Major Threat is one of the best bands around that you have never heard about and they’re hopefully coming to a bar, a venue, or a festival near you soon. In her new book Brooklyn’s Last Secret, Leslie Stein chronicles a month of the band on the road, in a van traveling across the country from gig to gig. Lilith (guitars,) Ed (drums,) Marco (lead vocals), and the ever-mysterious Paul (bass) make up Stein’s fictional (possibly with a few semi-autobiographical elements thrown in) rock band, a group that has fans everywhere but still sleeps on friends and relatives couches whenever they can. It’s a road story about the sites, sounds, and people you meet along the way and even about how you can be another version of yourself when traveling. Stein shows us who these four people are while on the road and how that either conflicts a bit with or totally confirms who they actually are when they’re home and just being themselves.
This band is a fun group of people to just hang with. The way that Stein captures the individuality of each of them goes a long way toward keeping you in the book simply because you enjoy the time with them. This was a tour that I hoped would never end. Each person has their idiosyncrasies to explore within these pages but Stein has so many interesting ways to signal that we’re only seeing a snapshot of these people, from the ways that she doesn’t draw lines to define and close off anyone’s face to the way that each image is an open, round drawing, highlighted by her watercolors, but only a fragment of a larger image or world. In showing these lives to us, Stein hints at so much while leaving large swatches of her images open to allow us to fill in the details as we imagine them to be.
Her artwork is so simple and expressive, making it easy to get lost in this nomadic month with Major Threat. The way that she doesn’t close the lines in people’s faces gives her so much room to plumb the depths of these characters. For each one, there’s so much more to them than just their roles in the band, whether it’s personal or professional depths that Stein finds ways to fit into the story without them becoming the strong, defining moments of these stories. Those open faces give us the room to “read” and interpret their faces as much as we do their words.
Rather than closing off her drawings, completing the image, and limiting our ability to fill in the images of what these characters look like, her approach to her figures nudges us not to box in these band members, defining them by looks or stereotypes. It’s a way to suggest that we are only seeing a portion of these characters, meeting them where they are now without getting a complete character portrait. Lilith is maybe the closest we have to a point-of-view character but how much do we get to know about her or her world? The other three, while having their own mysteries, seem much more complete because we see them a bit through Lilith’s discovery of them, of who they are and what’s important to them.
Even Dani, their manager, is a full and complicated character who we only see in small doses in this book. But for Stein, all such moments are opportunities to have the characters drive them and reveal something about themselves in them. Dani starts off sending the band on their way, checking in with them at some of the gigs but with each appearance, we learn something new about her through her actions and her relationship with the band. Stein does this with family, rivals, ex-band members, and fans. There’s always something to learn about these characters from and through the simple ways that they relate to each other. No one feels thrown in to fill space or just to provide a necessary bit of dialogue; everyone in this book has an important role to play whether they’re the focus of the book or show up for just one page and are never seen again.
While Brooklyn’s Last Secret may be built around rock and roll, it’s not a book about music. We rarely ever actually see them playing music as Stein uses the concept of the band to be able to show what life in a band is like. This is a road story, looking at who we are and what we do when we’re allowed to step outside of our everyday life for a little bit. Stein uses that to allow the circumstances to reveal the characters. She doesn’t tell us who these people are but lets us discover them. Marco is the newest member of the band; this is his first tour with them so we get to discover him as much as Lilith does and he’s such a fascinating, fun, and damaged man, but in the ways that we’re all damaged. Stein doesn’t just come out and lay all of this on us but peels back who he is in the small moments that we get to just hang with him the way that the band hangs together. It’s almost like we’re the fifth member of the band, the one that no one knows who just gets to hang around the back of the stage, observing everything. Maybe a roadie or something fun like that if only Major Threat was big enough to have a roadie.
If you’re going on a vacation this summer, this is the kind of book to throw into your bag and pick up when you have just a few minutes as Stein builds her story through vignettes and focuses on moments that you can only have when you’re not at home. Brooklyn’s Last Secret is a great summer book as it reminds you to step outside of your life now and again and to just take in the world around you. For Stein’s characters, this journey is built around all of their gigs but it’s more about the time that these characters get to spend with one another and everyone else on the road that they meet along the way.