Received a copy of The Big Wide Calm by Rich Marcello through the First Reads Giveaway program in exchange for an honest review
Paige Plant is a twenty-five-year-old waitress, amateur painter, and ex-MIT student who enjoys playing her guitar on the street in Harvard Square. She is, in her heart of hearts an aspiring songwriter who is anticipating nationally recognized superstardom, and hopeful of eventually becoming a global phenomenon. If you're going to think you might as well think big. Her given name is Paige Pali but at five-years-old her father legally changed her name to Paige Plant with the belief that she would front the new Led Zeppelin, his favourite band if that needs to be mentioned given the lengths Mr.Pali went to. She moved from the dry plains of Albuquerque, New Mexico to the cool, comfortable, and colourful climate of Boston Massachusetts about seven years ago. On a whim, a hope, and a prayer she decides to travel to Harton Woods to meet a fellow songwriter named John Bustin. After a brief introduction and audition John makes her an offer that given her goals and current state in life would be hard to pass up. After a moment of contemplation Paige decides to take this reclusive record producer and relative stranger up on his offer of a year long, rent free, fully expensed paid residence in his luxurious home.
"It's his face that grabs me. John's playing tour guide and showing me around the place, talking about this and that capable-of-sonic-wonder black box, but all I can think about is his face It's a steady state of sadness, like he's seen too much, read too much, like he's touched the big wide calm from only a few parts of his life. Maybe his children, if he has any. Or work. Yeah, work for sure. Probably a big executive for years, he's using the money he made to do the frustrated-artist-who-is-now-a-patron-of-the-arts thing. For sure, he hasn't reached the big wide calm with a woman. At least not for long. They've left him. Or he drove them away. Those deep grooves on his face are all that remains of his loves."
As time passes Paige and as she affectionately refers to him as psycho-killer-muse-Zen-master John make really good progress, but have a big discrepancy when it comes to an end goal for their project. Paige wants the instant fame and fortune, John wants her to have a multigenerational album and longevity in her career. John abruptly gives a young musician named Bono Yorke the same opportunity as Paige, commencing in a competition for one record deal with the stipulation that they must help each other in bringing ALL of their talents to the table. P B & J, the perfect balance in more ways than one?
" 'One of the reasons I brought you together is that you are both ambitious and arrogant. Don't misunderstand; you need both of those parts to make it in this business. The problem is that you don't need them to write great songs. It's just the opposite. You need to be open, vulnerable, and truthful. You need to know and love all of your parts.' "
Paige battles herself trying to write songs that have that certain je ne sais quois John's talking about, while also learning more about herself and the people around her. Through a tough lesson learned she comes to the understanding that for her to truly be famous she must grasp the fact that she will have to leave things behind that ultimately bring her great comfort, security, and peace of mind. On her way through the process Paige encounters typical talent detractors like outside distractions, boy trouble, songwriter's block, personal hardships, and buried secrets rising to the fore. Paige must combat all these hindrances in order capitalize on her talents and find the big wide calm.
" 'My dad's a doctor in NYC. On 9/11 his hospital was flooded with patients. He helped many people that day, but that's not what he focuses on when he tells his story. He said for something like a weekit was the most connected, compassionate time of his life. He connected with his colleagues, his patients, even more with me and the rest of the family.'
'Yeah, I've read similar stories.'
'So here's my take, Paige - for whatever reason, we've lost the ability to truly connect unless we're in crisis. It's sad. If you can write a song about connecting, something that puts us all into conversation, into the work of healing, I would buy it.' "
This book had some good things going for it, but also some aspects that didn't measure up for me. The whole songwriting and production processes were very interesting with the intimacy and emotional involvement between songwriter's which made it cool to experience. The preparation (full carafe of coffee) the position (legs crossed on the floor) and even the writing methods (cursive, landscape not portrait) were intriguing relating to the whole creative process. The drive, the ambition, the paths a determined musician must take to achieve her dream was also very inspirational (getting everything handed to you wouldn't make for an interesting story now would it?). However; I couldn't help but feel that there was a disconnect between songwriter Paige Plant and normal, conventional societal Paige Pali. Her attitude in life didn't reflect the person she presented in her music, it seemed like they were two totally different people that wouldn't give each other the time of day if they happened to cross paths. As a person she is selfish, arrogant, shallow, and self-centered. As a songwriter she is thoughtful, a historian, caring, a critic, and is cognizant of her craft. The book was also over the top with its sentimentalities and at times the poignant moments had the feeling of being rushed to quickly, lacking much of an emotional buildup. There is definitely an audience for this novel, but overall it fell flat for me despite it being a novel I devoured in short time. I guess I just wanted more from it than what I got.
"Here's a not-so-pretty fact about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: of the mega inductees, only a small percentage are women. Like one percent, I bet."