Daisy Jones & the Six is the latest release from Taylor Jenkins Reid (of The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo fame) and it’s all about sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll. It tells the story of the rise and fall of a fictional 70’s rock band through an “oral history” (think VH1’s Behind the Scenes).
It’s also the March selection from Reese’s Book Club. Overall, I think Reese’s selections are pretty good. There’s definitely a hard slant towards more plot-focused books that will work well as movie or TV adaptations — probably because her book club serves as a feeder for her production company — but, clearly there’s an audience for those titles, as evidenced by the popularity of this book. This one in particular is being adapted into a 13-episode series on Amazon.
For the Detailed Plot Summary, click here or scroll all the way down.
Daisy Jones is young, beautiful, talented and just beginning her ascent into music stardom when a producer pairs her up with The Six, an up-and-coming blues-rock band.
Daisy Jones & the Six tells their story in all its unruly, sex-crazed, drug-fueled glory. Daisy is blessed in every way — looks, money, talent — but is also wild, reckless and filled with hubris. Meanwhile, Billy, the de facto leader of The Six, is capable but controlling and struggling to manage the temptations of the rock and roll lifestyle. When they meet, stars align and legends are born.
Book Review: the Good Stuff
More than anything else, Daisy Jones & the Six is a fun book that evokes the sense of energy that comes with telling a surprisingly uncynical story about uninhibited, young and talented people — it’s entertainment through and through. Upbeat and uncomplicated.
Even from the description on the back cover, you know exactly where this story is going, a bunch of beautiful and blessed people, off to make music, live glamorously and find fame. And it delivers.
In terms of the format, the “oral history”-slash-faux-documentary style works. It provides a breezy and quick way to tell the story from a multiple of angles, though it obviously limits to some extent the more reflective aspects of storytelling. Instead, the onus is on the reader to read between the lines of what’s being said.
I’m usually pretty adverse to literary gimmicks, but I think this format made sense for the type of story Reid is trying to tell. It’s also to her credit that she does a good job of capturing the right tone for the faux documentary format. It comes off as conversational, accessible and believable enough not to be be a distraction.
The More Critical Stuff
I would say that the people who would probably not enjoy this book are the one who are looking for something that delves a bit deeper into the issues it covers or those who are looking for something more contemplative. As mentioned above, I think this is partially a limitation of the format, but I also just don’t think that’s the type of book this is trying to be. This is a book that just wants to have a good time.
In general, it presents an overly rosy view of substance addiction and the road to fame. Neither of these things are particularly difficult battles for any of the characters, and to the extent there are consequences, they are very limited. (The lack of consequences for heavy drug use in this book is especially strange to me; I don’t understand why Reid would choose to write it that way.)
The larger gripe I had with this book had to do with portrayal of female characters, though I realize this may be an unpopular opinion.
Not-Quite-Feminism in Daisy Jones & the Six
In Daisy Jones, the main female characters (Camila, Karen and Daisy) are all clearly meant to be “strong women” — and they all have the same conception of what it means. To put it in Reid’s words, they’re all very “Take me or leave me”. They are all very assertive, don’t take shit, and they put their foot down when they see fit. And while I of course support having female characters who stand up for themselves, something about their characterization occasionally grated at me.
While well-intentioned, Reid’s idea of what a “strong woman” is comes off as too limiting to me. They all sort of just firmly say no if there’s something they don’t like, and for some reason they pretty much always get their way. This seems like a gross oversimplification of what it takes for women to navigate the world.
For example, when their label exec wants Karen to dress more provocatively, the entire situation is covered in one sentence: “Rod told me to wear low-cut shirts and I said,’Dream on,’ and that was about the end of that.”
Similarly, when Karen is being underutilized by the otherwise all-male band, her trials and tribulations are covered as follows: “Karen was the kind of person who had more talent in her finger than most people have in their whole body and The Six was under-utilizing her. She fixed that, though. She fixed that on the next one.” That’s literally all it says.
And when Daisy wants to write songs, despite Billy having always had all the control, she stakes her claim by just stating her intention, and he’s fine with it. “She was laying down the law early,” Reid writes.
What bothers me about this is that it also promotes the idea that sexism would be solved if women just spoke up once in a while (similar to why Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In philosophy is often criticized). It additionally makes it seem like there’s only one way be a strong woman and that the burden is on women to shape themselves into this ideal “strong woman” figure, which I find problematic. To me, it’s a version of Feminism-Lite — at first glance it seems empowering, but ultimately it’s very hollow version of feminism.
Reid also embraces the idea that Daisy Jones’s willingness to have an album cover of her with her chest visible through her shirt (where you can’t even see her face) is some type of show of strength, which I though was a cop-out. Let’s face it, most young singers that bare their tits to get sales are being exploited. Telling us “oh no, it’s okay, she was really into it” is just dodging the issue. And it’s easier for a character to feel okay with being exploited when it brings them fame, what about when they agree to things like that and it doesn’t? This book sidesteps all the messiness and hard issues.
(I’m guessing someone out there is gearing up angry comments for me, so I beg you to please be gentle, but I’d welcome contrary opinions in the comments!)
Daisy Jones on Audiobook
It’s also worth noting a lot of people are saying this book is great on audiobook. I haven’t heard it, so I can’t vouch for this but it would make sense given the format. I know that it does use different people to voice the different characters though, which is probably a plus. Check it out on audible.
Read it or Skip it?
If you’re looking for something fun, spirited and entertaining, go for it. Even with my criticisms, I have to admit that the book succeeds at what it’s trying to be. It dons a pair of rose-colored glasses and captures the energy and tone of that period in a faux documentary style that is entertaining and engaging. If you read it uncritically, it would be easy to enjoy as a quick beach read.
Ultimately, there are plenty of people who will like reading this book. As someone who spends my free time learning to code and writing about literary fiction, you can probably guess I’ve never been someone who finds the whole sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll ethos particularly entrancing, but that’s me.
I had a hard time with the lack of substance in this book. Everything comes so easy for everyone in it, and the characters rarely face consequences for their actions. (And yes, I realize what a boring stick-in-the-mud I sound like right now, haha.) And what passes for feminism here bothered me. When it comes down to it, I think I was disappointed by the lack of daring and how “safe” this book about rock and roll — once considered a wild and subversive lifestyle — turned out to be.
What did you think? Am I being too harsh? Do you think you’d consider reading this book? Share your thoughts below and happy reading! See it on Amazon.
P.S. For more, also see other Best Book Club picks of 2019.
Extras: Detailed Plot Summary (Spoilers)
The book is written as an "oral history." Kind of like a documentary in written form with frequent splices and a range of points of view.
Daisy Jones the Groupie (1965-1972).
Daisy Jones is born in 1951 in Hollywood Hills (Los Angeles). Her parents are a well-known painter and a model. Daisy is rich, beautiful and her parents don't pay much attention to her. She loses her virginity to some random drummer.
She befriends an older "disco star", Simone, who takes her under her wing. They party, do speed, but Simone also tells her to stay in school. Daisy is a talented singer and songwriter, a career Simone encourages her to pursue.
The Rise of the Six (1966-1972).
The Dunne Brothers (later, the Six) is a blues-rock band in Pittsburgh with brothers Billy (older) and Graham. Dad leaves them as young kids, leaves behind a guitar. They play together, and as teens (1967) bring on drummer Warren Rhodes, bassist Pete Loving, and rhythm guitarist Chuck Williams. Billy is the one all the girls like. They end up playing a wedding that their dad happens to attend. Dad doesn't say anything. Billy meets his future wife (Camila) at the wedding.
Chuck gets called in for the draft. Pete's brother Eddie joins to replace him. Chuck dies. Karen (keyboardist) joins them as well, who Graham has a crush on. They change the name to The Six. They meet Rod Reyes who becomes their manager. He suggests moving to California so Billy and Camila break up. There, they catch the eye of a producer (Teddy Price), who intro them to Rich Palentino. Rich offers them a record deal with Runner records. Billy proposes to Camila.
It Girl (1972-1974).
Daisy starts writing bits and pieces of songs prolifically. Hank Allen becomes her manager. She signs with Runner Records, but they don't like her songs and want her to sing other people's songs. She's distraught.
The Six work on an album in Los Angeles. Artie Snyder is the sound engineer. Billy is obsessive and controlling, but is also the most talented. The release goes well and a small tour is planned. Before they leave, Camila tells Billy she's pregnant. They have a quickie wedding.
After their first show on tour, Billy gets high and cheats on Camila and continues to do so. Camila decides to surprise him and catches him. He starts using heroine. The baby (Julia) is born, and Billy goes to rehab. Pete introduces the band to his girlfriend Jenny. Billy gets clean.
Simone is topping the dance charts and about to go on tour. Meanwhile, Daisy is refusing to record. Label threatens to sue. Teddy (accurately) says all her songs are unfinished, and convinces her to record the album. "First" is released.
Seven Eight Nine (1975-1976).
The Six are working on another album, but their Teddy wants them to do it as a duet with a female singer. He suggests Daisy. Daisy comes in, they like her, but she tweaks the song lyrics a little to "Honeycomb," which Billy doesn't like. With Daisy there, Billy doesn't get to control everything.
The Numbers Tour (1976-1977).
Honeycomb is a hit, and the band goes on tour (without Daisy). Daisy shows up at one show, sings Honeycomb with them and the crowd goes wild. The label adds Daisy as an opener on their tour. Billy is also stand-offish with Daisy because she is an addict, and he doesn't want the temptation. Karen and Graham get together.
Daisy's jerk boyfriend Hank shows up and she dumps him. Before he leaves, he gets her band to walk out. A guy from the Rolling Stones is at the next show, so Eddie agrees to accompany Daisy. Billy grabs Eddie's guitar and sings with her, and she joins the Six for some of their songs. Eddie loses it at Billy for being controlling and self-centered.
The Rolling Stone gives them a cover and suggests they should add Daisy. The Six like the idea and Billy reluctantly agrees. Daisy lets them know she want to help write some songs and Rod suggests they go by Daisy Jones & the Six.
Karen and Graham are a couple but not telling the band. Karen tells Camila about her and Graham, and Camila tells her not to hurt him.
Daisy and Billy work on a song (Aurora) and it goes well, though Daisy calls Billy out on using every song he writes to apologize to his wife and Billy calls Daisy out on her pill addiction.
Daisy misses a recording session, and Rod and Billy go to check on her. She got too trashed at a party and cuts her foot on glass. Billy writes "Impossible Woman" about it. Daisy struggles to get the song right at first wants to give up. Finally she gets it and feels proud of herself. They continue writing songs and find they work well together, though Daisy continues to be flaky. Graham pitches a song, but Billy rejects it, and Graham sells the song which ends up being a hit.
As the album comes together, the label gets excited and starts planning for a big release. Daisy kisses Billy, but he pulls back. Daisy writes a song about it. The band votes to put it on the album against Billy's wishes. The shoot the album cover, and Daisy and Billy are the stars of it.
Once the album is done, Billy and Teddy work on finishing the songs, while Daisy goes to Phuket to unwind. She meets an Italian prince (Niccolo/Nicky), flies to Italy and gets married. Simone is supposed to meet her in Phuket and ends up having to track her down and bring her back home.
A few weeks later, the band gathers to hear the finished album, minus Daisy. It's really good, but Eddie is angry so much was changed. Karen's a bit miffed too, so is Warren. Meanwhile, Daisy comes back married and things are tense with her and Billy. Jonah is there to do another article and it's clear they aren't getting along. Luckily, the article about them hating each other only enhances the album's mystique. Pete tells Eddie he's marrying Jenny and he'll be leaving the band when this tour is over.
Aurora World Tour (1978-1979).
On tour, Daisy and Billy have separate buses. The band is quite famous now. Nicky comes with Daisy and encourages her drug use. One day she wakes up in a shower. Nicky thought she had OD'd and was trying to wake her up. She realizes Nicky doesn't know how to take care of her and she'll end up dead if she stays with him. She leaves a message with the concierge that she wants a divorce, and starts to try to get sober.
Karen is pregnant. She doesn't want a kid, but Graham does. With Nicky gone, Daisy and Billy start getting along better. The record becomes Record of the Year. The band does SNL. Daisy realizes she's in love with Billy. Billy realizes he feels something for Daisy too, but Camila is the one he wants.
Daisy tells Billy she wants to get clean, but Teddy dies of a heart attack which derails Daisy's plan, and she continues using. Karen ends up getting an abortion.
Chicago Stadium (July 12, 1979).
The band plays a show and Karen and Graham get into a fight afterwards. Camila and Julia (Billy's daughter) are there for the show and Daisy sees how much Billy loves them. Daisy ends up on the hotel floor crying. Meanwhile, Billy ends up falling off the wagon and taking a drink at the bar. It's not until a guy at the bar asks him if he has kids that he stops.
(At the point the unnamed "Author" of this transcript jumps in and identifies herself -- it's Julia.) Julia is five at this point in the story. She and Camila come across Daisy. Camila comforts Daisy, but also suggests that she should leave the band and get clean.
Back at the bar, Billy also realizes he needs to choose between his family and the band, so he chooses his family. Daisy also decides to book a flight out for the next day and leaves a note to say she's done. The rest of the tour is cancelled.
Then and Now (1979-Present).
: She gets clean, starts writing, traveling, adopts kids.
: He's happy with Jenny and declines to be interviewed for the rest of the book (this is the only part he appears).
: Married, kids.
: Married, sells real estate.
: Marries someone else, has kids.
: Married a musician who is way more successful.
: Becomes a record producer.
: Continued with music through nineties and retired.
: He's happy, sad that Camila passed away from Lupus, about 5 years ago.
One Last Thing Before I Go (November 5, 2012).
(This is written as a letter from Camila to her kids before she died): She tells them to give their Dad some time, and then tell him to call Daisy Jones.
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See Daisy Jones & the Six