The Dead Beat by Cody James
2nd Nov 2010
And although many of those books may be gorgeous, engrossing and intriguing, it’s the exception rather than the rule for me to get as excited as I did by Cody James’ The Dead Beat.
A slim volume by writer, filmmaker and photographer (also ex-punk, ex-meth addict, Satanist and schizophrenic) Cody James, The Dead Beat is set in 1997 San Francisco, under the ominous shadow of the Hale-Bopp comet on its 3000- year round trip.
Narrated by Adam, a writer with writer’s block, a meth addiction, hallucinations and recurring nightmares about a moustachioed cockatoo, the frenetic energy of the language, style and sentence structure reflects the state he and his three best friends are in.
Living in a cockroach-infested hovel with next to no money, they are restless, frustrated and irrational; wrung out physically, mentally and emotionally.
Although the manic, disjointed descriptions and characters’ quirks are at times reminiscent of those in Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero, who take too many drugs and fuck each other out of boredom and existential angst, Adam and his friends are a million miles away from Ellis’ cokehead rich kids.
Like the addicts in Irvine Welsh’s infamous 1993 novel, Trainspotting, their desperation makes them by turns vicious, inarticulate, violent, unhinged and exhausted with the world and each other.
But despite their disintegrating relationships and circumstances, they retain their raw honesty and emotional sensitivity, and that’s what gives The Dead Beat its power.
For at the heart of The Dead Beat, beneath the dirt, disease, ugliness, apathy, paranoia and bile that seems to surround them from every side, there is a dark beauty in the black humour, warmth and affection that the close-knit circle have for each other.
Combine that with pitch-perfect dialogue and it all adds up to one of the boldest, bravest and most original books I’ve read in a long, long time.
The Dead Beat is published by the similarly brave, bold and innovative Eight Cuts. It is launched on November 18th, alongside Into the Desert, a virtual exhibition featuring the work of eighteen writers and artists, including a multimedia travelogue by Cody James.
And if you’re anywhere near Oxford, head along to Eight Cuts Live at the O3 Gallery on November 18th, where they’ll be celebrating the launch of both projects with a night of cutting-edge poetry and prose, live music and film.
Or if you’re not near enough for Oxford-based shenanigans, you can buy The Dead Beat from the Eight Cuts website for a mere £2 in eBook format, or for £6 for the paperback version. Do it. Now.