“Book Review: Woo! Strange Happenings at the Windmill & Other Tangential Rants”
Reviewed by Frank Pizzoli
An epic gonzo-style read on a long night clubbing
Dave Thomson’s nonfiction WOO! Strange Happenings at the Windmill and Other Tangential Rants opens with what might just be the best summary of our challenging COVID-times. Like an oracle, this first-person story keenly pulls together the striking details of what this worldwide pandemic has taken from us. And then he takes readers on a romp through the south of London District of Brixton.
Although tagged as the third worst London out-borough for violent crime, Brixton is also known as a buzzing hive of cultural activity with something for everyone. And within that cacophony of life, Thomson treks with gonzo style through music clubs, restaurants, and side alleys to portray life as we knew it over the last decade.
Thomson’s goal here is to show how friends may have navigated pre-pandemic life and how they come to terms with one another now. He shows us how we might want to live in the tailspin of a pandemic.
Well-known in London’s eclectic music scene, Thomson moves comfortably from venue to venue and friendship to friendship. People encountered represent archetypes of sorts— feminist folk singers, mosh pit devotees, and all the girlfriends and friends along the way.
Collectively, the groups of people he fans out with shed light on how London and outskirts like Brixton are making out these days. A fair comparison is to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s time, when a punk-rock music explosion slammed the country. Only now some of the deleterious effects of gentrification, challenges in a gig job market, and an ever-atomizing economy have reached further into the nation and its psyche. Technology shows its influence in Thomson’s account with a cultural landscape of Youtubers, bloggers, influencers, those who by their pronouncements make geometric what was once arithmetic. And the names of his friends and run-intos—readers are going to love them.
Only a vibrant cultural scene like the one covered by Thomson can produce such a memorable scene. Another appealing aspect of the novel is that readers both familiar and unfamiliar with the UK music and cultural scene get a night class in who’s who, who was who, and who might yet poke through the night to grab our attention.
A special aspect of the book is its photography. It rivals the iconic work of Diane Arbus who always seemed to photograph her subjects in a way that captured them below their obvious surface.
The book succeeds because Thomson has found a way to tell stories from his recent past with a keen eye on the immediate future. He may not offer answers to our vexing philosophical questions, but he certainly knows how to present the questions in the context of his stories. He wisely leaves the deliberations, and any conclusions reached, to each reader. His respect for us shows: As a worldwide pandemic has not yet fully subsided, Thomson allows room for a variety of responses.
As we head into a winter of flu and COVID machinations, Woo! is an excellent curl-up-with at night book. You’ll travel shoulder to shoulder with Thomson as he goes to places we’d all enjoy visiting and as we refigure our new normal.
Genre: Nonfiction / Music / Philosophy & Social
Print Length: 457 pages
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