The Book

Praise for "Off the Record"

The Writers Hood

by Harry Calhoun

David Menconi, the music critic for the Raleigh, N.C. News & Observer, has written a first novel that’s interesting, readable, and has the zing and excitement of a good rock concert. It’s obvious that Menconi, who’s written for Spin, Billboard, and other music mags, loves rock ’n’ roll. Off the Record is the carefully crafted history of a fictitious rock group called TAB (short for Tommy Aguilar Band). It’s got drug use, shady dealings inside the music industry, and more twists and turns than a VH-1 “Behind the Music” episode. In Tommy Aguilar, the flamboyant, whacked-out-on-smack lead singer, Menconi has created a realistic, memorable character. Tommy is not always likeable, but he never fails to be interesting.

Somebody once said that rock music is unusual in that it’s OK to be derivative. While it’s a slur to tell a painter he paints like Van Gogh, it’s a compliment to say, for instance, that Travis’s melodies are Beatlesque. Likewise, Menconi’s book has its derivative moments. For instance, Aquilar’s overdose while doing heroin with a female friend smacks (no pun intended) of John Belushi’s demise. But it works in the story's favor, because you’re reminded that this stuff does happen.

Menconi carries this off with great realism and gusto. There’s even an Off the Record Web site at, which features a history of the band, Real Audio snippets of their music, and interviews with the band members. The whole experience is part “Spinal Tap,” part “Blair Witch Project” ... certainly, not since “Blair Witch” have I seen such a convincing sendup of reality. But the book works splendidly without the website; Menconi writes like a lead singer sings, and Off the Record rocks!

— Harry Calhoun


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