Johnny Goldstein - An Elegy For The Lost City (Book Review)

Johnny Goldstein is a Woodstock Generation New Orleanian, forced upriver to St. Louis by life's circumstance. An award-winning songwriter/composer, guitarist, beloved teacher and producer and now, an author, Goldstein was influenced by Dickens, Twain, John Irving, Vonnegut, Kozinski and Koontz. He's an easily-crazed Cardinal fan, a passionate cook, gardener and critter lover, and much to his surprise-- for the last 30 years a serious meditator, preternaturally drawn to an ancient Tibetan lineage. An Elegy for the Lost City is based on three characters from Goldstein's original songs. The fiction series would not exist had his performing career not been ended by a 2006 car accident.

After hanging up his rock 'n roll shoes at 35, and hardened with a cynicism forged through failure in his chosen "art," he took these nifty skills to the corporate world of PR and advertising, becoming what he calls "your typically basic music biz whore"

Music that seemed to flow through the pages of Elegy in tandem with the offbeat characters proved to be the perfect, compelling narrative for a next generation of audiobook to accompany the novel. Inspired to create what Goldstein calls the "World's First Audio Book in Radio Form," the audio work is essentially a throwback to classic radio drama from the 30s and 40s. In many respects and with better technology, it is more like a modern film soundtrack overflowing with the music that defines New Orleans as well as the panorama of rock 'n roll legends influenced by the City's iconic musicians. The Beatles as well as Satchmo and Randy Newman plus dozens of other musical artists set the backdrop for this old-school radio drama heightened by the lush, ambient sounds of everyday New Orleans.

That is all the bio concerning Johnny Goldstein that is needed, but much more can be found to describe him. And at first I wasn’t into evaluating something of this nature, being mostly a disc reviewer, but the book sort of plays like a disc anyway. You can’t do anything but call it an even balance of music and spoken words to come out with this extraordinary item. It’s not overlong if you listen to it, as it sort of streamlines the stories together in a way that flows really well. But I still can’t review it without skipping around and introducing highs and lows, rather than a track by track run, which would prove difficult and overlong itself. To keep you engaged it is a lot easier to mention the music than the stories, as that’s where reviewing it comes in.

I wound up with several favorite numbers and some I’d skip if I were looping it on random. The music is more than above standard in places and not so much in others but it takes a pedestrian feel to write music or narrative parts about any city, so, no complaints. The book starts off musically as it is, with two cuts before he starts the narration, and those two pieces alone, “Soc’s Lola” and “Audiobook”(New Orleans Cue) both feature Charles Neville, before it goes into the very first scene, which is entitled “July 6th, 1971.” It tells the story about the day Louie Armstrong died, and that sets the reader and listener up very well for a great journey.

As an artist, Johnny Goldstein has done the out-doable here, but not only that, the music is so strong and the stories equally brilliant that you’ll want to share it with people. I have to say I did not expect any of this when I finally got into it. I was reluctant at first because of a lack of having described and critiqued this format. I’d do it again in a heartbeat of I were assigned. My mind is open to all the audiobooks I can take in now, as long as there is some music involved. You get little things like “Blueberry Hill” sung by Louie Armstrong and pieces like that which are a joy to hear. He doesn’t hog this whole project, he rather got a lot of help from other artists to round it out.

This doesn’t put it in the forced-feel zone either, which is a risk anyone would take doing this. The stories get a lot of music to help them along, going in the background, so it’s no loss when he goes into longer spoken passages. You get things like “Light In The Loafers’ which he sets up as mamas springtime pumps, to give you some of the dry wit of Goldstein. That one is followed up by “Hurricanes & Scalawags ‘n Preservation. It’s of course based around the Preservation Hall of NW, with a hint of disaster, hence the Hurricane mention in the title.

“Special Gurls” is a cool little story with the likes of Bowie’s “China Girl’ playing in the background as he goes on about a less than savory story about a child, which changes the background music up the The Beatles “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” to make it stick a little. These stories are brutal in their description and he holds little to nothing back to make that happen. It’s an honestly great thing to partake in, once you start you get taken further and further in, and that is a testament to the artist and this written and recorded work.

Cyrus Rhodes