With his new novel, the diabolical dog of American letters returns to his old ways. It’s called Panic and, as usual, James Ellroy displays all his rhythmic tricks to trap us in endless stark images, excessive dialogue and violent issues.
All things considered, James Ellroy has achieved what the beatniks yearned for, that is, reaching the nervous phrasing of bebop in each paragraph, in each line written to the devilish rhythm of jazz in its most restless conception. That has been Ellroy’s true achievement, having managed to paste the music of those years in the only possible way, and that way is nothing other than his style: summary, to the touch. No concessions. Kerouac was left with the desire and Ellroy gets it to spare. That is the difference.
In the novel, published in Spanish by Random House, we are told the gossip of the West Coast in the atomic age, when Charlie Parker was looking for a piece of virgin vein where to shoot himself and Gillespie inflated his cheeks like buttocks to blow hot melodies. With this, Ellroy manages to put together the soundtrack that Robert Mitchum listens to while squeezing a joint loaded with weed, and Burt Lancaster looks for masoque women for his torture cabinet. It’s the music that accompanies John Wayne every time he puts on some panties and crossdresses in front of the clandestine mirror of a dive bar that James Dean watches over. Ellroy’s novel is full of surprises where the vulgar issues of vice of some famous actors are exposed.
As it could not be less, the miseries of some musicians also come to light. Saxophonist Gerry Mulligan accuses Art Pepper of doing it with minors. He does it to get a few grams of heroin with his denunciation. Because Charlie Parker is not the only one here looking for the vein. In that atomic age, the musician who was not hooked is because he had died. The hard drug seared the boppers.
Art Pepper had the honesty to recount her journey through prisons and brothels while the heroine left an indecent trail on her skin. His wife Laurie told it in the book ‘An exemplary life’; some memoirs dictated by the musician himself where he shows us the dark corners of a life in which the weight of loneliness marked the lyricism of his blowing. The book came out a few years ago edited by Global Rhythm and today it is difficult to find. It would be nice if Julián Viñuales reissued it in Kultrum. Let’s see if said like that, in public, it works and pays attention to us.
In the meantime, the best we can do is immerse ourselves in Ellroy’s new novel, which comes loaded with music and stories that intersect between robbery, extortion and bad cops, where studs show off and Hollywood actresses have sapphic love with some other woman acting as a man equal to a virile angel. It is then that the irremediable happens and the palpitation of the mystery leads the protagonist to add threesomes.
But above all else, in Ellroy’s latest there is the music that mixes with each of the voices that appear in the novel, a polyphony similar to the choir that Art Pepper’s wife recruits to compose the saxophonist’s memoirs, since Laurie does not not only transcribes the words of her husband, but also the words of other musicians, resulting in one of the rawest and most sincere biographies ever written. Ellroy’s novel has reminded me every so often.