A Review by Samuel Zamarripa
“If you remember the sixties,” as the saying goes, “you weren’t there.” From 1968 through 1971, however, the vibe and message changed, doltish excuses wore thin, forgetting was no longer cool or copasetic. Epochal artists were dying in pools of booze, dope, and vomit. “The man,” made a move on innocence and everyone lost an idol. The only question; who’s next?
Maybe Dain Dunston was there, watching from afar like a generation of counter culture, boomer-groupies. Whatever, he captured the total groove in, The Straight Dope—the head set, the permissive and aimless vernacular of the time. How the deaths of four legendary musicians fell into an iconic and emotional black hole. Cultural trauma with images so dominating and imposing—the loss of the ‘fantastic cat’, Brian Jones, the man from another planet, Jimmy Hendrix, the heart on a hot poker, Janis Joplin and the provocateur and poster-boy poet, Jim Morrison—that it was impossible to know these fleeting angels as ordinary people or come to terms with, the weird, serendipity of their deaths.
Dunston makes it easy to think his work is a hip detective novel, as told by the self-aware, music-biz journalist, Tom Bean, but this is just his way of luring the reader back into the unsettling realities, the high contrast conflicts of the era—Vietnam and the Summer of Love, the Weathermen, pipe bombs and Richard M. Nixon, explosive musical genius and unmatched greed, the rise of granola with bourbon and heroine for breakfast, psychedelic illusions with cold-war antics and spies.
If it was a hard cover issue with an introduction by Keith Richards or Joan Baez and a few black and white photos, The Straight Dope would be considered terrific historical fiction. An insightful retrospective into a romanticized time full of counter-culture language, chicks, and drugs—an amazing story, by his own description, “of sex, death, and rock & roll”. A time also marked by a conspiratorial FBI, a stealth lawlessness and determination to win the cultural wars by any means.
Gladly, the work is not historical fiction or just, “who done it pulp’. In its finest moments The Straight Dope is a bookmark for irreconcilable questions and worries. How, for God’s sake, did the generation of love let this happen? Why did Brian, Jimmy, Janis, and Jim have to die and for what?
While he never makes an accusation, the story is self-incriminating. Looking back, it is clear, everyone knew this was going to happen. A generation gawked at cultural gladiators in a musical coliseum; the artist fighting against themselves, drugs, money, and the wilds of fame. A prelude to a yet to be born, reality TV.
I’ve told many friends about The Straight Dope. How for the first time it made me feel like I’d met and been introduced to two of my iconic heroes: Jim Morrison, who’s defiant poster hung on my wall for decades and Jimmy Hendrix, the melodic Picasso, proof that angels come around. How Dunston’s easy way with words humanized these prodigies as perfectly, imperfect people. Morison’s love of, Rilke. Jimmy’s love of women and disdain for drugs that forever defined him.
In the end, The Straight Dope made me sad, as I understood that I’d only known these remarkable people as symbols, frozen in the past, carnage of the music business, the price paid for artistic genius. But it also made me appreciate, one more time, how fiction shines a light on half-truths or thoughtless memories buried in hearts and minds.
But not to worry, Dunston doesn’t strand the reader in the past or leave one hanging in the blue, mysterious events of the early seventies. Instead, he does what good writers do. He pulls you back into his pure fiction, into a wonderful turn and reprieve. To a moment, when you realize, that he wrote this story, for Brian, Jimmy, Janis, and Jim. For those who were there, those who wanted to be there and for those who longed for an ending that would allow them to move on.