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Is our story still making sense? I toyed with the idea of giving you a sequential story, one with a definitive beginning and ending. Would it be fair to furnish such an account? Or is it more accurate to depict those events and recollections as they clumsily unfolded themselves in my memory, disorganised and random? Perhaps we can agree on a middle ground.

This story is told from the perspective of a grieving lover. The events described are related through a one-sided dialogue with the dead woman, whom we are told overdosed on insulin. Characters are rarely named, as the reader is eavesdropping on recollections of a relationship between two people who have known each other for years. Therefore ‘you’, and ‘I’, are the most common forms of address, with ‘father’, and ‘mother’, following close. Consequently when the narrator introduces Karalynne, or Helen, the names stand out,  feeling like intrusions into this very personal account of tragedy, a closed circuit of memory.

‘I’, describes how she first met ‘you’, when they were both children and how their close friendship slowly evolved into something more intimate over time. The ‘dead girl’, whose story this is came into the world the lone child of wealthy parents, enjoyed every luxury that money could afford and from an early age was evidently extremely intelligent. What really sets her apart from the person now telling her story, the woman who fell in love with her and never stopped despite the endless arguments, heartache and abuse, is the complete lack of affection in her life. It is made clear that the true downfall of this young woman began with the neglect she endured from an absent father, who valued his social prestige above any sincere relationship with his daughter.

As the narrator struggled to keep up academically with her friend, she finds herself left behind, her companion’s intellectual gifts and competitive drive catapulting here into college at an early age. This separation creates the initial sense of lack that will eventually bring the now adolescent girls together as a couple – but also inspire the unhealthy obsession that will dog them over the years. Enter Karalynne, the third party in this callous love triangle, initially referred to dismissively by the narrator as ‘the room-mate’.

It is at this point that we learn the storyteller’s lover has begun using heroin. Karalynn it is implied has introduced this into her life. What’s more her feelings of self-disgust, born out of an inability to please her father, have led her to begin cutting herself. The narrator is torn between wanting to provide support for her lover and trying to help her move on from this self-destructive behaviour. Tragically the woman relating this story explains how she could rarely say no to her friend, at times becoming complicit in her drug addiction. Submissively acquiescing to her childhood friend’s demands, the dynamic between them always rooted in the initial relationship of one being more knowing and demanding than the other, her enabling behaviour reaches its absolute low-point when she wakes to find her friend injecting her with heroin in her sleep: “Maybe I can try redeeming myself by saying I wanted to know what the appeal was and why the drug held you so strongly. I hated myself for allowing it and being so weak.”

Gwen O’Toole’s book is both an erotically charged doomed romance and an unflinching personal account of  a person becoming consumed by addiction. Where it comes to writing I have a simple rule – if I experience the emotion that the author sets out to evoke, then that is a successful piece of fiction. Slow Blind Drive is not an exploitive piece of ‘misery lit’, but a genuinely affecting tragedy. The device of having the spirit of the dead woman be addressed in a persistently conversational manner, with the discussion skipping and jumping through time, makes the experience of reading this book feel intensely intimate. Interestingly a poem by Christina Rossetti, titledGoblin Market figures largely in the book’s latter half. In my ignorance I only knew of the poet from Kiss Me Deadly, although there too Rossetti’s verse is used as a symbol for a doomed woman.

From day to day, as I dive into book after the other, I am often unprepared for what I read. This story left me feeling devastated, but then that is exactly what it should do. Honestly told and heart-breaking.

With thanks to the author for my review copy.

I grabbed a bit of posterity for myself, unwittingly, when some of the fans started running towards the stage and I did my bit at the microphone. ‘Hey! You in the black T-Shirt, slow down!’ Hundreds stopped in their tracks.

Six years ago a friend of mine used to throw me some work checking concert tickets during the summer months. I needed the cash and it was a good way to see up and coming bands – as well as more established acts – for free. So at one of more popular music festivals I was at the head of a long queue of punters when I noticed a friend approaching at a rapid clip with a few mates. He had seen me and I could tell, was hoping that I would let him in gratis. Unfortunately for both of us I had a superior standing beside me with a scanning device designed to detect imitation concert tickets.

Those who know me have  often pointed out that I am rarely ‘in the moment’. So it was a surprising example of quick thinking on my part that caused me to turn to my superior just as my friend reached us and state “This man has no ticket”, then laugh in his shocked face, clap him on the shoulder and wave him and his party through. My superior took it as a joke and there were smiles all round.

Michael Chugg has had a far broader career in the music industry than I. He is also just as upfront about various examples of skullduggery. It comes with the business. What distinguishes Chugg from many other movers and shakers in the industry is that he is a well-known icon within Australian music. More a force of nature, thanks to his career-long tendency to take to the stage when needed to harangue the more unruly elements of the audience, he is also responsible for bringing acts such as The Police, Bon Jovi and Pearl Jam to Australia.

He was also devoted to helping Australian acts achieve more international reknown and throughout the book sings the praises of acts whether or not he ever got a chance to work with them, such as Crowded House, The Skyhooks and Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs. Chugg also expresses his frustration with the failure of acts such as Richard Clapton and Stevie Wright in foreign markets.

On the personal side Chugg describes how his wheeler-dealer personality evolved from his working class background in Tasmania, attributing much of his behaviour, relationships difficulties and addiction issues to the earliest period of his life. It’s not many people who can claim they became a coke addict due to peer pressure from Fleetwood Mac. Successive marriages break down due to time spent on the road, plus the attendant temptations that accompanied touring. Rock bottom was a frequent destination, including spending time behind bars in a Californian jail. Eventually Chugg achieved a sense of peace in Phuket, although he continues to run his own entertainment company, utilising many of the connections he made throughout his long career.

I first heard of Michael Chugg on the excellent Australian panel show Spicks and Specks. He related the same anecdote on air that opens the book – the absurdly decadent rider demanded by Fleetwood Mac on their tour. While it is clear that Chugg has an incredible reputation, it is a shame that his voice is not retained by his co-writer. One sentence in particular I found difficult. But for my powers of persuasion, he might have avoided the lengthy jail term that was to befall him.

This book is less a kiss-and-tell in the time-honoured manner of You’ll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again, than a chance for Chugg to settle some scores. His drug addiction is invariably justified as being due to others, or his control of it being cited as superior to that of other music industry figures, such as Stevie Wright, who would endure mental health issues.

As he describes how his career with company Frontier starts to chafe, he begins to refer to them as the evil empire, complaining after he went independent that former colleagues were badmouthing him to clients. After all, he was now a business rival. His indignation makes little sense to me. One shining light in the narrative is his friendship with Aussie rocker Billy Thorpe, which is a relief in amongst all the negativity.

I found reading this book bittersweet, which is a shame.

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