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Adrianne Geffel: A Fiction

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Adrianne Geffel was a genius. Praised as the “Geyser of Grand Street” and the “Queen of Bleak Chic,” she was a one-of-a-kind artist, a pianist and composer with a rare neurological condition that enabled her to make music that was nothing less than pure, unmediated emotional expression. She and her sensibility are now fully integrated into the cultural lexicon; her music h Adrianne Geffel was a genius. Praised as the “Geyser of Grand Street” and the “Queen of Bleak Chic,” she was a one-of-a-kind artist, a pianist and composer with a rare neurological condition that enabled her to make music that was nothing less than pure, unmediated emotional expression. She and her sensibility are now fully integrated into the cultural lexicon; her music has been portrayed, represented, and appropriated endlessly in popular culture. But what do we really know about her? Despite her renown, Adrianne Geffel vanished from public life, and her whereabouts remain a mystery to this day. David Hajdu cuts through the noise to tell, for the first time, the full story of Geffel’s life and work, piecing it together through the memories of those who knew her, inspired her, and exploited her—her parents, teachers, best friend, manager, critics, and lovers. Adrianne Geffel made music so strange, so compelling, so utterly unique that it is simply not to be believed. Hajdu has us believing every note of it in this slyly entertaining work of fiction. A brilliantly funny satire, with characters that leap off the page, Adrianne Geffel is a vividly twisted evocation of the New York City avant-garde of the 1970s and ’80s, and a strangely moving portrait of a world both utterly familiar and like none we’ve ever encountered.


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Adrianne Geffel was a genius. Praised as the “Geyser of Grand Street” and the “Queen of Bleak Chic,” she was a one-of-a-kind artist, a pianist and composer with a rare neurological condition that enabled her to make music that was nothing less than pure, unmediated emotional expression. She and her sensibility are now fully integrated into the cultural lexicon; her music h Adrianne Geffel was a genius. Praised as the “Geyser of Grand Street” and the “Queen of Bleak Chic,” she was a one-of-a-kind artist, a pianist and composer with a rare neurological condition that enabled her to make music that was nothing less than pure, unmediated emotional expression. She and her sensibility are now fully integrated into the cultural lexicon; her music has been portrayed, represented, and appropriated endlessly in popular culture. But what do we really know about her? Despite her renown, Adrianne Geffel vanished from public life, and her whereabouts remain a mystery to this day. David Hajdu cuts through the noise to tell, for the first time, the full story of Geffel’s life and work, piecing it together through the memories of those who knew her, inspired her, and exploited her—her parents, teachers, best friend, manager, critics, and lovers. Adrianne Geffel made music so strange, so compelling, so utterly unique that it is simply not to be believed. Hajdu has us believing every note of it in this slyly entertaining work of fiction. A brilliantly funny satire, with characters that leap off the page, Adrianne Geffel is a vividly twisted evocation of the New York City avant-garde of the 1970s and ’80s, and a strangely moving portrait of a world both utterly familiar and like none we’ve ever encountered.

30 review for Adrianne Geffel: A Fiction

  1. 5 out of 5

    Blair

    An oral history of a fictional musician – so addictive I read it in a single night. It's something like Daisy Jones & The Six meets The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, but smarter and wittier than either. Also has a villain so palpably punchable, it's a miracle my Kindle is still intact. In the world of the book, Geffel was a hugely influential experimental pianist who rose to prominence in the late 1970s. Her impact was such that 'geffel' has become a verb (meaning 'to release pure emotion i An oral history of a fictional musician – so addictive I read it in a single night. It's something like Daisy Jones & The Six meets The Life and Death of Sophie Stark, but smarter and wittier than either. Also has a villain so palpably punchable, it's a miracle my Kindle is still intact. In the world of the book, Geffel was a hugely influential experimental pianist who rose to prominence in the late 1970s. Her impact was such that 'geffel' has become a verb (meaning 'to release pure emotion in a work of creative expression'). Now, however, she is absent, having been missing for decades, and we hear her story via family, friends, lovers, teachers, management and doctors. Adrianne's unique talent, we learn, is attributable to a form of synesthesia: she hears constant music in her mind, and it changes according to her mood. She's also the subject of hideous exploitation by those who see her gift as a way to make money. The author's background as a music critic undoubtedly contributes to the effectiveness of Adrianne Geffel as a satire. There are some very entertaining asides and cameos (like when Adrianne and Barb inadvertently invent the Walkman, or when Philip Glass comes to fix their toilet). It's equally satisfying as good old enjoyable fiction. I don't know what it is about stories told this way that's so engrossing, but I just couldn't put it down. I received an advance review copy of Adrianne Geffel: A Fiction from the publisher through Edelweiss. TinyLetter | Linktree

  2. 5 out of 5

    Alan Teder

    Take a Walk on the Geffel Side Review of the W.W. Norton Company hardcover edition (September 2020) All the stars for this one. David Hajdu’s fictional non-fiction account of the life of musician Adrianne Geffel is set in the experimental avant-garde loft music world of New York City in the 1970’s and 1980’s and includes cameo appearances by real-life composers and musicians such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. The fictional pianist Geffel explodes onto this scene playi Take a Walk on the Geffel Side Review of the W.W. Norton Company hardcover edition (September 2020) All the stars for this one. David Hajdu’s fictional non-fiction account of the life of musician Adrianne Geffel is set in the experimental avant-garde loft music world of New York City in the 1970’s and 1980’s and includes cameo appearances by real-life composers and musicians such as Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed. The fictional pianist Geffel explodes onto this scene playing her emotionally charged music which she hears in her head constantly and which compels her to enact it on the keyboard. When she had been investigated in her early years for this condition the neurologists had described it a psychosynesthesia, a version of synesthesia that transfers thought into sound. That all may sound flighty and esoteric, but the main point of this book is that it is hugely funny and revealing about people and with its playful satire about the postmodern art world whether it is plastic or sound art. The anonymous biographer is reconstructing Geffel’s life by interviewing her family, friends and associates. Many of these interviewees reveal more about themselves than anything about Geffel in their self-serving answers to the writer’s questions. And in the end it is really a love story against all the odds. What can be better than that? While writing this review I discovered that an audiobook version has also been produced, which is narrated by veteran reader Hillary Huber (Elena Ferrante’s The Neapolitan Novels etc.). I’m already eager to “re-read” for that alone. To the best of my knowledge, this is Hajdu’s first novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed his non-fiction music biographies Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn (1996) and Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña, and Richard Fariña (2001) in my pre-Goodreads reading days. Trivia and Links While reading Adrianne Geffel, I imagined her more experimental atonal music would sound like something by avant-garde jazz pianist Cecil Taylor. A time appropriate (1970s) recording of Cecil Taylor is Indent (1973). After I finished reading, I searched for more information on Adrianne Geffel and discovered that author Hajdu had curated an Adrianne Geffel playlist for the Large Hearted Boy blog, which actually included a piece by Cecil Taylor. Adrianne Geffel’s minimalist cover design got it into LitHub’s Top 10 Best Book Covers of September 2020 list.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Drew

    5+ out of 5. So much my kind of thing: an oral history of a musician who burst onto the scene in the late 70s/early 80s in New York, taking the avant-garde SoHo scene by storm. Adrianne suffers from a rare neurological condition that, essentially, makes her hear music ALL THE TIME -- and she's able to translate that music via piano. Hajdu compiles, sometimes wryly and sometimes honestly, stories about Geffel's brilliant rise and sudden disappearance, with all of the things you'd imagine might be 5+ out of 5. So much my kind of thing: an oral history of a musician who burst onto the scene in the late 70s/early 80s in New York, taking the avant-garde SoHo scene by storm. Adrianne suffers from a rare neurological condition that, essentially, makes her hear music ALL THE TIME -- and she's able to translate that music via piano. Hajdu compiles, sometimes wryly and sometimes honestly, stories about Geffel's brilliant rise and sudden disappearance, with all of the things you'd imagine might be found in such a tale: oblivious parents, childhood sweethearts, bloviating critics, and a pair of evil (almost, but crucially not QUITE cartoonishly so; Biran in particular is chilling) men who ultimately take everything Geffel has. It's a speedy read and it never really settles into what kind of book it wants to be -- the tone veers to the satirical sometimes without ever deciding if its going to live there -- but I loved it even for its rough edges.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Michael Kubin

    These times call for laughter. Correction: These times DEMAND laughter. Put a contentious election together with a pandemic, an economic meltdown, plus hurricanes and forest fires and the need for laughter is essential. Happily, David Hajdu's brilliantly and creatively funny Adrienne Geffel arrives just in time to save the day. While I am an avid reader, rarely have I sat down and finished a book in one reading. But with this one, I did just that. Each page is so well constructed, so impactfully These times call for laughter. Correction: These times DEMAND laughter. Put a contentious election together with a pandemic, an economic meltdown, plus hurricanes and forest fires and the need for laughter is essential. Happily, David Hajdu's brilliantly and creatively funny Adrienne Geffel arrives just in time to save the day. While I am an avid reader, rarely have I sat down and finished a book in one reading. But with this one, I did just that. Each page is so well constructed, so impactfully written, and delivers so many laugh-out-loud moments that I just didn't want to return to reality (see above) when I could enjoy so many words dancing happily on the pages in front of me. Adrienne Geffel is a big winner -- the name will become part of our lexicon. A very funny book!

  5. 5 out of 5

    vicki honeyman

    Adrianne Geffel was a genius. Praised as the "Geyser of Grand Street" and the "Queen of Bleak Chic, " she was an artist, pianist and composer whose rare neurological condition enabled her to make music that was pure and unmediated emotional expression. I had to remind myself that this was a novel, not a true story . . . but what a hilarious and fascinating story! "Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn," and "Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña Adrianne Geffel was a genius. Praised as the "Geyser of Grand Street" and the "Queen of Bleak Chic, " she was an artist, pianist and composer whose rare neurological condition enabled her to make music that was pure and unmediated emotional expression. I had to remind myself that this was a novel, not a true story . . . but what a hilarious and fascinating story! "Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn," and "Positively 4th Street: The Lives and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Baez Fariña and Richard Fariña," biographer and music critic David Hajdu has created a totally believable fictional biography of a fictional star music artist. Geffel's life and story are revealed through the memories of those who knew her, inspired her, and exploited her: her parents, teachers, best friend, manager, critics, and lover. This must-read satire is a fun romp through the 1970/1980's avant-garde music scene in NYC and the despicable people who make up the music industry.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Greg

    If he didn’t telegraph his novel as fiction in the title, most readers, me included, might scramble to Google to find out more about the enigmatic Ms. Geffel. This is a testament to David Hajdu’s clever presentation. He disguises his narrative as oral history using multiple interviews about, but never from, his subject. The latter comes about because he stipulates at the outset that she mysteriously disappears at age 26 following a brief period of celebrity in the SoHo avant-garde music scene. O If he didn’t telegraph his novel as fiction in the title, most readers, me included, might scramble to Google to find out more about the enigmatic Ms. Geffel. This is a testament to David Hajdu’s clever presentation. He disguises his narrative as oral history using multiple interviews about, but never from, his subject. The latter comes about because he stipulates at the outset that she mysteriously disappears at age 26 following a brief period of celebrity in the SoHo avant-garde music scene. On one level, Hajdu gives us the fascinating biography of a talented and troubled eclectic pianist and composer, who serves as the archetype for all of those other troubled and exploited artists whose tragic lives have been chronicled in musical biographies. One is reminded of the 27 club—those artists who experienced moments in the spotlight only to die at that young age, including Joplin, Hendrix, Cobain, Morrison, and Winehouse. Indeed, Hajdu seems to be posing a larger question: can great art be created by someone who is happy? On another level, he gives us a humorous take-down of the music industry and the self-involved people who inhabit it. Hajdu’s plot is chronological starting with Adrianne’s childhood as a musical savant who hums along to tunes in her head that reflect her emotional state but clash dramatically when ambient music intervenes. In high school, she meets her lifelong true friend and partner, Barbara Lucher. Eventually she finds her way to Julliard, an institution that fails to nurture her talent and does not escape Hajdu’s biting satire. He portrays this renowned musical mecca as an old boy’s network where the faculty are deep into self-promotion and the students are only “required to practice their instruments, and beyond that, to be breathing.” During a brief period in a mental institution, Adrianne meets the second important influence in her life, a strange visual artist with the revealing moniker of Ann Athema. Ann’s non-existent art is beyond weird. Think of the emperor’s new clothes, and you will have it. This savvy friend recognizes Adrianne’s genius, consisting of “outbursts so vital, so mind-rattling, soul-fuckingly extreme that they burst out and fly straight through you and out of your room.” One can’t help but think of Hendrix’s rendition of the “Star-spangled Banner.” Ann helps Adrianne navigate the treacherous NY art scene; a milieu filled with short-sighted, manipulative self-promoters. Hajdu skewers everyone with his velvet blade. The despicable Biran Zervakis stands apart in this rogue’s gallery as a conniving promoter who excels in evasiveness, dishonesty, and smarminess. He masquerades as Adrianne’s friend but reveals himself as the ultimate self-promoter. Hajdu is clearly well-acquainted with avant-garde art and criticism. He has delivered a canny and entertaining satire portraying the dark side of the music scene. One comes away with fresh insights into all of those tragic biographies of the members of Club 27. The wonder of Hajdu’s creation is that Adrianne ironically loses her musical appeal when she finds happiness but in so doing avoids the fates of her fellow club members.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Charlie

    A swing and a rather large miss from David Hadju on Adrianne Geffel, a fictional oral history of a mysterious, mercurial avant-garde musical icon of pre-Giuliani NYC. The idea is there, sure, and Hadju's prodigious output of nonfiction music writing suggests that he would have a strong grip on the historical knowledge to be able to develop this into something rather knowledgeable. The issue is that he has very little nuance in his character development, so none of these talking heads feel partic A swing and a rather large miss from David Hadju on Adrianne Geffel, a fictional oral history of a mysterious, mercurial avant-garde musical icon of pre-Giuliani NYC. The idea is there, sure, and Hadju's prodigious output of nonfiction music writing suggests that he would have a strong grip on the historical knowledge to be able to develop this into something rather knowledgeable. The issue is that he has very little nuance in his character development, so none of these talking heads feel particularly textured or even varied-- they are all airheads of more or less insidious natures. It's fine to have such an obvious villain, the music industry is surely full of them, but there's just so little beyond the broad strokes of characters here. I was very disappointed by this! 1.5 stars.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    I might have been disposed to like this book if it wasn't so disingenuous. A year and a half before this book was published, "Daisy Jones and the Six", by Taylor Jenkins Reid, was published. It was a story about a troubled female musician in the late 1960's and early 1970's, written in a biographical style and comprised of excerpts from interviews from various people. And the exact same thing can be said about "Adrianne Geffel". With the subject, time period, and format easily imitateds, all the I might have been disposed to like this book if it wasn't so disingenuous. A year and a half before this book was published, "Daisy Jones and the Six", by Taylor Jenkins Reid, was published. It was a story about a troubled female musician in the late 1960's and early 1970's, written in a biographical style and comprised of excerpts from interviews from various people. And the exact same thing can be said about "Adrianne Geffel". With the subject, time period, and format easily imitateds, all the author had to do was fill in the blanks. Shame on Norton for publishing this. If you want to read a good work of biographical fiction about a female musician, then skip this and read the real thing -- Daisy Jones.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lorri Steinbacher

    Prepub. Due out Sept 22, 2020. An interesting character study and a meditation on the way the commercial side of art and the can take something beautiful and unique and twist it without regard for the artist, particularly when the artist is one as fragile as Geffel. Also asks a lot of questions: What if your art is only considered valuable if it makes you miserable? Does happiness = bad art? Is exploitation inevitable when you try to monetize art? Recommended for fans of Egan's A Visit from the Prepub. Due out Sept 22, 2020. An interesting character study and a meditation on the way the commercial side of art and the can take something beautiful and unique and twist it without regard for the artist, particularly when the artist is one as fragile as Geffel. Also asks a lot of questions: What if your art is only considered valuable if it makes you miserable? Does happiness = bad art? Is exploitation inevitable when you try to monetize art? Recommended for fans of Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad or Reid's Daisy Jones and the Six.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Sharon Layburn

    This biography of the fictional musician Adrianne Geffel was a complete lark, and I adored it! Thanks to a rare neurological condition, Adrianne was gifted with an unusual musical talent at an early age. When, as a young woman, she truly came into her gift, the world worshiped her for it. And then destroyed her because of it. Witty, ridiculous, and vastly entertaining, this short novel was a unique delight. This ARC was provided by Norton, in exchange for an honest review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    In this novel, we find out about a musical prodigy named Adrianne (Adry) who has gone missing. The book is told through a series of interviews that chronicles her life and her involvement with music. The book is very well written and engaging. The book successfully creates a compelling mystery that draws the reader in.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Steven

    Parody wielded as a blunt object to bludgeon the reader into a dull torpor. If you really hate snobbish music industry insiders and want to see them roasted ham-handed SNL sketch style then this watery 'Eddie & the Cruisers' wannabe is for you. Parody wielded as a blunt object to bludgeon the reader into a dull torpor. If you really hate snobbish music industry insiders and want to see them roasted ham-handed SNL sketch style then this watery 'Eddie & the Cruisers' wannabe is for you.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    Not much of a fan of pseudo biographical oral histories. If you liked "Daisy Jones and the Six", you will probably like this.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Evan

  15. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Cawiezell

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jen

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jdcleveland

  18. 4 out of 5

    Steve Biagini

  19. 5 out of 5

    John Dimoia

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sue Gross

  21. 5 out of 5

    Leah

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nathalie Elderkin

  23. 4 out of 5

    Saleena Berry

  24. 5 out of 5

    Laverne M

  25. 4 out of 5

    Annie Lee Phillips

  26. 5 out of 5

    Karen Schlosberg

  27. 5 out of 5

    Yonit

  28. 4 out of 5

    Eowyn Randall

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jenifer

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christie

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