Thursday, June 14, 2018

Book Review: Beautiful Music

Fun fact: The very first book review I ever did on this blog, and what got me started, was Michael Zadoorian's book The Leisure Seeker. That was so long ago but (even with memory loss) I remember being so excited when his publicist for the book reached out to me to thank me for the review and she sent me a box of books, including The Motel Life by Willy Vlautin (one I really enjoyed). There was also a book called The Summer of Tiffany, a memoir written by a woman in her 80s and the publicist told me it's never too late to write my book. I think about that every time I hit a slump in writing. So when I saw that Michael had a new book coming and was contacted asking if I'd be game I said OF COURSE.

Beautiful Music - Michael Zadoorian

Set in early 1970s Detroit, a racially divided city still reeling from its violent riot of 1967, Beautiful Music is the story of one young man’s transformation through music. Danny Yzemski is a husky, pop radio–loving loner balancing a dysfunctional home life with the sudden harsh realities of freshman year at a high school marked by racial turbulence.

But after tragedy strikes the family, Danny’s mother becomes increasingly erratic and angry about the seismic cultural shifts unfolding in her city and the world. As she tries to hold it together with the help of Librium, highballs, and breakfast cereal, Danny finds his own reason to carry on: rock ‘n’ roll. In particular, the drum and guitar–heavy songs of local legends like the MC5 and Iggy Pop. In the vein of Nick Hornby and Tobias Wolff, yet with a style very much Zadoorian’s own, Beautiful Music is a touching story about the power of music and its ability to save one’s soul.

I wasn't born until 1982 so I'll be honest when I say a lot of the cultural references from the 70's went right over my head. But I think that's OK because Michael Zadoorian writes in such a way that you absorb the information, you can picture everything around him, and we can all relate to the middle school awkwardness. I don't care who you are, you were awkward. It isn't just middle school that's difficult to navigate (swimming naked in gym class? I'd rather die, thank you very much), but his home life isn't always easy. His father feels distant and unaware, likely stressed out to the max. His mother is emotionally unstable and to be honest, she reminds me of me in a way. Add to this the complexity of all of these characters, you can almost picture someone in your life that could play these characters in a movie and nail it.

The day his father brings home a new stereo changes Danny's life, but the book is more than that. It's about Detroit, Detroit in the 70's during the race riot time period, adolescence, mental health, it's so many real life things all balled up that you can't help but be immersed in it. You find yourself turning the pages, nodding your head, laughing out loud, all of the emotions. I just really adored this book and it feels like a perfect summer read. Maybe pack it on your way to your outdoor music festival, what a tribute. I have to also say, Danny had his coming to Jesus rock and roll moment with Led Zeppelin's Houses of the Holy album and I also remember the first time I heard that. Senior year of high school, my boyfriend introduced me to Led Zeppelin and I've been such a fan ever since. But that was the year that I went beyond what was on the radio and delved deep into the archives of rock and roll and reveled in the classics. Every emotion Danny spoke about? I felt it, I could identify with it. I can only imagine what life would have been like had I been introduced in middle school like Danny- I might be an entirely different person. And that's what music can do to you. Books, too.


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