Live music performances are one of the things that I have missed most in pre-pandemic life over the past year or so, and I look forward to the next time I can attend a concert in full. security.
Fortunately, in the meantime, there are books that can at least partially capture the excitement and energy of a live musical performance.
Dawnie Walton’s debut novel, “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev”, is one of those books. It’s a vibrant, immersive portrayal of 1970s rock and roll that hooks the reader very early on with its central mystery of what exactly happened during a life-changing show.
“The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” traces the story of pioneering and fictional 1970s interracial rock duo Opal Jewel and Nev Charles, a black singer from Detroit and a white British singer-songwriter hoping their different styles will create magic in the recording studio.
After a disappointing first album release, the two have an unexpected opportunity to stand out when a clash over another group’s use of Confederate Flag imagery at a concert turns into a violent and deadly riot.
Captured together fleeing the chaos that followed in a striking photograph released worldwide, Opal and Nev soar to stardom in the limelight. Forty years later, Opal and Nev are preparing to play a reunion concert that thrills the music world.
Nev has enjoyed a long and successful solo career adopting a more mainstream sound than the music he made with Opal, while provocative Opal has remained a fashion and culture icon to many – Walton so imagines. playful the many memes and GIFs of the confident and flamboyant artist. could have inspired – and is hailed as a revolutionary ancestor of Afro-punk.
Now is the time to write a book about the duo, and music journalist S. Sunny Shelton has a particularly personal reason for wanting to embark on the project.
Her father, drummer Jimmy Curtis, was murdered in the riot and had been involved in an extramarital affair with Opal. Determined to learn all she can about what happened, Sunny interviews a wide range of characters connected to that horrific night.
From Opal’s best friend / personal stylist to record directors to passionate fanbase members of Opal and Nev, Sunny obtains a wide variety of views and opinions on his subjects.
It’s ultimately up to her to determine which version of the truth she can trust.
Walton primarily tells his story in oral history form through transcripts of Sunny’s interviews that gradually reveal secrets his characters may be hiding and what they really remember on the night of the riot.
This format will remind some readers of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s popular 2019 book “Daisy Jones and the Six”, and this book is a great book to read for that title and also touches on a particular era in musical history.
However, Walton’s book delves deeper into social issues, particularly the racism that affects Opal’s career and the way his choices are viewed by the media and the music industry.
Although most of the book is set in the 1970s, Walton skillfully makes clear connections between then and now, and the way his characters adapt to a changing cultural landscape over decades is quite credible.
Walton’s morally complex characters mostly defy easy labeling as full heroes or villains, leaving the reader with plenty to think about once the last page is read.
The result is a captivating page turner that will be a great conversation starter for book clubs. I have now read “The Final Revival of Opal & Nev” in both print and audiobook form.
I wholeheartedly recommend choosing the book in either format, but audiobook fans will be delighted with the sparkling, full storytelling that works great with the novel’s oral history format. Both formats are available at the Champaign Public Library, and the novel is also available as an eBook or audiobook through the library’s Overdrive / Libby app.
Mara Fass is Associate Librarian for Technical Services at Champaign Public Library.