Thursday, 20 December 2007

Book Review - Stories We Could Tell by Tony Parsons

When he’s not busy scribbling populist musings for his weekly column, Daily Mail right-winger Tony Parsons spends his time in the ring with Nick Hornby, battling it to be ‘king of lad-lit’. His latest testosterone fuelled man-book, ‘Stories We Could Tell’, is a semi-autobiographical account of Parson’s time working for the New Musical Express in the seventies. Back then, punk was a growing phenomenon that screamed anarchy in the face of the fraying hippy movement, prompting the NME to rapidly hire a gaggle of young talent off the back of a gunslinger ad to capitalise on the new scene. Parsons and his first wife, Judy Burchill, were both among this first round of punk critics. Whilst Parsons avoids directly penning the story of their reckless rock and roll romance, he has clearly garnered much of his material for the bread-and-butter working class Terry and his slippery, aloof girlfriend, Misty, from personal experience.

As Terry tries to keep a hold on the wayward Misty, his two best friends – also new recruits on ‘The Paper’ (as the NME is renamed) – must grapple with their own coming-of-age conundrums. Leon, a bourgeois leftie, tries valiantly to disassociate himself from his happily middle-class parents at a time when privilege was something to be ashamed of, and ends up hiding from gangs in disco halls and squatting in disused buildings. Meanwhile Ray is still long-haired and lost in a sixties hippy haze and must get a golden interview with John Lennon or face losing his job for being out of touch.

The whole story takes place over the course of one day and night: 16th August 1977, the night that Elvis Presley died. Rather conveniently this also happens to be the night that Leon’s squat gets shut down and Lennon is passing through town, which makes the plot seem rather contrived. However these converging plot elements force the narrative forwards and avoid the festering sentimentality that Parsons sometimes lapses into in his novels.

That’s the thing with Tony Parsons: all the male characters are muddled softies – the narcissistic reflected fragments of Parsons’ self confessed sentimental side – which can get a little dull, as can transparent symbolism and predictable plot lines. There is enough here to keep music lovers amused, if not only in spotting Parsons’ parodies of the big names of the NME in the seventies: Kevin White is Nick Logan incarnated whilst Parsons’ hero, Nick Kent, appears as the lovable Skip James, perpetually locked away in the mystical review room. Though clichés abound infest his writing, the result is a strangely pleasing sprint through the early days of British punk, spruced up a bit for commercial appeal.

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