Monday, March 5, 2012

Book Review: Tyler McMahon - How The Mistakes Were Made

Before moving on to the book review, here’s an update on an item I mentioned in last Friday’s Slumgullion column. Bangles vocalist-guitarist Vicki Peterson and Susan Cowsill of The Cowsills will be recording a CD together under the name The Psycho Sisters. They’re asking for funds via the Kickstarter site. With 18 days to go, it looks like a safe bet The Psycho Sisters will reach their goal of $7,000 since they’re already at the $5,587 mark. There are some interesting perks for helping out. Peterson and Cowsill were also members of the alt rock/Americana supergroup, The Continental Drifters.

Also, another bit that came to my attention after I posted last Friday’s Slumgullion: Crawpuppies, whose 2011 release, World’s Much Bigger, was a top notch collection of Midwestern rock and power pop tunes, have a gig this Thursday night, March 8th, at the Elbo Room at 2012 N. Lincoln Avenue. They’ll be supporting up-and-coming Country & Western singer-guitarist Danika Holmes. The power pop band Five Star Deluxe and grunge/alt rock band ALMA (A Life More Acceptable) are also on the bill.

And now on to noted critic Tyler McMahon’s novel, How The Mistakes Were Made. This is the second book I’ve read about a young woman singer in an alt-rock band; Stephanie Kuehnert’s compelling I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone being the first. Hopefully, there’s still some room out there for my novel about a female punk rock singer, which I’ll be finishing soon. Note: A slightly shorter version of this review originally appeared in the Illinois Entertainer.

Tyler McMahon’s novel How The Mistakes Were Made takes the form of a tell-all autobiography by a fictional punk rock legend named Laura Loss. Writing in first person as Loss, McMahon kicks things off with a double mystery. One involves her role in the demise of her most recent band, The Mistakes and the other concerns the tragic fate of brother Anthony, the charismatic founder of her first band , SCC.

The bulk of the novel is Loss’s account of how she formed The Mistakes with vocalist-bassist Nathan and guitarist Sean, a pair of naive but gifted country boys who literally show up on her doorstep after having met her a few months earlier at a club. Every other chapter gives a brief glance at her performances with her brother’s hardcore band, her deep bond with him, and his love-hate relationship with the fans who ultimately betray him. Surprisingly, McMahon doesn’t make Loss the driving force in either band. As a young newcomer, she takes a back seat to Anthony in SCC, and is almost immediately eclipsed talent-wise by Sean and Nathan in The Mistakes. That diminishes her appeal somewhat for the reader.

The occasional references to Nirvana effectively establish the time and place of the novel and add authenticity to The Mistakes’ similarly unexpected rise to the top of the Billboard charts. The band is undone by the usual pitfalls of alcohol abuse and tension among its members, and it doesn’t help that Loss has sex with both Sean and Nathan. The affairs take a particularly heavy toll on the already emotionally stunted Sean, who like Loss’s brother Anthony, seemed doomed from the start.

McMahon resolves the twin mysteries in the emotional final chapters of How The Mistakes Were Made, and along the way creates a compelling if occasionally over-the-top portrait of rock musicians on the road and in the recording studio. Loss doesn’t quite acquit herself of the accusations heaped on her by the media and devoted followers of The Mistakes, but most readers will embrace her as a sympathetic and believable character.

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