Bedroom Band


A review of Because by Andrew Steinmetz

Published on August 1, 2023

Andrew Steinmetz’s Because is a novel about music. Montreal bands and journalists drift in and out of characters’ mouths, real venues rise and fall in the distance, and an image emerges of the city’s underground music scene during the ’80s and ’90s. In the prologue, the narrator watches Rufus Wainwright play at a piano in a Montreal café, then disappear in a taxi bound for New York. Steinmetz, the former fiction editor at Véhicule Press, publisher of his latest novel, was a founding member of two Montreal-based bands (Weather Permitting and Good Cookies) during this era. He captures the milieu tenderly through the eyes of Hombre who, along with his brother Transformer, is stuck in the suburbs of the city, aching towards the punk scene. Posing with their twin blonde acoustic guitars in front of the mirror, and little ability to play, they decide to name their band “Because.”

Andrew Steinmetz

Esplanade Books

It is also a novel about bedrooms. Inside of any milieu, any city, are the worlds that siblings can create in a shared space. Told from Hombre’s perspective in vignettes structured like memories, the novel unfolds in short chapters, most of which take place in the claustrophobic, generative, sometimes humiliating space of the brothers’ room in the early days of their band. Steinmetz explores the shared bedroom as a haven for trying on personas, as a place where you can be the best, worst, and most dramatized version of yourself. The dialogue is immediate and insular, built from a sibling-grown lexicon, a blend of inside jokes and family lore. Every character is known only by nickname their mom is Flowers, sister Candy, grandparents the Swedish Mormor and Morfar in keeping with the logic of their four-walled universe. The brothers spend the summer of 1981 inside strumming and bickering, leaving only to climb to the roof for cigarette breaks, shirking all other familial duties. When prompted to join the family for an outing, Hombre declares, “Today no one in the band is going to the pool for Canada Day. It wouldn’t be good for our image. Besides, we like it inside our room, where it’s humid and the walls are close, where all day long we can soak up our own music.”

Uncle Per’s record collection is the first major disturbance. In the opening pages, he plops it down in the middle of Transformer and Hombre’s bedroom and says “This is your inheritance, boys.” A smattering of T. Rex, Cream, The Beatles what the two angsty teenaged brothers call “a bunch of hippie dung” the collection represents everything they, aspirational punks in the early ’80s, want to disdain. But they study it anyway, sifting through the collection LP by LP throughout the first part of the novel. Skepticism can’t keep them from being entranced, although a little embarrassed, by their findings. 

The other major disruption is Spit. Flowers hires her from the local music shop to come give the Transformer and Hombre guitar lessons. She has what they want: musical chops, wit, connections throughout the city. She teaches them to play, helps them write and record, challenges them with her talk of downtown bars, journalists, older boyfriends, and demos. Spit brings a breeze from the real world into the room, and challenges them to join it, dragging them down to Station 10, a venue that closed in the mid-nineties, pushing their demo tape into the hands of bar owners and music writers. Alongside Spit, and a few new Spit-adjacent friends, Transformer becomes a louder, edgier version of himself. His posturing becomes self-destructive and menacing, marked by a sadness that is unrecognizable to the quiet, poetic Hombre. Transformer’s punk bedroom attitude grows up quickly, turning into something dark and dangerous, a mental health crisis that no one in his life knows how to address. Tragedy ensues.

In Because, Steinmetz intimately draws a sibling relationship over time, looking at the magic of being co-creators, the fecundity of shared experiences and daydreams, and the impossible responsibility of always protecting one another.  Steinmetz elegantly captures a moment in Montreal’s music history, but also the moment when the stakes of adolescence change, when the world bleeds into the bedroom and the imaginary slips into the real. Because is a reflective, memorial novel; it wonders about the playfulness and hazards of building a musical persona, laments the fleeting moment between childhood and adulthood, and questions the twin-like terror and beauty of knowing someone as intimately as you know a sibling. 

In the same way that Steinmetz succeeds in sharing siblings’ inside jokes with his reader, he attempts to share the unique sounds and refrains of a moment in Montreal with a broader readership. Though at times it might be an esoteric read for those outside of Montreal, Because is an engrossing, formally inventive novel that is well worth any historical and musical detours it might invite.mRb

Emily Mernin is a writer based in Montreal.



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