Doug Hoekstra “Bothering the Coffee Drinkers” (Canopic Publishing 2006)
Short Story Collection from Nashville Based Songwriter Adds Another String to Hoekstra's Bow
Chicago born and now Nashville based musician Doug Hoekstra has been compared by many publications to literary giants in the past because of the overtly cerebral lyrics of many of his songs – indeed this website before has compared him to Oscar Wilde (although not without certain qualifications!), so it’s an unusual pleasure then, for we’re not used to much else than shiny discs landing on our desks, to receive a book which collects Hoestra’s fiction and essays, all of which are either autobiographical or music related, and in terms of who he is, often both. The book begins cleverly by setting the scene of where he’s at in his life now, talking to his 18 month old son Jude in his house in one of Nashville’s historic districts and going on a voyage of discovery in the attic which leads him to photographs and a consequent story of kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland. It’s all very matter of fact but there are so many nice touches – little references to thoughts whirling around in his head or descriptions of people that could easily drop through the net of a story’s essential ingredients (in the case of this story the middle aged attendant in a tan torn jacket) that Hoekstra lets you into his world in a way that feels convincing and honest – in fact sometimes uncomfortably so. In his memoir of a touring visit to Berlin, he notes the feeling of defensiveness he has when his host seems to be suggesting Hoekstra’s getting paid too much for his performances – you feel it too and it’s a brave thing to include in a book dealing with non fictional situations.
In fact given that many of the stories do come under the broad umbrella of “musical fiction,” there’s none of the laboured “hey we had a crazy time on tour!” stories you might expect to come across which couldn’t help coming over as contrived. Even in fiction, as in the title story about Johnny Q playing what seems like an interminable gig in a room of people not listening (a story so many fledgling musicians must be able to relate to), the character notes the despondency of seeing a press release regurgitated into a review almost verbatim (and admittedly made me think “bloody hell, I better had read this properly…”) There are other really memorable tales such as a guy called Billy with a love for the tuba imaging what he’d like to do to his boss who has different priorities, or a genuinely compelling overview of breakfasts around the world which unexpectedly ends up in a difficult situation on a Sunday morning with the narrator’s parents, but the highlight of the collection has to be the centrepiece “That’s How Strong My Love Is” – it’s the longest story in the book about two Chicago musicians who find their stay in Memphis more and more unusual until the gradual realisation that something has shifted in time. It could almost be science fiction except it’s not constructed like that, and when they need to make a decision about where they want to be at the end of the story, you wonder whether you’d make the same decision yourself – at least they had the choice I guess, unlike poor old Rose and Dr. Who. Hoesktra’s stories are generous to the reader in the amount he’s prepared to give of his own life – whether he’s conveying that in the first person or through fictional characters, the stories always feel real and honest and because of that, without recourse to any big dramas, engaging in themselves.
Date review added: Tuesday, July 18, 2006
Reviewer: Mark Whitfield
Related web link: Doug Hoekstra website