Book Review - POWDER

Kevin Sampson’s sprawling rock & roll odyssey, Powder is as much a caveat for aspiring musicians as it is a hilarious and moving account of life in a rock & roll band.

The novel charts the rise and fall of the Grams, a band from Liverpool slugging their way to the top of the musical heap in London and abroad. After suffering through the commercial breakthrough of his former support group, Grams front man, Keva McCluskey, is on the ropes. Enter manager, Wheezer Finlay, and maverick producer, Guy De Burret and the Grams begin their inevitable rise to stardom.

Before reading Powder, I was skeptical about cracking the spine on another—albeit fictional—music industry tell-all; the media giants have effectively pre-empted the rock and roll exposé by launching their own flotilla of intimate biographies on the music mainstream. Thanks to the advent of Reality TV we’ve found ourselves – for better or worse – harnessed snugly to our musical heroes. The discovery? J-Lo likes hanging out at home, Tommy Lee is being raised by his kids, and Ozzy Osbourne requires military assistance to operate a television remote. With all our rock idols rushing to the confessional and the backstage open to the fans—at least on TV—I found myself wondering if another book on the subject is really necessary.

The answer is yes. Kevin Sampson launches an irreverent broadside against both the industry and the talent it represents in this riotous take on the music scene. If the corporate machine that claims its pound of flesh is the devil incarnate, the author makes it clear that the Grams are willing participants in their own demise. The result is a biting satire on the perils of rock life including the narcissistic behavior that we forgive in our most loathsome idols. Former manager of the Liverpool band, The Farm, Samp-son deftly balances the daily vices of the Grams against the godlike image they project while onstage. Producer Guy De Burret’s reaction to seeing the Grams perform live perfectly captures the feeling that every fan must have while in the presence of musical greatness:

“The band…everything, blew him away. He loved them absolutely. If he had spoken just then he would have burst into tears. He looked around the room at all the faces, all lit up, their mutually insignificant lives briefly intertwined for…the sake of this untouchable group…the sense of self that coursed through his arteries was crushing.”

While reading Powder, I recalled that glorious feeling I had smashing my stepmothers Peggy Lee records against the lamp post in my high school parking lot in retaliation for a year of missing rock albums and T-shirts. Written by a man who has prowled every inch of the music scene, Powder is charged with all the energy of a live concert.

Kevin Sampson once said in an interview that the only nice people on the road were the caterers. Based on that statement you might think he’s glad to be away from everything to do with music. Don’t believe it. Powder, for all its hip cynicism, pays tribute to that indescribable moment in rock music when we realize we’ve discovered a band that will change our lives forever.

Powder by Kevin Sampson
Canongate Books – Paperback (502 pages)