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WesternSFA
The Armageddon Rag
by George R. R. Martin
Bantam Books; $16.00, 340pp
Release Date: October 16, 2012
The only way to write truthfully about the sixties, or the eighties for that matter, is to have lived through those years, but you do not have to have lived through them to appreciate good story-telling set then. And this story stands on its own merit, outside of time, so long as men and women still experience betrayal, love, hope, and terror, so long as they make music or listen to it.

It’s 1981, and an unscrupulous promoter has just had his heart cut out, ten years to the day after a band that he controlled called Nazgul played their last concert, during which the lead singer Pat Hobbins was murdered by a single shot. Novelist and former counter-culture journalist Sandy Blair gets a call that sends him as an investigative reporter, first to Maine, where the murder took place, then across country, as he looks up the three surviving members of the band, the millionaire who’ll pay any price to stage a reunion of Nazgul, and assorted former friends, lovers, and enemies.

Memories of the Movement, which for some was about political reform, for some about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, and for others about tuning in and turning on, segue into memories of how hopes were darkened in the violent conflicts surrounding the 1968 Democratic convention, and how love turned to rage. And music told the stories, all of them. And no group sang of rage and defiance with as much raw power as Nazgul.

When Nazgul, re-forms, with a new lead singer, new songs, and a new manager, a concert tour starts up that gradually builds a terrific momentum until it's the anniversary of that last, fateful concert, and Sandy discovers exactly who is behind the deaths, and what is behind the mesmerizing power of the band’s music.

Martin’s quotations of songs from two decades, and the original lyrics he wrote for this novel, are a major part of its effectiveness – evocative and sweeping. Plus he gets right inside the mind and heart of each character, so that a reader can feel empathy for even the most wretched or twisted of them. This is one of the most cathartic stories I have ever encountered. Strongly recommended, even if you haven’t read Tolkien, or Yeats, or listened to records of Janis Joplin and Crosby , Stills, and Nash. ~~ Chris R. Paige

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