In Cameron’s fourth book, Confessing the Blues we are thrown directly into the rock and roll world of Be Good, a late night radio DJ who has become a cult classic on Triple X – his rapid fire talk meant to inspire both big dreams and good musical taste. Coupled with Be Good’s lingo is Mark’s (aka Mako) story, one which starts on the last night of his rock and roll career, a night which sees his band, Servants of the Game, die an uncomely death after they overdo the rock star theatrics, abuse the audience, evoke laughter rather than applause, and finish by beating up the club owner.
Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
CONFESSING THE BLUES
By Anson Cameron
Picador, 363pp, RRPA$22
It takes a while to get used to Anson Cameron’s prose. Verbose and slightly purple, it has an almost Salman Rushdie feel, albeit as authentically Australian as Rushdie’s is or was, Indian. In Cameron’s fourth book, Confessing the Blues we are thrown directly into the rock and roll world of Be Good, a late night radio DJ who has become a cult classic on Triple X – his rapid fire talk meant to inspire both big dreams and good musical taste. Coupled with Be Good’s lingo is Mark’s (aka Mako) story, one which starts on the last night of his rock and roll career, a night which sees his band, Servants of the Game, die an uncomely death after they overdo the rock star theatrics, abuse the audience, evoke laughter rather than applause, and finish by beating up the club owner. The death of the band is the end of Mark’s dreams of being a famous rock god, and it has a rather negative effect on his personality and sanity as he begins working in his father’s tyre factory. As Mark searches for some kind of reason for the loss of his dreams, his story and that of Be Good’s begin to overlap in ways that are poignant, interesting and rather funny.
Although Cameron claims that he never plots in advance, his plot is very well crafted, with a tight story that moves forward quickly. There are enough twists, and suspense points, to drive the tale, even as the language becomes richer and heavier. The characterisation is also good, moving each character through a series of hurtles which reveals their sad pasts and the failures and losses which overshadow their immediate goals. Despite their initial unlikeability, the reader becomes very involved with the stories of Mark, Be Good, Amarita, and even the Indian smuggler Ori Singh, and in spite of their crimes, which range from poor taste, stupidity, blindness, insanity and even murder, begins to wish them well. There are no cliches, no simple stories here. Certainly there are times when the novel strains credibility. Mark’s perception of Be Good’s involvement in his own failure is far fetched (although considering his psychosis, probably not impossible), as is Be Good’s continuing involvement in Mark’s life and most of all, Amarita’s rapid conversion from shallow overly made up check out girl to deep thinking, torn and even distinguishing femme fatale through nothing more than true love, sacrifice and good music. The language is also a little overwrought, and although its excesses tends to work in the main, it can be a little overdone, with lengthy musings going on for image after image:
Along the dark riverbank are gaudy high-tide lines of plastic detritus pale in the cloudlight. Bags, bottles, thongs, CD cases, ice-cream tubs, buckets, shattered scarps of larger manufacturings, a dildo, milk crates, fishing lines, nets, coffee cups, orange bangs, ropes, balls, a lunchbox, a doll’s head. A tide-laid bunting of residuum borne here by winds and currents and waves across waters from who knows where. Some distant land he’d loped his music might be borne to by its own immortal violitions.(23)
On the flip side, the language is also, most of the time, exquisite and rich, calling up those moments in life that are particularly powerful:
This is one of those evenings when dreams burn. An incurable virus enters your blood borne on guffaw. A knowledge infects you. A knowledge that will weaken and diminish you into the appallingly hunchbacked and debilitated state of everyman. You are not going to be a star. You are going to be something way less. You are going to be the crippled thing you always despised and felt lucky that you’d never have to be. Every potbellied truckdriver and sundried roadworker you have ever looed at and smiled small at and felt charity towards because you knew his life was a shitbowl alongside where yours was going…you looked at the wrong way. You wasted that pity. You’ve made a fool of yourself in those thousand condescending kindnesses. You should have spent your time hating those men. They’re competing for the same jobs and women and Friday night triumphs and are immersed in the same Monday morning despairs as you. (8)
Cameron gets away with it in any case because the book is so funny. One of the best passages is Be Good’s visit to the supermarket:
He wanders onto the confectionery isle. An ecosystem of brightly translucent animals and cartoon characters made of sugar and glucose and numbered food additives and dyes. Sweet, sweet creatures who probably get up and boogie with each other in the night when the humans have gone home, he thinks. He picks up a packet of mini-anacondas. Why name your confection after the world’s largest snake and then punch them out so small they have to be called mini? (69)
The book is full of funny moments, such as Triple X’s defamation day, where all defamations are confirmed by listeners, the doubletalk of the police, or the goings on in Canberra. It might be pure farce if the story weren’t so well crafted, or the premise so strong.
Each of the 3 main characters goes through a fairly significant journey, and this is the real backbone of the story – not the funny coolspeak late night musicianship, but the way in which we dream, and the reality behind those dreams. There is also a strong theme about parental love, and neglect, and this is probably the most poignant part of the story. Mark calls his absent diva mother during one of her concerts and his pain at her lack of care is beautiful. Be Good confesses to his own neglect of his daughter on air, and thus reveals a failing which no amount of positive impact or regret can undo. There is Ori Singh’s feelings towards his daughter Nahalia, who might end up a beggar, Mark’s feelings of guilt and longing for his father and Amarita’s absent dad and wasted mother, who rolls over and accuses Be Good of using Van Morrison against her. There is a clear Freudian quality to Be Good and Amarita’s relationship, and a kind of brotherly one between Be Good and Mark. These complications add significant depth, and in conjunction with the funky cool dialogue and the exquisite if a little overwrought prose, make for a significant novel which definitely grows on the reader as they become more involved in the lives of these damaged characters, who somehow find a kind of redemption in love and dreams.