The Big Rewind
Libby Cudmore, 2016, HarperCollins, ISBN 978 0 06 240353 7, 241pp
Regular readers of my scratchings will know that my all-time cultural influence is a singer-songwriter called Warren Zevon. I still find it hard to understand how people of my generation have not heard of this man though my friend Macman is helping to put this right on his 2EARFM show on Wednesday afternoons. This week he played Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner which was the last song Warren played live before he died in 2003. Now, you may wonder what this has to do with this book. The frontispiece of The Big Rewind quotes the line “I’ve been searching high and low for you, trying to track you down” from Searching For A Heart which on Zevon’s 1991 album Mr Bad Example. Libby Cudmore shares the same kickstart in life that I gave my children. Her father apparently inspired in her a love of Warren Zevon as I inspired the same love in my children. Her father is clearly a fine and sensible fellow and I should like to shake him by the hand and tell him so. His daughter has written a book that I enjoyed immensely.
The front cover of my copy proclaims that the novel is “like Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity for women …”. This sort of nonsense should have inspired a slew of #metoo tweets even though it appears to have been written by a woman. What it has in common with High Fidelity is mixtapes. In the good old days, before digital music, before even Napster and certainly before Spotify we had cassettes. Those of us who were keen music aficionados would create tapes of songs that expressed particular emotions. We would present these mixtapes to those whom we wished to impress, usually people of the opposite gender. This book is about one such mixtape. This particular mixtape mistakenly arrives in the mailbox of Jett Bennett, the book’s heroine (perhaps lead character would be a better description). It should have been delivered to her neighbour KitKat. When Jett takes the tape to KitKat she finds her dead, murdered no less by an unknown hand. But Jett suspects that the tape holds the clue to her death. The police make a wrongful arrest and Jett sets out to right the wrong.
The beauty of this book is the way that the storyline, which one cannot describe as strong or particularly complicated, weaves its way through a steady stream of pop cultural references. I suspect Libby Cudmore’s father is perhaps a decade younger than I am for the references are largely from the 1980s and 1990s. They are bands that I knew in my thirties: Concrete Blonde, The 6ths, October Project, The Innocence Mission and The Lightning Seeds. In a way the book is like a verbal rather than visual Gilmore Girls, the American comedy-drama television series, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino in 2000. That series was full of pop-cultural references and my son would not have seen The Shins recently had I not watched the Gilmore Girls and picked up the reference.
Above: Lauren Graham: the real reason I watched The Gilmore Girls (Photo: Wikipedia) Now, if popular (we may say post-punk rock) music is not to your taste then perhaps you would be inclined to give this book a miss. But as well as reminding me of The Gilmore Girls the book also reminds me of Kinky Friedman.
Above: The Kinkster, with cigar
Now Kinky Friedman, known to us aficionados as The Kinkster, is a chap from Texas who came to fame (or at least an approximation of fame) singing his whacky songs with his band The Texas Jew Boys. Interestingly, The Kinkster has visited Moruya: there is a poster to that effect in Texas Dave’s shop in town. His most well-known song is probably They Ain’t Making Jews Like Jesus Anymore. The Kinkster ran for Governor of Texas a couple of times; I have one of his election posters from 2006 hanging just outside my study. His manifesto supported gay marriage on the basis that “they have as much right to be miserable as the rest of us”. I was lucky enough to speak to the Kinkster about his political ambitions in 2013 when he played in Sydney. At that time, he was running for Commissioner of Agriculture so he could legalise marijuana. He is a fine upstanding fellow and he also writes detective fiction which has the same zany vibe that Libby Cudmore uses in her book. You never quite know where things are going, or even whether anything is actually happening, but you are absolutely committed to taking the ride.
My elder daughter, who is the same age as Libby Cudmore and who, like Libby, lives in New York, has read this book and pronounced it good. When we spoke about it she remembered making a mixtape but using a CD. She remembers that this mixtape (or mixCD) had on it Madonna’s version of Don McLean’s American Pie and Mambo #5. I can hardly believe that I allowed this but the things we do for our children … But she raised a question about when The Big Rewind is set. I don’t suppose I made a mixtape after 1990 yet in the book Jett Bennett observes that she couldn’t have had a better day if Warren Zevon had come back from the dead. That puts the time later than 2003. I told my daughter that it didn’t matter, it’s still a good book. The earliest mixtape, by the way, is probably the record that was launched in 1977 with Voyager 1. This contains, among other things, the sound of a baby crying and Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Good”.
If you want to be taken on a ride that’s a little different, and if you want to keep interrupting your reading to listen to the references on Spotify, then you need to pop into see Janice in Moruya Books and order up a copy. Don’t expect a work of high literature, it’s not that. But it’s a good read. Even if you don’t want to read it then your children, of whatever age, should be required to read this if only for the references to important icons of the post-punk rock world. Rock ’n’ roll, after all, makes the world go round. And if you remember Woodstock then you owe it to posterity to read this book.