Jim Algie’s latest novel is neither pretty nor vacant
Bangkok-based author Jim Algie is a well-known wordsmith in Thailand’s expat literary community. His eclectic range of titles includes: Bizarre Thailand, Tales of Crime, Sex and Black Magic (Marshall Cavendish 2010); Travel Pack Thailand (Tuttle 2012); and the short fiction collection The Phantom Lover and Other Thrilling Tales of Thailand (Tuttle 2013). Jim is also, of course, a regular contributor to Bangkok 101.
In one of his previous incarnations, as bass-playing ‘Blake Cheetah’ during the 80’s and 90’s, Jim was a member of two of Canada’s most influential punk/alt.rock bands and his inside knowledge of the music biz works to his advantage in his latest novel, On the Night Joey Ramone Died; Tales of Rock and Punk from Bangkok, New York, Cambodia and Norway. The main story is full of acerbic observations and wonderfully descriptive meanderings. As the main character Lek Sukanyal, a former rock star turned producer, hears the news that his favourite singer has died, he is in the studio producing a boy band album, which makes him reflect on aging, mortality and his own career in music. After hearing the bad news Lek looks forlornly out on the Bangkok skyline—seeing desolation spread everywhere. “The offices looked like rows and rows of crypts in a towering mausoleum for white collar workers. Everywhere he looked he saw devastation and death.”
Originally released last year to a gaggle of glowing reviews, it’s now being re-issued with a 30,000-word non-fiction bonus section of Jim’s music musings and memoirs. These include: Nine Snippets of Rock History from Thailand; Rapping with Ice-T in Bangkok; the heart-felt and heart-warming Requiem for a Thai Indie Rock Stalwart Wasit ‘Ooh’ Mukdavijitr; and an enchanting recounting of his chance meeting on a Montreal park bench with one of his all-time heroes Leonard Cohen.
This bonus section also contains two previously unpublished pieces that wittily detail the author’s close encounters with rock stars and onstage disasters, as well as When Punk Turned Forty, and Black Metal Murder and Satanism in Rock—all of which add to the two stellar novellas that “Joey” consists of.
Why such a quick re-issue?
Initially I only released it is as an e-book, but I’ve had so many enquiries about when it was going to be available as a paperback that I decided to do a print-on-demand paperback version and as a bonus add the non-fiction pieces which I think give the novellas extra frames of reference.
The second novella introduces a female protagonist allowing for some fascinating and diverse threads.
The aging musical hero tapped into my own mid-life crisis, just as that second novella looks at how punk evolved into these different strains of black and death metal. And, without giving too much away, death metal is huge in Scandinavia and the female character you mention is Scandinavian. Within the same thread I thought the older Thai guy with the younger farang female a fun reversal of the usual stereotypes often found in books set in Thailand.
Where were you the night Joey Ramone died?
I was sitting at home when I got the news. Naturally enough I played some Ramones, and the story was actually started there and then. As a musician, most of the first songs I learnt to play were Ramones tunes, and listening to them that night they became a catalyst of sorts for the book. The film Apocalypse Now was also a major touching point. Francis Ford Coppola called it the first rock’n’roll war, and the music of that era had a huge influence on Thai rock and pop music. This was the way Western music broke in Thailand, and the main character was born and brought up on an American Air Force base so his musical influences are a direct result of his heritage. That also allowed me to get some Thai history in there too.
So what’s the future for Thai punk and/or rock’n’roll?
Well, who can really say? Bangkok has a cool indie music scene but it’s buried deep underground in tiny clubs and small YouTube channels. With the spread of global mall culture the mainstream acts and boy bands coming out of Thailand are the same as anywhere else. It’s the McDonald’s-ization of music which is denoted in the first novella.
NOTE: The new expanded paperback edition of the book is available from www.amazon.com for US$12.99. And plans are underway for a book re-launch party this month at WTF Gallery, with an old-school punk DJ spinning classic tunes featured in the novellas. Check out www.jimalgie.club for details.
By Gary Anthony Rutland