Review by Frank Plowright
Life on the road with a rock band. How much fun did Almost Famous make it seem? Well, Brooklyn’s Major Threat aren’t Stillwater, they’re several rungs lower on the ladder, their aspirations not extending much beyond a rider that’s better than hummus and limp carrots.
Leslie Stein provides an authenticity suggesting a loving reminiscence of days gone by as Major Threat works its way by van from the US east coast to west coast and back again. Pictured on the cover, the band are carefully created to avoid obvious stereotyping. For starters, the name appears to be ironic, as no hellraisers and thrillseekers feature. The band members are all somewhat sedate, and okay people, egos absent. Bassist Paul is enigmatic, his muttered communication a mystery to all but new singer Marco, while Ed’s happy to have the band stay at his parents’ house and on the surface Lilth seems to be holding it together, but is she really?
The authenticity is supplied by so many experiences funnelled into the tour just ringing of truth: the gig where everyone only hears the single instrument; the gig ruined by earlier over-eating; the frequent automatic assumption Lilith is the bassist; the knowing nods to the festival experience; the party gig; the enthusiastic support band; the midwest dives; the pretentious rock star, and a mixture of sly digs and reverential namechecks for real bands. Just be grateful Stein can’t replicate the actual smell of the tour van.
At just under three hundred pages Brooklyn’s Last Secret is a long book, which is down to Stein setting a leisurely pace reflecting the endless days on the road and what’s needed to occupy the hours. It allows for the development of well conceived running jokes, many of them concerning Paul, and for the dropped bombshells to have infinitely greater impact because we’ve come to know the band so well. This process is deceptively subtle, with Stein masterful at apparently concentrating on one thing when the real purpose of a scene is something else. Casually dropped information builds into a comprehensive understanding that’s then bolstered by following each band member individually as they spend their time off in San Francisco. A sly sense of humour is always apparent.
While understated and accomplished, Stein’s work stands out for several more gimmicky reasons. The lack of panel borders, her largely featureless people and hand lettering carried out in colour pencil combine for an endearing home made charm. However, as with the writing, there’s an elusive depth to the artistic techniques. She’s great with movement.
Stein keeps surprising, and some of the best scenes occur in the home stretch. There’s a heartbreaker in Kansas and a great conversation about the validation music provides sending out all the right messages, the enjoyment being in the playing, not the craving of success.
Don’t feel you’ve got to be really into your music to check out Brooklyn’s Last Secret. While the props are undoubted, it’s about the people and it’s about the experience, and both resonate all the way to a perfect ending.