Nick Hornby. Songbook. 2002.


I woke up today feeling bad, but not as bad as the hip-hip the white man was playing at the carwash next door, which was still not as bad as Nick Hornby's Songbook. Nick Hornby's songbook is the second book I've considered bad enough to review in these pages without having finished reading it. Open question: did the publisher McSweeneys discover that a bunch of these had come back from the printer with pages missing and decide to sell them as remainders, perhaps thinking the inclusion of the CD justified selling a defective book? Seems reasonable, I guess, until you consider that the printer should probably have redone the books for free, meaning that this defective book cost nothing to produce and cost me eight bucks to throw against the wall. I don’t read books with missing pages. Because I am a close reader. But, you know, in this case, I didn't miss the pages. I leapt straight from the middle of a chapter on Teenage Fanclub to a chapter on Bruce Springsteen and there was no sense whatsoever of having missed any important information. Nick Hornby has a breezy, effortless style, which is nice to read the same way popcorn is nice to eat: it never slows you down. The sum of the dollars he's wasted on albums stands in for knowledge of songwriting or record production craft. I could now pick out examples of smug, hollow sentences to discuss, but when a book about music is as bad as liner notes from a reissued Elvis Costello disc, it means—well, okay, sure I'm jealous, I too would love to get paid to babble about the mostly insubstantial music I gorge to get through the day, but you won't see me making flatulent generalizations about a song with a solo being better than a song without one. Kurt Weill, Cole Porter, Woody Guthrie. Get it? The sense is that of getting paid by the word, or trying to pad out an English 101 paper from ten pages to one hundred. But I don’t know what to think. After all, Nick Hornby wrote a book called High Fidelity which I have not read which was made into a movie I hated set in Chicago and on the wall of the record store was a poster for No Time magazine, in which portions of my award-winning hypertext novel the Unknown were first published, so Nick and I are practically friends. And I heard him read a story on This American Life I really liked. So he's not hopeless. But this book is on the level of books about cats. I waited until I finished the book to play the CD, hoping it would save the experience. I'm still waiting. The CD is better than the writing, better than the hip-hop at the car wash next door, and perhaps a little better than I feel.

For an eight dollar CD with too many liner notes, I just don't know.

I liked the story about leaving the Led Zeppelin concert during the drum solo to get a pint down the way. It’s hardly a reason for me to listen to Teenage Fanclub, but whatever.

(Disclaimer: this review was written in the very dark period of my life before I met Cristy, who likes Teenage Fanclub and High Fidelity, which admittedly turned out to be a much better date movie when I saw it with Cristy than it did when I saw it with a feminist activist who did not like rock and roll, but I'm still probably sleeping in the doghouse when Cristy finds this online.)

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