In The Book of Daniel, Jeff Apter has aggregated a lot of information about Daniel Johns, the prodigiously talented former lead singer of Silverchair and current eclectic and eccentric musical auteur (my description).
Some of that information came from Apter’s own previous book on Silverchair and its revised and updated edition, some came from Apter’s interviews with Johns and people close to him, and some came from other published and unpublished (and fully cited) material.
What is very clearly not there is the subject’s active, consenting and committed participation. What results is necessarily a series of observations by the author, with Daniel Johns’s perspective represented by the author based on what he’s heard and seen. That does not appear to include any extensive interviews with Johns for the purpose of this book.
Apter is a skilled writer, he has a lot of journalistic nous and as a Rolling Stone writer he can be taken seriously in his observations. And that’s probably why this ends up feeling like a 300 page Rolling Stone article. Mind you, that’s a really good, easy to read, evocative and fun article. But it lacks the detail and insight I expect from well researched long form writing.
For context, I’ve read just one of Apter’s many previous books focused on musicians, Tragedy, about the Bee Gees. This also was pretty clearly produced without the active participation of the surviving subject, BUT it worked much better than this one and I suspect the reason is that Apter had no voice of his own in Tragedy.
That book steps well beyond being a super-long magazine article through the quality of the research and detail, and it really works because it doesn’t hide that, pulling out quotes from family friends, musical peers, staff and crew from related companies. It feels like a lot of purpose-specific research went into it. That, plus the compelling nature of the story of the Gibb brothers, made it an absolute page turner.
In The Book of Daniel, Apter has an active voice and presence. “Johns told me in 2003 …”, “I was at that concert …”, and so on. It might be that his status as an industry observer is meant to compensate for the book’s rather cobbled together nature, but the effect for me was to demonstrate that the author was never closer than arm’s length from his subject.
I should emphasise that Apter doesn’t claim to be a confidant of Johns, just a reporter among other reporters. And the author of previous related works.
Look, The Book of Daniel is a good holiday read. I read it within a couple of days, and I enjoyed it. I was disappointed it didn’t go a bit deeper.
I hope it sells well (Hazel has been working over Christmas on her 11th and 12th books – I know what a writer’s life is like and I don’t begrudge Apter anything this book brings him).
And given that he lives just a few suburbs down the road from me, I hope this review doesn’t stop Jeff having a beer with me sometime.