Crosswinds Press 2022
A fictionary – meaning cautionary, if fictional – tale about a perilous path of a stubborn music manager who wants to luck out against all odds. But will he?
It doesn’t require a professional to assume that not all that glitters is gold and that there’s an unglamorous side – inside – to every nugget coming into the light. Still, Jack Bernstein, the protagonist of this book, is a master of his trade who’s ready to work hard enough to make any talented shit shine brightly – ready to clean any act, including his own, to make people see an artist’s preciousness – only to usually come up short once his charges decide to pursue success under the guidance of a less scrupulous, yet more prominent, shark of the scene. Such a failure befell Bernstein not once but twice, and the third round might well be the charm – only Jack’s latest protégés seem to combine a blessing and a curse, what with their familial links to a local mafioso. Here’s the intrigue driving, together with drugs which fueled many of the late ’60s – early ’70s cultural efforts, “Queensborough Rock” across three hundred pages of juicy prose, and the major part of the intrigue are Stephen Shaiken’s characters.
The writer, a specialist in criminal law rather than a showbiz mover and shaker, happened to try and present someone he promoted to a prominent record label – but though this is where the similarities between Shaiken and his hero begin and end, Stephen was able to infuse the young rock ‘n’ roll manager’s persona with ultimate veracity to render Bernstein’s interior motives and external quirks sound and alluring. As a result, it’s not solely a story that turns the read into a page-turner; the traits and often strange behavior of Jack’s friends are just as riveting. However, let alone pals and acquaintances – even Bernstein’s old automobile and humble abode have characters of their own! And, of course, there’s music to color the events, a perfect soundtrack to a long-gone, yet fondly remembered, era of experience replacing innocence – on both societal and individual levels, because Jack’s mental and physical grip on the proceedings unfolding before the reader’s eye grows strong in almost no time, the tome spanning roughly 15 months – not counting a bit of flashback which is needed to show how protagonist arrived at the moment of taking a demo to a record company – a short term that will find Bernstein getting low on funds and spirit and high on hope on dope, but invariably on the solid ground of a titular borough the youngster knows and loves, and is loath to leave for the promised land of Manhattan.
As concocted by Stephen’s mind, one which is familiar with those high and lows, “a rock and roll novel like no other” perfectly balances mirth and grief, misadventures and fruits of perseverance; it’s as intense as it is charming in every little detail that’s still gritty despite getting refracted through the lens of nostalgia – which feels like the proper reason for this volume being simultaneously so piquantly quaint and somewhat relevant – and geography, a virtual map possibly not as important to the non-NYC reader as it is to the author and his hero. Here’s the reason why “Queensborough Rock” does rock, delivering punches and serving up tears in equal measure; here’s the reason why these pages provide a manual on survival in the business and life as a whole – and on deriving delights out of existential plane.