Memo to Tony Fletcher, re: Future Editions of Boy about Town. Dear Sir: The only thing that could make your memoir Boy about Town more enjoyable for any Stateside music-lover with a sideline in Anglophilia would be an annotated map of London in the front matter – one with stars locating the music clubs, schools and football stadiums, perhaps with a socioeconomic topographic overlay and a legend identifying sites of personal significance (“first snog here”). You know, like Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or Hoban’s Riddley Walker – but real.
Narratives about identity transformation via the agency of rock ‘n’ roll are a dime a dozen. Their themes are stock: the redemption of the outsider; rock stars as surrogate parents and alternative authorities; politics, society, camaraderie, violence and sexuality all knotted together in the three-minute rock song with a new sound. What separates Fletcher’s book so splendidly from the crowd are the caliber of his raw material and the light-touch modesty of his style and of his claims.
Fletcher’s coming-of-age happened to coincide with England’s punk and New Wave explosion of the late ‘70s: one of the great upheavals in rock’s idolmaking/idol-breaking history and a cultural moment of enduring resonance. His story documents the birth not just of a new music but also of a new kind of fan: one who is engaged and implicated, no mere passive receiver but a player and a partner in the action. But Fletcher reports it all with a keen eye, with careful language with and an eminently stable ego, steering clear of the rock-scribe hysteria, hyperbole and unchecked glorification that might have characterized, say, Cameron Crowe’s telling of the same story.
The Mount Tremper resident tells rock stories for a living. His biographies of Keith Moon, REM and the Smiths are definitive. It all began for him with his fanzine Jamming, a schoolboy project inspired by the neo-Mod band the Jam that became nationally famous and influential. Now, seven or so books into his career, he turns his pen toward himself for the first time to tell that story. The result is an expertly woven, multi-strand narrative that is part cultural history, part psychosexual Bildungsroman and part annotated map of ‘70s London. Big themes abound – about cultural process, about progressive and reactionary forces at war in the streets, about rock’s high-art aspirations and its primitivism – but you barely notice them as they are built. Fletcher’s storytelling is easy/breezy, evoking place, period, music, fashion, cultural milieu and the torments of the pubescent self without breaking a sweat or shooting for the moon.
And by the end, you realize that it was all about girls, after all – just as we first thought.
Tony Fletcher reads from Boy about Town, Friday, December 13, 7 p.m., Inquiring Minds Bookstore, 6 Church Street, New Paltz; (845) 255-8300.