You think you know everything. David Mitchell features Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, and Leonard Cohen, but the band around which the story revolves has never existed. Levon Frankland, a penniless music director with a kind of genius, puts “Utopia Avenue” together almost like a drawing board. It should be a perfect constellation: three men, one woman, three songwriters and one drummer. Elizabeth Francis, better known as Elf, pianist, keyboardist, singer, is the last of his recruits in London:
“You’ll bring the spirit of folk music to the picnic. Dean feels the blues, Griff has jazz and Jasper…” Everyone looks at him. “He’s just a good guitar player,” Dean says. (..) “Elf,” Levon says. “I just heard how cool you guys are going to be as a band. I’m just asking you to stack up with the boys for once. (..) Let’s just try.”
Agree – and the band stands. However, the road to success will be long and difficult. At some point, the first singles and the first LP appear and flop at first. Each chapter bears the title of a fictional song, Mitchell also invented catchy lyrics, which were skillfully translated into German by Volker Oldenburg.
Each band member of “Utopia Avenue” represents a different environment
The lyrics reflect the life of the band members, which Mitchell also accurately describes. Everyone represents a different environment, so the author chose a similar approach as attributed to Levon Frankland. Jasper is a mentally unstable nerd, Dean is a penniless guitarist from a broken home, and Griff, for whom things usually go well. Middle-class parents of eleven see their daughter above all as a future wife. Disagreements in the family, gender roles are just as topical as the demonstrations against the Vietnam War.
Dean thought he spotted Mick Jagger but wasn’t sure. Floss and Kenny heard that John Lennon and his new girlfriend Yoko Ono were walking through the crowd. Truth or rumor, Dean felt amazing energy. He was one with her.
Music shines at the heart of the novel
David Mitchell offers it all: music, social history, the power of flowers, drugs, facts and fiction and a bit of esotericism. Not to get lost in the mix at nearly 745 pages, to stay on the ball during the long dry spell the band has to deal with and dive over and over into a new family cosmos that demands stamina. Mitchell talks extensively, and doesn’t seem to omit anything. Of course, the focus is on the music.
Dean plays blues music. A, G, F, A again: Elfs Hammond lunged in, and did a hilarious drunken dance. Griff delivers the background notes on the bass drum and the distant thunder on the bass drum. Jasper comes up with a Grateful Dead lead high, then sings into the microphone.
Would you really like to hear “Street Utopia”?
But there is also a lot of special drama: infant deaths, alcoholism, violence in the family, and a serious car accident. At first the text purrs. The universe must be discovered, which Mitchell describes as vast knowledge. But at some point it becomes difficult.
For music lovers, this might be pure fun, this real-time game, merging levels, and almost a scavenger hunt, alone: it’s just too much. But one would really like to hear “Street Utopia”. However, this desire must remain open.
by David Mitchell
- page number:
- 745 pages
- a novel
- 26 EUR