Guest Review: The One Thing I Know (B-Sides, #1) by Keelan Ellis

Talented studio musician, Henry Cole, is offered the dream job of touring with popular rock band, the Vulgar Details. Things aren’t all rosy, though, as he is hired to replace Dell Miller, creative force behind the band, who recently flamed-out in a car accident.

Henry is all too aware that he’s no replacement for someone like Dell. He’s not the only one who feels that way, either. Terry Blackwood, band front man, has been giving him a hard time even before the tour start. He seems to resent Henry’s presence beyond all reason. What Henry doesn’t know is that Terry and Dell’s relationship was both intensely close and fraught with conflict.

Terry’s grief over Dell’s death is overwhelming and threatens to destroy not only the band but his life. It doesn’t help that the new member of the band makes him feel things he doesn’t want to. Worse, when he sings, Henry sounds just like the man Terry cared so deeply for.

With so much at stake, everything could come crashing down around them and mean the end for the Vulgar Details. Or, just maybe, Henry and Terry will find the one thing they need most.

Sometimes redemption comes from the last place you expect to find it.

Guest Reviewer - Annery
***5 Stars, 5 Stars to the tenth power***

I read this about three weeks ago and I really liked it. I procrastinated a bit before writing a review and in the ensuing weeks the story and characters kept creeping up on me at the most unexpected moments. I dug up my Gregg Allman and Stones albums and let the story simmer and steep in my bones. When I was ready to review I thought I’d check my highlights/notes and ended up rereading the whole book and loving it the second time around. Yesterday I ordered the paperback. I’ll be recommending it to every person I know, romance reader or not, rock star fan or not, M/M reader or not. I guess you can say I LOVED it.

The bulk of the story takes place in 1972, right after the Summer of Love and The Stones at Altamont, at that crossroads where the Hippie 60’s were ending and the decadent 70’s were getting started. Does that qualify as historic or period piece? I don’t know but Keelan Ellis firmly evokes time and place without fanfare. She shows how people living and behaving as they did back then, unencumbered by our current mores & cares. That means people smoking, waiting to get home to get or make their phone calls, and if you were gay maybe going to a bathhouse and having sex without the specter of HIV/AIDS. The story revolves around Henry Cole a 27 y.o. Talented and multi instrumentalist studio musician and Terrence Blackwood, the frontman for the Vulgar Details. Henry is that strange brew of confident and insecure. He’s justifiably self assured of his talent as a musician but is content to stay in the background only doing studio work because the spotlight doesn’t call to him. What he isn’t ambivalent about is his sexuality, but he is modest in his life expectations:

“I need you to understand where I’m coming from,” he said quietly. “I never had any big dreams about a great romance, or anything like it. My biggest hope was that I would meet a guy some day and we’d like each other enough that we’d want to stick around together, meet our mutual friends for drinks on the weekends, rent a two bedroom apartment so his parents could maintain the polite fiction he’d told them about his roommate, possibly get a dog.”

Henry has done some studio work for the Details, which in my mind were an amalgamation of The Stones, Thin Lizzy, and The Allman Brothers. At the beginning of the year Dell Miller, “skinny, pretty, long-haired country boy”, (I had Gregg Allman in mind) who was troubled but had elevated the Details from a poor man’s Stones into bonafide contenders, on the strength of his artistry and songwriting skills, unexpectedly dies in a car crash and Henry is asked to step in and go on tour with the band. He has reservations and you could say that his worst fears come true but also the dreams he never dared to have.

Terence Blackwood, Terry, is the prototypical rock n’ roll frontman, think Jagger or even Marc Bolan, theatrical and owning the stage. Walking sex. Terry is English but has long made his home in America and loves it as only a foreigner could, lured by the blues, rock, and wide open spaces. Terry and Dell had a relationship that can be described as complicated, if you’re feeling generous, fraught with pain, despair, and confusion. After Dell died Terry was left in an abyss of loss with no proper way to openly grieve, particularly because he didn’t know who he was to Dell or where he stood.

When Henry joins the tour his main concern is trying not to call too much attention to his abstinent self during the post show groupie parties, but that comes secondary to dealing with Terry’s open hostility. Terry who is full of anger and a million questions about his relationship with Dell and is none too happy to see Dell replaced in the band, particularly when Henry’s voice echos Dell’s so beautifully. To make matters worse there’s a palpable attraction on both sides. Like in real life nothing is easy.

The book is split into two parts. Part One is told from Henry’s P.O.V. and deals with the tour and Terry’s downward drug and alcohol spiral, how he can find no way to cope with, what for him, was Dell’s abandonment. He has been left alone and lonely under the harsh glare of fame. He’s falling apart. For his part Henry is navigating treacherous waters: not outing himself, replacing an integral member of an established band when he never even wanted to be on stage, and dealing with Terry’s opaque but open hostility. Part Two is split between Terry & Henry P.O.V.s and is about Terry seeing himself clearly at last and Henry allowing himself to reach for happiness.

I don’t want to rehash the whole plot because part of the beauty of this book is how the story sneaks up on you with deceptive simplicity. There are no a-ha moments but rather a gradual and realistic progression of the relationship between Henry and Terry: the shitty stuff, the scary, the funny, the practical everyday things, and the romantic. I loved that despite expectations Terry, the bonafide Rock god, was the inexperienced one and also the one, who though perhaps had the most to lose, was willing to throw caution to the wind. Once he knew he wanted Henry he was all in. I loved that the dynamics in the bedroom were not what you’d expect but that it didn’t spill over into daily life. I freakin’ loved Terry’s dry sense of humor, so English, so well done. I commiserated with Henry’s doubts and fears and his ultimate courage. I loved that there were no grand traumatic moments in the lives of either MC, that though no one was waving a PFLAG, and the dangers of being openly gay were real and evident, there was space for acceptance and happiness. I loved all the band members and their personalities. I’m eager to read the next book in the series which deals with Richard, Henry’s hedonist friend and sometime host. I had to refrain from looking up the songs that are listed for the band, I fully expected to find some YouTube clip of them performing. My heart broke for Dell. Even though he had a tragic end I would be down to read a book about him, hopefully one with an alternate trajectory. His absence was such a vibrant presence in the book that I teared up when the band performed a cover of The Stones’ “Dead Flowers” in his honor. I don’t want to spoil anything for anyone and I promise to stop saying how much and deeply I loved this book, however I feel compelled to include a beautiful passage towards the end. It’s Terry’s P.O.V. and it’s a testament to the overall hopefulness of the story and it’s beautiful:

“There was a lot I’d have liked to say to him, but I couldn’t at that moment. I’d have liked to tell him how grateful I was to him, how beautiful he was, how unexpected his appearance in my life. I’d have explained that I never thought I could have this. He was the best thing that had ever happened to me. I loved him. He knew all these things, but I still liked to tell him. I decided to save it for the bedroom, though. That was the sort of sexy talk he liked. We were a bit different on that score. He’d tell me how he was going to make me beg for his cock, and I’d tell him how I couldn’t imagine my life without him. To each his own.”

Sexy, romantic, and funny. What more could you ask for?
Run and get your hands on this goodness.

This is my visual image of Terry and Henry:

Suggested listening: “Sticky Fingers” The Rolling Stones
“Laid Back” Gregg Allman

Suggested viewing: “Cocksucker Blues” an unreleased Stones documentary that brings to mind a plot point in the book. Also Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous” for the whole life on the road vibe.

Suggested reading: “Life” Keith Richard’s wonderful autobiography, particularly the section about the recording of “Exile on Main Street” for the feel of endless unhappy partying and falling to pieces while living the high life.

A review copy was provided.

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