Cover image for From blue to black
From blue to black
Lane, Joel, 1963-2013.
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Publication Information:
London : Serpent's Tail, 2000.
Physical Description:
215 pages ; 22 cm
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"A dark, precise insinuating novel that rewrites pop history into something like a perfect wish come disconcertingly true."--Dennis Cooper

In the early 1990s, a band called 'Triangle' is a cult item on the post-punk music scene. Karl is the brilliant but troubled vocalist, haunted by past violence and present danger, torn between chasing fame and desiring oblivion, between men and women, music and silence. As the band makes waves with the obligatory alcohol, sex and blurred reality, Karl starts to fall apart. Based on the life of Ian Curtis, lead singer of Joy Division, From Blue to Black is a passionate novel about rock music and its world.

Born in 1963, Joel Lane lives in Birmingham, England. He is a prize-winning poet.

Reviews 1

Publisher's Weekly Review

British writer Lane's haunting, angst-ridden debut novel is composed of a pair of intertwining tales, one about a bass player named David Pelsall who joins a rock band called Triangle in the midst of the thriving early '90s gothic band scene in England, the other narrating Pelsall's problematic relationship with Karl, the band's mesmerizing, self-destructive lead singer. The story of the rock band is by far the less interesting of the two, with Lane supplying a standard fill-in-the-blanks story line about the rags-to-riches rise of the band, though he does manage to capture the essence of the musical era while penning some fine, almost poetic prose about the effects of the lyrics and songs on those who follow the music. But David's affair with his tortured band mate constitutes a far more compelling narrative, as the thoroughly smitten bass player struggles to keep from becoming a victim of his partner's episodes of substance abuse, his ongoing bisexual affairs and his bizarre self-destructive tendencies. Both the ending and the over-the-top rock hedonism here will be familiar to many readers, but what sets this book apart is Lane's ability to create two flawed but deeply memorable characters; he writes eloquently about beauty and love as David and Karl struggle to maintain the romantic energy of their obviously ill-fated affair. The arcane nature of the narrow musical setting will doubtless limit this book to a small audience, but the high quality of the prose marks Lane as a writer to watch should he decide to broaden his perspective. (Oct.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved



From Blue to Black by Joel LaneLeadtext: It was the end of summer. A bloodshot moon hung above the tall houses in Salisbury Road, giving faint doubles to the shadows of trees. Across the road, the lights of a housing estate floated in empty air. It was the end of summer. A bloodshot moon hung above the tall houses in Salisbury Road, giving faint doubles to the shadows of trees. Across the road, the lights of a housing estate floated in empty air. I'd walked up to Moseley from the Bristol Road. A car backfired; a dog barked in response. Outside the off-licence on the Alcester Road, two drunks were being handled into a police van. One had blood all down the left side of his face like a birthmark. Up ahead, the external lamps of the Jug of Ale made its outline just visible.Inside it was busy, but not full. The effect of brass chandeliers and varnished oak banisters clashed with the line of TV screens, all showing the same images, above the bar. 'Smells Like Teen Spirit' was playing on the jukebox. It was all you ever heard that summer. One of the walls was completely covered with little posters announcing past and future gigs in the upstairs room. And tonight's band, Triangle: three silhouetted faces in a black triangle like a halflit warning sign. The bar served Copperhead cider, which was good news. I took my pint upstairs, where the posters were older and the light thinner. They stamped my hand with a red symbol when I paid at the door.The support band went by the name of Silent Majority. Four pallid youngsters in tank-tops, the kind you'd see providing atmosphere at any of the small city-centre venues. The vocalist's fringe was enough to get them signed to Creation Records. The melodic frame of each song was a keyboard figure, a pattern of light on the murky waves of guitar and percussion. The voice was in there somewhere, but either it was mixed too far down or the singer was waiting for his testicles to drop. He left the stage first, followed by the guitarist, leaving the keyboard player and the drummer to play out a solemn and vaguely unsettling coda. They didn't come back to watch Triangle play. Maybe they were shooting up in the toilets before riding their motorcycles out of town in search of further excitement. More likely, they had homework to do. In the interval, I drank more red cider and reflected gloomily on the staleness of the provincial music scene. Like those chain pubs that fabricated an Irish or Yankee or Somerset identity without ever deviating from the blueprint, new bands were judged purely by the ease with which they reminded you of something else. In every sense, karaoke was replacing live music. Australian cover bands were drawing bigger audiences in Britain than most real bands. What I loved about small-venue gigs was the sense of reality - of music being made rather than just performed. You accepted the flaws for the sake of those unexpected moments when it all came together. Imitation was distance: a screen, a code. It kept you on the outside. Why was that what people seemed to need?By the time Triangle started playing, I was fairly drunk. Predictably enough, there were three of them. The vocalist was a thin, dark-haired man with a faint Irish accent. He played guitar with a rawness that contrasted with the cold intensity of his voice. The bass player was as anonymous as all bass players. Each song ended with the drummer picking his way through the rubble of feedback. The singer's voice rose and fell nervously in the chaos, never quite breaking through. Several tracks used reverb to sound like the echoes of violence or applause. There was a song called 'Third Flight', about a fight in a tower block; and another about some kind of terrified fugue state - The half-silvered window / That means I can't see you / The pane you watch me through / The pain you keep me in / The frozen point of view. The crowd applauded uneasily. This was too strange for them.Later in the set, the tracks became longer and more complete. A kind of love song had the singer staring into the darkness overhead: There's a mask of silence in your face / It keeps me waiting in this place / Where the house is three bricks high / Between still and moving water / The grass is never dry. The bass rose steadily behind the harsher chords of the lead guitar, finally engulfing it in a wave of close-knit sound. It was an effect borrowed from Joy Division's 'Dead Souls'; but here, there was something almost sexual about it. A sense of being taken over, not quite by force.The set ended with 'The Answer', their only single, which I'd bought a few weeks earlier. On the Relent label. It was a slow, brooding track that never quite reached a focus on record. Live, its last verse went up in flames, burning into a jagged instrumental coda that owed more to atonality than volume. Karl played as if in a dream; he seemed calmer now, less on edge. That kind of finale always means more to the band than the audience. It ended suddenly, Triangle walking off with their guitars and sticks as though intending to play on in the next room. The applause was muted but lasting.There was still time for a drink, though a lock-in was unlikely in a pub on the Alcester Road. The back of the room was clotted with smoke. It reminded me of the friend's bedsit where I'd lost my virginity to the sound of Astral Weeks. The audience was full of people I knew by sight, mostly from other gigs. There was a short girl with a halo of spiky black hair and eyeliner as heavy as dark glasses; she and her boyfriend, a stoop-shouldered mime artist with hair like rain, were in a thrash band I'd seen at least a year before. I didn't expect Triangle to show up in the bar; they were too precious, too non-Brummie, for that, local boys or not. Then I turned away from the bar, a full pint in my hand, and almost walked into Karl Austin.He was a couple of inches taller than me, with a skullcap of black curly hair that looked impatient to grow into chaos. Close up, I could see the hollows carved into his cheeks, the coal-dust shadow along his jawline. He was somewhere below thirty and good-looking in an angular, Celtic way. A few feet behind him, the rest of Triangle were hastily necking Diamond White from glittering bottles. Karl raised a glass of some pale spirit to his mouth and swallowed hard. I bit my lip. 'Hi. That was quite a gig.'Karl smiled. He had good teeth, but his smile was tilted as if ashamed of them. 'Ta. David Pelsall, isn't it? Glad you could make it.''Martin said you wanted to talk to me.' Martin was a local music journalist, film critic and mutual friend. He'd phoned me that weekend.Karl's dark eyes grazed across mine. Then he pointed with his thumb towards the bass player. 'Steve here is fucking off to Bristol. New job. Martin told me you were between bands. I wondered . . .' He must have seen me with Blue Away on one of our better nights, I realised: when the booze was lighting us up instead of burning us out.'Maybe,' I said. 'Yeah.' Triangle seemed a bit self-indulgent to me. But Karl had something, a real voice and a presence, however crowded out by ghosts. With a harder sound, they might be really disturbing. In any case, I was doing what I always do when praised: backing off. It's because I have an ego like a starving fox, and have to fight to stop it eating me from the inside.Karl shrugged. Then he reached inside his black denim jacket and pulled out a tape. 'Listen. See what you think. If you're interested, give us a ring. The number's on the inlay card. Like, soon.' He placed the cassette box in my hand. It was a blank tape with a typewritten list of tracks.'Cheers,' I said. 'Glad to have heard you play.' His fingers brushed my sleeve; I felt a brief rush of anticipation. As I downed my pint (only the third, but it was strong stuff), the corners of Triangle gathered t Excerpted from From Blue to Black by Joel Lane All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.