You think it's King Lear

There once was a time, a darker time, let’s call it the late 1990s, when I was a big, big fan of the band Manic Street Preachers. I’ve mentioned that before, no big whoop. I didn’t do the whole eyeliner-and-tiara thing that many MSP fans used to go for – and, I presume, still do – but there do exist photos of me in a feather boa. On the scale of obsessive Manics fans, I was pretty tame, although I did go to a fan convention in Cardiff once, which was a lot of fun. For me, being a fan of the band was more of a social thing: it provided a group of friends who loved the same songs and went to the same gigs.

One time, my friend Tom and I bought a bootleg tape from Camden Market of the Manics’ headline slot at V99. At this gig, the band debuted their forthcoming single ‘The Masses Against the Classes’, and so Tom and I sat for a couple of hours, trying to transcribe lyrics from the terrible quality recording that we’d just dropped a fiver on. We thought one of the lines was “Attack me wearing Tommy Girl”, which it obviously wasn’t. The reason we were trying to figure out all the words was simple: we were members of the newsgroup, and nobody had yet posted them. There was a real sense of pride when we posted our take on the lyrics, plus an mp3 file, encoded at a dial-up friendly 32Kbs, of the song. Man, we felt pretty cool when the praise and admiration started pouring in from people we didn’t know.

The reason I bring up this episode is because I just finished reading an advance copy of the new Nick Hornby novel Juliet, Naked, and there’s a very similar situation in there. One of the main characters is an obsessive fan of an obscure American singer and longs to be envied in the eyes of fellow fans, people who he’ll never meet, who share his passion for a musician that most people have never heard of. There are three main players in Juliet, Naked, and they all have very distinct personalities and motivations, but I found Duncan, the music fan, to be the most interesting. He’s pretty much dedicated his life to being an “authority” – whatever that means – on the life and work of singer-songwriter Tucker Crowe. He’s dismissive of anyone else’s opinions, be they about Tucker or anything else.

The book begins in a toilet. In Minneapolis. Duncan has dragged his long-suffering girlfriend Annie on a pilgrimage across the States, going to various places of interest to Tucker Crowe fans, all six of them. And this toilet is supposedly where the singer made the decision to disappear from the public eye. That ought to explain to you the levels of Duncan’s devotion, and also why Annie might be a little sick of it.

Tucker Crowe, meanwhile, is portrayed as a quiet parent of five, from four different mothers, who is trying to settle down with his young son, having made a lifetime of mistakes. He takes his kid to little league games and doesn’t think about his earlier glories and transgressions. The book charts the relationships between the three, and I found it very good. I don’t know when Hornby became really uncool – was it the Songbook? – but this is a solid piece of work. There are some parts that call for serious soul-searching from Tucker, where he has to reconcile with his many estranged ex-wives and even more estranged children, which I found rather unsatisfying and hollow, but those aside, it was fun to read. Hornby makes good use of Wikipedia postings and message board posts to convey the joys of being an internet fan of a musician. There's even a troll who loves Morrissey!

Best part of the book? There’s a couple of guys who are really into Northern Soul! Shout outs to Major Lance and Dobie Grey! I'm a big Northern Soul fan.

I’m a dork.

One of the plot points in the book involves the rival reviews of an album from Duncan and Annie, so why not read a review of Juliet, Naked by Lauren over at HalfDesertedStreets?


Adrian said...

Regarding the cool levels of Mr. Hornby.

While Songbook might have been his literary low point I would have to submit that his cinematic low was Fever Pitch.

Its fine that they change the sport to make the movie more profitable for us boorish Yanks. However, I do find issue with rewriting the end to coincide the Sox winning the Series. Also, allowing Jimmy Kimmel and Drew Barrymore on the field during the celebration is at best insulting.

Alissa said...

OK, now I have to read this. I know all about music obsession. And talk about coincidence, Jon and I are going to see the Manics tomorrow. And I was at V99 (Chelmsford). T'was my first time seeing them. Small world, eh?

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