Monday, August 31, 2015

Review: Ruin Porn by S.A. McAuley & SJD Peterson

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Title: Ruin Porn

Authors: S.A. McAuley & SJD Peterson

Publisher: Dreamspinner Press 

Published: 28th August 2015

Genre: Contemporary M/M Romance

Rating

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Synopsis

There is underlying beauty in destruction….

Miah Thade, Finn Reese, and Ritchie Meyer are Resonator, an indie rock band with an edge—best friends turned rock stars, known as the Detroit 3. When Evin Rene appears in their life none of them can deny he belongs with Rez.

They may have named their first album Ruin Porn because people get off on seeing how Detroit went from deeply loved to thoroughly forsaken, but they’re determined to prove that blight isn’t the entire story and blight isn’t always ugly.

Ritchie, Miah, Finn, and Evin take Resonator to a level no one anticipates. But no prosperity comes without sacrifice, and no secret stays hidden without a trail of lies. As Rez’s fame grows, so does the intensity between two of its members…as well as their potential for destruction.

Evin and Finn are about to discover the underlying beauty in their ruin porn.

Alan’s Review

Ms. McAuley and Peterson have put together a top-flight Rock-n-Roll gay romance novel in “Ruin Porn”. For those of you who don’t know what “ruin porn” is, it’s the stunning photography of the ruins of abandoned churches, theaters, schools, factories and hospitals, formerly-iconic and monumental structures that become victims of decay, modern versions of the ruins of Ancient Greece and Rome. The remains of these once-grand structures seem to inspire our latent schadenfreude, the remnants standing as an object lesson on how even the grandiose can come to naught, given time, neglect and the elements.

It’s a perfect metaphor for the Detroit-founded band, “Resonator”. Known, for short, as “Rez”, its fans as “Rezors”, this Indie Rock band is first gaining some national success, both on the charts and in live appearances. Founded by three best-boyhood-friends, Miah (short for Jeremiah), the least singer; Ritchie, the powerful drummer; and Finn (Finnegan), the startlingly brilliant lead guitarist whose fingers are believed to be possessed of pure magic; the band now has a manager, a road manager, a record label and a rabid gang of fans.

As the book opens, another talented musician, Kevin Rene (another lead guitarist, lately become a “fake” bassist) is alone in his LA apartment, heart in shreds, waiting for a trusted reporter to show up to share his story, the story of the breakup of Resonator. Almost all of the rest of the book is a flashback building up from their first meeting to their huge success, to their destruction. It is rock-band ruin porn.

Kevin’s first meeting with the band is memorable, if not auspicious. They meet in a drug store, near the night’s venue, buying condoms, lubricant, laxatives and other similar items, necessities for four months of living on a bus. Kevin recognizes Ritchie, who asks if he’s a fan. Kevin assures him that, yes, he’s a fan, but he’s also the lead guitarist and songwriter for their opening band, unfortunately named “Sock in the Sun”. The name alone induces all kinds of sarcastic ribbing from all the members of Resonator, as the other two come up to the register to check out. Kevin is awestruck by Finn, whom he’s idolized for a very long time, as the reigning guitar god, a man whose talent and technique seem to know no bounds, and whose future is surely among that rarefied company of world-class, epic guitarists. He is tongue-tied.

He is also fired. The rest of his band doesn’t show for the first gig, too stoned and busy getting some to get to the venue. With his tail between his legs and his dreams dashed, Kevin heads back to his lonely slum in LA.

It isn’t that Kevin is poor. In fact, Kevin was raised by nannies and other paid help in his home in Malibu, a home that was rich, but poor in what matters. Kevin’s parents don’t seem to give a damn about him. They never showed him affection, didn’t raise him, and don’t much care where is he or what he’s doing. When he was old enough, he just took off, and the fourth-floor walkup in a bad area of downtown LA becomes his home, his studio and his hideout. And he’s headed right back there, failure writ large in his eyes.

That is, until Miah shows up and asks him to join Rez. It’s a smart move, because at only three members, the band’s sound is a bit thin, and it needs another talented songwriter to stretch their offerings and inspire each other to even better music. Miah has a gut feeling that Kevin is the one. It’s why he offered the opening gig. The rest of the members of Sock? He never gave a damn about them. He loved Kevin’s amazing songwriting and his formidable guitar skills. He informs Kevin that 1. Kevin will now be Evin; and 2. Evin will now play bass. He’s never played bass before, but he’s a consummate musician willing to learn the instrument overnight if it gives him the opportunity to become a member of one of America’s top up-and-coming bands. And to play in the same band with his idol, Finn, is more than he ever dreamt of. He can’t pack fast enough, fills a duffle bag with the little he needs, and heads off to rehearse with the guys.

It’s obvious, from the very beginning that Evin and Finn were destined to fall in love, which they do. They get there through “fooling around”, having “just sex” and denying their growing connection. The big surprise is that the big guy, Ritchie, joins them in threesomes. Nobody ever knew this, but Ritchie and Finn had been fooling around since they were kids. It was nothing serious (especially to Ritchie, who is bi), just best buddies getting it on with each other, very much on the down-low. Even Miah, the fragile, yet bossy “head” of the band doesn’t know, and Ritchie has always been his personal savior, the “mom” who cares for him, and the big brother he never had. No one wants Miah to know because, as a product of his drunken dad, he has inherited his obnoxious homophobia, and is a heterosexual slut of the worst order, not to mention that he can also be a judgmental ass.

Much of the writing in “Ruin Porn” is nothing short of stellar. Not so much that it’s poetry, but that it’s propulsive, simple, descriptive and, most important, insightful. These authors really understand gay men and the terrors and harms that come from the closet. In fact, they nail it.

And it’s the closet that ruins the band, not the music, the relationships or the sex. It’s not much of a surprise when their sexual shenanigans are discovered - they were always skating on thin ice. Their record label goes into overdrive with public relations, supplying both Finn and Evin with “beards”, female artists in their stable who need to be seen in the tabloids on the arm and in the lap of the two Rez “studs”, to dispel any rumors about members of the band being gay. That leads to jealousy, as the relationships seem as real to the band as they do to the Paparazzi. Adding fuel to the fire is Miah’s compulsion to stir the waters. He doesn’t know for sure that anything is going on, but he has to sow the seeds of doubt in Evin, telling him Finn is spending ecstatic nights with his beard, Allessandra, which drives Evin to distraction and the band to ruin. The two men who create and drive the music, Evin and Finn, barely even speak. When a picture shows up of the three guys having a group-grope, Miah goes ballistic and announces that the band just played its last gig and is done, forever.

Yes, the “rock band destroyed by the record company’s demands for them to hide and lie” is hardly an original concept. Cecilia Tan’s “Daron’s Guitar Chronicles” and Ingela Bohm’s “Pax Cymrica” plumbed the same territory with depth and brilliance. But it’s done so well here, that it’s well-worth revisiting. The authors do an outstanding job of showing how the closet destroys artists, eats away at their souls until Evin no longer remembers Kevin, Finn no longer knows who he is. It is about a terrible price of fame, as these talented, sensitive musicians morph into public-relations caricatures, cartoons, not humans, and lonely almost beyond belief.

And, if you don’t believe that a gay rock-star is an issue, let me remind you of the legendary musicians who went through hell due to their sexuality: Rob Halford, the legendary lead singer of Judas Priest was fired (though years later, brought back, since nobody they hired could replace this metal-music genius); Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, one of the finest rock singers of all time, died of AIDS, still in the closet; and Elton John, one of the greatest musicians and songwriters ever, had to first marry a woman, then announce his bisexuality, until the times caught up with him, and he was able to settle down as an out gay man with a husband and children – of course, well after the prime of his career.

Yes, it’s a lot easier now, but it’s no surprise that there might still be record executives who are suicidally homophobic. The authors even handle that well – Sid, the road manager tells them that if they’re in a committed love relationship, the label could spin that, but screwing around? That’s got to stop. The boys had to be separated. They had to be seen and photographed with their beards, cozying up to the women who were willing to fake it to get the boost that might launch their careers. In fact, some of the problem was that the boys were not willing to come out of the closet, or hide inside it. They were not ready to pledge their love to each other, let alone make it public. Their overwhelming fear was Miah’s homophobia. They all knew he would go insane when he found out. And, in fact, he did.

I’m going to leave you to discover if they end up with a happily-ever-after, but I do need to let you know that the lies do end (at least most of them) and the guys finally have a chance to live their truths.

As I mentioned, this is an extremely well-written book. It’s not high art; it’s just a super-realistic, day-to-day recounting of the triumphs and heartbreaks facing four bright, talented young guys trying to make music. That’s what is most impressive about these authors. I’ve read quite a few gay books that have a rock-star in them, but only the best were about the music - not just the lifestyle. The richness of “Ruin Porn” is that the music is their salvation, their reason for being, their identity, and their souls. In fact, the love between Finn and Evin grows not in bed, but onstage, where their music feeds off each other and reaches a level, together, that neither could have ever imagined alone. There’s no lyrics in the authors’ prose, just the excitement and passion of young men whose hearts and souls pound to the beat of their music, whose thoughts and dreams live in their lyrics, and whose performances are an elevated and celebrated act of love between the musicians and their audience.

That’s what I love about rock-band fiction and exactly what these authors created with their own brilliance, passion, insight and talent.

Don’t miss it. I give “Ruin Porn” my highest possible recommendation.

 

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Meet Sam McAuley

I sleep little, read a lot. Happiest in a foreign country. Twitchy when not mentally in motion. My name is Sam, not Sammy, definitely not Samantha. I’m a pretty dark/cynical/jaded person, but I hide that darkness well behind my obsession(s) for shiny objects. I’m the macabre wrapped in irresistible bubble wrap and a glittery pink bow, I suppose. email - authorsamcauley@gmail.com

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Meet Jo Peterson

SJD Peterson, better known as Jo, hails from Michigan. Not the best place to live for someone who hates the cold and snow. When not reading or writing, Jo can be found close to the heater checking out NHL stats and watching the Red Wings kick a little butt. Can't cook, misses the clothes hamper nine out of ten tries, but is handy with power tools. email - sjdpeterson@gmail.com

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