The Armageddon Rag, by George R.R. Martin
During the 1960’s Nazgûl was a hugely popular hard rock band, the voice of a generation. But in 1971, when a bullet ended both the life of the charismatic lead-singer and the future of the band, an era came to an end. During those years Sandy Blair was in the midst of the action. An activist while in college and an underground journalist afterwards he was present at the demonstrations and the concerts. He was there when the bullet found the singer and ended a revolution that never really started.
The world, Sandy Blair and the remaining band-members have changed in the decade since the shooting. Blair, a published author with three novels to his name is facing a severe case of writers-bloc when the former manager of Nazgûl is murdered in his house; murdered in a way that reflects the lyrics of one of Nazgûl’s songs. When the magazine Blair worked for in the 1960’s asks him to investigate the murder he can’t reject the offer. Intrigued, Blair goes on the trail of a murderer. A journey that will bring him into contact with the remaining members of the once famous band, his own past and a man who wants to resurrect both Nazgûl and the revolution.
Soon after starting his investigation, Blair finds himself haunted by very vivid nightmares; dreams that become darker and more vivid as the date of Nazgûl’s relaunch comes closer. Eventually Blair comes to believe that the visions in his dreams will become reality unless he takes some action.
This is very much a story of two parts. What at first appears to be a rather straightforward mystery – who killed the manager – turns into a psychedelic fantasy about halfway through the book. The reader is lulled into a false sense of security as they commence on a road-trip with Sandy Blair. While investigating the gruesome murder Blair behaves as any investigative journalist would. He travels to the scene of the crime and talks to those he thinks are likely suspects. It is only later on in the story that the reader discovers that this won’t be a straightforward investigation, although the story does end with a revelation that is somewhat surprising.
There is even more to this book though. This is also an ode to the 1960’s, to the philosophies of the time and, most importantly to the music that was created during those years. Each chapter starts with lines from songs of that era; lines that in one way or another reflect the content of that chapter.
And finally, this book is also a study of how people’s dreams and ideals change as they grow older and have to face the reality of having to live and work in the real world. And although that reality may not kill the original dream, it does make it hard, if not impossible, to live that dream.
I thought this was a fascinating book. The shift from mystery to supernatural story took me by surprise and delighted me. What made the supernatural aspects even more fascinating is that the main character has as hard a time distinguishing between reality and fantasy as the reader has. The reader is never on their own when they wonder what on earth might be going on. The supernatural is as unbelievable to most of the characters as it is to the reader, and therefore suddenly very credible.
This book was originally published in 1983, long before Martin achieved huge fame for his Game of Thrones series. The re-release now is without a doubt due to the popularity that series has recently achieved, both in print and on television. Because I’ve neither read the Game of Thrones books nor watched the series I can’t compare this book to Martin’s later work. I can say though that this is a very interesting read for anyone who likes mysteries, the supernatural and, most importantly, rock and roll.