Musician’s Compass, The

6 February 2019

The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme

by Del Suelo

Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing

Review by Shelley A. Leedahl

$19.95 ISBN 9-781988-783321

Regina writer and Juno Award-winning musician (with band The Dead South) Erik Mehlsen – who writes under the pseudonym “Del Suelo” – explains in the author’s note for his second book, The Musician’s Compass: A 12-Step Programme, that he wrote this text because “the music industry is an environment that fosters mental illness, and [he] had no idea how to talk about it”. That said, and first person voice aside, he maintains that this isn’t a memoir. What it is: 131 gritty fictional pages about a band.

For many in the arts, what begins as a passion can become terribly hard and unsexy work. Suelo presents a grueling day-in-the-life of a young (and at times extremely juvenile) four-piece Canadian rock band on tour in Germany. He peels back the lid on the rock and roll road trip, and it’s a bleak, barely-holding-it-together experience, complete with a groupie who overdoses on cocaine, band in-fighting, severe sleep deprivation, excessive drinking and marijuana imbibing, reeking clothes, and a narrator (Dev) who’s almost ready to pack in his bass-playing days, yet when he steps on the stage he’s “a god, creating thunder”.

Suelo has a gift for physical description and turning out some strong and original similes. The admirable writing starts with this description of drummer Mikey’s hair: “an unkempt lawn shrub the colour of a rusting El Camino”. A nickname “spread like scabies in a hippie commune”. An untuned guitar sounds like the musician’s playing “a homemade cigar-box guitar inside a tin can”.

The band, “North By Choice” – named after a “particularly dank BC sativa strain” band member Rat’s been “growing in his basement” – is in Berlin when the story begins. I sat up when I read that one young female fan “has curves like a freshly poured skatepark”. Post-show, the protagonist connects with German fan Marleen and the band and their entourage go clubbing. There’s non-stop beer and chaos, and after doing a line of coke with Marleen, Dev follows her “into a room of roaring black punctuated only by the blinding flash of a strobe light.” Moments later the pair are “in the centre of a dense, moist, multi-human organism”.

The author’s abilities with description extends to his detailing of rooms, cities, and even the interior of the band’s rented van: “The aroma of rotting cheese and stale wine wafts out. There are cracker crumbs and gummy candies all over the floor”. (And the driver, Dev, has scraped the hell out of the rental.)

The band members say things like “Can I borrow your lightski?”, but on occasion, disillusioned Dev comes up with something quite profound, ie: “Sundays only seem cozy if you live somewhere and know people”.

If you’ve ever desired a microscopic look at the ins and outs of a rock and roll band – from sound checks to merch table to finding a band poster in which someone’s “drawn a moustache and swastika” – on a face, read this. Über dark, screamingly loud, and scathingly real.


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