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Book Review: Time Won’t Let Me by Bill Scheft

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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?

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • Bill Scheft

    How dare you write better and funnier than me!
    Thanks for getting all of it.

    Bill

  • http://www.templestark.com Temple Stark

    GoHah is an aquired taste.

    Oh wait that’s Det. Goren

    :-)

    (and GoHah). I’ve acquired. ..

  • http://www.futonreport.net/ Matthew T. Sussman

    Nifty review. This book’s on my to-buy list, for my upcoming East Coast travel in January.

    And was that really Bill Scheft in Comment No. 1?

  • http://gohah.blogspot.com GoHah

    For author Bill Scheft: wonderful to hear from you–it was such a fun book and I had a great time writing the review. I’ll definitely be reading more of your works as they come out.

    Thanks, Gordon Hauptfleisch

  • http://alienboysworld.blogspot.com Christopher Rose

    great review, gohah, keep ’em coming.

  • http://www.s-sm.org Tim Daniel

    If comment #1 really WAS from the author, it would be great to find out whether or not any book tour that he might have would be bringing him to the Twin Cities!

  • GoHah

    To Tim Daniel: “really WAS from the author”? (your emphasis)?
    Man, you found me out, though it was my evil twin who really perperated this hoax. No problem, though, we’ll just slip on our Bill Scheft disguises so “the author” can do book signings in Minneapolis and St. Paul at the same time.

  • Bill Scheft

    To Matthew T Sussman, yes, it really is me.
    To Go Hah, TWLM is my second novel. The Ringer (not to be confused with the Johnny Knoxville film) came out in 2002. And I saw they picked up this review in the San Diego Union-Trib. I’m sure it will help. So, thanks again.
    To Tim Daniel, Mellow, is that you?
    I’ll be coming to the Twin Cities if you can guarantee my publisher they’d make money if I did….I didn’t think so.

  • GoHah

    To Bill Scheft: enjoyed seeing you on Letterman the other night (former writer for, right?). It was an oversight on my part for not mentioning your previous book–sorry, I usually put that kind of info in my reviews. I’m in San Diego–so I’ll keep and eye out for any book signings you may have in the area.

    My goof, but: Has anyone, including Tim Daniel, ever been Mellow? I always thought it was a rhetorical question, and didn’t involve any actual flesh-and-blood people. Live and learn.

  • Bill Scheft

    To Go Hah: I will be in and around San Francisco doing readings the last week of February. So far, that’s as close as I’ll get to Diego.
    Glad you saw the show. Yes, I was a writer there for 13 years.