Lola Bensky by Lily Brett (4 out of 5)
What a gorgeous cover. I felt like I was staring at a cover of one of those old wig catalogs my mom and Aunt Mary used to look through religiously back in the 80’s. Then I read the inside cover and I had to give it a shot. I wasn’t sorry. It’s definitely in a category of books that were unlike any I’ve read before. There’s humor, there are rock stars aplenty, there’s the swinging 60’s, and there’s Lola, a young lady at the start of the novel wrestling with great self-esteem issues that threaten to undermine her the rest of her life and to cast a pall over the job that she has interviewing rock stars. Lola is no doubt the shining star of this piece, but she has plenty of back up with a parade of memorable interviews in the book, and a giant heart beating throughout the novel.
Lola is a young lady who’s Australian but living in London, and interviewing a myriad list of musicians for Rock-Out magazine. She’s an impressionable and intelligent girl hiding her hurt feelings and low self-esteem about her weight, which some people make comments about in the book (Linda McCartney among them). The job saves Lola in a number of ways. She rubs elbows with rock’s elite and classically troubled icons. She discusses religion and hair rollers with Jimi Hendrix (and ducks an attempt by him to get her to join his harem). The Who trouble her, as they do many of us- namely, Pete Townsend, who comes off as a boorish bully, while Keith Moon sticks his hairy crotch inches from Lola’s face (wisely, she declines. John Entwistle tries to put a humane face on it while Daltrey fluffs his famous coif). She talks about false eyelashes with Cher. She and Linda Eastman (later McCartney) interview several stars, and Eastman brags that she will marry Paul McCartney someday. She meets and attempts to reach out to Jim Morrison, only to realize that some troubled ponds should not have pebbles skip the surface. Janis Joplin offers forth reasonable wisdom, and they have an eye-opening discussion about sex. Mama Cass and the Mamas & Papas make an appearance, and you get to witness the turbulence going on around the twisted love lives that eventually usurp the group. If you don’t already think Cass was highly misunderstood before this, you will after reading the snippet of the interview Lola has with her. Mick Jagger invites her over to hang out for a few hours with Paul McCartney. I thought the small snippet with Brian Jones was hilarious. Mick Jagger was already awesome in my book before this, and this cements it. Of all the people that Lola interviews, you come away thinking that Mick Jagger may be the most sensible of all of them. Certainly, you get the impression that he tries hardest to reach out to Lola and help her through her issues. The fact that she opens up about the past her parents and relatives had in the Holocaust to a complete stranger (although it IS Mick Jagger!) and seems to feel better getting it off her chest, only solidifies the reader’s perception of him. All in all, the occupation Lola has and the passion she has for it, despite her own insecurities slipping out from under the surface once in a while, keeps it real and yet keeps her, I thought, from going bat shit crazy with her own thoughts.
Lola eventually does marry and have her own family. The fact that her ex husband is a former rock star is funny in itself. She refers to her current husband and her daughter not by their given names, but by nicknames. She begins writing detective novels, as a way to make her peace with her life before, her current life, and those things still troubling her, all these years later. She still fondly revisits the memories of those she has interviewed, who have by this point, dropped off the earth (except for Cher, who seems to have as many lives as Bruce Springsteen. And Mick, who’s still fabulous). She doesn’t forget most of the book and she also doesn’t forget the lessons those stars instilled in her. Instead, she tries her hardest to count her blessings, mourn those eyelashes she never got back from Cher, and live her life to the fullest. Does she ever reconcile herself with her poor self-esteem? Does she ever start or finish one of the number of diets she’s determined to try? Does she ever hear back from Sir Mick? Does she obtain true happiness, or some measure of satisfaction with the pretty amazing life she’s led?
I love this book. I think it’s completely out of the wild book yonder, and I didn’t expect to be so enraptured with it. My own wish is that it were longer and more interviews had- I could have seen her interviewing Little Richard, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, and other luminaries of that period. Pure selfishness in my fervent hope that Lola lives happily ever after and we hear from her again.