break the Chain
by Jason Warburg
Wonder Wheel Publications
Rock and roll isn’t easy, but occasionally its enlightening. Tim Green gets a call out of the blue to do a quickie bio on the (fictitious) ’90s band Empire. Their back story mimics more than a few bands: They came out of the prog rock movement of the late 60’s making a name for themselves but no money, then moved into the green with a few power ballad hits. Life is wonderful until the late ’90s when the world passes them by. Green is called down to L.A. to pound out a story only to find the band a dysfunctional mess. The drummer and bass player are new, the “good” lead singer is long gone, and bands founder, Blake, has his son Mal leading the band. He’s unhappy; who wants to lead dad’s cover band playing to the old fans as they age and die off? Green does his job: he interviews, he hangs out, he meets the band members and even some of the long-gone ones. He’s soon fast friends with Mal and his sister Jane and becomes a fixture in their sprawling Malibu beach house. Dreams are one thing, and paying bills another: it may look like this family has the bucks, but they are broke and faking it and this ill-fated tour is their last chance.
I went into this book assuming it was about a band I had missed somehow, but soon corrected my course. It’s an easy read, and you might guess the ending before Green does, and that’s OK. The background and textures creating the appearance of the fading star envelope you, the fear of showing weakness motivate the action, and faded afterglow general excess is an excellent frame for what is a complex and personal drama. Chapters are cleanly cut with Warburg inking an orphan still lonely even though he’s in a great relation, a demanding father who can’t accept his son doesn’t want to duplicate him, and a young woman thrust into the home caretaker long before she’s ready. I liked everyone in this book by the end, and the staging and characters decorating the perimeter of the story all ring true. Its fictional, but fiction with that heart that makes a fake band as good as a real one.