If I Knew the Way, I’d Take You Home
by Dave Housley
2015, Dzanc Books
208 Pages, $14.95
How do you feel about music? Do you think about it a lot? Do you live and breathe music? Are you attached to your headphones everywhere you go? Do you contemplate the soundtrack that’d play if your life was made into a biopic?
However you answer, you don’t think about music as much as Dave Housley does. Nor do you think about it in the ways that Housley shows us in his writing. I’m not sure anyone ever has. His collection of stories, If I Knew the Way, I’d Take You Home, raises the bar in musical literature.
Can you tell the story of a rock star in the form of Christmas letters to Santa? Have you thought about what it must be like to be the child of a washed-up metal star, seeing your father on a reality show, chasing fame? You might be able to get a glimpse from “Rockabye.”And what are the lives of teenage pop stars like before they’ve made it? While they’re being groomed and trained for success? Take a gander at “Rock Out Mate” if you want an answer.
What we forget about the folks that provide us with the music that fills our lives is that they are, first and foremost, human. They brush their teeth and smoke cigarettes like everyone else;they just own more leather pants. And that’s what Housley lets us glimpse: the humanity of pedestal dwellers. Their shit stinks, too. They eat Kix for breakfast and watch Roseanne reruns. If I Knew the Way, I’d Take You Home brings us to that place of humanity.
Housley doesn’t just show us the stars in the sky. Those with their feet firmly on the ground (or perhaps with one foot in the grave) are within the pages as well. On the surface of it, “So Fucking Metal” is simply about a family obsessed with Ronnie James Dio and a simple concert remembering it. But it’s also about being on the cusp of adulthood, realizing your family can be toxic and that those you surround yourself with influence your very soul.
“Be Gene” is as bitter and playful as writing can be about the sad days in a Kiss tribute band. What happens when the glory days are gone and they weren’t even yours? What do they super fans do next? They didn’t shoot for the stars and miss; they shot for the ceiling and still came up short. They have no backup plan.
There’s more than just sadness and unhappy people in this collection. There’s a dark, wry humor that threads these stories together. “Goliath” might be a tale of a psychic, uber-devout dog with a penchant for the band Creed, or it might be the tale of a man with cold feet. Either way, it’s funny. And the existential dilemma of normality seen through the lens of “which lettuce do I buy” in the story “Where We’re Going” gives a nice wink through an otherwise sad tale. Moments of levity are necessary when we wade through tales of humanity.
If there’s one story that encapsulates If I Knew the Way, I’d Take You Homeand brings both worlds together, it’s “Pop Star, Dead at 22.” It is, at its heart, about how we touch each other’s lives and yet never truly know anything about the ones that are closest. We tell lies to each other and ourselves and it’s the lies that save us when everything else has faded away. Who wants to know the truth when the truth is ugly?
Dave Housley has written a book of short stories and essays that slaps the pulse of our interaction with music and music makers. If I Knew the Way, I’d Take You Home can almost be a case study of the best and worst of ourselves when the band plays too loudly.