Review: Black Flies in the Backyard with Snowshoes by Kevin Brian Carroll

I read through the opening pages, called “Before We Get Started” and I had the feeling I was going to be reading a book about a Blues Band from Albany. I wanted to research the material, but the link given to the band was wrong… http://WAlbanyStBlues.com should be https://WAlbanStBluesBand.com. And I am thinking, oh, boy, we need an editor here, stat.

I then started getting into the book itself; the first chapter. I thought, oh my, Hunter S. Thompson’s final work? Or maybe this is his protégé? This is soooo Gonzo Journalism; but the author is no journalist. The author was just a member of the band. What is this anyway? I figured I was in for a ride. Well, I’m the committing type.

I continue to read… and the plot eventually comes to the surface. I don’t think the author intended the book to come out this way, but… I found myself laughing myself silly. Oh, this is just too wonderful to be missed!

The book is a crime piece, drawing on the main character of “Big Al Cancelino.” Big Al, as he is referred to in the book, is actually a guy from Upstate New York, trapped in the 80’s. He is a guy from a small Adirondack town and all he wants to do is have a band. Kevin, the author, was a guitarist with the band for a while, and a good friend of Al’s. Al, by the way, also has this bad habit of stepping into business situations that smell like poo but end up as mondo money makers.

The crime part of this comes about, as it did with most bands back then, in the drug scene of the 80’s. Cocaine abounds in this story, along with some pretty funny stories about cops, Feds, prisons, courtroom scenes and the way our judicial system was and still probably is (not so) working.

Al finds himself in the situation that many bands end up in: too much money and nothing better to do with it than spend it on drugs, and side businesses that also generate too much money and nothing better to do with it. There are also the ever-present drugs, and while the general population seems to think that drugs are bad for you, the life style of the 80’s called for cocaine and saw nothing wrong with it.

The story is twofold. First, the main story appears [sometimes] to be the author trying to put this book together. He is an aspiring author with two unfinished books called upon by his friend to write his friends “real” story. Seems one of the Feds wrote a story about his big bust on Big Al, and Al wants the real story to come out. Kevin is nominated to write it. The other story is the actual story, as told to Kevin by Al, with embellishment by Kevin on occasions. Kevin is part of the story as well; hence the Gonzo Journalism style of writing – the journalist becomes part of the story as the story unfolds.

I have to admit (without admitting to anything) that I was “vaguely” aware of these kinds of things back when I was younger. And knowing a few folks who ended up being busted for drugs, the questions are pretty much the same. Why were the police and the Feds allowed to do what they did back then? The Feds especially, seemed to have a lot of freedom to interfere with a lot of cases they handled. The fact that Al, a small time drug addict who had lots of money and bought lots of cocaine for his own use and for partying, was never a real threat to society as some of the real heavy duty dealers were back then. Yet, the government was duped into thinking Big Al was a drug kingpin, and spent tons of money on building a stupid case against the guy, and then incarcerating him for 7 years on our tax dollars for… partying. Literally.

Now, don’t get me wrong. The guy did break the law as far as drugs were concerned. And, yes, it was against the law, and yes, when he was caught, yeah, he paid the penalty. And as a credit to the man when he was put in front of the judge, he pleaded guilty. But, the actual case appears to have been blown out of proportion. Well, at least based on the story told here.

The book seems to have been spurred on by the publication of a book by an ex-Fed named Paul Bannister, who seems to have blown this whole story out of proportion just to benefit his ego, and his collar record. Al seems to think his side needs to be told. And Al tells a whopper of a story. The judicial system, from the investigation to the arrest to the conviction to the prison system, is a joke. To read this book, you come away with the feeling that we are wasting our tax dollars on both incarceration and on the drug war.

But the reading of the story is well worth the price of the book. And as I made my way through the book, I found myself shaking my head in disbelief at some of the stupidity of our law and order system. I found myself laughing out loud at most of Al’s stories. Some of those stories are priceless.

As for Kevin’s writing: His personal aspect and philosophies add to the content of the book. That he was there at the time this was building adds to the possibility of the story. That he wasn’t there when the bust when down ads to the credibility of the story. He can then look back at the whole story and draw some pretty interesting and plausible conclusions.

But, alas, he is a writer, not an editor. Check at 107 and it should be altar, not alter. That’s just the start. The book needs an editor.  I’m not talking about Al’s priceless language use and misuse either. The formatting of the book also has some issues. The italic for the quotes from Al, well, OK. But the really tiny text for your commentaries… I am not getting any younger and that really needs to be worked on – it needs to stand out, but don’t use tiny text. He needs to indent the paragraphs, not make them smaller than gnats. I would have indented the quotes for Al and then put the author’s thoughts and insights in italic. Keeps the stories separate. Geez…I am telling the author how to format the book. But, you see, it really is a good book. It just needs some pro editing and some good formatting behind it and it could work. Yes, I can see that happening! And don’t change the ending! No matter what anyone says! Priceless.

I have to say I really enjoyed this story of the 80’s, music, drugs, booze, groupies, cops, prison and Feds. The way it is written is, well, curious. But in a good way! It makes the story that much more interesting. I enjoyed this, but it still needs a little work. 3.5 Stars.



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