When Alex Weston lands the job as ghost writer for the biography of Johnny Burns she realizes it’s the gig of a lifetime. A huge fan of rock, especially classic rock, one of Alex’s favorite bands is Heartbreaker, the legendary group Johnny co-founded back in the late sixties.
Being a bit of an odd duck, Johnny wants to do things a little differently than Alex is used to. Instead of sitting down for a couple of in-depth interviews, he would rather talk for an hour or two a day over a longer period of time. To avoid too much back and forth travel, Alex temporarily sets up shop in Johnny’s town, taking a little room in the back of the local pub.
And thus, over the course of what turns out to be several weeks, Alex learns all there is to know about Johnny and Heartbreaker. From the band’s earliest days in the sixties playing gigs wherever they could, to sold out stadium shows in the seventies, to the band’s inevitable downfall as the music climate turned away from straight-up rock in the 80s, Alex gets a first-hand account of what really happens behind the scenes of a legendary rock band.
It sounds simple enough, and in the hands of many authors such a premise would turn out very one-dimensional. Not so with Julie Morrigan. No, Morrigan takes Heartbreaker and turns them into a band as real as any you could walk into a bookstore and pick up an actual biography of. Indeed, Alex’s interview sessions with Johnny provide the perfect way for Morrigan to slowly reveal the band’s history through a series of flashbacks as Johnny recounts the rise and fall of Heartbreaker.
During her interviews Alex learns that the drama and turmoil around the band went beyond merely the excess one would expect from a hard drinking, hard partying rock group; there was something slightly sinister that seemed to loom over the band. How else to explain the deaths of two of the band’s crew members during the late seventies, as well as the tragic deaths of two of its members as the band sought to transition into the eighties? In fact, the more Alex learns the more she begins to question whether Johnny actually had something to do with all the tragedy that haunted Heartbreaker.
With Heartbreaker, Morrigan has taken a completely fictional band and brought them to life more realistically than many actual rock biographies I’ve read managed to do. Her obvious knowledge and love of rock and blues is infused throughout the book, adding little details, references and layers of realism that makes Heartbreaker a pleasure to read on several levels. You not only get a great story, you get a mini history of classic rock along the way.
Heartbreaker is the best new band I’ve discovered in a while… and a hell of a book.