If scoring a voyeuristic backstage pass to the drama and drugs of a world-famous 70s rock band sounds like a dream come true, then Amazon Prime’s limited series Daisy Jones and the Six is a must-see this March. The show stars Riley Keough (Mad Max Fury Road, The Girlfriend Experience), who is also Elvis Presley’s granddaughter with her own amazing set of pipes, and Sam Claflin (The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, Enola Holmes). Adapted from the New York Times bestseller of the same title by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which itself is loosely based on the turbulent history of Fleetwood Mac, the story is a tribute to a musical era almost half a century old, a fan fiction look at what life on the Strip and on the road must’ve been like.
What’s the story?
Through separate interviews with conflicting, emotionally charged tales, members of Daisy Jones and The Six, one of the biggest bands of the 70s, finally go on record to tell the story of how they came to be, their rise to rock-n-roll fame, and the mysterious break-up after the biggest concert of their career. It is a battle of wills between frontman and recently sober Billy Dunne (Claflin) and the drug-addicted wild child Daisy Jones (Keough).
What’s the backstory?
When the inspiration hit to write about a rock band, Reid decided to base the novel on the 1970s Sunset Strip scene. She loved the Southern California sound of Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles, and Joni Mitchell. Although Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham were the initial inspiration for Reid, the novel is not a copycat of their lives. She delved into many biographies of musicians from the era including Bruce Springsteen and Keith Richards, as well as scouring old Rolling Stones articles. For her character of Simone (Nabiyah Be), the disco pioneer, she found inspiration in Donna Summer.
Before beginning writing, Reid listened to Rumors over and over as research, swimming in the subtext of the lyrics and harmonies, finding the unspoken truths between the rifts. Songs can reveal the real truth behind the gossip — despite what artists are willing to confess in interviews. This search for the truth is a core theme in the book and series. The book is written as oral history, and the show faithfully keeps this intact by framing the story with a series of interviews of band members decades after their break-up, their memories filling the narrative. But each band member has their own version of what really happened. Hearing the different perspectives of the same moment — and how the people engaged in a conversation can interpret each other’s words differently due to their biases — is a fascinating exploration of the human psyche. Daisy and Billy rarely share the same interpretation of events, and their drama often is balanced by the humorous recollections of drummer Warren (Sebastian Chacon), one of the most enjoyable characters of the show.
Is there a deeper theme or subtext?
Published after the rise of the #MeToo movement, Daisy Jones and the Six is a reflection on female artists and the sexist barriers that the greats like Stevie Nicks, Christine McVie, Tina Turner, and Carole King had to destroy.
The series challenges Hollywood’s misconception that female relationships are all rife with jealousy and backstabbing, the Mean Girls or All About Eve narratives. Or best friends are presumed to be lovers, as in the fan reaction to Captain Marvel. There is no space for honest female friendships. It’s exhausting. Daisy Jones does a wonderful job not only wagging a finger at the sexism and patriarchy of the time period, but it also flourishes in uplifting the women’s interpersonal relationships.
A subtle but honest moment in the show occurs when the band is sitting at a diner debating a name change. Early on, there are only five band members, including the only woman, keyboardist Karen (Suki Waterhouse). But Camila Dunne (Camile Marrone), Billy’s wife, is there with them — as she often is for the band. When the suggestion of “The Six” is tossed in the mix, one of the men states they’re a band of five. Karen clarifies that there are six of them with a nod to Camila. Camila mouths the words “Thank you” across the table. It’s a small moment, easily lost in the comedy of the scene, but it speaks volumes about how the women treat each other. In Daisy Jones, they stick up for each other because they are each other’s only support in this male-dominated world.
In an interview with Penguin Books UK, Reid said it also was important to her to tell a story that wasn’t just about one way to be a woman. “Stories about women are the most exciting stories that we’re telling and the most important stories that we’re telling. If you look at what women are writing now, it’s thrilling and it’s exciting and it’s complex and I just wish we’d take it a little more seriously.” You can watch more of Reid’s interview here.
What will fans of the novel think?
With the power of Reese Witherspoon’s Hello Sunshine backing them, creators Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber stayed true to the book, which is what any bibliophile desires. Neustadter and Weber were both involved in The Fault in Our Stars, which may be why some critics find the show melodramatic. But they were also behind The Disaster Artist, and the same comedic stylings are present in Daisy Jones and the Six. Reid said of Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumors” that “It’s an album, but it’s also a soap opera.” And Daisy Jones doesn’t shy away from the drama.
Fans who devoured the book in a weekend will appreciate the show. For those who haven’t read it yet, I challenge you to buy it and read a section, then watch an episode, and repeat. This is a rare time when you can easily submerge yourself in both mediums at once since the novel is an incredibly fast read.
What are critics saying?
Critics have been mixed towards the series. Reviewers have taken issue with the show’s design as less fictional documentary and more narrative-driven. There isn’t a film crew 24/7 as in Spinal Tap, and the flashbacks are memories instead of captured reality.
Others have called the show melodramatic, which is ironic, given the narratives around real-life bands and their implosions. The New York Times wrote, “it feels like … a seven and a half hour episode of Behind the Music.” I argue, what’s wrong with that?
There are some critics who see the brilliance in the actors’ chemistry and performances. Rolling Stone, which knows a thing or two about rock ‘n’ roll bands, saw Keough’s Daisy as convincingly broken, human, and fragile. Claflin “has … the vulnerability necessary to keep Billy from being insufferable … Supporting players like [Tom] Wright, Waterhouse, and Be also do lovely work playing characters who constantly feel underestimated by the music business.”
The lack of edge is a theme among critics. As the UK Telegraph describes it, “The orgiastic parties look sweetly innocent, the abuse of drugs and alcohol a mite performative… Yet at its best Daisy Jones & The Six portrays the spine-tingling Dionysian thrill of musical collaboration.”
That collaboration went beyond acting. Along with the launch of the series, Daisy Jones and the Six dropped the album Aurora with original lyrics by the author, Reid, and original music by Phoebe Bridgers, Marcus Mumford, Jackson Browne, and Grammy winner Blake Mills — but with the actors singing and playing. Even more impressive, their fictional album rose to the top of the iTunes charts over the weekend of the show’s release, a first for a made-up band, thanks in part to all of the talent involved.
Claflin had never sung professionally until booking Daisy Jones. He admitted in an interview with Variety that he was terrified. He only had five weeks for vocal training and to learn the guitar before shooting. Then Covid-19 happened, shutting down production and gifting him a year and a half to perfect the sound over zoom with the other actors.
He took inspiration from White Denim’s lead singer, James Petralli. Claflin said, “I don’t do a very good impression of him at all. But that was sort of my guide. And then I got more confident with it and started playing around with my own style.”
Some have compared the breakout song “Honeycomb” for Daisy Jones and the Six to “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac. Rightfully so. Even the guitar rift is reminiscent of Buckingham. But “Rumors” is arguably one of the greatest albums of all time. To try to hold up an album performed by actors and written for a show against rock history legend is unfair. Enjoy the “Aurora” album for what it is, not for what it impossibly cannot be.
Where and when can I find it?
The series premiered March 3rd, 2023 with three episodes. The remaining seven episodes drop each Friday on Prime Video.