The Castle of Quibbling



fortress.jpgI have found the task of reading Jonathan Lethem's wonderful coming-of-age novel The Fortress of Solitude a love/hate thing. I've taken my sweet ol' time (it was released two years ago), and while I loathe taking as long as I have, I've enjoyed the journey. Truly a journey of growth and maturity for white boy Dylan Ebdus, the protagonist, and his African-American friend Mingus Rude, two motherless boys left afloat in the tough neighborhood of Dean Street in Brooklyn.

Hailed by critics here and abroad, Mr. Lethem constructed a very tight, wonderfully colorful narrative about life in New York in the '70s. But I must take issue with a rock 'n' roll reference that is not entirely accurate. And for a novel with so many important pop culture references -- from Marvel comic books to the birth of hip-hop -- his editors should have caught this glaring faux pas.

Perhaps they're young and don't appreciate the subtle shades of gray in pop music. Now before you start whining that I'm being harsh, consider the task of the main protagonist in the book. If the narrator were sloppy and naive, all would be forgiven, but he isn't. He inhabits his music and his pop culture. Lethem does as well. I've delighted in his use of lyrics, songs, and real band references throughout.

There's a wonderful reference to one of my favorite young unsigned NYC bands from that time period, Miller Miller Miller & Sloan, a hip, funky, white-boy rock stew that featured three Miller brothers and a Sloan. I often wondered if they opened an accounting firm. And that makes the novel all the more enjoyable from both nostalgia and ego-tripping perspectives for me, cuz I grew up in the '60s/'70s and fed on much of same pop culture that Dylan Ebdus ingests in the novel.

"Once it arrived it was obvious, had a common name already known: punk. Or New Wave. They were related strands: Sex Pistols, Talking Heads, Cheap Trick."

I don't know about you, but I never considered Cheap Trick a New Wave band, certainly not Punk. Moreover, I never thought Dire Straits were a New Wave band either, although they both released albums around the same time. They were both rock 'n' roll bands.

Talking Heads were New Wave. They even went to art school (RISD) though that's not the entire reason for their New Wave stance. Devo were New Wave. Ditto for Pere Ubu and Joy Division. These were bands that reinterpreted rock music. Cheap Trick wore their rock references proudly on their sleeves and they became FM fodder over the course of the next few years because of it.

Cheap Trick was America's answer to early Brit Pop with tons of Beatles and Who references. Tom Peterssen and guitarist Rick Nielsen had been in the band Fuse together since the late '60s. They were rock 'n' rollers, nothing Punk nor New Wave about it.

Go ahead and do a "New Wave and Cheap Trick" Google search and see the results for yourself. Most often you'll find reviews of The New Pornographers, an alt-pop band that many of the critics on this site love. But regardless of this tiny misstep in the book, if you've yet to discover it, you'll certainly enjoy Fortress. Now I just need to finish it without incident and I will have accomplished a major feat (see my previous piece, Redwalls and Rice).

Hi -- This be Dan from MMM&S, my cousin sent me this link. Thanks for getting Blake's name right ("Sloan" without the e -- I should correct Jon, but he's been such a fan, I don't have the heart...) Satisfy your musical curiosity -- two Millers were involved (Mike heads it up, Dan did the strings & horns):

For those who may care: Barney led up Astro Chicken, they made some great records. Now he runs Company X Media in NYC.

 Dan stated a software company (

Blake programs computers in LA.

Mike owns a computer (Mac, duh!). 

Mom is remarried, for those who remember. P.O.


Thanks for the update. Let CC know when you're playing again and we'll come down and cheer you on. And probably throw up a review, too.