Book Review

Peter Conners

God Save My Queen: A Tribute
Daniel Nester
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, sophomore 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 shorts.

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.