The death of a loved one is difficult enough to endure and accept. When your loved one was a rock icon at the height of his stardom, whose legion of fans want to keep his memory alive and whose former band is planning a comeback, the passage of time offers little comfort. But when an opportunity for closure appears on the horizon, what would stop you from grasping it?
It’s been twenty years since the death of Ashten Geddard, frontman for the Ashbirds; a rock band that had established themselves as a voice of their generation and seemed destined to join the legends of music history. Ashten died while attempting to climb Mount Everest with his band mate Hugo Bird, both of them little more than amateur mountain climbers. His body was never recovered. Ashten’s sudden, shocking death at the height of their success meant the band joined a club of a different sort, populated by those whose creative force ended too soon, their fans left unfulfilled but no less passionate.
Now, in 2014, Oliver Jared, one of those obsessive fans, with a little too much money to spare, is determined to relive his teenage joy and bring the band back together.
But the ‘band’ was little more than Ashten and Hugo. The other musicians they recorded with and toured with, had no song writing credits, no claim to royalties; they were not considered permanent members and some were interchangeable. One of those is Robert. Robert played bass on the third Ashbirds album and was once working with Ashten on a solo album during a hiatus from the band. Their project was abandoned, Robert’s half-written songs forgotten by everyone but him. Since his brief brush with rock stardom, Robert has made a career out of writing advertising jingles. With Jared looking to bring back the Ashbirds, Robert sees an opportunity to live his dream, to make the Ashbirds future his own.
A roadblock Robert fears is the return of Hugo Bird. Since Ashten’s death, Hugo has left the music world behind. He has spent the years mountain climbing and using his royalties for the betterment of people of Nepal. Hugo has no interest of returning to the world of writing, recording and performing, but the allure of more funds for his charity draws him from obscurity.
Apart from Hugo, no one has tried to put the Ashbirds behind them more than Elza. She was Ashten’s fiancé at the time of his death. Her short, intense relationship with a Rockstar was enough for her to be hounded by tabloid photographers ever since. A dancer when she was with Ashten, Elza is now an artist and painter, often producing wall paintings for corporate board rooms. Jared sees the value of her as part of the band’s history and commissions her to produce some art for their comeback. Though she would rather continue moving on with her life, it is an opportunity for paid work and to explore emotions she may have avoided. Her feelings about a rebooted Ashbirds is further complicated by the fact that her best friend, Gina, is Robert’s wife.
Elza hated being asked about Ashbirds albums. Did nobody realise she wasn’t in music? People thought she had influence, but she didn’t. She never had, even at the height of everything. But people still angled for her to pull strings for their band, or their album, or their friend’s band or album. She’d been a visual artist for at least a decade, but nobody asked her for favours there. They defined her by a guy she dated twenty years ago.
One person Elza can trust is Steve, Ashten’s former bodyguard and the one person who protects her best interests.
As the project to relaunch the Ashbirds gets underway, several conflicts arise. The return of Hugo and his reestablishment as the heart and song writer of the band sans Ashten, brings a creative rivalry with Robert. Almost everyone is risking their outside careers for this chance, yet the man they depend on, Jared, is fickle as he does not understand this creative process and thinks recording a new album should be as easy as buying one. And can Hugo really pull off wearing Ashten’s shoes as frontman?
Hanging over them all is the ghost of Ashten Geddard. Over the years, whenever the body of a climber is found on Everest, it sets off a new buzz that maybe Ashten has finally be found. The effort to bring back the Ashbirds is forcing Hugo and Elza to revisit the different Ashtens they knew. In a strange way, the two people who have tried hardest to move on, also have their reasons to not want to face a final curtain.
On first impression, Ever Rest is about the difficulty of moving on after the death of a friend and loved one. More than acceptance is required of Hugo and Elza. The fact that Ashten’s body was never recovered; that you can still hear Ashten’s voice whenever an Ashbird’s song is played; that they are still pursued by fans and tabloid journalists decades later; makes his death seem more like a disappearance, makes it hard to believe he is really gone. Their complicated feelings manifest in various ways from avoidance and denial to possible survivor guilt.
In the early, raw days, she was a soft touch for anyone who offered the chance to talk. Nothing existed as urgently as the questions and sensations that told her every hour that Ashten was not here. Each time, it was as if he had only just gone. You think that person crossing the street is him? It’s not and you will never see him cross a street again. That’s him singing from the radio but you will never hear him speak a new sentence to you. The rest of the world passed by as if on a screen, an experience that seemed devised to lull her to forget and then shock her with it again, in case she thought she might ever get used to it.
The novel has much else going on for reflection besides. There is the romance of trekking and mountain climbing; of isolation and adventure, of testing yourself against the elements and exorcising your inner turmoil against the climb. My own memories of the Everest region are a little different from the novel’s but I was there a few years before the setting and not during the climbing season. It is certainly an aspect of the novel that held appeal for me.
Without offering much comment on it, there is the sense of being in the midst of nostalgia rock. Of there existing a large audience of retired Boomers and middle-aged Gen-X’ers who still provide demand for performances from the favourite acts of their youth.
This would have made them. How many vintage rockers were relaunching right now? The press were calling them comb-over comebacks. Ashbirds was just one more unless they did something phenomenal.
Within any band, various conflicts, professional jealousies and rivalries, are at work. Conflict between the band and management; between those who write the songs and the musicians and frontmen who perform them; between those who have made sacrifices for this opportunity and can’t afford to fail, and those who have nothing material on the line; the unequal sharing of profit and credit. In Ever Rest, as the characters come together to write and record the new music, or as we look back to how Ashten and Hugo used to work, these various conflicts are all in play.
Ash began walking again, fast. ‘I know what that song’s about.’
Hugo pursued him, with a backing chorus of yelling Brummies. ‘It was not about you. And now you’ve made it into trivial mush. Think about it. “All your moments, I’m your only witness.” How does that line make any actual sense if the song is about you?’
‘Don’t tell me what I should say about a song.’
‘You don’t mind being told what to sing. Or taking the credit for writing it. You’ll hijack Jim Morrison’s life to make yourself sound cool. But you can’t be arsed to listen when I tell you what a song is about.’
Ever Rest is a fairly straight novel set in the real modern world. It is not postmodernist nor does it engage in magic realism or anything like that. And yet, for someone of my generation, it requires a little suspension of belief. That’s because Ashten Geddard dies in May 1994 – which for someone my age rings a lot of bells because of a very famous real-world musician’s death a month earlier! Elsewhere, another fictional detail in the novel struck me because I could recall the real-world parallel from memory. And so, for a reader of my age, Ever Rest had a certain alternative universe quality to it. A reader a generation older or younger than me might have a different experience.
Ever Rest is a well-crafted novel. I think what Morris does best is emotionally manipulate the reader. Several times, when the plot threads come together, she is able to engage the reader in its build up – with doubt, fear, suspense, anticipation – and then release it with a relief, or an explosion. I did have a couple of quibbles with the novel, but they were so minor they aren’t worth relating. Instead, it is the way Morris carries the reader along and admiration for the skill behind it that made a lasting impression.
Though it contains ideas on the music and tabloid industries, the heart of Ever Rest is how people move on from death when the usual routes to closure are unavailable, how they respond when the past returns and that closure, that they thought they wanted, is at last at hand. This is where readers will find the novel’s appeal and its relevance.
Note: Ever Rest will be released soon – 3 June 2021. Author Roz Morris provided me with an advance copy in return for an independent review.