God Save My Queen: A Tribute
Soft Skull Press ($13)
I appreciate obsessive types. At least they believe in things.
Daniel Nester is an obsessive type, and his belief in the personally
transcendent power of music – or, to be specific, the band
Queen – has brought us his first book, God Save My Queen:
A Tribute. Each piece in GSMQ is based, chronologically, record
by record, track by track, on every song recorded by Queen from
their heyday in the 70s until 1982. Obsessive? Perhaps. But by
carrying this fanaticism to its literary extreme Nester has created
a book that both transcends genre and includes enough true, sometimes
painfully honest, emotion to touch any reader. It was around
this time that I realized I might be smarter than my father. Once,
year of college, I sent him a copy of Gravity’s Rainbow and
he sent me a Jennings .22-caliber pistol. This collection is as
much about Queen as it is about growing up a poet in a world with
no use for poets. It’s about a chubby kid riding a Huffy
through the summer night searching for someone to connect with
but finding only two big women in a Camaro, feather joint clips,
Jordache and feathered hair. And finding Queen. There is moving
prose poetry in this book, but I don’t consider this a book
of prose poetry. GSMQ is exactly what it says it is: A Tribute.
Tribute in the form of prose poem, yes, but also in the form of
memoir, discography, intensely personal diary entry, and – most
effectively – footnote. The footnotes in GSMQ are alternately
illuminating, maddening, hilarious, and - of course - obsessive.
Who else but an obsessive would know that Queen guitarist Brian
May was a frustrated astronomer? Much less that he wrote his PhD
thesis on A servo-controlled perot interferometer: Its development
and use in astronomy. However, the best anecdotes in GSMQ are the
ones that rise to the level of creative works in their own right.
Nester’s essay-as-footnote on Kurt Cobain’s suicide
note shines light on the grunge icon in a way that hundreds of
regurgitated magazine articles have never had the nerve or sensitivity
to do. But there is freestanding poetic beauty in this Tribute
as well. In poems such as Stone Cold Crazy Nester exquisitely captures
the experience of being young, bored, sensitive and suburban:
Stone Cold Crazy
And then I ran around. And then I flung myself up into the bushes.
And then I talked to model cars. And then I stank. And then I ran
up. And I broke off another Cadillac emblem, the hoods still warm
in Deep Hot Wheel Suburbia.
The support tongs were like paper clips, dude. Just a boot on
the bumper, a pull, and a new key ring for a friend. I rode a ten-speed
on the way home, the metal garlands dug into my thighs, corduroy
And I brumskied back to Cherry Hill, epiphanic in the shrubbery.
In GSMQ, Daniel Nester strives to communicate everything he saw
while growing up. He does it through the prism of a bombastic rock-n-roll
band that made it all seem bearable. He does it by concerning himself
less with genre than with honesty. In GSMQ, Daniel Nester – obsessed
or not – has written a rare, beautiful, and courageous book.