There’s something about lost media that stirs something in us these days. How often do we get frustrated when something we search for doesn’t immediately materialize with that Wiki blurb, some pics and links to socials? Unless that grid of related info pops up, we feel we’ve suddenly stumbled into the ethereal realm, the Flammarion Engraving writ digital. That experience, though, is one of the few remaining remnants of a past we can never again replicate. In the absence of fact, we’re left with the word of others. This bygone reliance on word-of-mouth folklore is how Aug Stone’s The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass (grab your copy here) unfolds, speaking in tales within tales, a cornucopia of simulacra that gets more and more layered.
The tale begins like phyllo pastry in a cold oven; things heat up as the narrator and his friend prod witnesses about the origins of the titular band in their Hero’s pursuit of BCA’s long-lost vinyl, Live In Hungaria. I have one quibble with Stone’s story: how long it takes that metaphorical oven to heat up. The witticisms, puns and wordplay that saturate the beginning chapters act like harsh feedback at the beginning of a track, challenging the reader’s endurance while the story gets its bearings.
But once the narrator and co. finish covering the lengthy background behind the band’s name, the tone and humour lock into place, and the narrative shines. The wordplay and asides suddenly gain meaning, and with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it urgency, the plot and humour achieve balance, and the book reaches a calibre that only gets more powerful as it unfolds. Just a few chapters in, I realized: The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass reads as if Douglas Adams wrote it if he was raised in a record shop by Monty Python and Kurt Vonnegut. It’s an exposition by way of music culture; comedy by way of absurdism; narrative via forgotten tales and distant memories.
Along the way are countless musical references that delight with their obscurity: Cabaret Voltaire, Cleaners From Venus, Fugazi, even a nod to Aquarius Records along the way, all while Stone progressively turns the dial up on the intensity of Buttery Cake Ass’ fateful demise. A slew of fictional bands, artists, musicians, and acts and even a hilariously robust discography are sprinkled throughout the mix. The layers of false media and fake references, on top of all the obscure ones, lend legitimacy to them, fooling the reader (at least this one) on more than one occasion. “Nigel Dinks? Never heard of him, let’s see who- ah,” I mumble as I search for a musician who never existed. Well done, Stone – well done.
By the time the story reaches its conclusion, a theme emerges that I suspect only those who are starting to approach middle age and older will appreciate. The dreams, hopes, and lofty ambitions of artists met with the chaos of life’s circumstances hit home. Chances are good that you and I, reader, will go through this life without becoming famous, and crucially, as the book points out in its closing pages, that’s perfectly fine. Go and live your life, play your heart out, and follow where your heart takes you. If it means you become a wildlife preservationist instead of a big-time record producer or a session musician who gets to have regular work but live in relative obscurity, that’s great.
The Ballad of Buttery Cake Ass thumbs its nose in the face of the attention superstructure, delighting in the experience of sleeping under pinball machines and releasing records that no one outside of a handful will ever hear. “Get over yourself,” Aug Stone tells us, “and chase after the things that delight you and capture your imagination.” Do it without care for the result, do it with wild abandon. Do it, and be content with telling the stories you make along the way to the select few who will listen. You reach a time in your life when you get a chance to go from reckless abandon into an obscure, fulfilling life, and if you listen closely, you can hear your magnum opus beneath the static. Who knows, maybe a couple of kids some day will grow obsessed with what you managed to do, and you’ll be humbled when they fight for decades to get their hands on something you made once upon a time.
Author: Aug Stone
Publisher: Stone Soup
Release Date: February 9, 2023
Format/Length: Paperback, 270 pages