The book: After a failed romance, McKay Chernoff, a 26-year-old Columbia grad student and blues harmonica player, decides to spend the summer in Europe as a busker (a street performer who plays for money) and heal his broken heart. Flying to Paris with friend Paul Goldberg, Chernoff meets Billy Lee Grant, who goads him into a wild romp of wine, women, and running from the police. Their odyssey continues through France, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, and Holland as they meet colorful characters and play music on the way. Part road-trip novel, part buddy story, Busker’s Holiday recounts a trip of a lifetime.
The author: Adam Gussow ’79 *00 is an associate professor of English and Southern Studies at the University of Mississippi and a professional blues harmonica player and teacher. He has written three books on the blues, including Mister Satan’s Apprentice. Like his Busker’s Holiday protagonist, he busked in the streets of Paris in his youth.
Opening lines: “Paris is where the madness starts, that summer of my plunge into the busking life. I’ve fled the wreckage of the bittersweet almost-marriage I shared with Helen Solomon for five long years in New York. Her most recent fling has led her to move out of our third and final apartment. My last-minute travel partner is Paul Goldberg, fellow English Ph.D. candidate at Columbia. A bearded Jewish Montrealer with his own insecurities, he has a bracing sense of life as something nasty, brutish, and short but also capable of being survived and savored. He’s a Renaissance scholar, which may prove useful. I’m newly womanless, in need of rebirth. At 26, my old life is gone. Done. But I have a plan.”
Review: Kirkus Reviews says, “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.”