Speed-reading fans will rejoice in Ted Prokash’s latest gift to literature, Journey to the Center of the Dream. Pills, beer, and blow fuel this fast-paced account of a rock band’s tour of 30 cities in five weeks. But even more than the chemical enhancements and a whole lot of weed besides, this epic road trip book thrives on the narrator’s rage: rage at complacency and artlessness, at the general dearth of vision in America, at the plight of artists and the absence of passion and respect for those madmen among us who dare to live their dreams.
In that, the book transcends its debauchery and elevates the whole enterprise beyond fulfillment to the level of euphoria.
The narrative zips, a quick trim account of Marlow, Leo, Dante, and Dessy bringing Black Darkness into the bars and basements and empty art spaces of America, small venues that sometimes conjure exactly zero fans. They plug in and strap on anyway, because that’s what you do when the music is the trip.
The pace is a testament to Prokash’s narrative control. One can only imagine the buzz saw it would take to trim the fat off the recollections of an addled mind, jotting notes god-knows-how in the back of a crowded van or while flopping for weeks to sleep on floors and sofas and soiled mattresses in places the like flood-damaged squatter homes of New Orleans. After grinding off hunks, he went to work with a precision scalpel. So while the principal concern here is with the art and artlessness of modern times, the corners into which the music scene has been driven with indignity, Journey is itself a testament to the art of writing, the craft of prose, the channeling of human energy and spirit into a precise tale that informs, entertains, bewilders, inspires, angers, thrills, and so much more.
Part of this joy is in imagining for oneself what sounds Black Darkness conjures in the night. While his rendering of the bands and barkeeps, show promoters and rock devotees, drop-outs, drag-queens, drug abusers, artists, queers and even a few churchgoers in between capture the world he’s running in, Prokash spares few words on the music. His sets are summed up neatly: “We filled that big, empty room with the mournful sound of our souls’ lament” (Baltimore); “‘One, two, three, four…’ The little space exploded in sound and the four of us were engulfed” (Middletown); “We played our shit real cocksure and loose” (NYC); “Black Darkness played to nobody. We played purely for our own glorious gratification. Which isn’t all bad. A good, loud sonic blast will knock the cobwebs out the soul, anyway” (Olympia).
Or take San Francisco, where “The Darkness came off like bloody champions” for the biggest crowd of the tour: We wasted little time in getting right the fuck to it. The charged-up atmosphere and a clever cocktail of drugs had us feeling fast and mean. We ripped through a thirty-minute set with a bare minimum of fucking around. When everything went just right, it was like punching somebody in the face and having them thank you for it. Pure respect. These times made up for all the sets you fumbled through drunkenly, earning nothing but embarrassed pity.
By leaving out the commonplace detail of snarling guitars and pounding drums, Prokash creates space for covering people and places. Take their arrival in North Carolina after a few frenetic nights playing NYC.
All around us were fruit trees and bushes and flowering plants, dripping with midnight dew. The air was thick with musky green odors and buzzing with the sound of nocturnal creatures. Most breathtaking of all were the moon and stars. I came to the sudden realization that we had spent five consecutive nights beneath a man-made sky. Once more, under the piercing eyes of the infinite, I was ashamed to know how easily we had forsaken the heaven of our ancestors for the Orwellian glow of man’s abomination.
Prokash waxes philosophical and sublime, transcribing for us the world we know but often forget to see.
The expression “Living the dream”—usually uttered in grim acquiescence to its irony—seems to have gained a broad fraternity of users in my workaday world. But now these colleagues and others unable to break away from their timecard lives, who can’t for themselves live a bit of the dream, can soak it up here. A modern-day revision of On the Road and Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Journey calls to mind so many accounts of artists turning vision into reality.
Maybe it all sounded like this.