This made for an enjoyable week of audiobook listening. It was highly entertaining, even if I often found the characters frustrating. I think this is one of the few times where, if you have the capability (library, Audible or other audiobook subscriptions) and like audiobooks, then do the audiobook. The audio format really enhances the experience. If you’re not aware, Daisy Jones & The Six is an oral history of a fictional 1970s rock band, and the story is done entirely in interviews from the former band members and people who were witness to the goings on around them at the time, compiled by an interviewer (voiced by Julia Whelan) who occasionally provides some historical context for us. Each character “interviewed” has a separate voice actor (the main four of Daisy, Billy, Graham, and Karen are voiced by Jennifer Beals, Pablo Schreiber, Benjamin Bratt, and Judy Greer).
The book “documents” the histories mainly of Daisy and Billy, but also the other band members, and then how they were eventually pushed together to become the biggest selling band in the world, before they broke up right at the height of their fame. We get their personal histories, behind the scenes info about the process of creating their albums and touring together, and plenty of sex and drugs (the rock & roll here is a given). And lots of internal drama and conflict between the band members. One of the fun things about this format is the way it lets TJR play with perspective; different characters have very different reads on the same situations.
I was thinking a lot while reading it, why this format? And the thing that kept coming back to me was the immersion it gives you in the story. If it works for you, the idea is for you to forget that these people aren’t real. It’s like she was playing specifically with the idea that she could get her readers to blur that line in their minds in a way that a more usual format wouldn’t necessarily do. Almost all of the reviews I’ve read of this book from people who liked it said in one way or another that they did forget sometimes, that they went to Google something or other or one of the songs, because they’d forgotten it wasn’t real. Many more mentioned specifically the need to hear the songs. My friend Alison read the whole book thinking it was nonfiction. So I think TJR succeeded. (I love you, Alison.)
And that’s another thing, the songs. Any time a character creates a work of art in a book there’s always the risk that that art won’t itself be believable, or live up to its own hype. These people are supposed to be the biggest band in the world, their songs need to make that more possible, not less. And the lyrics to these songs really resonated. I did want to hear them actually sung, and some of them were quite lovely and touching.
She also nails her female characters (and the men in opposition to them). Karen Karen was the best, of course, so sure in herself and what she wants. Daisy is a hot mess, but she’s always smart and thoughtful (if selfish), and she’s incredibly talented. She knows who she is and what she wants, also, and doesn’t take shit from anybody about any of it. She initially starts writing her own songs specifically because she didn’t want to be “somebody’s muse” (“I am not a muse. I am the somebody. End of fucking story.”) And Camila, who is probably the heart of the book, was such a nice contrast to Karen and Daisy. She’s family oriented, and (see a pattern here?) knows exactly what she wants. One of my favorite moments in the book is when she tells her husband Billy that she’s not going to let him ruin her life when she finds out something he did. She makes that moment of his fuck up about her in this glorious way. And despite her getting her way most of the time, she’s also very understanding and empathetic, never trying to change anyone from being who they really are, just asking them to be the best version of that person, whoever they are. The relationships between the three female characters was also very complex, but never descended into catfighting.
The way addiction is portrayed was something that stood out to me. Daisy and Billy are both addicts, and are thus often selfish assholes who ruin the lives of the people they love, but they are also shown compassion by the narrative, and by the people around them. They are shown overcoming those addictions (not without consequences), and how even that process can be fraught and complicated. It all felt very balanced, and human. I wasn’t entirely sure I thought the trajectory of Daisy and Billy’s relationship was necessary (SPOILERS they fall in love, but never do anything about it, because Billy is committed to Camila, and when Daisy comes on to him, he rejects her; this causes problems END SPOILERS), but I thought the way it came together in the end made sense anyway.
All in all, glad I read this, and now with two TJR books under my belt, I should probably dig into her back catalogue (which is all contemporary instead of historical, a genre that doesn’t always work for me).
Memorable quotes below, because this book was very quotable:
“You have these lines you won’t cross. But then you cross them. And suddenly you possess the very dangerous information that you can break the rule and the world won’t instantly come to an end. You’ve taken a big, black, bold line and you’ve made it a little bit gray. And now every time you cross it again, it just gets grayer and grayer until one day you look around and you think, There was a line here once, I think.”
“She had written something that felt like I could have written it, except I knew I couldn’t have. I wouldn’t have come up with something like that. Which is what we all want from art, isn’t it? When someone pins down something that feels like it lives inside us? Takes a piece of your heart out and shows it to you? It’s like they are introducing you to a part of yourself.”
“But loving somebody isn’t perfection and good times and laughing and making love. Love is forgiveness and patience and faith and every once in a while, it’s a gut punch. That’s why it’s a dangerous thing, when you go loving the wrong person. When you love somebody who doesn’t deserve it. You have to be with someone that deserves your faith and you have to be deserving of someone else’s. It’s sacred.”
“I am not going to sit around sweating my ass off just so men can feel more comfortable. It’s not my responsibility to not turn them on. It’s their responsibility to not be an asshole.”
“It scared me that the only thing between this moment of calm and the biggest tragedy of my life was me choosing not to do it.”
“But at some point, you have to recognize that you have no control over anybody and you have to step back and be ready to catch them when they fall and that’s all you can do. It feels like throwing yourself to sea. Or, maybe not that. Maybe it’s more like throwing someone you love out to sea and then praying they float on their own, knowing they might well drown and you’ll have to watch.”
“Passion is…it’s fire. And fire is great, man. But we’re made of water. Water is how we keep living. Water is what we need to survive. My family was my water. I picked water. I’ll pick water every time.”
“It didn’t seem right to me that his weakest self got to decide how my life was going to turn out, what my family was going to look like. I got to decide that. And what I wanted was a life—a family, a beautiful marriage, a home—with him. With the man I knew he truly was. And I was going to get it, hell or high water.”
“I used to care when men called me difficult. I really did. Then I stopped. This way is better.”