The Long Ride Home: A review of the novel The King of Good Intentions II by John Andrew Fredrick
John Andrew Fredrick’s second novel in his proposed rock novel trilogy, The King of Good Intentions II, picks back up with band leader John and his L.A. foursome The Weird Sisters on the last day of their west coast tour circa 1994. Things have gone well enough for the band in the few years since the end of Fredrick’s first installment The King of Good Intentions. They’ve signed a deal with a tony independent label, and their records have found their way to a gaggle of shy, obsessive fans. The day of their last show of the tour also happens to be the day of the announcement of Kurt Cobain’s death. While the rock world is caught up in the momentous bang of this event, John can’t get past the relative whimper of his band’s lack of impact. He describes their white touring van:
The color that seems to suit [the band], the something-innocent-about-them that gets quasi-sardonically remarked upon from time to time by jaded club bookers and callow university journalists who try to act all Lester Bangs, all wise beyond their years.
You can feel John picking at the scab of most every nineties rock musician: Why aren’t we Nirvana? Tolstoy’s adage about families (“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”) rang at least as true for four-pieces during the grunge era. John senses The Weird Sisters lack kaboom, and as someone in his late twenties, he’s starting to put together that this fact might have repercussions for his way forward.
It wouldn’t be so bad if John didn’t live in L.A., where signs of younger, less jaded musicians embarking on their own versions of his adventure stalk him at every corner. He describes a band photo shoot at an L.A. intersection. The band’s guitar player is “‘so over it’ — and it hasn’t even started yet. He checks his hair six times a sec. The whole of the world’s his handheld mirror.” What else can John think of these newbies as he comes home from battle, the stench of what might very well be defeat on him, while these others are just leaving for the front lines, their dreams of glory intact? If he held a mirror up to himself, would he see a band leader who’s had a good run entertaining folks, or someone who doesn’t quite measure up? Success or failure is always relative — think of how Cobain must’ve felt on that fateful day — and as the novel unfolds, John reveals his own worst perspective on his talents and place in the musical world.
Of course, John’s self-worth might improve if he could quit emotionally jumping ship from his girlfriend Jenny — who also happens to be The Weird Sisters’ guitarist — every time an insecure thought or SoCal knockout saunters by. It’s not like John is defenseless against the next bright, shiny thing. His deep knowledge of Western thought — he did his Ph.D. work on Samuel Johnson — grants him a ready foothold against too much directionless-ness:
The whole Aristotelian maxim “Know Thyself” seems geared toward staving off such a state. People who knew themselves, faced themselves, didn’t kid themselves … didn’t set themselves up for the big, bad fall. Old Aristotle, he was just looking out for us.
John’s affinity not just for three chords but, more importantly, the truth suggests he might make it to the next installment of this compelling rock journey with his soul intact.