Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ask the Dust - John Fante

(If you want to skip the pointless rant, the actual review is at the bottom.)

Here's the thing about John Fante's Ask the Dust:

In 1977, The Runaways released their second album, Queens of Noise. By the time I was old enough to start searching out decent music The Runaways had pretty much been forgotten. I eventually came across Joan Jett, of course, but with so much music to dig through, so much junk covering the good stuff, I never had time to seriously investigate her back catalogue. She released a few decent rock anthems, fair enough, good stuff, so did a lot of other people.

In 1977 I was one year old. It wasn't until last year I got around to digging up Joan Jett's sordid past and discovered a song from the album called Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin.

Which demands the question: WHY THE HELL DIDN'T SOMEONE TELL ME THERE WAS A SONG CALLED NEON ANGELS ON THE ROAD TO RUIN?

I mean, come on people. Do you see that title? The song simply cannot fail to be excellent with a title like that. But because I was a babe in arms at the time and the music fell out of fashion, I was left digging through thousands of hours of mostly tedious and overrated music before I even discovered that the song existed. Why have you wasted so much of my life by not telling me there's a song called Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin?* Why would you do that to me? There's so much shit I've had to wade through, so much money spent on the wrong thing, when practically my entire life there's been a song with that title, but no-one thought to tell me.

Bastards.

So that's why society is wrong. It is wrong and it is shit, and it is obviously unfair I've had to spend half my life without knowing that there was a song called Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin. Somebody should have told me when I was sixteen, so that I didn't have to waste the next couple of years believing that Oasis were actually quite good.

And that's how I feel about Ask the Dust by John Fante. It was published in 1939. It was a huge influence on Charles Bukowski. I never heard of it until this year. Why have I had to wade through hundreds of shitty recomendations when this work of obvious genius was sitting there all the time? Why does so much shit get thrust into our faces, making it so hard to fight through the crowd and find the works of momentous truth and beauty on the other side? Why does society throw Coldplay and the Stereophonics at me, Chris Brown and Miley Cyrus, instead of genuine artists of skill and passion, whether they're to my taste or not?

Why?

If you don't know about John Fante, and you haven't read Ask the Dust, then read it. Especially if you like, for instance, Bukowski. Or perhaps I could place it somewhere between Hemingway and Steinbeck, and it was quite possibly also an influence on the likes of Chandler and Goodis. Not everyone will love it, of course, there's still the matter of taste. But that doesn't stop it being brilliant and everybody should know about it. Everybody. When they are of age, tell your children. Don't force it on them. But for God's sake, at least let them know it's out there.**


*It's not the Best Song Title of All Time, of course, because that award has been retired and given in all perpetuity to Je Suis un Teenage Zombie de la Outer Space, Baby, by Les Prostiputes. But it's a good candidate for runner up.

**It's a semi-autobiographical novel about a deluded aspiring writer in LA, struggling to cope with both failure and limited success, filled with poverty and dreams and his love-hate-love-hate infatuation with a crazy waitress. It's frequently funny but also filled with moments of genuine despair and terror at the bare facts of life in depression era USA, and also at the existential crisis at the heart of the creative life which the protagonist naiively romanticises but which the novel examines in usparing, highly critical detail. File under: Essential.

Further reference:
Neon Angels on the Road to Ruin
When did mediocrity and banality become a good image for your children? Play from your fucking heart.
Stewart Lee: Talking Books
"The world of publishing is in crisis...No I haven't read it because I'm a forty year old man."

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