Review of Gary Diggins’ novel, Slow Dancing in Fast Times

By Barbara Salsberg Mathews

If you are interested in a novel that has sex, drugs, music and love, then this book is for you. 

Slow Dancing in Fast Times is a first-time novel by Gary Diggins. It has a ‘lived’ feel to it, drawing upon the author’s experiences as a musician during the late 60s to early 70s. Diggins was part of an eight-piece band that shared the stage with many fine musicians including: Alice Cooper, Bob Seger, and Sly and the Family Stone. They mostly performed in the Detroit-Windsor area. Diggins writes:

“It is my hope that you will feel a resonance with the back story - the upheavals of the times and how these issues parallel our own woes today.”

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Author Gary Diggins. Image provided by author.

I certainly found myself being drawn in to this richly layered story. Diggins describes the band:

“The main characters form a band called NADI, developing their own sound influenced by funk, improvisational jazz and Indian ragas. The band derived its name from the Sanskrit word for river. NADI’s sound, like a meandering body of water, was constantly changing.”

The band is a mixed bag, made up of members from Venezuela, Detroit, India and Windsor. They played a range of instruments including drums, trumpet, guitar, bass, organ, and violin.

These were not ordinary times. There are troubles brewing in the background, including: The War in Vietnam, Black race riots in Detroit, The Black Panthers, and Dr. Martin Luther King’s and Robert Kennedy’s assassinations.

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Image of book cover Slow Dancing in Fast Times

The central characters are young musicians who look out for each other while working through a myriad of challenges, like racism, sexual abuse, homophobia, addictions, and organized crime. Romance percolates and grows into some very sexy scenes. One poignant passage made me laugh out loud as the erotics heat up, they are interspersed with a radio announcer in the background as the erotic scene was juxtaposed with a sports announcer giving a play by play of a hockey game. At the crucial moment, he shouts “He shoots and scores!”

I enjoyed reading the song-writing scenes. I was drawn into the artistic process of the characters collaborating on a new song. One musician would start by playing a small morsel of music, like a drone buzzing away in the background. Other musicians built on this, adding new layers, turning it into a fully formed song.

Diggins creates believable characters. Sometimes the characters show flashes of anger that seemed out of proportion to the situation. As the story unfolds we learn more about their past traumas and witness how they support each other. In one chapter, Simone, a Detroit bass guitar player, encouraging Scotty, the vocalist, pianist and trumpet player, to draw upon a dark time in his life, and pour these memories and feelings into his song-writing. The result is a powerful new song, that helps Scotty heal.

Diggins brings the band’s audience to life as seen in this descriptive passage:

“The improvisation kicked into gear. With a groove established, the audience transitioned from listening with their ears to responding with their bodies.  Despite the crowded conditions, the audience congealed into a massive, moving entity that followed the rhythmic undercurrents, the waves of organ swells, and the soaring violin on top. The audience became one body with differing parts. Arms shot upwards out of the writhing mass.”

Slow Dancing in Fast Times is a great portal to the music scene of the era. It presents some serious struggles and dangerous dealings in an easy-to-follow plot, while cranking up the tension with sex, drugs, music and love. 

Canadian readers can purchase the book at Amazon.ca  here:

https://www.amazon.ca/gp/product/B08H6NZCV7/ref=ppx_yo_dt_b_asin_title_o03_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1

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