Long-time friends and musical collaborators Theo and Judah, now in their late 20s and getting by on dead-end jobs and part-time gigs, start music school together. What follows is the story, not of sudden success, but of the ups and downs of musicians who haven’t really hit the big time yet. Instead, what we get is the day-to-day life of young(ish) people who are still trying to get the basics together, even as they chase their dreams.
What those dreams are, however, is somewhat changeable: neither of the main characters want to become pop sensations. They’re more interested in music for its own sake, and Theo in particular spends a lot of time thinking and writing papers about things like the fusion of jazz and rap. This doesn’t mean that the book is wrapped up in esoteric musical theory; on the contrary, it’s a picture of how a lot of Millennials live their lives: going to school, working, dealing with ill-defined relationships, and chasing their side hustle in the hope that it might turn into something worthwhile. This is a book about musicians and music, but it’s really about a certain point in most people’s lives, when their options are still open, but they’re going to need to narrow them down soon. Theo and Judah can look at their teachers and mentors and see how their lives might go, but they themselves are not quite ready for the marriage, the children, and the steady job that precludes the other, less steady but more exciting, jobs that they might have.
So while “Misfortunes of T-Funk” is more about the slog of the bottom of the music industry than the glitz of the top–a significant amount of the story is taken up with the logistics of packing up and hauling around equipment for a small tour, and dealing with setbacks like showing up to a gig and finding out the bar has been shut down–it’s eminently readable even for those of us who don’t know much about music at all. Theo in particular is a complex and relatable character, trying to deal with his classes, his (maybe serious??) girlfriend, his autistic cousin, his controlling mother and more successful older brother, and his band. You hope that things are going to work out for him, even though it’s not entirely clear yet what “working out” would mean for him. The straightforward prose style portrays his worries with a low-key immediacy that emphasizes the quotidian and yet universal nature of his issues.
A unique aspect of the book, if you’re reading it as an e-book, are the songs. Theo and Judah compose songs for their band as part of the story, and there are links to performances of those songs throughout the text. This is the first time I’ve encountered something like that, and it adds considerably to the “real-life” nature of the book, as you can listen their songs as you read about them. And whether you listen to the songs or not, this is an interesting “slice of life” book about real people with real problems that should resonant with lots of readers.
My thanks to the author for providing a review copy of this book. All opinions are my own.
Interested? You can get your own copy here (and it’s free today, April 1, on Kindle!) Misfortunes of T-Funk, Book 1: (Built-in Music Edition)
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