I have mentioned Wayne Standley frequently over the years on this blog, as he is a regular at the Paris open mics where I play. He is also, as it turns out, a regular on the Paris music scene for maybe 40 years! He is a regular on the Paris streets or metro platforms as a busker, and a regular performer in just about every other capacity, right up, in fact, to maybe playing in a dive bar one night, and then at the Cigale theater the next night. He is also regularly overshadowed in the fame sweepstakes by the name of his daughter, Rosemary Standley, who is the lead singer of the successful band called Moriarty. What most people who know the band’s most famous song – “Jimmy” – do not know, is that Wayne is the male backup vocal on that song. He also plays occasionally with the band – like at the aforementioned Cigale last year.
Now, what even I never knew until recently was that Wayne has written a Western novella called The Man Who Looked Like Me. My feeling is that this is a self-published novel, and I have found no references to it on the Internet anywhere. But just in order to mess things up a little, I DO find one other reference to the publishing company whose name is on the book: GG/F Press, Paris. But I cannot tell what this company does, who it has published, over whatever. I could ask Wayne, but I don’t even care much. What should happen now, is that if anyone likes the sound of this book, they should figure out how to get a copy from Wayne, and maybe we’ll get some kind of links going on that!!!
What immediately struck me with this book is that it is entirely “of a piece” with the Wayne I know, and the music he plays. Anyone who has ever heard this American expat play his vast repertoire in the Paris bars and streets and underground metro platforms will have one word that will immediately come to mind: Authentic. Wayne’s world (Oh, my God, I’m sorry for having that phrase slip out!) is really and truly authentic and all of a piece. If you like the country, cowboy, down-home feel and sound of his music – with a dab of pop culture and authentic general cultivation on the side – then you will love this book.
Wayne has his own bona fide singing voice, and in this book he has his own novelist’s voice. And it goes hand-in-hand with the singing voice and world: This is a modern western story that is too short to be a novel – it is 88 pages (plus song lyrics in a few pages in the back of the book, rounding it all out to just over 100 pages – and too long to be a short story. So it is a novella. The writing style is Wayne’s voice, southern, cowboy voice. When I read the first few pages I worried I was, in fact, going to be reading too much of a tale of ranching and cow rustling, following the cowboy life of “Jake Becker,” who as the first line of the book goes: “had a jim-dandy ranch outside of Amber Springs, and with 500 head of cattle, he was a chief supplier to the local beef market.” Like Wayne, Jake is also a musician who plays with a band in the local fairs and bars.
But from this initial impression, suddenly, the story takes off – early enough to not lose the read – into a mad romp of a tale about a neighbor hiring a murderer to kill Jake so he can get his land, since he has discovered there is a fat vein of gold underneath it. Jake, for his part, is struggling hard to keep the ranch going, as there is a drought and he cannot feed the cattle. When he learns that the neighbor is out to kill him, instead of simply reporting it to the police – there’s a hitch in that, by the way – he devises a risky scheme – with the help of his friends – to try to trap the killer and expose the conspirators.
The story just whips along at full-speed, a real page turner, and the advancing plot is a pleasure to read not just to find out what will happen, but thanks especially to the beautiful authenticity of the voice and story-telling, and the kind of people that populate the story: A young French shampoo saleswoman – Champagne Champoo – a corrupt local cop, a baddy businessman, all of Jake’s friends, and his wife he’s breaking up with. Ship, his horse….
But wait. This is not an 1880s western, either. This is a modern tale of life in Texas, with modern people, just with a cowboy turn to them. One of the most interesting, unusual and endearing aspects to the writing, in fact, is that despite the “down home” feel to the whole thing, there is a real post-modern feel to it in the cultural references. At least two references to Shakespeare’s Macbeth, for instance. And of course it is full of musical references. Check out this paragraph on the carnival night:
“Ben went the bar and ordered another beer. As the lights came on, his eyes scanned the crowd to see if anyone was watching him. He found no one interested in him. Sitting nearby were several men with ducktails and banana haircuts, leather jackets and guitars. They were waiting for the Elvis contest. One guy had a crew cut and sunglasses. He wore a 60s GI uniform, with a nameplate that read: WOODEN HEART. Will the real Elvis please stand up?
On the back of the book it says that Wayne is working on his next story, “Tom Sawyer Goes to Europe.” Where is it Wayne?!?