Look for me in the spring’s transparent air.
I flit like vanishing wings, no heavier than
a sound, a breath, a sunray on the floor;
I’m lighter than that ray - it’s there: I’m gone.
But we are friends for ever, undivided!
Listen: I’m here. Your hands can feel the way
to reach me with their living touch, extended
trembling into the restless flame of day.
Happen to close your eyelids, while you linger…
Make me one final effort, and you might
find at the nerve-ends of each quivering finger
brushes of secret fire as I ignite.
20 December 1917 - 3 January 1918
Translated from the Russian by Peter Daniels
WSJ Book Review: ‘Wonderkid’ by Wesley Stace
Imagine the Doors by way of Lewis Carroll: Rock swagger and nonsense verse and live shows and PB&J-consuming audiences.
There’s an amusing moment in the TV series “Portlandia” when a group of yuppie-hipster parents decide to make “good” music for their kids. “Who’s to say that a kid can’t appreciate the guitar solo in a Dinosaur Jr. song?” one of the moms asks, referring to the alt-rock pioneers. A similar spirit of satire animates Wesley Stace’s “Wonderkid.” “YOUR CHILD’S FIRST ROCK BAND” screams the slogan pitched to the Wonderkids by their label. Previously known as the Wunderkinds—”people don’t like a word they’re not totally confident they can pronounce,” one record exec explains to the band—the rechristened Brits head Stateside just as arena rock is waning and grunge is getting ready to take the stage. Anchored by brothers Blake and Jack, the Wonderkids are presented as the forebears of bands like They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies in their kid-rock phases. Imagine the Doors by way of Lewis Carroll: Rock swagger and nonsense verse and live shows and PB&J-consuming (and -covered) audiences. Blake is very adamant about their style, very sure of what kids want. “In a few years time, all they’re going to be getting is songs about the environment going to hell and how there aren’t any more animals,” he reckons. “Let other people be teachers.” The Wonderkids just want to be “punk for kids.”
The novel follows the band’s rise and fall and rebirth: early days playing for a few young ones and their folks; near-riots as their fame increases; the decadent excess that every great band succumbs to; and, finally, a shot at redemption. Their journey is brightened by some of Mr. Stace’s own insights into the music business, as well as humorous asides about its inherent absurdities. (In addition to writing novels, the author has long recorded under the name John Wesley Harding.) Of special note in “Wonderkid” is the band’s first manager, Greg. Desperate to get out of the job—life on the road doesn’t suit him half as nice as a pint at the pub—the malapropism-prone Greg can’t help marveling at the way the band’s American label nudges him aside. “He’d heard of acts wooed away from their management while they were on the road, when someone had a chance to work on them away from home, but he’d never seen it done in such brazen fashion before. He was overjoyed,” the narrator tells us, dry British wit crackling underfoot.
That narration is a bit of a problem: The story unfolds from the point of view of Blake’s adopted son, whom we don’t meet until more than 50 pages into the book. Indeed, one would be forgiven for forgetting in the early going that the book is written in the first person at all. But this is a minor complaint. Overall, “Wonderkid” is good fun and deliciously entertaining, a light-hearted story about a band that never was—but I kind of wish had been. —Sonny Bunch