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Book Review: ‘Completeness of the Soul’ by Jim Booth – Portrait of the Artist as an Aging Rock Star

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COMPofSOUL

Completeness of the Soul by Jim Booth is a remarkable novel about an atypical archetypical rock star, Jay Breeze, leader of the Beatlesque, power pop supergroup, The Lost Generation. Though a complicated and unique character, in some ways Breeze reminds us of other rock icons. Like George Harrison he is humble, spiritual, introspective. Like Jim Morrison he is a Dionysian drinker and hotel trasher, but an intellectual with the soul of a poet. Like Cobain he is hypersensitive, hates money, and empathizes with his fans. And like all of them, over the course of a dizzying 20-year career, he begins to suffocate in the gilded cage of fame.

The book is a collection of Breeze’s musings and his anguished letters to the ghost of Angel, the love of his life, killed in a drunk driving accident early in his career. “I should have been the one dead,” he grieves. Though the star can have any woman he wants, he confesses without self-pity but with unusual self-awareness that he must learn how not to be lonely.

In spite of all the public adulation, Breeze never submits to egomania and narcissism, or what he calls “rock star a**holery.”  He says, “I accepted certain turf when I accepted money and fame.”  Acknowledging that his audience made him who he is, he signs autographs and never snubs fans, though a part of him feels like their monster, their “Frankenstein.” Calling fame “the 20th century art form,” he writes: “I’m the artist, but I’m not the art.” Among those the hero calls real, but unrecognized rock stars, are: Christopher Marlowe, Benjamin Franklin, and Goethe.

In the beginning of his career, Breeze confesses to feeling an illusory fullness of the soul, if not completeness. “On stage is where I feel closest to God,” he writes Angel. “I feel sanctified. Holy. The music, the crowd, the lights – it all reaches my soul.” But after 20 years under the spotlights and often under the table, he finds that “it’s hard to have the passion when not a damn thing matters anymore.” Like Cobain of Nirvana, he calls his Lost Generation group, “rich passionless pros” and feels guilty about it.

Breeze copes with booze, drugs, and a wicked sense of humor about the absurdity of stardom. In his Book of Days tour diary, he writes: “When Botox offers to sponsor your tour, your probably shouldn’t be touring.” In the Infamous Last Words section of his Rock and Roll handbook, he wonders: “What happens if you stick your tongue into a guitar jack while the amp’s on?” In the Drummer section, he reveals the rocker’s great quandary: “Everyone in the band follows the drummers beat–who the hell knows what the drummer follows.”

By the time he’s pushing 40, Breeze realizes that he’s not a “kid” anymore, that money costs too much, that fame is “bulls**t,” and that he’s “too caught up in his own myth.” More than that, he struggles with “the proximity of calamity” that came closer with the tragic loss of Angel and brought home to him the fragility and impermanence of life.

At first, Breeze gets off on the pure freedom and power of rock and the frenzied crowd; later, he feels imprisoned by his personality cult, and powerless to “get off the merry-go-round,” as Lennon sang. Many real rock icons failed to survive this black hole of stardom: Elvis, Hendrix, Morrison, Janis, Cobain, Michael Jackson, Amy Winehouse, to name a few.

Unlike them, can Breeze he escape stardom with his life, and find completeness outside of it? This is the central question in this brilliant, timely, deeply moving novel by Jim Booth, a musician who himself lived the life, revealing its triumphs and struggles as few others have.

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About David Comfort

  • Dr Joseph S Maresca

    Sometimes, fame produces enormous problems in learning how to cope with the dynamics of being in front of the public all of the time. Even the best performers like Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson and others have had issues in this area.

    I think that the answer is to combine the fame with meaningful community service or outreach. The same thing is needed in managing the money that comes along with the fame. I can’t see owning a fleet of cars when 1 or 2 is enough.