It’s a tale that’s been told before: young person grows up on the poor end of the avenue with a dream of making it in the music world; works hard; gets knocked down; works even harder; gets a break/makes a connection; career takes off; explosion of fame, fortune, and bad habits followed by a roller coaster of comebacks and nosedives. After a number of chapters of tightrope walking, we end up with either a tragic crash-and-burn or a soul salvation.
In lesser hands, Ben Greenman’s novel Please Step Back would be so cliché-ridden and predictable that you could almost name what’s happening on any given page without opening the book: “Let’s see – page 138 out of 250? Uh-oh … here comes the needle.”
Please Step Back isn’t like that.
Greenman tells the story of fictional 60’s rock star Rock Foxx in such a manner that the reader is drawn into Robert Franklin’s (Foxx’s real name before he got serious about a music career) soul early on. From Robert’s 10-year-old eyes witnessing his cousin’s death on the streets of Boston to the feel of what’s like to hear your band’s music coming out of the dashboard speakers, Greenman takes us way, way inside Rock Foxx.
Through the bright spots and the bad dark places, Greenman never betrays Foxx just to tell the story – and by doing that, he keeps things real. There’s the swagger of the rock star doing the Rolling Stone interview offset by a long-distance courtship of the one woman who actually captures Foxx’s heart … for a while, at least. Even at his worst, Foxx remains human enough to keep us rooting for him. And Greenman’s dialogue is dead nuts-on: though many of the book’s characters seem bigger than life at times, they would be in real life as well, and Greenman lets them speak for themselves without getting in the way.
Please Step Back not only tells a good story, it’s an absorbing time capsule of what was happening in this country during the sixties and early seventies. Greenman’s ability to tie history in with Foxx’s story without making it seem like empty namedropping adds another layer of realism to Please Step Back. When it’s all said and done and you close the book for the last time, you’ll most likely have a hankering to go dig out some of those old Rock Foxx albums and crank them up, burrowing into the man and his band’s soulful rocking funk that made you shake your ass, laugh at the night sky, and fall in love.
And then you’ll remember it was fiction.
It’s that good of a book.