In a work of blistering dark hilarity, a young Nietzsche experiences life in a metal band & the tribulations of finals season in a modern secondary school
When a new student transfers in from a posh private school, he falls in with a group of like-minded suburban stoners, artists, and outcasts—too smart and creative for their own good. His classmates nickname their new friend Nietzsche (for his braininess and bleak outlook on life), and decide he must be the front man of their metal band, now christened Nietzsche and the Burbs.
With the abyss of graduation—not to mention their first gig—looming ahead, the group ramps up their experimentations with sex, drugs, and...nihilist philosophy. Are they as doomed as their intellectual heroes? And why does the end of youth feel like such a universal tragedy?
And as they ponder life's biggies, this sly, elegant, and often laugh-out-loud funny story of would-be rebels becomes something special: an absorbing and stirring reminder of a particular, exciting yet bittersweet moment in life...and a reminder that all adolescents are philosophers, and all philosophers are adolescents at heart.
Release date: December 17, 2019
Publisher: Melville House
Print pages: 352
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Nietzsche and the Burbs
The new boy’s from private school—that, we’re sure of. His composure. His assurance. That’s what you pay for when you send your child to private school. Assurance . . . Composure . . . So why’s he come to our school?—that’s what’s got us floored. And only a couple of months from the exams. Come to think of it, what’s he doing in Wokingham? Dreary suburbia. Did his parents lose their jobs? Did they split up? Was he expelled from private school?
I think he has charisma, Art says.
I think he knows he has charisma, Paula says.
I think he doesn’t care whether he has charisma, I say. That’s what gives him charisma.
What’s charisma? Merv asks.
Into assembly. The new boy, already picked off by the sixth-form pariah.
Oh, God—look at Bombproof, Art says. All positive.
We hope the new boy doesn’t judge us all by Bombproof.
Should we mount a rescue operation? But the new boy has already excused himself to Bombproof. He’s gone to the bathroom.
A cunning ruse, we agree. The bathroom rse.
Assembly. The whole school, sitting in rows. The whole school community. The whole school family.
We take our seats at the back of the hall.
Art, coughing. Merv, coughing slightly louder. Me, coughing louder still. Paula, coughing extremely loudly. Titters. Paula, excusing herself loudest of all.
The head of sixth form, glaring at us from beneath his domed forehead. Quiet, Upper Sixth! You’re supposed to be setting an example!
The Lord’s Prayer. Our daily act of worship. The whole school, heads down, mumbling the words. The new boy, head unbowed, staring straight ahead.
The Old Mole, with graphs. The rise of stocks. The fall of government bonds. The continuing inflation of the housing bubble.
The Old Mole, asking what the graphs might mean.
Um, Bombproof says.
Ah, Dingus says. Then, inspired: It means that things are going well! Then, no longer inspired: Doesn’t it?
Diamanda, twiddling her pen. Putzie, shrugging. Quinn, vacant. Calypso, glowing prettily, but also vacant.
The Old Mole, impatient. Is she going to rant on again about overprivileged pseuds? About none us having ever seen real poverty?
Global economic collapse, miss, Paula says.
The Old Mole, looking up from her despair.
Hyperinflation, then a new Weimar, possibly a new Hitler, miss, Art says.
Stagflation, then another world war, to boost production, leading to mutually assured destruction, miss, I say.
Financial despotism, following the fusion of corporate power and political power, miss, Paula says. Fascism, in other words.
Resource wars, miss, Art says. Trade wars, miss. Real wars, miss . . .
The Old Mole, smiling grimly. And what is to be done?
Separate investment banks from retail banks? Art says.
Cryptocurrencies? Paula says.
Disintermediation? I say.
The new boy, hand raised.
The Old Mole, nodding.
The new boy: Nothing.
The Old Mole, no longer nodding: Nothing?!
The new boy: Let it all come down.
An entire economic system? the Old Mole says.
The new boy: Economy is the problem.
The economy itself? the Old Mole says.
The new boy: Economy devalues everything that matters.
The Old Mole, looking baffled: You want to get rid of the economy? What would we have in its place?
The new boy: Life.
Without goods and services? the Old Mole says. How would you meet your basic needs?
The new boy, leaning forward. My basic need is not to be dead. It’s not to be carrying a corpse on my back.
The Old Mole, not knowing what to do. Is the new boy a nutter?
The new boy, sitting back in his chair. Silence.
Wow! Art says, sotto voce.
So the new boy’s an apocalypticist. Just like us.
Lunch. The sixth-form common room. The new boy, carrying a tray from the canteen. We call him over to sit with us. Bombproof, slumped against the opposite wall, disappointed.
The end of the world, eh? Paula says.
Exactly how is the world going to end? Art says.
I think the world’s already ended, I say. This is the afterlife.
Some fucking afterlife, Art says.
I think this is the before life, Paula says. I think we’ve never actually lived.
We contemplate the new boy’s tray. Chips. Coleslaw. Baked beans.
Don’t feel you have to eat the school dinners, Paula says. The canteen’s disgusting.
And it’s full of lower-school pupils, Art says. Always avoid lower-school pupils.
We spent years avoiding the lower-school pupils. And we were in the lower school, I say.
The new boy excuses himself. He wants to return his tray. And he needs the bathroom.
Boredom. All the old common room faces. Bitch Tits . . . Schlong Boy . . . Hand Job and the gang . . . And The Sirens, of course, sitting together, exotics, transferred from private school at the beginning of the sixth form.
The Sirens haven’t played their hand yet, have they? Art asks.
They’ll never play their hand, I say. They’re girls of mystery.
You’d think they’re dykes, but they’re not, Paula says.
Paula wants to have the edgy lez monopoly, Art says.
Snippy snippy, Paula says.
Well, they’re definitely not gay, I say.
Chandra still has his thing for The Sirens, Merv says. Or for one of them, anyway.
I do not! I say.
The common room.
The lowest-common-denominator room, Paula says.
The common soul-death room, I say.
Surveying the landscape. The beasts—the last beasts, the last of their kind, their fellows having left the sixth form. These are the academic beasts, the beasts with some brain to go with their brawn, and their hangers-on. There’s Bombproof, the beasts’ chew-toy. There’s Calypso, as beautiful as her namesake, sitting on Dingus’s knee.
But the beasts are in decline, now might is no longer de rigueur. The beasts no longer rule the school, not since the trendies discovered irony . . .
And there they are: the trendies. Gathered round the centre table. So knowing. So louche. So seen-it-all-before. The spoilt kids. The clique of cliques. Mean boys and mean girls, looking to fill everybody with fear . . .
But even irony has its limits. Even mean kids meet their match.
There’s a new ascendancy—the meteoric rise of everyone else. The grey masses. The drudges. The duh-rudges. Too lazy for fear. Too distractible for irony . . .
So many of them! Always snacking and checking their phones. Always at their troughs. Always chowing down. Consuming. And so cosy! So bedded-in, with their novelty slippers and their massive vats of tea. So satisfied, yet so insatiable. So inert, yet growing fatter by the day. You can basically watch them expand. They’re like bamboo in the tropics, only not so vertical.
The drudges will survive us all—there’s no doubt of that. The drudges are here for the duration . . .
It’s a grim scene, I say.
It makes me want to put out my eyes, Paula says.
No wonder we don’t have anyone to hang out with, Merv says.
We have us to hang out with, Art says.
All we have in common is that we have nothing in common with anyone else, I say.
Or each other, Merv says.
We have our band! Art says.
The band’s dead, Paula says.
The sports cupboard, stacked with things to throw. Choose your weapon! Will it be the discus? The javelin? Really, who would trust us with a javelin? We wouldn’t trust us with a javelin! Art would only throw a javelin straight through Dingus’s heart . . .
On the playing field, blinking in the sun. We’ll train for the long jump, we decide. For the triple jump! We head along the river path towards the sand pit. Willows. Cooling shade. The gentle lapping of the river.
So—what did you do to end up here? Paula asks the new boy. Did you set something on fire?
I’ll bet you did, I say. I’ll bet you set something on fire. You have that destroy-the-world look.
You went somewhere posh, right? Art says. Your accent’s posh.
The new boy: Trafalgar College. I lost my scholarship.
I don’t believe you, I say. I think you set something on fire.
Trafalgar’s really something, Art says. I’ve seen it. Very nice buildings. And very nice grounds. Huge grounds, fenced off from the proles.
The new boy: All nonsense. High-Victorian fake.
I don’t know, Art says. I mean, look at this dump!
This dump’s not a fake, the new boy says. It’s not selling Englishness off the shelf. They’ve franchised Trafalgar, you know. They’ve built an exact replica in China.
We imagine it: grand rococo buildings, in the Chinese suburbs. A fancy-pants chapel in the shadow of Chinese high-rises. Shooting and army-cadetting, in the Chinese suburbs. Early morning mist, in the Chinese suburbs. Groundskeepers flattening turf, in the Chinese suburbs. Rugby fixtures and summer fêtes, in the Chinese suburbs. The lacrosse team, jogging through the woods, in the Chinese suburbs.
We wish Loddon Valley could be bothered to be fake, we tell the new boy.
Mr Merriweather, self-styled teen-whisperer, showing slides on the miracle of Bhutan.
Mr Merriweather, explaining the amazing Bhutanese experiment. The admirable Bhutanese initiative.
Slide: Ghalkey, the Bhutanese word for happiness.
Mr Merriweather: Gha, in Bhutanese, means you like something. Key means peace. The harmony of the whole—that’s what the Bhutanese value. It’s not about individual happiness. It’s not about my happiness or your happiness. It’s about the whole. (Makes an encompassing gesture.) The WHOLE.
Slide: (Title) The Pillars of Happiness. (Bullet-points) Psychological well-being. Time use. Cultural diversity and resilience. Community vitality. Good governance.
Slide: Gross Domestic Happiness.
Mr Merriweather: The Bhutanese have actually taken it upon themselves to measure the gross domestic happiness of their population!
Slide: (Title) Bhutanese Government Questionnaire. (Bullet-points) Do you trust your neighbours? Do you believe in karma? Do you know local folktales?
Mr Merriweather: Do we trust our neighbours? Do we believe in anything? Are we happy?
Slide: Smiling Bhutanese children.
Slide: Smiling Bhutanese peasants, with their yaks.
Slide: Smiling Bhutanese priests, at the temple.
Slide: Smiling Mr Merriweather, enjoying traditional Bhutanese hospitality.
Slide: Smiling Mr Merriweather, trekking in the mountains with his faithful Bhutanese guide.
Slide: Smiling Mr Merriweather and smiling Mrs Merriweather (we presume), strolling through a Bhutanese market.
Bhutan’s doomed, isn’t it, sir? Paula says. I mean, as soon as you open the country to happiness-tourism, there’s no more happiness, is there, sir?
It’s like what happens when we make contact with isolated tribes, sir, Art says. Half of them die of Western diseases. Then cancer, alcoholism and depression finish of the rest. It’s the West, sir. It’s what we do.
I’ll bet the young Bhutanese are all depressed, sir, I say. I’ll bet they’re all suicidal, just like us, sir. And there’s nothing that can be done, even with all the tourist money swilling round the country.
Bhutan’s trying to resist westernisation, Mr Merriweather says. Bhutan can still teach us values.
The new boy, NIHILISM in big letters across his notebook.
The bike sheds. Unlocking our bikes.
Pigeons, flying after one another.
That one’s trying to fuck that one, Merv says. He’s, like, forcing himself on her.
Maybe she likes it, I say.
She’s flying away, Paula says. Or trying to.
Look at the way he’s strutting, Art says. Just like you, Chandra.
How do you know it’s a he? Paula says. Could be a dyke. Could be all dyke pigeons around here.
Nature’s disgusting, Art says. Animals are disgusting. I hate the way they always remind us of us. The way they just live—it’s indecent. All their instincts . . .
We have instincts, Paula says.
I refuse to have instincts, Art says.
The need to breed, Art—everything fucks, I say.
Is that what we’re like? Is that what love is? Art says.
Maybe machine intelligence will be better, Merv says. I mean, machines don’t fuck, do they? They can just build new machines.
Roll on full automation, Art says.
Wheeling through the crowds.
You know who the new boy looks like? Paula says. I’ve been thinking about it all day. Nietzsche.
Who? Merv asks.
Friedrich Nietzsche—the philosopher, Paula says. Don’t tell me you haven’t heard of Nietzsche.
Merv, investigating on his phone. Showing us a photo. The new boy doesn’t look anything like him!
You have to look beyond the moustache, Paula says.
How? Merv says. All I can see is moustache.
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