Book review: Women are more than muses in Taylor Jenkins Reid's heady 1970s rock n' roll novel

Women take centrestage in Daisy Jones And The Six - coincidentally, Reid's sixth novel - about the heady days of 1970s rock.
Women take centrestage in Daisy Jones And The Six - coincidentally, Reid's sixth novel - about the heady days of 1970s rock.PHOTO: HUTCHINSON

There was a time American author Taylor Jenkins Reid was inadvertently somebody's muse.

Once, she was at a bar and ordered a cocktail, which turned out to be too strong, so she got a Diet Coke and called it "the chaser to my cocktail". The man she was with thought it was a great phrase and wrote it down to use some day.

"I was horribly insulted," recalls Reid, 35, over the phone from London, where she is on a book tour. "I thought, I'm not here to make your book better. I'm here to write my own book."

She wrote this experience into her new book Daisy Jones And The Six, where the eponymous heroine, a beautiful singer-songwriter, orders champagne and coffee together and calls it an "Up and Down". Her date writes it down on a napkin and uses it in his next movie.

"I was just supposed to be the inspiration for some man's great idea," says Daisy. "I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else's muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody."

Women take centrestage in Daisy Jones And The Six - coincidentally, Reid's sixth novel - about the heady days of 1970s rock. It made its debut on the New York Times bestseller list at number 3 and has been picked up by actress Reese Witherspoon, who will co-produce a 13-episode screen adaptation for Amazon Studios.

Daisy, a poor-little-rich-girl groupie from Los Angeles, joins up-and-coming rock band The Six as a singer and immediately clashes with front man Billy Dunne, a recovering addict.

Though 1970s rock was very much a male-dominated space, Reid notes that women such as Stevie Nicks - who last Friday (March 29) became the first woman to be inducted twice into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, first as part of the band Fleetwood Mac and then as a solo artiste - Linda Ronstadt and Debbie Harry were making a name for themselves.

Her novel features not just Daisy but other women such as the band's keyboardist Karen Karen, Daisy's best friend Simone - a Donna Summer-esque disco star - and Billy's wife Camila, who chooses the life of a rock star's wife despite its tribulations.

"I wanted to honour the type of woman who is not going to be told to be quiet," says Reid, who is married to writer Alex Jenkins Reid. She is certainly no muse to him, she says; he cares for their daughter Lilah, two, while she is on tour. "He respects me as an artist. We're not there to serve the other's work."

Her book is told through a series of documentary-style interviews and recounts the band's meteoric rise to fame, until the mystery of their abrupt split.

She was interested in the dynamics of bands such as Fleetwood Mac, who recorded one of their finest albums, Rumours (1977), amid Stevie Nicks' messy split with lead guitarist Lindsey Buckingham and the divorce of keyboardist Christine McVie and bassist John McVie, as well as folk duo The Civil Wars, who won four Grammy Awards together and then broke up.

Reid has almost no musical experience, but nevertheless set herself the daunting task of writing all the lyrics for Aurora, the album that is to her fictional band what Rumours was to Fleetwood Mac.

The songs too will come to life in Witherspoon's adaptation, the news of which Reid said was like "finding out you've won the lottery... I can't think of a better person I'd want in charge of this adaptation. She has such a respect and passion for telling women's stories."

Reid has only one ask for the series: keep her clued in on the casting decisions. Before she became a writer, she wanted to work in Hollywood and spent four years as a casting assistant.

The years she spent as a handmaiden to stardom left her with a fascination for fame - and the toll it takes on relationships. She also explored the celebrity tell-all in her last novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (2017), in which an ageing Old Hollywood star based on the likes of Elizabeth Taylor and Ava Gardner reveals her life secrets to a young, unknown journalist.

It seems to have sparked a trend, if unintentional, of books with "seven" in the title, from Stuart Turton's high-concept murder mystery The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle (2018) to the upcoming historical novel The Seven Or Eight Deaths Of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames.

With Daisy Jones And The Six, is Reid counting down? She demurs, laughing; her next book is not going to have "five" in the title, though it will also deal with fame, this time in 1980s Los Angeles.

"We show the flashing cameras and the glamour of it, but there's a lot of pain in putting yourself out for human consumption," she says. "I want to tell stories about what that might be like, to give up so much of yourself."

Daisy Jones And The Six ($24.48) and The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo ($24.50) are available at Books Kinokuniya.