Friday, February 3, 2023

Daisy Jones & Co.

Believe it or not, I have actually been taking notes in anticipation of a catch-all Friday post for this week. I know, right? Pod person alert!

Of course, when I say "taking notes", what I really mean is I've been bookmarking pieces that sparked an interest or making brief mental notes on things I've heard or seen. It's not like I've worked up an essay plan or anything. I still have to sit here and somehow spin this base metal into gold. Gold thread. Whatever.

It's a useful step in the process, anyway; the mere act of recording an idea. It tends to lead to musing, not to say brooding. It's a bit like prepping vegetables. You don't want to start too soon or they'll lose their freshness but getting some of the work done ahead of time does make things a whole lot easier when it comes to the actual cooking. 

Okay. I'll stop with the analogies. They're not helping. When did they ever?

Let's see what we've got. Here are the topics I bookmarked, literally or figuratively, this week:

  1. The Daisy Jones and the Six adaptation and soundtrack album.
  2. Velma becomes the worst rated show on IMDB ever.
  3. Lockwood & Co.
  4. Syberia

Not a lot, is it? Still, these things tend to balloon. I'm sure it'll be enough. If not, we can always pad things out with a song or two.  

Let's start with #s 1 and 3 because they fit together in an unexpected way.

For anyone who hasn't stepped into a bookstore in the last couple of years, Daisy Jones and the Six is a novel by Taylor Jenkins Read. Read is the 39-year old author of eight novels, the last four of which are set in the same universe, as we're now, almost unselfconsciously, training ourselves to think of these things. 

As far as I can tell, no-one paid much attention to the first four. Until I did some research for this post, I hadn't even heard of them, which is kind of surprising, seeing what a huge deal the rest of them have been and what I do for a living. 

This, though, is how publishing works. I can't count the number of "new authors" I've watched being "discovered", only to find they have a back catalog going back years. It applies to several of my favorite writers of recent times- Rainbow Rowell, Emily St. John Mandell, Frances Hardinge - and now, thanks to TikTok, which is in the process of rewriting the rules for both publishers and booksellers, it's happening to dozens of authors all at once.

Taylor Jenkins Read isn't, so far as I know, a TikTok phenomenon. I'm not really sure what caused her sixth novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, to catch the reading public's attention but by the time it happened I, for once, already knew who she was.

I'd read Daisy Jones and the Six a couple of years before, in proof. It had a catchy cover, an engaging title and it was about a rock band in the 1970s. Predictably, I gave it a try; less predictably, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

I have something of a history with novels about rock groups. When I was a teenager there hardly were any. Rock music wan't seen as something adults wanted to read about, I guess, and in the days before the Young Adult genre existed, adolescents were barely even thought of as a market, other than for exploitation and media spin-offs.

Still, there were a few. All Night Stand by Thom Keyes was one that often got mentioned although, as I found out when I finally tracked down a copy, it's not very good. I Am Still The Greatest Says Johnny Angelo by Nik Cohn was another. I was lucky enough to grab a copy of one of the best ever written, Mick Farren's The Tale of Willy's Rats, when it was published in 1974. It's been out of print pretty much ever since.

Nowadays, every kind of musical act from a struggling indie band to a bunch of global megastars is as likely to turn up in prose fiction as any artist, actor or creative profession - other than writer, of course. Writers just frickin' love writing about writers. Even so, books that focus on the process of being in a band still aren't that common.

What's even more unusual are fictional bands that make the transition from the page to the recording studio. I'm not talking about the kind of projects I addressed recently, where a band made up of actors features in a movie or a a TV show, then takes the whole performance on the road. That happens more often than the reverse, where musicians are hired to recreate the sound of a band that already exists (And has usually already split up.) in the pages of a novel.

Until it was announced that a scad of professional songwriters, among them Marcus Mumford, Phoebe Bridgers and Jackson Browne, would be coming up with an album's-worth of songs by Daisy Jones and the The Six, to be recorded by "instrumentalists who’ve played with Rilo Kiley, the Who, Nine Inch Nails, Pearl Jam, David Bowie, Elton John, Jeff Beck, the Wallflowers, and more", the only example I could think of off the top of my head was the radio adaptation of Iain Banks 1980s novel Espedair Street. 

Banks himself wrote the words and music for the imaginary band, Frozen Gold, in collaboration with Nigel Clark. It was performed for the show by a band put together for the purpose, aired twice, then was never heard again. It remains my go-to for proof you can't just find everything you want on the internet.

I read a lot of books and I rarely remember much about them afterwards, other than a fairly clear impression of whether I liked them or not and whether I thought they were any good, not necessarily in any way the same thing. I liked Daisy Jones and The Six and I thought it was good. I went on to read The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which was even better.

Read is both marketed and widely thought of as a light, romantic, middlebrow writer, whose books are aimed at and appeal mostly to young women. In common with plenty of other writers caught up in that commercial bracket, she has plenty to offer readers of a much wider demographic but don't get me started on the horrors of genre marketing. With luck, the adaptation, due to appear on Amazon Prime next month as a ten episode mini-series, will introduce her work to a whole new audience. If it's any good, that is.

Adaptations of novels are tricky things even when there isn't an entire discography to spin up out of nowhere. I mentioned The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, a version of Sally Green's Half Bad that was shown on Netflix last year. I watched the whole thing with considerable enjoyment. It was a dark, grimy, glamorous, disturbing vision of a contemporary world where magic was real. It was critically well-received and sat in Netflix UK's Top Ten for a while but I'm sure it won't surprise anyone to know it's already been cancelled.

At least, as an adaptation of an extant series of novels, there's no need to guess what would have happened next; you can just go read the book. That's something I may well do, both for Half Bad and for the Netflix show I started watching a couple of days ago - Lockwood & Co.

Lockwood & Co. is based on a series of YA novels by Jonathan Stroud and for once I haven't read any of them, neither before or after publication. I thought I had. I mistakenly believed - unti l I fact-checked it - that Stroud was also the author of the long-running "Spook" series, which I did read the first of in proof a long time ago and which Mrs Bhagpuss liked enough to buy the first half-dozen or so, when she spotted them in a charity shop, although I'm not sure if she ever got around to reading any of them.

In fact, it was Joseph Delaney who wrote the Spook books, whose ghost-hunting premise and teenage protagonists appear to be all the two series have in common. Still, the imagined link to something I knew and liked was enough to catch my eye - that and the uncanny similarity between Lockwood & Co. as an organization and DC Comics' Dead Boy Detectives, originally created by Neil Gaiman and who I first encountered in the TV version of Doom Patrol.

Each team consists of two boys and a girl, all in their late teens. Both outfits act without adult supervision to investigate supernatural phenomena and solve mysteries. The main point of departure would seem to be that both Dead Boy Detectives are, as the name suggests, dead, while Lockwood and his pal are most decidedly still alive.

As I write, Lockwood & Co. is #1 in Netflix UK's Top Ten. I've seen the first two episodes and they are fast, fun and already a good deal less frothy than I was expecting. The set-up, a roughly contemporary Britain in which angry, incoherant ghosts have been ruling the night and killing millions for over half a century, certainly gets points for originality from me. If it's been done quite this way before, I haven't seen it.

As well as what look like solid viewing figures, the show also has both audience and critical acclaim. As Forbes fumes, though, this means nothing when it comes to whether we'll ever get to see a second season. In that article, Paul Tassi makes the same point that's been raised here several times - writers of these shows are just going to have to learn to deal with the massive uncertainty over whether they'll get to continue their stories and stop ending every season with a cliffhanger, whose resolution, more likely than not, will never come.

As I've said, though, fear of an unresolved narrative is not going to put me off  trying new shows. And, once again, in this case there's a safety net. If the show doesn't get picked up for a second (Or third, or fourth...) season, I'll just have to read the books.

Always assuming, of course, that the adaptation stays faithful enough to the original make that a rational option. It's not always the case as, by absolutely all accounts I've seen, the newest take on the Scooby Gang demonstrates.

But I've gone on long enough. Velma will have to wait, along with Syberia. Probably just as well.


  1. I read somewhere (it was on the Internet so it HAS to be true) that Netflix weighs how many poeple completed a season more heavily than reviews or how many watched the start of a series, when they decide on what to cancel. I mean obviously a lot of factors come into play, like the cost to produce.

    But that makes a certain kind of sense. If most viewers watched 6 episodes of a 10 episode season, I guess it doesn't make sense to make a season 2? Maybe? I dunno tho, a S2 often reminds me "Oh yeah, I gotta go finish that, it was really good!" Maybe Netflix doesn't understand how easily distracted many of us are.

    1. There was a widely-reported pushback by Netflix recently, where it was stated quite reasonably, Ithought, that showrunners needed either to make lower budget shows for niche audiences or higher budget shows for mass audiences. Many of the shows, particularly those with SF, Fantasy and YA leanings, manage to attract a relatively small, fiercely loyal audience but cost a fortune to make. It just doesn't pay to subsidize that kind of business, I guess.

      The real problem, I think, is that SF/Fantasy/Superhero shows are intrinsically costly to produce and so, I would imagine, are the ensemble cast shows that dominate YA programming. I wonder what Netflix cancellation record on adult-oriented, non-fantasy shows with small casts is like? I assume they make those too although I can't say I've ever watched any.

    2. I know they have reality shows that just hang on forever, and we know those are cheap to make so... yeah I think you've got it right.


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