Some rock bands are formed great, some achieve greatness, while others have it thrust upon them for the allotted fifteen minutes only to have it snatched away by the whims of a fickle public and the sophomore jinx.
Then there’s the none-of-the-above, no-hit wondrous Sixties-saurs the Truants. As recounted in Bill Scheft’s amusing and unassuming nostalgia-luxe novel, Time Won’t Let Me, these prep school underachievers will never be mistaken for The Only Band That Matters or The Future of Rock and Roll–nor its saviors: Have Three Chords And The Truth, Will Travel.
What Richie, John, Brian, Jerry and Tim unwittingly have going for them, though, is a regional cult following and a legacy achieved after forming a band at toney Chase Academy in 1965 and getting real good real fast at “singing about confusion and anger and changing the world and freedom, whether they knew what they were playing or not.” Tellingly, it’s a progress that benefits from the odd number of members: “If you put things to as many votes as you’re going to have to, it’s like buying no-tie insurance . . . The Truants wavered between meritocracy and benevolent dictatorship.”
It also helps that Brian and Richie turn out to be solid songwriters, and in a Lennon/McCartney style–without the substance–they team up to write their first school dance fave, “Get Psyched.” Increasing clashes, however, mean that thereafter they’ll compose individually, with each contributing cryptically personal songs that are ultimately instrumental in finger-pointing recriminations, big secrets and an acrimonious break-up. Before things turn sour, however, The Truants manage to forego their Yokos and leave their egos outside a studio door long enough to record a vanity album, Out of Site, before going their separate ways. Not even enough time for a halfway decent Behind-the-Music downward spiral.
Skipping ahead to 1996, the Truants are on the north side of their forties with contentment heading south. Brian has “spent twenty-some years calling in sick to the nonacademic world” in his Sisyphean struggle to finish his doctoral thesis. Richie is a caddish divorce lawyer looking to change his ways, with John a divorcing dermatologist looking to maintain his. Jerry–he‘s a rebel and he‘ll never, ever be any good–is now a ramblin’, gamblin’ Equal addict, and Tim watches the clock at the Massachusetts Archives, which is like “working at the morgue without all the formaldehyde.” Tim also keeps himself busy lovingly protecting his old hidden-away drum set from the clutches of a disapproving wife. It’s a connection to his rock star roots, and the fact the Truants were good enough to document their music on vinyl has a lot of personal, if not commercial, meaning.
Then again, Out of Site is not out of mind for others who fondly recall Truant-mania, including, according to newspaper reports, a German record collector who recently paid $10,000 for a copy on eBay. Before you can say “So You Want to Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star?” a local collector-turned- promoter named Dino Paradise sweeps in, attempting to get the guys together and cash in, with gigs at “GarageApalooza” and at their alma mater’s 30th reunion, and who knows what else.
Of course, a reunion is easier said than done for the members of the Truants, who didn’t have the good sense to die before they got old, or at least older–they could then at least avoid the whole issue of bad blood and lingering antagonism. As it is, the prospect is regarded as being variously “recaptured adolescence crap” or a “one time only/planets aligning display of mutual agreement,” or something in between. But actions speak louder for these likeable, warts-and-all characters and they instinctively know that “Answers are never figured out. Answers are revealed,” so there’s only one way to find out . . .
The building up of the keep-you-on-your toes, let’s-plot twist-again unpredictability of Time–events zigging when you thought they would zag–ensures a gratifying, anticipatory read, and a giddy pleasure for weekend rock historians (if you never knew what the flipside to “Expressway to Your Heart” was, you will now) and connoisseurs of pop music trivia that is anything but trivial. However, there are a couple of subplots and secondary characters that should have zigged off the page before given the chance to zag.
But that doesn’t detract from the consistently rendered evocation and the overarching assertion, skillfully and subtlety instilled by Scheft that–whatever the outcome of the reunion–Richie, Brian, John, Tim and Jerry, “just knew the five of us had the only chance of being what we were there. And then. Whatever that was. Whenever it was.”
Besides, what other work of fiction is going to give you cameos by Les Paul, Peter Wolf of the J. Giels Band, and the Remains’ Barry Tashian?