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Published by Random House on July 14, 2020
Genres: Fiction, General Fiction, Literary Fiction
Format: Hardcover, Paperback, Audible, Audio CD, Kindle
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Utopia Avenue is the strangest British band you’ve never heard of. Emerging from London’s psychedelic scene in 1967 and fronted by folk singer Elf Holloway, guitar demigod Jasper de Zoet, and blues bassist Dean Moss, Utopia Avenue released only two LPs during its brief, blazing journey from the clubs of Soho and drafty ballrooms to Top of the Pops and the cusp of chart success, and on to glory in Amsterdam, prison in Rome, and a fateful American fortnight in the autumn of 1968.
David Mitchell’s captivating new novel tells the unexpurgated story of Utopia Avenue; of riots in the streets and revolutions in the head; of drugs, thugs, madness, love, sex, death, art; of the families we choose and the ones we don’t; of fame’s Faustian pact and stardom’s wobbly ladder. Can we change the world in turbulent times, or does the world change us?
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Utopia Avenue, a band that hit the London music scene in the late 60s is memorable for its divergent styles. Each of the band’s four members brought his or her own class background and music style to the band. But instead of creating disharmony, their blending of styles formed into a unique whole: Elf’s folk-rock background and keyboards merged with Dean’s bass riffs which combined with Jasper’s psychedelia, which were all tied together by the percussive talents of Griff, the band’s drummer.
While the fact that the band’s formation was not organic — they were brought together intentionally by manager Levon Frankland — might have put some off initially, suspecting a marketing gimmick (some people, at first, suspected adding a woman to the ensemble as a marketing ploy), they soon proved that they were just another fly-by-night 60s pop band after their initial LP Paradise is the Road to Paradise was released.
By the time you finish reading Utopia Avenue, Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell‘s latest novel, band members Japer von Zoet, Elf Holloway, Griff, and Dean Moss, will feel real to you. You’ll find yourself wanting to run to your record store and buy the vinyl of Stuff of Life. And maybe pick up a copy of Frobisher’s Cloud Atlas Sextet while you’re at it — the eponymous album of that other novel makes a brief appearance here.
The book works, like most novels, on more than one level. Utopia Avenue works as a romp with a late-1960s band. Explorations of issues of class, sexism, self-acceptance, and mental illness weave through its pages. Additionally, it serves as a trip down musical memory lane as the group runs into famous music figures from the era from David Bowie to John Lennon. It also diverges into a sort of psychedelic trip for just a bit that will leave you questioning the insanity of one of the main characters, at least a little.
Each section of the book is titled for one of the band’s albums, each chapter for one of its songs. Perhaps if they make a movie version, I’ll finally get to hear Darkroom, but, of course, the guitar solos won’t be Jasper’s, and it won’t sound anything like the song in my head.
And parts of the book are touching. I felt genuinely sad in particular parts of the book, and I felt a sort of melancholy and nostalgia for something that never was at its end. All bands, like books and everything, are finite. Utopia Avenue — both the book and the band — left me wanting more.
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