Boy Island

(2000, Morrow/Quill. 2015, Verse Chorus Press.)

This is the story of four rock musicians on the road in 1990. The book was written in stages from 1991 until its publication nine years later. Three previous manuscripts were forced together to fabricate a backdrop for this “novel.” Woven into these non-fiction elements was a fictional coming-of-age story. The three non-fiction sources were:

1. My adoring if juvenile biographone of indie rock sensation Camper Van Beethoven. This project became a consuming preoccupation throughout 1991-1992. I was driven by admiration for their 1989 recording, Key Lime Pie. The band had dissolved after that album, never to reunite (with the original line-up). I wondered why and, well, I found out. I finished an explanation that filled 293 pages but lacked any perspective.

2. My diary of Operation Desert Storm, America’s first Iraq war, which I experienced through the radio while working at a bank in L.A. I started this as a time capsule, to document the unfolding of what promised to be a horrifying debacle. Instead the war ended, by my calculation, after 1,001 hours, which was the name I gave the diary. Alongside the war and its home front, I wrote about three rock songs that were my soundtrack throughout: “Gigantic” by the Pixies, “Drug Test” by Yo La Tengo, and “Heaven and Back” by the Mekons.

3. My journal of a troubling cross-country road trip. This began when I had the great good fortune to see one of the first ever performances by the rock band Cracker (named, at the time, The David Lowery Band). Their sound really spoke to me. I wanted to hear them again and again but back then this meant somehow following their tour. I approached a man who seemed to be their manager (turned out I was right) and asked if they had a roadie or a driver. I offered my services but he declined, citing the tininess of their touring vehicle, which was a rented family-style mini-van that scarcely held the four band members and all their equipment. Instead I bought an open-ended Greyhound month-pass. For $300, I could travel anywhere in the country by bus for thirty days. I caught up with the band in Austin. I slept on the Greyhound and filled the empty hours with zig-zaggy bus trips that took me far out of the way and then doubled back to their next gig. I was reading and re-reading Three Famers On Their Way to Dance by Richard Powers and Death in Venice by Thomas Mann. I eventually met the band. At the time I thought we were having fun but later I looked back through my journal and divined what the bassist would call “a lotta bad vibes.”

The novel was published by William Morrow’s Quill imprint. It happened this way. While in New York in 1997, I’d been approached by Morrow in the form of a phone call from the wonderful Jon Moskowitz. Thankfully Jon and I developed a friendship that outlasted his departure from Morrow soon after. Even better, Ben Schafer replaced him, and after Morrow purchased Boy Island for $5,000, I was fortunate enough to gain Ben’s wise counsel while readying the manuscript for publication. Eventually about 3,000 copies were sold before Boy Island went out of print.

Samuel Cohen from the preface to the 2015 edition of Boy Island: “Boy Island tries to look clearly at rock and roll at the turn of the 1990s, at music and money, sex and gender, and rebellion and conformity, and it tries to look clearly at the Gulf War and the way America embraced it, and it tries to look at these things together. In the end, this book that you are holding in your hands faces head-on and with hope the alleged deaths of rock and roll, rock criticism, and the novel.”

Reviews

Review of “Boy Island”

Steve Kandell, Village Voice Literary Supplement, April-May 2000.

“It is a testament to the strength and beauty of Joy’s darkly comic prose that readers who have no knowledge of or interest in this music might still appreciate Boy Island as compelling fiction. But it is also a testament to Joy’s ebullient and almost encyclopedic grasp of the culture that the book will ring true for those readers who do.”

Review of “Boy Island”

Lev Grossman, Time Out New York, March 16-20, 2000.

“It’s hard to think of a more engaging premise for a novel than your basic band-on-the-road scenario and Joy—who got his start as a writer wheatpasting rants about corporate rock to the sides of buildings—doesn’t waste it.”

Review of “Boy Island”

Publisher’s Weekly, February 28, 2000.

“Riffing on rock’n’roll and the Gulf Way, Joy once again proves himself a sharp observer of the contemporary scene, mixing up real-life personages with fictional characters in his second free-wheeling novel.”

 

Boy Island Book cover

They headed East, four musicians in a family vehicle—a rented minivan—stopping once a day to play before people, then driving on. American flags flew from porch stoops and car antennas; overpasses were slathered with anti-Arab sentiments... The sights and sounds of nature did not count. They traveled some concrete corridor solely candied with cheap commercials, intent on ignoring all that was mute and colorless, and were thus not seeing how the Mojave pines gave way to Arizona shrub, how the hills drew near then receded, how the gray, dusty sparrows of the desert became the bluish blackbirds of the Southwest, their call deepening handsomely. A shooting star meant less than a lit cigarette tossed from a speeding car. The only real things to these four were made by men in the last few years, and nothing else existed.