EVENING’S EMPIRE by Bill Flanagan

Book Quote:

“I am aware that our memories play tricks on us, especially memories that we have played over and over. The tapes get worn and other recollections bleed in. The way we tell the story begins to change the story. Compounding the confusion, we translate our experiences of long ago into the currencies of who we are today.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage (JAN 17, 2010)

At 645 pages, Evening’s Empire by Bill Flanagan is not a book to be read quickly or lightly, but then since the novel explores forty years of the changing face of the music industry, there’s a lot of material to cover. This marvelous novel is partly a trip into the nostalgic past, and partly an insider’s view of the underbelly of the music biz. Flanagan’s witty first novel A&R explored the darker side of the record industry and he’s also written a number of nonfiction books including U2: At the End of the Road. In Evening’s Empire, Flanagan, whose impressive resume includes job titles such as rock journalist, MTV producer, and Senior VP & Editorial Director of VH1 knocks out a tremendous novel that pays homage to the music industry while revealing its most cutthroat aspects.

There’s a sense that Evening’s Empire is a mature culmination of the author’s rich and varied experiences in the music industry. The story is told through the eyes of savvy rock manager Jack Flynn. Flynn has a spectacular, turbulent career and through a combination of luck, unflappability and talent, he always manages to be in the right place at the right time. Flynn’s lucrative career flourishes thanks to his intelligence and understanding of the impulses that drive human nature, but his achievements comes with a price. Unfortunately, Flynn is far less successful in his checkered personal life which is repeatedly subsumed and sacrificed to career demands. This is a bitter-sweet, witty and cynical story of an incredible life flavoured with regret for some of the choices made along the way.

When the story begins, it’s 1967, and young Jack Flynn has a toehold in the highly respected London law firm Difford, Withers, and Flack. But as an Anglo Irish Catholic solicitor, Flynn understands that the toehold is tenuous and in many ways a nod to the firm’s notion of progression. When Flynn is called into the office of one of the firm’s mummified senior partners and given a strange assignment, at first it seems flattering, but then Flynn realizes that the subtext is he’s little better than a sleazy private detective. This assignment–to take compromising photos of the adulterous wife of a rock musician–is the death knoll for one career but the genesis of another.

Flynn is soon employed as the legal advisor and then the manager for the Ravons. But this isn’t just a job, it’s a way of life, and as the Ravons climb to fame and then go their separate ways, Flynn juggles demands from band members against personal relationships, and his career dominates time and time again. Flynn’s colourful life spans some amazing cultural history as he moves to America, travels to Africa, goes on the road with the band, and manages the varied multi-million dollar business interests of the Ravons. While charismatic Emerson Cutler emerges as the most successful member of the Ravons, he also morphs from being a fairly decent human being into an isolated, selfish, shallow star. Flynn lives through the excesses of the psychedelic 60s, the onslaught of Punk rock, the rise of Grunge, the revolutionary emergence of CDs, VHS and MTV and Flynn recalls it all.

While the novel will probably sell because of its subject matter, Evening’s Empire is more than just the story of the highs and lows of the life of a rock manager’s life. This is a novel of ideas, and these ideas are explored through the backstabbing and the fierce competitiveness of the ever-changing face of the music industry. Here’s Flynn on the subject of fame, celebrity and the isolation of the artist:

“Emerson’s sort of fame intoxicates the star just like a bottle of mescal. It fills him with confidence in his own power, it makes him glib and cocky, it loosens his tongue and his libido. Give him half an audience and he will climb up on a table and declaim.

But there is a worm in the bottom of that bottle. And the more you drink the mescal of fame, the deeper the worm burrows into you. The worm crawls up your spine and settles at the base of your skull and whispers….

The bigger you get, the more of that mescal you drink, the louder the worm in your skull starts to sound. So you begin hiding from people, trying to protect yourself from being exposed. You buy a big house and you lock the door, but they’re still all over you—so you build a fence but they still get in. You start to panic. You seal yourself off from your fans, those parasites. You seal yourself off from your friends, those freeloaders. Your wife—she just married you for your money. Your kids—can’t let them find out you’re a fake.

You start bricking up the room around you to save yourself, to protect your privacy, to keep everyone from finding out who you really are. The more success you get, the higher and closer you build that wall around you. Until no light can get in. And no music can get out. And it’s just you in there. With the worm.”

Evening’s Empire is the story of how fate intervenes in Flynn’s life, and underneath the money, the fame and the rock and roll celebrity, Jack occasionally catches a faint glimpse of life as it could have been–with him as an overworked and underpaid general dogsbody at Difford, Withers, and Flack, trying hard to impress but never quite rising above his Anglo-Irish roots. Sometimes amid the razzle dazzle, the private jets, and the exclusive beach houses Flynn stops and wonders at what might have been. And the unspoken question resonates: was it good or bad luck that brought Flynn into the music industry?

Back to those 645 pages again. Think meaty but not exhaustive. The sheer heft of this book may put some readers off. Don’t let that happen. The book contains many subplots that could have been cruelly red-lined and tossed into the rubbish bin. Someone at Simon & Schuster had the balls to let the book be released at this length, and I wouldn’t change a single word of it.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-3-0from 10 readers
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster (January 5, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Bill Flanagan on YouTube about Evening’s Empire
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: More about this generation:

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Tree of Smoke by Dennis Johnson

Another “music” novel:

Humpty Dumpty was Pushed by Marc Blatte



January 17, 2010 · Judi Clark · One Comment
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2010 Favorites, Contemporary, Facing History

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