Daisy Jones & the Six, a wild tale of rock ‘n’ roll excess

Published : 15 Mar 2023 08:30 PM

They say if you can remember the 60s then you weren't really there, but arguably, that adage is even more fitting for the 70s. From the glamorous debauchery of disco in Studio 54 to the anarchic fever of punk, hedonistic excess hit new heights. Given that, older music fans might think they've simply forgotten about the best-selling band of that hazy decade, Daisy Jones & The Six. With the group's seminal album, Aurora, now available internationally, and with an accompanying bio-series about why the group broke up currently running on Amazon Prime Video, you could be wondering: who are they, again? 

In fact, the band has never existed. It is a fantastical figment of the imagination of author Taylor Jenkins Reid in her novel Daisy Jones & The Six. The book – published in 2019 – tells the origin story of the fictional band, and its members: the titular frontwoman Daisy Jones, co-lead singer Billy and his lead guitarist brother Graham Dunne, keyboardist Karen, rhythm guitarist Eddie and drummer Warren (as well as Billy's wife, Camila) against the backdrop of LA in the 70s. It covers the in-band love affairs and bitter rivalries that ensued, the high-living, pleasure-seeking and addiction – and, of course, the creation of their music, which documented all their drama.  

The novel, like the fictional band, became an instant sensation. The it-book of 2019, it has sold more than one million copies worldwide, spent nine weeks on the New York Times bestseller chart, and been a hit on BookTok. It has captured the imagination of readers, among other things, for its escapist qualities, as they are happily transported back to a time of rock 'n' roll excess, played out in sun-kissed, bohemian 70s California. Now, the new 10-part small-screen adaptation, which premiered its first three episodes a couple of weeks ago and has been rolling out further episodes weekly, may prove similarly alluring to Amazon Prime viewers; from the opening beats, it is captivating. If reading the book made you feel like you were there, the TV series draws fans even further into the action, bringing viewers along for the wild ride of the band's genesis, and keeping them hooked until the fateful last gig when the group implodes.

The book's power

Among those who consider the book a personal favourite are author and host of the You're Booked podcast, Daisy Buchanan. "I was lucky enough to read an early copy – and even before it came out, I could feel the buzz," she tells BBC Culture. "I read it from cover to cover on a train journey, and I was completely captivated. You know something's great when you're so consumed by the reading experience that you don't want to pick up your phone.

"The story is filled with sharp, clear, compelling voices – not just Daisy's. I love Karen, the band member whose personal turmoil – and love story – is brewing quietly in the background. I think the secret to great storytelling is writing characters that readers want to spend time with. Taylor Jenkins Reid makes you want to spend every spare second hanging out with the band."

What sets the novel apart from other music-themed novels – like Roddy Doyle's The Commitments or Utopia Avenue by David Mitchell, for example – is its format. Told in an unusual oral history style, it blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction. Made up of mock interviews with the different band members and their associates, it immerses the reader fully in its made-up history, as well as adding narrative tension by having the band's "true" story disputed by the different characters. As the fictional author of the oral history declares at the beginning of the novel: "It should be noted that, on matters both big and small, sometimes accounts of the same event differ. The truth often lies, unclaimed, in the middle."

"There's a real feeling of urgency, [the testimonies] a cross between gossip and confession," says Buchanan, explaining what made many people race through the book so hungrily. As Reese Witherspoon, who made the novel part of her book club, then successfully bid to make the TV adaptation via her production company, Hello Sunshine, said at the time of its release: "I devoured Daisy Jones & The Six in a day, falling head over heels for it. Daisy and the band captured my heart." 

For the author, Jenkins Reid, it was her sixth novel, following up her 2017 work The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo (which is currently also being adapted for TV by Netflix). She has got a few ideas as to what made Daisy Jones & the Six such a soaraway success: "It's always hard for me to conjecture about what I might have done right, but I think I'm always trying to tell stories that are really compelling to me in two different ways," she tells BBC Culture. "One, that they have something to say: and I'm really proud of what this book – and what this TV adaptation – has to say about women in rock, and how they make their way in the world. The other thing that's important to me is to be fun. I want to make stories that are fun to read."

The Fleetwood Mac connection

When it came to wild-living musical inspiration, Jenkins Reid needed to look no further than Fleetwood Mac as a starting point. Fleetwood Mac were one of the bestselling acts of the 70s, and the eventful history around the making of their 1977 iconic album, Rumours, is well-documented. At the point of going into the recording studio, two couples in the band – Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham and Christine and John McVie – had split up and were having affairs with other people, fuelling the heart-breaking or angry emotions that the musicians channelled into songs about their ex-partners.

Jenkins Reid has explained in the past that the first kernel of the idea for Daisy Jones came from her memory of watching footage of Stevie Nicks performing the song Landslide, from their 1975 album Fleetwood Mac, while Buckingham watched on intently. "It looked so much like two people in love. And yet, we'll never truly know what lived between them," she said. "I wanted to write a story about that, about how the lines between real life and performance can get blurred, about how singing about old wounds might keep them fresh."

Of course, the story of Fleetwood Mac can't be told without mentioning their drug habits. Par for the course in the LA music scene in the industry at that time was the use of cocaine and other illegal substances – Mick Fleetwood once claimed the amount of cocaine he'd snorted in this era would stretch to a line seven miles long, while Stevie Nicks has spoken extensively about her own drug addiction, which escalated as the band rose to global success. The character of Daisy Jones is obviously strongly indebted to the frontwoman of Fleetwood Mac; from her wild-child behaviour to her cosmic sensibility, and ethereal, tasselled and floaty stagewear. Readers follow Daisy's journey from recreational substance abuse to dangerous addiction – something which bonds her with her married bandmate, Billy, also an addict struggling with sobriety, with whom she engages in a tormented, emotional love affair. 

Meanwhile, the character of Karen, the straight-talking, effortlessly cool British keyboard player in the band, is almost a double for the late Christine McVie. This enmeshing of a fictional band with the much-loved Fleetwood Mac – of whom there has never been a definitive biopic – is another key factor in the appeal of the book, and now the TV series, says Buchanan. "It's a very good cultural crossover. I know a lot of women who really love Fleetwood Mac, possibly because – unlike so much of the music of the era – there actually are women in Fleetwood Mac. I love Daisy and Karen like I love Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie."