Review: The Day The Music Died By Blair Evans

Cameron Forsyth is a young man studying at music school in New Zealand looking for an impossible answer – what is random chance and what is talent? Is he being deluded in his love for music? What is the secret to music’s magic and what has been twisted out of shape by academics and the media?

Along with his few eccentric misfit friends, he struggles to prove his points to musty music professors after a revelation from a guest speaker at the university that turns his life on its head, and alters his perception of what music is forever.

The book starts with the clever chapter header, “Diaper At The Gates Of Porn”, ending with a brilliant artsy review of a bad porno, the catalyst in some ways for Cameron’s next move, a perfect randomized piece of music made with a deck of cards. ”You know where you are with porn”, he says. He begins to see the emptiness in artistry when a guest speaker, a musician named Dawson, admits the best work he ever did was for a porn flick. And Cameron finds that music exquisite, and this blows his perception of his future wide open: is there really any point in attending a university to study music if everyone will pass the course? Is there a constant in techniques that, after all, are always based on subjectivity and what the listener likes rather than knows?  And what are these bizarre feelings that he is having about his future anyway?

With the only few real friends he has, Josh ( b*llshitter), Rachel (bad musician) and Jane (slut) Cameron struggles through preconception, angst and hangovers, and the possibility of graduating only to become a teacher to more students like himself. He writes of Dawson’s piece, “ Every so often, we as a society will dismiss art of the highest form which has hitherto been staring us blankly in the face.”

This is a highly unusual book in both format and delivery. The humor is wonderfully dry and thick, with musical in-jokes for those who have a knowledge of the subject, especially those who can read music – I can, and my son is currently at music college in London carving a life as a composer – so these parts hit home constantly and were erudite and snappy in a laugh-out-loud way.

In one scene, Cameron finds the musicians affected and entitled. When he gives out his music to an ensemble, they start picking at it,

 “Actually this phrase marking over this group of notes…” The cellist held up a page like a legal document. “…it isn’t a perfect parabola. It almost looks handwritten.”

“Yeah.” The violist entered. “The first treble clef on the second page looks… I don’t know… just a bit rushed.”

Part two sees Hannah, a fashion-obsessed young woman living in the UK, making her way through all the breezer flavors at the Edinburgh Festival…before the absolute surprise of this novel sets in…and you won’t guess it if you try.

The writing moves well and is alive with cultural reference and color, if a little hard and angry – but I enjoy that style of prose. I read the book quickly and couldn’t wait to see what happens to Cameron as his ideas unfold in the real world, and as he hurtles into a void of realization about his future. A strong start for Blair Evans as a promising new author.