In a stunning piece of sustained writing, Nick Bollinger’s memoir of his time running with band across the country in the 1970s, brings to mind several of his finest reviews, interviews and features – in that Bollinger’s writing always takes you there: to the music, in the music, within the music, all around the music. It’s also – somehow – and this is the real magic trick, both a revealing portrait of the author in a Rite of Passage moment, a coming of age story and yet he’s a reluctant character in his own story; Goneville is, in the end, a love-letter to a New Zealand that no longer exists, that seems like it might never existed were it not for Nick being there and taking notes.
Larger than life characters – Bruno Lawrence, Rick Bryant – mingle with near wallflower-types (Bollinger, Bill Lake) as the band Rough Justice fulfils Bollinger’s “vague dream” of making music for a living. Well, there’s that and, alongside many of New Zealand’s notable songwriters of the time, a stint as a postie helps to pay the bills.
We can smell the marijuana fug that Bryant emits, emotes and seemingly makes entrances from and then swiftly exits to once again. We can sniff at beer-stained carpets and feel the flailings that are never quite deemed as failings by this merry band of pranksters. And that’s all due to Bollinger’s ability to combine researched journalism with creative writing; to play off both brand new interviews and triggers of old memories. How it is seamlessly bound in this book, a personal history that speaks to and of the time – that has a fondness for elements of nostalgia as well as an awareness that very term conjures a sadness, a loss – as well as celebrating the lesser-known grafters, the six-gig-a-week pub-tour road-workers is down to Bollinger’s wonderful, colourful writing.
Worlds swirl and we’re constantly pulled back in – a hit and a hope here, a drift and elope there – and Nick waxes lyrical while scratching his head, he gives us little historical footnotes all the while colouring a bigger (not always brighter) picture.
Goneville speaks not just of a New Zealand that no longer exists – but it almost calls out to it, both wishing it well and lamenting its loss.
There are fallen soldiers and bit-part players and the heroes in this book all have questionable traits or at least flexible morals and that is the reason that Goneville is a must-read. It feels so utterly real. It is – of course – almost completely and absolute real. And yet it’s almost a cowboy tale, a folk legend, a piece of mythos…an earnest carving of a journeyman’s rock and R’n’B roots. If you dig even deeper, as this book begs you too, you might even get to the cave. Or what’s left of it.
Until we have a volume two – and three – which need to follow, surely, there’s always Goneville to return to. As with Dylan’s Chronicles or Patti Smith’s Just Kids it’s a set of music-related yarns to return to, to re-read and then re-read again.