When a friend gives me a first novel to read, I worry. Not that I doubt the intelligence, wit, feeling, of my friends — but what if I don’t like it? What can I say? I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but neither do I want to read a page of something I do not like. So I am delighted to report that the jazz guitarist / composer / singer Davy Mooney, New Orleans native transplanted to Brooklyn, can write.
In fact, Davy Mooney is a novelist. His first book, HOMETOWN HEROES, combines the qualities of “a good read” and “a page-turner” with a seriously observant eye for social commentary and occasionally satire. I won’t give the plot away, but in its 202 pages, you will learn what it feels like to be an improvising musician giving lessons to uninterested middle-schoolers; what’s involved in being a barrista; how it feels to play a jazz solo. But that’s only the thin edge of it. Mooney has seen and thought about all kinds of behavior: what Astoria, Queens, and New Orleans feel like in mores, climate, and affections, for one thing. And he also has a deeper interest in what’s required to be an artist — not that all the guitar players in his book are heroes, martyrs, or geniuses. One is hugely successful, has a television career, and an incredibly erotic girlfriend; the other might be a fine player, is struggling, and feels despair often. (The second one, Joe, also tends to philosophize about his ground-level view of the world; Mooney does a lovely job of showing Joe as both sincere and in love with the sound of his own voice, but it’s never irritating.)
But there’s more. Witches. Not the Halloween crones, but women with power. And I mean power — not the comic-book sort, but the energy to repair wrongs and to cause them, to reward the downtrodden and to punish the successful. Rather like first-rate Golden Era science fiction or the best work of David Lynch, this novel makes a reader feel that there are undercurrents and shifts going on all around us while we drink our coffee, read the newspaper, engage in pleasant conversation. “What’s going on that we are not aware of?” is one question that the book asks, and in a lightly witty way, “Who runs the show, and why?” is another.
Here’s the story that has been echoing in my head while reading the novel. In 1942, I think, Billie Holiday and Lester Young (for a moment) joined forces on the West Coast. Billie had heard and worked with Jimmie Rowles, then quite a young man, and tried to get Lester to invite him into the band. Lester was suspicious. Rowles hadn’t a long string of jazz credentials (even though Ben Webster had looked out for him) and, let’s face it, Rowles was “a grey boy,” a Caucasian. So Lester had to be convinced. Billie retold the story to Rowles on their 1955 rehearsal tape, “I said to him, ‘I don’t know . . . boy can blow!'”
Davy Mooney can blow — at the computer keyboard as well as at the guitar. HOMETOWN HEROES is worth a good look. You’ll have fun.
May your happiness increase.
May your happiness increase.