For a guy who claims never to have read a book in his life (excepting, he says, required reading in school), Aaron Traylor displays a pretty good grasp of storytelling in his own. The DJ Chronicles, which took the “Tallest DJ in America” and future Wild Boy of 107.5 five years to compile, covers his early DJ career from high school in Spokane up to his first gig in Montana. It’s got its flaws, but give it a few pages and you’ll probably find yourself at the other end before you know what happened.
The book opens with a red-herring episode that belongs, chronologically, toward the end of the book but is spliced in at the front expressly to hook you. Traylor and a friend are sneaking around a shopping mall, trailed by security and trying desperately to unload contraband before they get caught with it. Turns out the controlled substance is nothing more than a stack of flyers for an upcoming rave, and Traylor and friend are distributing them at their peril because they’ve already bluffed their way out of one run-in with the officer trying to run them to ground and have every reason to expect the worst should they get nicked again.
That’s the prologue. The first proper chapter is devoted to a lengthy (and ghastly) retelling of how Traylor got his nickname, Dookie, in junior high school. It’s funny, all right (and subsequent instances of one involuntarily evacuated bodily fluid or another build on the theme and the nickname), but the anecdote is relevant to the rest of the book chiefly because it introduces two of Traylor’s closest friends, Rachel and Eddie, after vetting them for their fidelity: They were the two who stuck by him after the Dookie episode. Rachel is the love interest, Eddie the accomplice.
As bored Spokane teenagers, the three of them spend a lot of time hanging out and scoping for new distractions. Eddie favors drugs; Traylor dabbles. Rachel is intrigued by these new happenings called “raves” that are starting to sprout up in disused warehouses and rented Masonic temples. Mostly she’s intrigued by the DJs, and the implications are not lost on the impressionable Traylor, who describes his first rave (in the second chapter) as a religious experience. Traylor’s longing to be the guy who makes the music happen—and gets all the girls—is the force that shapes the remainder of the book.
The forces that rally to his side to make the dream happen, though—that’s where things get a little dicey. By chapter three, he’s already had a visitation (significantly, at Inspiration Point in Spokane’s Riverfront Park), an audience with a disembodied voice that listens to questions and gives answers. “Right then and there, I believed,” Traylor writes, “my destiny had been chosen.”
That kind of thing—destiny, but more so the hasty acquiescence to disembodied voices by anybody charged with recounting a story—immediately sends up a red flag. You could argue that the episode is simply an illuminated lesson in the power of positive thinking. You might also suggest that unlikelier genres than “Inland Empire magical realism” have already sold enough books to muzzle the naysayers. But usually when a disembodied voice starts telling people what to do, and they listen, I figure there’s a Sunday school lesson already in the mail and salvation is a foregone conclusion.
And in the case of The DJ Chronicles, my hunch proved right. The second-to-last sentence in the book reads: “Indeed, I am a warrior, my character forged through fire. As long as God gives me breath, I will use my voice to make demons flee and their fires abate.”
Hoo boy. Now, I want to make it clear that my problem with this kind of writing has less to do with religious convictions than with literary ones. I don’t mean to impugn Traylor’s faith; I just think that God makes for too easy an out in most types of literature—a trite convention, a handy means of eleventh-hour transcendence that may or may not be justified by the events leading up to it. Disembodied secular voices notwithstanding, it’s only when you get to the nearer-my-God-to-Thee ending of The DJ Chronicles that you understand the real function of certain characters, like the policeman who turns out to be, if not a guardian angel, then at least a kind of sponsor in the 12-step sense.
More than just recasting characters in a certain light, though, the final salvation undercuts the documentary authenticity of the dialogue. It wasn’t until the final chapter of The DJ Chronicles that I noticed the complete lack of swearing in the previous 38: fine with me, but a little hard to swallow given the milieu. The DJ Chronicles has huge passages of dialogue purportedly told from memory, but cleaned up and doctored just a bit too much to be plausibly remembered by anybody. Yet because the dialogue is recounted with such detail, and in dialect, and without a shred of profanity even in situations that would practically have demanded it, the reader has little choice but to believe that certain scenes have been Bowdlerized in the retelling.
Too often, Traylor simply seems to be putting his own words in other people’s mouths. It’s just hard to believe that a cop would say this as he was about to bust you for illegal flyering: “Nowadays no one will even consider going to a party without one of these [flyers] to entice them. You have to spend all this money on these UV protected, glossy paper, full color flyers with all these crazy psychedelic designs, crazy fonts, and an enormous roster of performers.”
UV protected? Entice? Granted, it’s in the service of a good story, but this sounds more like Traylor’s imagination talking than a cop with an axe to grind.
Aaron Traylor will read from The DJ Chronicles Saturday, Dec. 18, at Hastings Books, Music & Video at 3100 Brooks St. from 1-4 p.m. Call 542-1077 for more information.