She brightened up and became the girl I used to know. The one I remembered, who sat patiently and listened while I serenaded her with songs of death and destruction. The one person who wasn’t afraid to tell me I was repeating the same chords, ripping off someone else’s idea, or dwelling on my favorite teenage subject, Satan, a little too much. She seemed happier knowing that my wasn’t a bed of roses and that I dwelt in a hell that I’d been instrumental in creating. It’s always a blessing when you learn that misery loves nothing as much as she loves company. It’s a relief knowing that you’re not alone.
Goddamn, does Tim Cundle know how to twist that literary knife lodged in your solar plexus while simultaneously tugging at your heartstrings.
With Compression, the former punk hardcore frontman (Charlies Family Crisis; AxTxOxTx) and current editor of Mass Movement magazine has written a potent and harrowing underground rock n’ roll novel that is part modernized take on Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” part Jim Thompson-esque down n’ dirty small town crime thriller, and part amalgamation of I Know What You Did Last Summer, Horace McCoy’s They Shoot Horse Don’t They?, and punk rock Almost Famous.
Here’s the setup: For Michael Flanagan, the old Kurt Cobain line “Teenage angst has paid off well/Now I’m bored and old” is all-too apropos. He hasn’t been back to his hometown in a decade — not since his punk band got its Rancid ticket punched — but when an invite for the school reunion shows up he decides to return. Not to play the conquering hero and bask in the glow of admiration from his former tormentors, but to make peace with a terrible secret from his past that has never allowed him to fully embrace peace or happiness.
Trouble is, when he arrives not only are his old co-conspirators in rougher, less reliable shape than he expected — a surly cop, an adult film star, the lovely yet lovelorn now middle aged woman of the quote above, a ex-asylum inmate driven mad by guilt and an unhealthy appreciation for “video nasties,” his own borderline sociopathic bandmate — but a gang of investigators and lawyers are in the midst of heating up a cold case of particular interest.
Can Flanagan save his soul and honor the unjustly dead without completely decimating his life and the lives of those he once loved?
That is the tale Compression tells in beautifully rendered prose that nonetheless feels subversive as well as very much apiece with the tone and attack of the heavy music scene from which Cundle comes.
The novel is now available from Earth Island Books. Highly recommended for devotees of underground music and literature alike.
And if you feel differently?