Sammy Bojar plays guitar in Tragedy of Wisdom with a frightening and talentless lead singer (guess which member chose the name). Most of their practices end in a ragin' tantrum. It looks like a dead-end situation for Sammy and his crew, until a battle of the bands competition gives them a possible chance to record a song for radio play. As Sammy struggles to gain control of his songwriting career, he is helped by his paranoid jazz pianist grandfather and his old best friend/new girlfriend, Jen5.
Jon Skovron’s debut novel Struts & Frets
manages to be authentic in its language and characterization every step of the way. The book is littered with the sort of phrases and people that I can swear I heard and met in high school and at local concerts when I was a teen, right down to the friend who can play video game theme songs with his sweaty, sweaty hand-farts.
Sammy, Skovron’s guitar hero, is both compassionate and humble. He tries to balance his personal ambitions with time to be there for both his family and his friends. Sammy’s explanation of the songwriting process offers insight into the technique without overdramatizing the artistic process. Throughout the book, we see a full progression that goes into the song he hopes will win the contest, “Plastic Baby.” Many real life rock and jazz artists are mentioned too. With all the artists Skovron suggests, the reader can easily hop onto the website Pandora
and create their own soundtrack of The Pixies, John Coltrane, and The Clash to further get into Sammy’s head.
The exploration of Sammy’s blossoming relationship with Jen5, named so after she moved into a class with four other Jennifers, is awkwardly charming. As they attempt to take their relationship to a physical level, Sammy is baffled by the sheer number and variety of condom choices. Yes, this book does happen to contain two members of that raucous trio, Sex, Drugs, and Rock ‘n’ Roll (three if you count caffeine). Luckily, these characters are not caricatures of sex-crazed teens, but rather full formed and multi-dimensional. Even Tragedy of Wisdom’s lead singer has reasons behind his bullish behavior.
Developmentally, Struts & Frets falls somewhere in the curriculum between They Might be Giants’
children albums and Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity
. Get yourself a music education the cheap way, at the library.