‘Marriages are messy. Our lives are messy. Convenient truths don’t exist’
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s sixth novel is about a fictional rock band but explores real life brilliantly
Author Taylor Jenkins Reid.
I start our interview by telling Taylor Jenkins Reid that I have fallen in love with Daisy Jones & The Six, the “legendary, iconic 1970s rock band” whose history is meticulously researched in her latest book. I now want to binge on the entire band’s back catalogue. I have read and reread all of the lyrics to their songs. And I’m still obsessing over Daisy’s outrageous beauty, and wardrobe of tiny skirts and turtlenecks.
I’ll have to make do with Fleetwood Mac, however, as Daisy Jones & The Six’s back catalogue doesn’t exist outside of Jenkins Reid’s head. At least, not yet.
The book is an entertaining and affecting account of a band that never existed in the LA rock scene of the 1970s, whose story is told so convincingly that I found myself, a few pages in, going back to the marketing blurb to double check that it was actually fiction.
Soon, I will get to see the band’s story brought to life as an Amazon Prime miniseries, made by Reese Witherspoon’s production company, Hello Sunshine. “It rocks. Literally. It’s sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, people,” Witherspoon said on Instagram recently.
Jenkins Reid is not even pretending to be cool and understated about this development. She says her “jaw was on the floor” when she got the email. “I admire Reese’s focus on the importance of women’s stories and women’s inner lives. Big Little Lies was so good: to then know she wanted to work with me on something was truly a once-in-a-lifetime dream come true.”
Daisy Jones & The Six is an evocative page turner, dripping with the glamour and the excess of the 1970s
The novel is written as a series of extracts of interview transcripts with band members and assorted hangers on. It is an evocative page turner, dripping with the glamour and the excess of a period when bands like Fleetwood Mac were channelling their personal frustrations, sexual tensions and aggressions into global domination.
But the novel isn’t just an exercise in 1970s nostalgia: it also has plenty to say that is relevant today about women’s lives, strength and ambitions; art; addiction; love; infidelity, and the choices we make around motherhood and relationships. And it returns to a theme she has explored before, that of our contemporary obsession with celebrity.
Jenkins Reid has an ongoing fascination with fame – it is territory she mined effectively in her previous novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. That fascination started when she was 10 years old and decided that she would move to LA and become famous. “I would say when I’m an adult I’m going to live in LA. And a big part of that was just being fascinated with fame.”
Now 35, she made it to LA and is still fascinated with celebrity, but her interest has evolved into a more academic one. “Ultimately, I find it really fascinating the way our culture lifts people up and puts them on a pedestal, because we admire certain things about them. But that pedestal comes with a lot of expectations and a lot of resentment.
“It is a really difficult thing to do to a person: to make them stand for everything you wish you could be, especially the way we do that to women,” she says over the phone from the home she shares with her husband, Alex Jenkins Reid, who is also a writer, and two-year-old daughter, Lilah.
She’s particularly interested in the “dark instinct we all have”, to rip that pedestal out from under our heroes as soon as we get a glimpse of their messy humanity.
“On the page I’m writing about these larger-than-life women who existed in the 60s and 70s, whose problems are nothing like ours.” But as the concept of fame becomes more democratised, she says, that problem of the chasm between the public and private self is something with which many people struggle.
“We’re living in a time in which every single person who is on social media is curating a brand and an idea of themselves . . . I’m very curious when that time will come that choosing not to share your life will become sort of chic, and then commonplace, and then the new normal. I would love for us to get to a place where the cool thing to do is not to share. Sign me up for that.”
But she points out that there are enormous benefits, too, to the democratisation of culture. “The gatekeepers in a lot of different mediums are gone. And there is an opportunity to be exposed to things that we’d never have been exposed to before, because there were people shutting voices out.”
Jenkins Reid is interested in exploring the many different expressions there are of female strength – and how they don’t always align with more traditional “male” notions of what it is to be “strong” or “powerful”. “With Daisy, it is a different type of strength,” she agrees. “There’s so much vulnerability, there’s so much pain in her heart, there’s so much broken. But despite the fact she’s struggling she refuses to be quietened.”
One of the most interesting characters in the book isn’t a rockstar at all, but the wife of one, a stay-at-home mother. “I have a lot of friends who have chosen to be stay-at-home mothers, and the messages they get from society are not super empowering. The point of feminism is for all of us to be able to choose what we want, and to feel empowered and supported in that choice. I wanted to show a strong woman who is choosing to be a stay-at-home mother, and essentially tag onto the life of a rockstar, and [for the reader] to say, ‘this is the person in charge. This is a strong, confident woman.’”
The other thing she captures so effectively is the messiness and near-constant compromise that characterise real relationships – especially a relationship affected by infidelity. The story of Daisy Jones & The Six “had to feel real, and the only way for it to feel real was for it to feel messy. Marriages are messy. Our lives are messy. They don’t fit into any sort of pattern. Convenient truths don’t exist. I always thought if one person cheats, the other should leave. But as I’ve grown older and I’ve seen more of the complicated ways that people interact with each other, I’ve come around to the idea that everyone’s marriage is different,” she says.
She had an unlikely inspiration for the infidelity storyline. “Watching Beyonce’s Lemonade when it first came out really showed me that power in staying. She found her own strength to do what she wanted to do, regardless of what anybody thinks about it.”
Abortion is a complicated and thorny issue that offers no easy answers. But you’re either in support of a woman’s right to choose, or you’re not
That messiness of real life is explored in another plot line, which – without giving away too many spoilers – centres on abortion. She followed reports of the Repeal referendum in Ireland, and says that although abortion has been legal in the US since the 70s, “it’s a fight that we’re fighting on a daily basis. It is a hot button issue that we’re fighting in every single campaign that we have. It is in danger all of the time.”
What she wanted to put forth in the book is the idea that “pro-choice is pro-choice. Whatever feelings people have about abortion, I completely understand. It’s a complicated and thorny issue that offers no easy answers. But you’re either in support of a woman’s right to choose, or you’re not.”
Beyond that, she says, “I wanted to make sure that the book was in support of not just a woman’s right to choose, but a woman’s right to not be a mother. Having my daughter has been the greatest joy of my life, but there are a lot of women who just don’t want to be moms and they’re told by our society that they’ll change their mind, or they don’t really know themselves, or they’re selfish. We should respect their decision. Women get to choose their lives and that’s the beginning and the end of it.”
The book also explores the complex interplay between female ambition and parenthood – and how the choice of “career or baby” is one men never have to consider. She says it wouldn’t have been possible for her to continue working at the pace she managed after motherhood – Daisy is her sixth novel, and she sets herself daily writing goals of 3,000-5,000 words when she’s at first draft stage – if her husband wasn’t an equal partner in parenting.
“My husband is exceptional in his support of my career and his pride in me, and his desire to step up and be an incredible parent to our child. That frees me up to go do some of the things I have to do, in order to have this career.”
A man who understands and supports his partner’s needs, career and inner life is, we agree, “incredibly strong, masculine and sexy. We should be talking more about them. We should make it known far and wide that this is the most desirable thing a man can do. But it’s not the narrative of our culture. We glorify the selfish men who succeed at all costs, who don’t care about anyone but themselves.”
As we finish up, she goes to join her husband, who has taken their daughter out for brunch. She is about to take off on a five-week book tour, leaving him to do the bulk of the day-to-day care of their daughter. She keeps saying she’ll make it up to Alex when everything calms down. “He says, ‘You’re being absurd: this is what it means to be a family’.”
Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid, is published by Penguin Random House