BY SEAN CLARK
Author: Rudolph Wurlitzer
1984, Alfred A Knopf
Filed Under: Literary
Slow Fade was published in the early 80s and I had never heard of it nor Rudolph Wurlitzer before coming across this audiobook re-release. Indie rock label Drag City has decided to foray into audiobooks, and decided upon Slow Fade as their first recording. It’s a somewhat curious choice, as the book is pretty unexceptional–it’s not bad, but it’s not great either. It’s worth giving it a shot though, as the book has enough unique style and charm to make it worth the read and the production values and quality of recording on their audiobook version make for a quick, pleasant, and unobtrusive experience.
The story itself is restless, and plays with a few genre types. It’s a portrait of a man at the end of his days; an almost-bohemian travelogue; a family drama; a rock-and-roll book. It’s the kind of book I imagine myself reading while traveling on a train, or waiting in a bus station. It’s one of those tattered-cover books with a lot of heart that you’ve never heard of. Odd that’s the impression I got from an audiobook.
The majority of the audio release is read by Will Oldham, who somewhat famously sings folk/rock under the alias Bonnie “Prince” Billy (read a nice New Yorker profile on him here). I am utterly incapable of music/voice criticism but suffice to say his voice is mellow and distinctive, perfectly suited for narrating. I really dislike audiobooks that over-dramatize and turn a book into something more akin to a radio play. Drag City’s approach works well: there are musical flirtations in the transitions, a few interpolations, and another voice actor–D.V. DeVincentis–takes over in a few key chapters, but this release is firmly a reading of a book. Both Oldham and DeVincentis are excellent readers with a clear understanding of the tone and vibe of their subject matter.
Wesley Hardin is a bastion of Hollywood. He’s in Santa Fe filming what could be his final film and losing his patience with showbiz and with life. His melancholy son, Walker, has just returned from a few years in India that began as a search for his hippie sister and ended as a wandering soul-search of his own. Then there’s A.D Ballou, a journeyman roadie for rock bands who wanders onto Wesley’s set and gets shot in the eye with an arrow (the movie’s a Western).
Wesley, himself being nudged out of the picture by fed-up Hollywood execs, sends Walker on a trip across the country to re-find himself, under the pretense of hiring him to write a script. He hires A.D. (an obvious hustler and opportunist) to travel with his son and keep an eye on him. They travel east and have adventures, all the while actually writing a script, which is interspersed with their story. The script tells the tale of Walker’s journeys in Africa. Meanwhile, across the country, Wesley flounders about, trying to figure out how to live out his life as he rapidly fades into obscurity.
It’s a readable (listenable), well-structured plot, and the characters are memorable, if not all that unique. Still, this audio re-release is a solid choice for audiobook fans. I think Slow Fade is out of print, so readers who like this style book should check the local library–see also some quite similar books I’ve suggested below. You could do worse for a breezy summer read.
[Update: I was mistaken about the book being out of print. Drag City has reissued the print versions of the book too, so weathering your own copy into a tattered-cover backpack-stuffer is an option.]
Similar Listen/Reads: The Death of Bunny Munro (Cave), It Feels So Good When I Stop (Pernice)
[This review is of the audiobook version produced by Drag City. A review was requested and a review copy provided.]