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“Adam Gussow writes like he plays the harmonica: with great precision and fluidity, and with a flawless ear for melody. With Busker’s Holiday, he takes the reader on an emotional and musical journey from the Ivory Tower of US academia to the dirty, sexy and no-holds-barred streets of late 1980s Europe. It’s an exciting and fast-paced novel that not only keeps you enthralled, but (speaking as a professional musician and former busker myself) really rings true. Gussow gets it right. Sex, drugs, rock and roll, Dante, Kerouac, Hemingway, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters all in one short novel. Remarkable!”
--Ron Sunshine, New York bandleader
“A lively coming-of-age tale, inspired by Kerouac and Magic Dick.”
--R. J. Smith, author of The One: The Life and Music of James Brown
"Endlessly entertaining....A strongly written, cool novel about being young, bluesy, and free on a vagabond adventure in Europe.”
From award-winning blues scholar and musician Adam Gussow, a taut, sexy first novel about the summer busking scene in Europe and a pair of wild-hearted young men who make a pitch for fame and glory, finding a girl or two along the way.
Set in the late 1980s, Busker’s Holiday is the story of McKay Chernoff, a Columbia University grad student with a harmonica in his pocket and a blues band in his background. Desolate and despairing after a disastrous romantic breakup, McKay decides to fly off to Paris and reinvent himself as a street performer.
What follows is an epic summer voyage into the busking life, propelled by the mad exploits of Billy Lee Grant, a fearless young guitar shredder whose Memphis-to-Mississippi pedigree and Dylanesque surrealism make him, when he explodes into view, precisely the partner McKay has been yearning for.
Burning like a latter-day Dean Moriarty, Bill goads McKay into a sun-drenched, all-night bender, stoked by wine, women, mushrooms, and trains, that careens down out of Avignon and across the French Riviera. What happens next—in Florence, Solingen, Amsterdam, Paris—is a story of purgatory, redemption, and love regained. Hope, in a word, as a modern troubadour returns from his wanderings, reborn.
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ADAM GUSSOW is an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi and a professional blues harmonica player and teacher.
His books include Mister Satan’s Apprentice: A Blues Memoir and Journeyman’s Road: Modern Blues Lives from Faulkner’s Mississippi to Post-9/11 New York. As a younger, wilder man (see photo below) he spent five years working the streets of Harlem with Sterling “Mr. Satan” Magee—they performed at the International BuskerFest in Halifax, Nova Scotia--and busked Paris, Avignon, Cannes, Neuchatel, Ferrara, and Amsterdam with various guitar-men, including Abraham Yameogo, Bill Taft, and “Bad Boy” Billy Collins. These days he sings, drums, and plays amplified harp with his two-man band, The Blues Doctors, and he still enjoys busking on festival days in Oxford, Clarksdale, and elsewhere in Mississippi.
The author in 1986, age 28.
More praise for Busker's Holiday:
"The book combines literary references with blues street credibility; a rather unique perspective, one that Adam is perfect to portray, as it is loosely based on his own experiences. Adam is well known in the blues field, as half of Satan and Adam (a famous NYC busking act that recorded several albums and were featured in U2's Rattle & Hum movie) and his own solo and group shows. He's also highly regarded in the harmonica field, both for his playing and his teaching and internet presence. I recommend this book to any that love blues, harp, buskers, literature and travel!"--Dave Harris, busking legend from Victoria, BC and author of A Book of One Man Bands
“Gussow’s tale is a fast-paced, enjoyable one, with the harmonica blues angle putting a unique spin on the European trip narrative. It is a nostalgic story but thankfully unsentimental, as rigorous detail and descriptions bring the story to life in explosive ways. McKay on the street in Paris drinking Heineken while playing “Sweet Home Chicago” is certainly cool, yet Gussow outdoes himself with the novel’s revolving cast of unique characters, whose crazy times and back stories are endlessly entertaining. The novel is about the trip of a lifetime, going to Europe to forget everything, but it’s also a story of friendship, helped tremendously by Gussow’s ear for music and dialogue. A strongly written, cool novel about being young, bluesy, and free on a vagabond adventure in Europe.” –Kirkus Reviews
“Why would anyone be surprised that Adam Gussow had such a fantastic novel in him? For decades, his impeccable harp-playing has demonstrated the depth of his soul. His scholarly writing offers keen insight into all manner of American aesthetics. That he has rounded up such a roguish cast of characters and unleashed them abroad for shenanigans of the best kind only confirms the range of his talents.”--Tom Williams, author of Among the Wild Mulattos & Other Tales and Don’t Start Me Talkin’
"Busker's Holiday is strung between espressos and bluesy harmonica poetry, a linguistic tour-de-force dancing like rain drops on the Paris streets."-- Paul Maher, Jr., author of Kerouac: The Definitive Biography and Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac's On the Road
"Gussow takes you on an unforgettable trip filled with colorful characters, raging hormones, sexual tension, young men’s Sturm und Drang, music, and more music....As a European who was himself a busker in the streets, alleys and market squares in Europe in the 1970s, this reviewer was fascinated by the vividly accurate and realistic settings, drenched in rich descriptions of scene and place. Considering that Gussow’s real life Euro-busking experience was 30 years ago, his recollection details of place and time, and, most importantly, the feelings of the experience that he manages to convey, are simply remarkable."--Frank Matheis, TheCountryBlues.com
"An exhilarating read, Busker's Holiday reads like a Beat Generation novel for a new generation. What makes Busker’s Holiday really move and inspire is how positive Gussow is about everything thrown his way. The book is refreshing in its absolute devotion to a life fully lived. In the present moment of “likes” and “shares” taking the place of real experience, Gussow’s enthusiasm is at once old school and greatly welcomed today."--Self-Publishing Review, 5 Stars