Monday, May 15, 2017

Review of Glimpses by Lewis Shiner

Despite the centuries that have passed, there remains hope that the final thirty chapters of Cao Xueqin’s manuscript for A Dream of Red Mansions will be found.  Gao E and Cheng Weiyuan made a valiant effort to fill in the missing story, but there remains a notable difference in quality, not to mention perpetual questions whether Gao and Cheng ended the tale as Cao Xueqin would have.  And the same holds true in the rock n’ roll world.  A hungry tape deck, record company restrictions, distraught musicians—all have at one time or another sabotaged or prevented the release of an album or music to the wider world.  But what if it were possible to go back in time and redress the situation?  What if we could return to the era and participate in the actual writing of the novel or making of the music—to read or hear how it was or could have been?  What if we could have unreleased albums like Brian Wilson’s Smile, Neil Young’s Homegrown, or Jimi Hendrix’s First Rays of the New Rising Sun?  Overlaying a powerful personal drama onto this premise in the context of American cultural shifts in the 60s and 80s is Lewis Shiner’s 1993 Glimpses.

A silver lining of sorts, days after his father passes away in a freak diving accident in 1989, Ray Shackleford discovers a lost Beatles track—in his imagination.  “The Long and Winding Road” a track fans are aware of but never heard, Shackleford manages to get a copy recorded on cassette.  He and his father never close, Ray brushes aside the death but can’t brush aside the beautiful bit of Beatles music, and so heads to LA to see a record producer.  Graham Hudson as convinced as Ray as to the power of the track, he agrees to fund The Doors album that never was, Celebration of the Lizard.  Shackleford’s marriage in a downward spiral, he retreats into the history and mythology of Celebration of the Lizard in an attempt to conjure up the album.  Unfortunately, he retreats into alcohol, as well.  Moving from one lost album to another in the aftermath, the beer and marriage problems only get worse, leading to the question: is there any salvation to resurrecting the greatest albums that never were?

For many readers, the powerful, affecting personal story of Glimpses will hit closest home.  It can be argued, however, that the novel meets more success in its Americana—the details and knowledge of classic rock and counter-culture in the 60s as their spirit and influence faded and died through the 70s and into the 80s.  With informed knowledge, Shiner indirectly covers the blossoming of what we now call classic rock as it aligned with the burgeoning hippy scene, but died slowly in the aftereffects. The fallout of peace-and-love in the decades that followed are just as vividly described, the dream falling back to earth.  

In the end, Glimpses feels like the novel Rolling Stone magazine never wrote.  Shiner infusing one man’s middle age angst with the music of his generation in highly imaginative yet relevant manner, the result is an emotional roller coaster closely linked to the social and cultural shifts in America in the second half of the 20th century. For readers interested in classic rock or the counter-culture scene of the 60s, this novel is for them.  Be warned, however, you still can’t have Jimi Hendrix’s lost recordings…

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