Rock and Roll Book Club: Emily Gould's 'Perfect Tunes'

Emily Gould's 'Perfect Tunes.'
Emily Gould's 'Perfect Tunes.' (Jay Gabler/MPR)

We may be all keeping our social distance at the beach this summer, but beach read season is approaching nonetheless: 'tis the season for the Rock and Roll Book Club to feature a buzzworthy novel set in the music world. Last year that was Taylor Jenkins Reid's Daisy Jones and the Six; this year, I cracked Emily Gould's Perfect Tunes (buy now).

Like Daisy Jones, Perfect Tunes is about a fictional singer-songwriter. Whereas Daisy Jones saw her career skyrocket, though, things don't quite work out that way for Laura. We meet her when she's fresh out of college at the dawn of the millennium. Laura moves in with her longtime BFF Callie, who advises "don't wear your Ohio clothes" when the two go out to catch a show by an up-and-coming band called the Clips. "They're kind of becoming a thing," says Callie.

Callie and the Clips' drummer are also kind of becoming a thing, and then so are Laura and the band's gifted frontman Dylan. The sex is great when Dylan's not too messed up on various cocktails of drugs, and the Clips' growing fame also presents Laura and Callie with an opportunity. They form a group called the Groupies (not Laura's idea) and talk their way into a slot opening for their boyfriends' band.

Laura, who moved to NYC with aspirations of making it in the music world, is a talented songwriter and dextrous guitarist who favors witty lyrics; she sometimes gets compared to "Weird Al" Yankovic, but she prefers to be likened to the Moldy Peaches. While Callie doesn't have her friend's creative gifts, she's a strong singer with undeniable charisma, and the Groupies seem set to make a name for themselves. Then...well, life happens.

To say any more would be to spoil the surprises of a book that turns into a real page-turner despite the fact that the author isn't interested in the kind of tropes that populate most music fiction. Perfect Tunes is a kind of corrective to A Star Is Born: a much more plausible account of what might happen to a gifted woman musician who gets drawn into the orbit of a famous rocker dude.

It's also an account of the costs of a life in music for an artist who doesn't become a superstar. When we learn about the travails of an artist like Stevie Nicks, we can think, well, it was all worth it in the end: she became Stevie Nicks. What about someone who doesn't, can't, or simply won't make the choices and sacrifices it takes to launch a career in music? What happens to all their perfect tunes?

Unsurprisingly for an author whose previous novel was titled Friendship, Perfect Tunes also delves into the relationships among Laura and her friends, especially Callie. Again subverting expectations, Gould doesn't make the two women jealous of each other, even as Callie's fame soars while Laura settles into the kind of stable family life that some stars long for. There's tension between the friends, but it stems organically from the way they've grown apart.

By the time the narrative reaches recent years, Laura's in her 30s. When a shot at stardom again presents itself, will she take it? Gould portrays a situation where the stakes are high, but not because Laura wants to fill arenas: because she wants to be true to herself.

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Upcoming Rock and Roll Book Club picks

Tune in to The Current at 8:30 a.m. (Central) every Wednesday morning to hear Jay Gabler and Jill Riley talk about a new book. Also, find Jay's reviews online.

April 8: The Ox: The Authorized Biography of the Who's John Entwistle by Paul Reese (buy now)

April 15: My Name Is Prince by Randee St. Nicholas (buy now)

April 22: All I Ever Wanted: A Rock 'n' Roll Memoir by Kathy Valentine (buy now)

April 29: Sing Backwards and Weep: A Memoir by Mark Lanegan


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