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This Is Memorial Device, the debut novel by David Keenan, is a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland in the late 1970s and early 80s as they were temporarily transformed by the endless possibilities that came out of the freefall from punk rock. It follows a cast of misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be artists and musicians This Is Memorial Device, the debut novel by David Keenan, is a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland in the late 1970s and early 80s as they were temporarily transformed by the endless possibilities that came out of the freefall from punk rock. It follows a cast of misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be artists and musicians through a period of time where anything seemed possible, a moment where art and the demands it made were as serious as your life. At its core is the story of Memorial Device, a mythic post-punk group that could have gone all the way were it not for the visionary excess and uncompromising bloody-minded belief that served to confirm them as underground legends. Written in a series of hallucinatory first-person eye-witness accounts that capture the prosaic madness of the time and place, heady with the magic of youth recalled, This Is Memorial Device combines the formal experimentation of David Foster Wallace at his peak circa Brief Interviews With Hideous Men with moments of delirious psychedelic modernism, laugh out loud bathos and tender poignancy.


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This Is Memorial Device, the debut novel by David Keenan, is a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland in the late 1970s and early 80s as they were temporarily transformed by the endless possibilities that came out of the freefall from punk rock. It follows a cast of misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be artists and musicians This Is Memorial Device, the debut novel by David Keenan, is a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the west of Scotland in the late 1970s and early 80s as they were temporarily transformed by the endless possibilities that came out of the freefall from punk rock. It follows a cast of misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be artists and musicians through a period of time where anything seemed possible, a moment where art and the demands it made were as serious as your life. At its core is the story of Memorial Device, a mythic post-punk group that could have gone all the way were it not for the visionary excess and uncompromising bloody-minded belief that served to confirm them as underground legends. Written in a series of hallucinatory first-person eye-witness accounts that capture the prosaic madness of the time and place, heady with the magic of youth recalled, This Is Memorial Device combines the formal experimentation of David Foster Wallace at his peak circa Brief Interviews With Hideous Men with moments of delirious psychedelic modernism, laugh out loud bathos and tender poignancy.

30 review for This Is Memorial Device: An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Music Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and environs 1978–1986

  1. 5 out of 5

    Meike

    David Keenan's This Is Memorial Device, now available in German - and with a much cooler title! :-) This book is an oral history of the best Scottish band that never existed, and a love letter to all young music lovers longing to truly feel alive. In the small town of Airdrie, some teenagers grow up dreaming of a life full of romance and adventure - just like teenagers everywhere. The local music scene provides them with the possibility to develop their creativity, to be part of something bigger David Keenan's This Is Memorial Device, now available in German - and with a much cooler title! :-) This book is an oral history of the best Scottish band that never existed, and a love letter to all young music lovers longing to truly feel alive. In the small town of Airdrie, some teenagers grow up dreaming of a life full of romance and adventure - just like teenagers everywhere. The local music scene provides them with the possibility to develop their creativity, to be part of something bigger and to create their own legends. Structured around the wild and tragic history of a fictional band cleverly named "Memorial Device", every chapter introduces the viewpoint and life story of another sparkling protagonist of the Airdrie scene, all of them outrageous and glamorous in their own way. Much of the nostalgia and melancholy of the book derives from the fact that - as in every oral history - the anecdotes are told by much older characters looking back, and we often learn what has become of their youthful dreams. With this novel, Keenan pays homage to teenagers and young adults in small towns who dream of something different than a safe and predictable life, but on their search for - it sounds cheesy, but hey, we are all hunting for it - freedom and happiness, they are ultimately caught up in the human condition: As numerous non-fictional oral histories about bands teach us, living the dream never turns out as expected, and what is true for international superstars also goes for the local heroes of Airdrie. But what they built and what they experienced cannot be taken away from them, and has shaped them for the rest of their lives. This is not a fast read, as you have to take the time to really dive into all 26 interlocking stories (and frankly, it took me some time to get into the groove of the book), but it's worth it: The voices Keenan creates are hilarious, smart, weary, and edgy, and if the these people's quest to live it up and find a place for themselves does not affect you, you're officially a bore. Now I definitely have to read Keenan's new book, For The Good Times (now winner of the Gordon Burn Prize 2019). Thanks to the good people at Liebeskind (https://www.liebeskind.de/) for providing me with a review copy!

  2. 4 out of 5

    Jake Goretzki

    What an unexpected delight. I thought this was marvellous. I found it extremely engaging. So, the ‘concept’ here: a fictionalised account of the history of an early 80s local cult band in Airdrie (‘Memorial Device’). Structure-wise, it’s novel(ish). I’ve never read B.S. Johnson, but when I say that it’s experimental and novel (for me), I’m almost certain that someone in the sixties did this already. Or the thirties. But new to me. Here’s an assembly of transcripts and interviews and first person What an unexpected delight. I thought this was marvellous. I found it extremely engaging. So, the ‘concept’ here: a fictionalised account of the history of an early 80s local cult band in Airdrie (‘Memorial Device’). Structure-wise, it’s novel(ish). I’ve never read B.S. Johnson, but when I say that it’s experimental and novel (for me), I’m almost certain that someone in the sixties did this already. Or the thirties. But new to me. Here’s an assembly of transcripts and interviews and first person accounts from band members, hangers on, lovers and friends. It feels taped together in places (this is great parody) and it has the aura of the punk fanzine about it (those skittish chapter preambles, for example). Somehow, I felt the same nosey interest I got with the first Knausgaards (the way he can talk about making a cup of tea and it’s oddly mesmerising). It’s like surreptitiously reading through someone’s scrapbook or photo albums on the shelf of an AirBnB, and suddenly it’s midnight. Critically - and what really elevates it - is that these ‘found’ accounts are very often casually gorgeous, lyrical and moving. Something sounding “like the sound of a graveyard at the bottom of the sea”, “kissing her was like running your tongue along a cold marble pillar”. Lucas in particular comes through as a fully rounded presence (his mother’s account of his adoption is absolutely beautiful: “eyes too big for his face, his dad said...I’m his dad he said and we held each other, the three of us, and had a little cry”). The account of Chinese Moon (the puppet band in the department store window) is almost magical too - like something out of Russian folklore. Teddy Ohm is fascinating and straight out of a not-shit British gangster movie. Mary Hanna is threaded through it (like the name of a legendary siren at secondary who’d left by the time you were in first year but people still spoke about). They’re a great cast. I also really enjoyed the crossover with non-fiction (Lucas’s favourite hippy song, ‘Space Anthem’ by Lothar and the Hand People is on YouTube. It’s him alright) and its faithfulness to the exhaustingly obscure indie music world. As noted on the blurb, it’s about ‘being young’ too - but to call it ‘nostalgia’ would do it a disservice. (I’m younger than these guys, I fucking hate vinyl and I haven’t listened to a Smiths album for 25 years). It’s almost inevitably going to speak first to knackered Gen Xers and Late Boomers in Fred Perry - but it’s better than that, really. All hail the Scottish voice in lit. Does anyone do oral history and chat better (well, Ireland aside)? I’m a big fan of Alan Warner, who has a similar tonality and crackle. There are echoes too of John McGregor in its ordinary settings and faithfulness to speech. Thomas Morris’s superb recent ‘We Don’t Know What We’re Doing’ has a similar feel. The settings: working class. Council flats and cul de sacs. Postmen and bouncers. Drunks and junkies. Chip shops and pubs. Shagging in bus stops. In the mostly drippy world of contemporary UK fiction, these things now feel really arresting. (I do hope I’m not projecting too much: If I’d been told this was set in Hertfordshire, not Lanark, I hope I’d have the same response). All told, quite the most characterful, touching thing I’ve read in many a month. Like a marvellous found object. I hope it does well.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan Pool

    Synopsis Memorial Device are an Airdrie post punk group in the early 1980’s. It’s a strange name (but eighties band did have strange names, a reality developed by Keenan throughout the book in a series of idiosyncratic nomenclature). An explanation of sorts, is given: Memorial Device - making ritual use of forgetting and remembering(18) To a large extent, music as the medium which defines the town and its personalities in non-essential in capturing the essence of local heroes (and Bowie is unsurpris Synopsis Memorial Device are an Airdrie post punk group in the early 1980’s. It’s a strange name (but eighties band did have strange names, a reality developed by Keenan throughout the book in a series of idiosyncratic nomenclature). An explanation of sorts, is given: Memorial Device - making ritual use of forgetting and remembering(18) To a large extent, music as the medium which defines the town and its personalities in non-essential in capturing the essence of local heroes (and Bowie is unsurprisingly cited- “We can be Heroes, just for one day”. (Airdrie, which had a population of around 37,000 in 2012 exists throughout the UK.) Highlights Many of the best parts of the book are those that could be stand-alone short stories, character studies, and some of those anecdotes take place beyond Airdrie. Individual members of the band, most notably Lucas Black, are at their strongest outside the band dynamic. One of the strongest accounts features Richard, who ends up destitute in Israel. He quotes Dostoyevsky Notes from the Underground There’s a paradox in Keenan’s writing. At times it’s raw, unrefined, brutal, harsh- all in keeping with a no frills community. Keenan can also turn phrases, some of which are beautiful and others are intriguingly obscure and contradictory. “she seemed nervous and delicate but also poetic and a little unhinged. In other words she was ticking all the right boxes” (189) “less specific orthodoxies are more interesting in lieu of the destruction of orthodoxies altogether” (182) Valentine (half Japanese, half Swedish ) ”her hair like a dark silent river, a river that was moving in complete silence “( (233) ”she was sipping from this huge can, which made her eyes seem like dark sunrises, the can like a dolmen or a standing stone, you know, like here comes the summer” (126) Music/Literary context This is a book inspired and informed by contemporary music 1983-5. There are too many bands to mention! * The 'greatest' record acknowledged is Days Have Gone By by American guitarist John Fahey, released in 1967. * Literature is referenced throughout the book. Russian novels. Gogol, Turgenev, Mikhail Bulgakov (“The Master and Margarita is my favourite; only the Michael Karpelson translation”) (127). That begs the question how many translations has the narrator sampled! Author background & Reviews I heard David Keenan in conversation with Cosmo Landesman at Curious Arts Sussex 25/8/2019. The talk took the form of an appropriately scattered group of thoughts and observations. Keenan’s energy was amazing. *David Keenan makes no secret of the fact that he comes from an illiterate family. The voices though are like Beckett & Joyce * Oral history. History is not written, but remembered. Keenan . Doesn’t believe in research. “I’m a fiction writer.” *The Astonished Man, the first volume of Blaise Cendrars’ autobiography was a great influence. Recommend This is hardly a book to recommend to the uninitiated. It’s raw and disjointed. As a record of a life lived by a self-taught writer getting oral history down on paper, its impeccable.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Gordon

    I loved this, laughed inappropriately at times and tried to fit people I know into almost all the characters having also grown up in small town Scotland and being part of a music scene. I am sure the writing style will annoy a lot of people but I thought it worked well and I really enjoyed those times where what felt like a stand alone piece of the narrative linked back or forwards and became crucial to the overarching story. Not that there really is a story in the traditional start/middle/end way I loved this, laughed inappropriately at times and tried to fit people I know into almost all the characters having also grown up in small town Scotland and being part of a music scene. I am sure the writing style will annoy a lot of people but I thought it worked well and I really enjoyed those times where what felt like a stand alone piece of the narrative linked back or forwards and became crucial to the overarching story. Not that there really is a story in the traditional start/middle/end way its more a free form narrative told from the different points of view of the tellers. The author does a good job in telling the story with different voices and ways of writing which sometimes jar nicely with the way the previous chapter was written. If you ever played in a band, hung around bands or just followed a band around then you will recognise so many of these characters and have probably been to many of the places described or places exactly like them but with different names. It's also a book about growing up, hanging out, meeting girls/boys and all of it done pretty much set to music. You probably did or know someone who did most of the things in this book even if really the local legend you never quite believed. You might change your mind after reading this! We all had that one band growing up that created a local scene and everyone thought would make it this is their story!

  5. 4 out of 5

    MisterHobgoblin

    This Is Memorial Device is a fictional documentary of a fictional band, Memorial Device, that hailed from Airdrie, a small, predominantly Catholic town in the west of Scotland. The documentary is compiled by Ross Raymond, a wannabe journalist whose youth was greatly impacted by the local music scene. The four band members of Memorial Device were his heroes. The band was seen as the culmination of various precursor bands, and shone brightly and briefly before the members went off to pursue differe This Is Memorial Device is a fictional documentary of a fictional band, Memorial Device, that hailed from Airdrie, a small, predominantly Catholic town in the west of Scotland. The documentary is compiled by Ross Raymond, a wannabe journalist whose youth was greatly impacted by the local music scene. The four band members of Memorial Device were his heroes. The band was seen as the culmination of various precursor bands, and shone brightly and briefly before the members went off to pursue different directions. Some chapters are editorial, written by Ross himself. Others are in the form of interviews or reminiscences of those who were close to the band at the time – archivists, lovers, rivals. The introduction of these chapters is not terribly well signposted, and much of the content is rambling which can lead to confusion about the relationships between the dozens of characters – never fear, there is an Appendix listing everyone who is mentioned, however briefly. The result is a fragmentary story with little plot and absolutely no direction. There’s not even a terribly clear timeline to cling to. Instead, we have microscopic level of detail and analysis, focused on the music scene in Airdrie in the 1970s and 1980s. Occasionally there is a hint of aspiration – an interview at a record company in London – but mostly we are talking about people who are absolute legends within a circle of no more than 50 others. Their celebrity status is portrayed without question and without irony; the detail of their lives is picked over in such forensic detail because it really matters to Ross and those who were there at the time. There are drugs, there is drink; there is deviant sex. This is not a novel for the faint hearted. But what makes it is that it is so recognisable. Those of us fortunate enough to grow up in small towns in the same time period will recognise the importance of pub bands, cafes, the local independent record shop, the local weirdo, the time Steve Sims got a pint of beer poured over him for talking to the wrong girl. The beauty is in the sincerity with which people there at the time believe in the importance of these markers, even though they appear utterly trivial and irrelevant to those who were not in exactly that point of space and time. Memorial Device is not an easy read. At times, in truth, it is bewildering, repetitive and boring. It is written with a slavish adherence to authenticity, much as Roberto Bolaño achieved with his History of Nazi Literature in the Americas or his meticulous list of murders in 2666. And almost half the length is an index of pretty much everything that is mentioned anywhere. The reader has to marvel at the effort that would have been required to produce this despite the certainty that it would be of no value to anyone. The ultimate effect of this strange text is something that is satisfying to have read, even if the journey makes the reader wonder whether it is worth the effort. I am grateful to Netgalley and Fabers for providing me with an advance reading copy of this novel.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Daisy

    Many moons ago I used to hang around in small, dingy venues watching various friends in various bands play to a hardcore (very small) group of chums and hangers on. The line-ups would change as members left to form new bands or train to be a sound engineer once they realised that they were not likely to be the next big thing. The names of the bands would change as their sound changed in an attempt to catch the wave of the current trend and everyone in their late teens who was part of that felt t Many moons ago I used to hang around in small, dingy venues watching various friends in various bands play to a hardcore (very small) group of chums and hangers on. The line-ups would change as members left to form new bands or train to be a sound engineer once they realised that they were not likely to be the next big thing. The names of the bands would change as their sound changed in an attempt to catch the wave of the current trend and everyone in their late teens who was part of that felt they were part of a scene, of something cool and important. Occasionally a member of some band or another would hit it big(gish) but it didn't create envy or make us realise how small our own scene was. This experience is what Memorial Device captures perfectly, though set in Airdrie rather than my own North London. What sets this apart from the other band novels (although disappointingly it slips into Kevin Sampson Powder mode with a graphic account of some bizarre and disturbing sex acts) is that it uses a variety of narrators who have been involved to a greater or lesser degree in the history of the band. The voices are all unique, some in thick Glaswegian, some chapters take the form of interviews but they all add a bit of history to the story of the band. And that is the genius of the book, that Keenan captures the web-like links that form the folklore of a band. A must read for anyone that has ever been in a band, a groupie of a band that never made it above pub venues or been a devotee of a band that you felt deserved wider acclaim.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephen

    gritty novel based in Airdie moulded like an Irvine Welsh style of writing and plot. the book itself is based around a post punk band this is memorial device.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Alex Sarll

    Memorial Device being a cult eighties post-punk band, but also a description for the notebook its brain-damaged singer used to falteringly keep his place in the world, and of course for this book, an attempt by two fans to construct an oral history of the local music scene which defined their youth. They're all made up, of course – the bands, the fans, the small-town legends and local heroes and urban myths. But the beauty of setting it in Airdrie and Coatbridge is that most of us have so little Memorial Device being a cult eighties post-punk band, but also a description for the notebook its brain-damaged singer used to falteringly keep his place in the world, and of course for this book, an attempt by two fans to construct an oral history of the local music scene which defined their youth. They're all made up, of course – the bands, the fans, the small-town legends and local heroes and urban myths. But the beauty of setting it in Airdrie and Coatbridge is that most of us have so little idea what was really happening there in the early eighties that for all we know, it might as well be true. Hell, I imagine plenty of readers even need to check whether Airdrie and Coatbridge are real places to start with. Last month I got quite tetchy with Jeff Noon's latest novel, among other things for being based around the death of a transparent Bowie analogue. For one thing, you can't just remove Bowie from history and then show us everything else unchanged; for another, Noon's King Lost was just a bit rubbish compared to the real world's Ziggy Stardust. Whereas here...well, the web of time can withstand a few local bands who never made an impact beyond local hearts and minds being swapped out. And whatever was going down in Airdrie in the real world, I doubt it was quite this fascinating. But at the same time, this is all weirdly recognisable. All those bands who were famous for fifteen people, who occasioned an epiphany in some nowhere club one night for the few punters actually paying any attention – we all had some of those. The faces on the scene, the notorious loose cannon, the band everyone thought were shit but who still hung out in the same pub. The weird rumours about so-and-so's dad, the indelible anecdote about such-and-such's wanking habits. This is every small-town scene (and a few big city ones, at that), the pure form of which they all partake, or something very close to it. And similarly, the oral history conceit...it's noticeable that however inarticulate any given contributor starts out, as they gather momentum they all approach a similar visionary state, a shared sense of poetry. A bit like the immortality of Greek philosophers, where only by approaching pure reason do we shed everything unshared and become the person who can live forever, at the cost of anything recognisable as personhood. Because it's not just about music, it's about all the big stuff you start pondering at the same age you fall hard for music. It's about time, and the way music or drugs or music and drugs can erase it, and about memory and ageing and the ways people change and whether in the end there's really any core to us. It's about the grand theories of the world which a certain strain of weirdo concocts, half-remembered and still haunting the people whose ears they bent about it decades after the fact. It's a reminder of the odd sort of shared consensus counterculture which used to exist, with its musical touchstones (the Velvets, Suicide, Iggy) but also an unofficial reading list where Kerouac, Celine and Russian novels rubbed shoulders with John Brunner (and not even the cool near-future dystopias), John Norman and Octavia Butler. If there's a weakness here, it probably lies with the female characters - they tend either to be nagging matriarchs, or sexualised visions, and while the latter are given the same chance to rhapsodise as the boys, and offer as many insights, it's noticeable how none of them seem to be just yer basic indie spods in the way many of the guys are. And of course if you hold with the notion that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, well, what does that make a prismatic effort to dance about architecture that was never even built? But that's clearly part of the point, and the charm, for anyone remotely on board with the project. Also, and this was something I wasn't necessarily expecting from the reviews, or conveying in my own, but it's very funny. By turns recognisable, dry, and plain outrageously daft. Much of it is cumulative in the sort of way quotation doesn't really convey, but I did enjoy this bit, from one of the few entries that's presented as interview rather than monologue: "RR: Do you have a history of drug use? SH: A history would imply something that could be pieced together and that could be made sense of. In that case I have no history of drug use to speak of." And if you do take the plunge, on no account omit at least a skim-read of the index, or you'll miss a treat.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Clare

    One of the most original books I've read in a long time and definitely the first book to make me wish a fictional band was real. This is the oral history of fictional arthouse band Memorial Device and the scene and crowd of friends that they sprang from in small town Aidrie, Scotland. The story of the characters teenage years and coming of age will strike a chord with anyone who had a large group of friends whose lives revolved around a music scene. Everything is about music and who has the best One of the most original books I've read in a long time and definitely the first book to make me wish a fictional band was real. This is the oral history of fictional arthouse band Memorial Device and the scene and crowd of friends that they sprang from in small town Aidrie, Scotland. The story of the characters teenage years and coming of age will strike a chord with anyone who had a large group of friends whose lives revolved around a music scene. Everything is about music and who has the best record collection and who can get hold of alcohol and who has parents who won't mind/care if you all hang round there for hours at a time. It's an intriguing cast of characters, many of who meet unhappy endings and their stories unfold over several chapters told by several different people. I won't pretend that its easy to keep up with who's who and whats happening when, but it doesn't really matter as the writing is so absorbing and every few paragraphs there is a turn of phrase that catches you and reels you back in again. My favourite was about the character with the large book collection who was described as using his books like weapons, and you also have to love an index which references falling into a bush while half cut. This book won't be to everyone's taste but if you love music and it was a major part of your growing up then you'll find much to love here. I received a ARC from Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ian Mond

    Well, I fucking loved that. An oral history of Memorial Device, a post-punk band, the greatest rock group never to leave the city limits of Airdrie. Keenan has taken his clear passion for the music scene in his hometown during the 70s and 80s and transformed it into a surreal, grimy and often laugh out loud funny joy-ride. The temptation for Keenan would have been to go all out satire, to make this the Spinal Tap of Scottish rock and the avant-garde. The title of the book certainly hints in that Well, I fucking loved that. An oral history of Memorial Device, a post-punk band, the greatest rock group never to leave the city limits of Airdrie. Keenan has taken his clear passion for the music scene in his hometown during the 70s and 80s and transformed it into a surreal, grimy and often laugh out loud funny joy-ride. The temptation for Keenan would have been to go all out satire, to make this the Spinal Tap of Scottish rock and the avant-garde. The title of the book certainly hints in that direction. But while the book is hilarious, while Keenan, at times, is taking the piss (the larger than life characters, the crazy anecdotes… still getting my head around those mannequins… the fact no-one can adequately explain the sort of music Memorial Device play) it never tips over to outright lunacy. Whether its Patty with his top hat and his fascination in the occult or Lucas Black with his acquired brain injury which means he can’t remember what he did from day to day, or the drummer Richard who, chasing tail, heads off to fight the good fight for the Palestinian people, the band-members of Memorial Device and those who orbit their lives all feel real, authentic. Because this is an oral history, or a gathering together of first-person accounts about the band and the scene at the time, Keenan gets to play around with structure and technique and this provides an ever-changing texture and tone that I found exciting and addictive. I’m stoked that this book was recognised by the Gordon Burn Prize, but it should also have featured on the list of nominees for the Goldsmith and, as a debut absolutely deserved a nod for the Costa Prize. I know, I know a book about a made-up post-punk band in 1980s Scotland is very niche but if a guy from Melbourne with the musical tastes of a confused seven-year-old can fall in love with this book then maybe it has greater universal appeal than first thought.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Paul Dembina

    Well that was really good. A fictitious account of the post-punk music scene in Airdrie in the early 80s centred on legendary band Memorial Device, consisting of interviews with the various musicians, mover, shakers and hangers-on from that era It was funny and touching in places. It's worth reading the Appendices and (at least scanning) the Index. A few samples: From the Memorial Device discography, a review - "sounds like an autistic Joy Division recorded with a broken microphone at the bottom of Well that was really good. A fictitious account of the post-punk music scene in Airdrie in the early 80s centred on legendary band Memorial Device, consisting of interviews with the various musicians, mover, shakers and hangers-on from that era It was funny and touching in places. It's worth reading the Appendices and (at least scanning) the Index. A few samples: From the Memorial Device discography, a review - "sounds like an autistic Joy Division recorded with a broken microphone at the bottom of a well and played back using coat hanger for a needle" A band called The Spazzer, band members Mick Jazzer, Bubonic Craig, Bob Noxious & Pig Ignorant The Index has this intriguing set of references (all referring to real instances in the text): smell (of horse's breath) smell (of stale make-up) smell (of warm towels drying on radiators) ENJOY!

  12. 5 out of 5

    Graeme Armstrong

    This is an account of a familiar space, my home town, through the kaleidoscope lens of the Post-Punk generation. Descriptions of Rawyards Sports Centre and Katherine Park are undeniably nostalgic. But as ever, any recounting of Airdrie is understandably both love-letter and death warrant - and see-saw between affection and disgust, inertia and exile. The mundane and harsh surrounds of post-industrial North Lanarkshire clashes with the colour of Keenan's imagination - both psychedelic and transce This is an account of a familiar space, my home town, through the kaleidoscope lens of the Post-Punk generation. Descriptions of Rawyards Sports Centre and Katherine Park are undeniably nostalgic. But as ever, any recounting of Airdrie is understandably both love-letter and death warrant - and see-saw between affection and disgust, inertia and exile. The mundane and harsh surrounds of post-industrial North Lanarkshire clashes with the colour of Keenan's imagination - both psychedelic and transcendental. The lifeblood of the era and the driving-force here is music and a deep artistic sensibility that elevates this work beyond the norm and into the realms of genius. Meticulously written and almost hallucinogenic at parts in its complexity. This is narcotic literature.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kirsty

    This book has been sitting half-read on my Kindle for over a year; it's time for me to accept that I'll never finish it. I was intrigued by the concept and setting (my wife is from Airdrie, where the novel is set), and I've never read a novel about a band from a small Scottish town. But I just couldn't get past the way the female characters were written. There's a particularly disgusting part about the sexualisation of a cancerous breast that I won't even describe – it's the point that I put the This book has been sitting half-read on my Kindle for over a year; it's time for me to accept that I'll never finish it. I was intrigued by the concept and setting (my wife is from Airdrie, where the novel is set), and I've never read a novel about a band from a small Scottish town. But I just couldn't get past the way the female characters were written. There's a particularly disgusting part about the sexualisation of a cancerous breast that I won't even describe – it's the point that I put the book down, and for the next year every time I thought about picking the book up again I'd think of that scene and read something else instead. So – this book is good in theory, not so much in practice.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Chris Nickson

    An odd book, with a mood somewhere between Geoff Dyer's The Colour of Memory and Alan Warner's Morvern Callar, it may ostensibly be about a mysterious band from Airdrie, but somehow turns into an elegy from a time and place. And did any of them exist? The place maybe, although whether as described here is a different matter. I can't say I like the book, but it's curiously compelling, although, some of the accounts are too long, to the extent of becoming boring, and the more fanatastical sections An odd book, with a mood somewhere between Geoff Dyer's The Colour of Memory and Alan Warner's Morvern Callar, it may ostensibly be about a mysterious band from Airdrie, but somehow turns into an elegy from a time and place. And did any of them exist? The place maybe, although whether as described here is a different matter. I can't say I like the book, but it's curiously compelling, although, some of the accounts are too long, to the extent of becoming boring, and the more fanatastical sections don't hold up. A lot of name-dropping of bands, musicians, music, artists from the 70s and 80s. Too much perhaps, I don't know. Still, I finished it, and that's some sort of testament to its power.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Mark Rubenstein

    All wax and very little wick.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Doo Rag

    finding the unanimity of positive reviews on this one pretty tuff to feature. this is one of the wankiest things i've ever read. finding the unanimity of positive reviews on this one pretty tuff to feature. this is one of the wankiest things i've ever read.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Davyd

    This kind of écriture masculine seems to be always in danger of going over the edge into phoniness, into a thin "ecstatic-ness", a "good while it lasts" quality at best. The mannequin band chapter won me over, and good stuff began to happen more frequently after that. This kind of écriture masculine seems to be always in danger of going over the edge into phoniness, into a thin "ecstatic-ness", a "good while it lasts" quality at best. The mannequin band chapter won me over, and good stuff began to happen more frequently after that.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Rob Adey

    Poetic and sometimes very funny account of small-town teenage transgression and the music and art that can bubble up there. Early on, it reminded me of Iain Banks, as if Espedair Street was about The KLF (and The KLF never made it). Gradually, it pulls off the trick of giving the heady impression of the music it talks about (disjointed, eerie, revelatory) while making some kind of coherent sense.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tristan Bath

    By utilising the loose convoluted narrative of a jumpy oral history format, telling the story of a fictionalised music scene with no true centre point, David Keenan's first novel makes keen use of the best part of music journalism writing: fantasy. Tellings of happenings by a procession of (untrustworthy?) characters often more interesting than the people they're describing end up portraying a fantasy land of misfits and music easily better on paper than it could ever be in reality. I suggest it By utilising the loose convoluted narrative of a jumpy oral history format, telling the story of a fictionalised music scene with no true centre point, David Keenan's first novel makes keen use of the best part of music journalism writing: fantasy. Tellings of happenings by a procession of (untrustworthy?) characters often more interesting than the people they're describing end up portraying a fantasy land of misfits and music easily better on paper than it could ever be in reality. I suggest it is all too often so in underground music world. Even so, the sheer sense of liberation, the lust for life, the beautiful misery, and miserable joy of these characters – largely living in Airdrie, Scotland in the grey-cool-big-haired 1980s – is so palpable, it's impossible not get yanked right into their scene. The one constant is perhaps Keenan's journalistic note-taker presumably recording/receiving/editing the fictionalised oral history of this post-punk experimental noise rock post-kraut scene, giving in to the musical obsessive arrogance his ilk thrive off (with no small sense of irony I hasten to add). Many of the chapters divert into philosophically fruitful territory, but it's Keenan's skill for compressing deep meaning into rich throwaway phrases that makes the text economic with its words and light on description, yet pregnant with mood and meaning. It's impossible to improve on how Kim Gordon put it on the cover – "I wanted to live in this book". Though she lived a large part of her life touring grungy rock clubs, don't forget.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Rob

    Tremendous. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve tended to enjoy digging into what’s on offer locally in terms of music and I’m also a firm believer that in 90% of cases, who and who doesn’t become famous is as much about luck and exposure as it is about talent. Hence, David Keenan’s setting of a novel in and around the fictional (probably) local music scene of Airdrie, Scotland in the post-punk era is an inspired idea while the tale is told via a lurid array of narrators, many of whom are hugely unforge Tremendous. Everywhere I’ve lived, I’ve tended to enjoy digging into what’s on offer locally in terms of music and I’m also a firm believer that in 90% of cases, who and who doesn’t become famous is as much about luck and exposure as it is about talent. Hence, David Keenan’s setting of a novel in and around the fictional (probably) local music scene of Airdrie, Scotland in the post-punk era is an inspired idea while the tale is told via a lurid array of narrators, many of whom are hugely unforgettable and provide further evidence of how lacking in ‘alternative’ culture we are these days. There are David Foster Wallace style tropes including an index with entries such as ‘C (in woodwork)’, ‘sniffing vinyl, practice of’ and ‘testicles (removed on the NHS, impossibility of’), a discography for the eponymous band in the book’s titles and a dramatis personae . Of course there are nods to Keenan’s forebears and Irvine Welsh does provide the inevitable endorsement but this provides something new and different. Seek it out.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jack Deighton

    To say this is an imaginary history of the music scene in the Airdrie area in the post-Punk era would be true. It would also be a bit like saying War and Peace is about domestic affairs in Moscow during the Napoleonic era. It is a picture of Airdrie and its music at the time but is also much more. The line on the back cover (also found in the text) “It’s not easy being Iggy Pop in Airdrie,” stands in for all those towns in the West of Scotland - and I dare say beyond - where expectations were/ar To say this is an imaginary history of the music scene in the Airdrie area in the post-Punk era would be true. It would also be a bit like saying War and Peace is about domestic affairs in Moscow during the Napoleonic era. It is a picture of Airdrie and its music at the time but is also much more. The line on the back cover (also found in the text) “It’s not easy being Iggy Pop in Airdrie,” stands in for all those towns in the West of Scotland - and I dare say beyond - where expectations were/are crabbed, hopes frustrated, ambitions crushed – and all before the attempts to overcome that deficit were made. “... back then anything seemed possible, ... back then being ... the glory years. ....But really that would be untrue because back then everything seemed impossible.” The text is made up of twenty-six different reminiscences, interviews, letters, conversations, emails, transcripts of telephone calls (in other words various forms of device encapsulating memory) from people either involved in or connected, however tangentially, to the legendary band around which the novel revolves, a band which captured the sound of Airdrie. But, “The thing about Memorial Device was that you always had the feeling that it was their last gig ever, like they could fall apart at any moment.” Keenan’s tale builds up as a mosaic of all these contributions. (Among them is a wonderful rant about the extreme shortcomings of Kilmarnock as a town which is all the funnier for being written by someone from Airdrie.) Keenan is himself using the mosaic as a device for chronicling life in a Scottish industrial town in the mid-1980s. In the book’s first line the supposed assembler of these testimonials – one Ross Raymond – tells us that in compiling the book he “did it for Airdrie.” He “did it because later on everyone went off and became social workers and did courses on how to teach English as a foreign language or got a job in Greggs.” Because then, of those crushed hopes, those impossible dreams, because of the compromises people make with their younger selves as they grow older. If you like, this is Albert Hammond’s Free Electric Band in reverse. But what a glorious reversal it is. The line, “I would talk about the new groups and encourage people to drop out and go see the world, all the while living at my mum’s house in Airdrie,” sums up the contrast between the aspiration and the reality. The conceit that this is an actual set of true reminiscences is bolstered by no less than four Appendices: A; a Memorial Device Discography (- self explanatory,) B; A Necessarily Incomplete Attempt to Map the Extent of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986 - relating the interconnections between the various bands mentioned in the book (the names of the wheelchair bound members of the group calling themselves The Spazzers are brilliant,) C; This is Memorial Device (- short descriptions of the characters in the book,) and D; A Navigational Aid (ie an index.) There are some longueurs but Keenan ventriloquises the voices of his “contributors” well; each of the twenty-six chapters is internally consistent. (One is excessively fond of brackets.) Another, in a vigorous West of Scotland demotic - the only piece that isn’t rendered in a kind of “standard” English - explores philosophy, “ma existence wus closer tae a state o suspended animation, a series a frozen gestures caught between the impossibility uv the future and the improbability uv the past,” creativity, “Ah became obsessed wae the idea o automating, o inventing a form o music that wid play itsel and wid form its inspiration fae itsel ... a form o spontaneous birth that held within itsel the DNA that wid facilitate endless versions and restatements o itsel,” and a disquisition on the amniotic night, “wur just seeing things the wrang way roon, the fervent dream that we ur, but then I began to see the dream as a computation, the specifics o the dream as distinct variables what could be slotted intae reality, as intae a circuit board that would then send the whole thing aff on a different trajectory althegether.” A third asks of The Who, “Has there ever been a more depressing vaudeville take on rock n roll to this day?” The personal interests the contributions reveal are many and varied. I particularly enjoyed the aside on the lack of merit of a certain translation of Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita (Michael Karpelson’s) as compared to another (that of Diana Burgin and Katherine O’Connor.) Others celebrate their existence, “thank God we have many headcases in Scotland, many headcases in Airdrie,” others their universality, “We all live out our unhappiness on different scales,” a metaphor which manages to be both dimensional and musical. Then we have, “I had grown up in the sternest, most backwards, illiterate, repressed motherfucking viper pit in the west of Scotland.” (There’s competition for that title I can assure you.) “I fell in with the music scene. The art scene was up itself. The fashion scene was vacuous. The book scene was going on behind closed doors.” (The book scene always does.) “You have to understand that when you’re talking about a local scene you’re talking about an international scene in microcosm....It fostered belief. It encouraged you to take the music and lifestyle at its word.” An invitation to disappointment. Though there is not really much about music in it (music and its emotional effects are of course notoriously difficult to describe in prose) This is Memorial Device is by turns funny, mordant, poignant, profound and elegiac; an attempt to convey the elusive. It is a hymn to music and youth, a threnody for the passing of time, a celebration of a spirit as relevant to the world as it is to Airdrie - and Scotland.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jonna

    "The thing about the music scene was it fostered belief. It encouraged you to take the music and its lifestyle at its word. So there were all these people , living it, probably living it harder than their role models. After all, it isn't easy being Iggy Pop in a small town in the west of Scotland." (p. 251). Being and eigthies kid, growing up some twenty years later than the people in this novel, in a small town in the Netherlands where they also speak a weird unintelligible dialect and where mu "The thing about the music scene was it fostered belief. It encouraged you to take the music and its lifestyle at its word. So there were all these people , living it, probably living it harder than their role models. After all, it isn't easy being Iggy Pop in a small town in the west of Scotland." (p. 251). Being and eigthies kid, growing up some twenty years later than the people in this novel, in a small town in the Netherlands where they also speak a weird unintelligible dialect and where music is everything, mostly a way out, I could really relate to this story and all the voices that told it.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Leif Quinlan

    More like 3 1/2 stars There was some interesting writing in this book and I ultimately took well to the oral history style (FD: I'm a sucker for good oral histories so I was an easy mark) The only thing that left me wanting was the lack of characters outside of Lucas to care about. I know that that is a casualty of the oral history style but in a piece as long as a novel, it really did start to become impossible to ignore This is a good book and had a number of striking scenes with some memorable w More like 3 1/2 stars There was some interesting writing in this book and I ultimately took well to the oral history style (FD: I'm a sucker for good oral histories so I was an easy mark) The only thing that left me wanting was the lack of characters outside of Lucas to care about. I know that that is a casualty of the oral history style but in a piece as long as a novel, it really did start to become impossible to ignore This is a good book and had a number of striking scenes with some memorable writing - deserves a recommendation

  24. 4 out of 5

    Duncan Vicat-Brown

    An electrifying love letter to invisible legacies built in small towns rendered in wet cardboard. I would read one of these for every scene in every small town in the country, maybe the world, fictional or not. It's ridiculous, for sure, but it's shot through with a love for lives lived as large as possible, regardless of means or reward. Go to more local gigs. An electrifying love letter to invisible legacies built in small towns rendered in wet cardboard. I would read one of these for every scene in every small town in the country, maybe the world, fictional or not. It's ridiculous, for sure, but it's shot through with a love for lives lived as large as possible, regardless of means or reward. Go to more local gigs.

  25. 4 out of 5

    John Ryan

    Incredible. Feels like a stronger reality than the one we're stuck with, a kind of soft sci fi architectural study of a small town, art and the freaks you meet swirling down the drain. Perfect and impossible. Incredible. Feels like a stronger reality than the one we're stuck with, a kind of soft sci fi architectural study of a small town, art and the freaks you meet swirling down the drain. Perfect and impossible.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Jon Bounds

    Stunningly evocative and perfectly realised. The Airdrie indie scene has never seemed so vital.

  27. 4 out of 5

    AK

    I loved it so much I don't quite know what to say. I loved it so much I don't quite know what to say.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Ben Robinson

    Like a really absorbing article from the pages of Mojo or Record Collector except all the acts are fictitious, and it becomes an extended tribute to the wild creativity so pervasive in those small-town post-punk times.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Henry

    in places this is wonderful, evocative, influential (I bought The Stooges Fun House) the different narrators made it difficult to connect emotionally. However, there were a few occasions historical inaccuracies that let down the narrative. and they are about sex - so; y'know; you have been warned. There were only two references to vaginas (usually a book has none - so this may be positive or no) and both of them were bald! hairless! which - I'm no expert but - hairless bits wasn't really a thing in places this is wonderful, evocative, influential (I bought The Stooges Fun House) the different narrators made it difficult to connect emotionally. However, there were a few occasions historical inaccuracies that let down the narrative. and they are about sex - so; y'know; you have been warned. There were only two references to vaginas (usually a book has none - so this may be positive or no) and both of them were bald! hairless! which - I'm no expert but - hairless bits wasn't really a thing in the mid 80s. granted I hadn't seen one for real (unless you count family members - we were a free and easy family at one with nudity) but I mean in the "literature" downstairs baldness did not become a thing until the proliferation of American Internet pornography. late 90s early 00s

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rod

    A remarkable book that felt like it was written just for me, even though, or perhaps exactly because it occasionally teetered on the edge of parody. There are no good novels about rock and roll. Except for this one.

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