If you were to ask Danny Bland what being a junkie musician in early '90s Seattle was all about, you'd probably get an earful. Having logged time as the bassist of Cat Butt and the Dwarves, as well as countless miles road-managing the likes of Dave Alvin, Greg Dulli, and Mark Lanegan, one can assume Bland has more than a few personal accounts of rock-'n'-roll neurosis to share. So when I finished perusing the jacket notes and figured out his literary debut was a novel, In Case We Die (Fantagraphics, 240 pages, $26.99), I was deeply curious and slightly annoyed. Fiction? Why?
Bland tells the story of Charlie, an endearing 28-year-old with a leather jacket and a heroin problem. As far as vicarious retellings of lives once lived, Charlie's profession as third-shift manager of the Champ Arcade—an all-hours jack shack serving as the nucleus of Seattle's lascivious underbelly—dovetails nicely with Bland's real-life résumé. Genuinely hilarious stories of smut and shame set in the aisles and viewing booths of Charlie's place of employment punch up a plot line that would otherwise be doomed for destitution. Fiction or not, this is a story about a junkie in pre-grunge boom Seattle. It will not end well.
The format gives Bland some wiggle room when it comes to piling on characters we can only imagine he wishes he met when he, not Charlie, was trolling the streets of Seattle in a stupor some two decades ago. There's Carrie, the scenester girlfriend whose flippant attitude toward her inevitable suicide ("Not today," Charlie tells her every morning) serves more as a melodramatic foil than a legitimate concern for the reader. There's Kelly, Charlie's plan B, who shoehorns our protagonist into the hysteria of a crime spree even he knows is bad news. Throw in Otis the Magical Negro with a secret who diligently mops the spunk-crusted floors of the Champ Arcade every morning, and you've got a recipe for bad news.
Bland has walked the walk, shot the smack and peeled his heart off the floor more times than we'll ever learn from his character's two-dimensional tribulations. Truth can be stranger than fiction, but this book seems to exist because it's just not as sad.
GO: Danny Bland will read at Powell's City of Books, 1005 W Burnside St., on Monday, Sept. 9. 7:30 pm. Free.