|BOOKS BOUGHT||BOOKS READ|
I was reading a comment by a random person on the inter-web that stated that Nick Hornby has, essentially, terrible taste in music. On top of that, Clay Aiken has apologized for having an opinion about a singer, and a beauty queen got in trouble for having an opinion about same-sex marriage. Am I the only one who sees a pattern of media-centric fascism becoming more and more entrenched with every generation? It looks like we won’t have to worry about politicians taking away our rights – the media is doing a grand job of it themselves. The institution that harps on freedom of speech is the first to publicly flog people for it. And c’mon, they don’t really care what the beauty queen’s opinion is. They just want to market it. And the fast, lazy way to do it is to make it sound like she’s done something wrong. The American public is stupid enough to fall right in.
But this is not about all that insanity. My beef is with people who work so hard to make the banal and witless sound important. I agree with random person about the bad taste, but what I’m annoyed about is that the person completely missed the point of SONGBOOK. Missed it, even though Hornby mentions a few times what the book is and isn’t. Random person probably thought the book was like one of those sad, asinine VH1 clip shows that they churn out so often.
SONGBOOK is “Songs of Experience”. You can’t tell someone that their experience is wrong. Unless you are someone who has a poor vocabulary. I can’t stand Nelly Furtado, but reading about what her song does for him is what’s interesting. It’s what matters. I haven’t heard most of the songs he writes about, but I’ve enjoyed reading how the songs, some against his will, have woven their melodies and guitar solos into his consciousness and created a personal tapestry. (If he were to read this, he might have a groan or a giggle at how thickly I’m laying on this metaphor.)
So, in a nutshell, if you give up on this book because you don’t like the songs, you’re lazy or ignorant or this was never your cup of tea to begin with.
As a writer and a writing teacher/consultant, I like so many things about this book! Is there another author who can be charming when they are swearing? NH can get right salty, yet it never sounds gratuitous — no shock value at all. But it is a charming surprise when it happens. It’s like he grows impatient with polite English and just throws down an “F” bomb or some scat-related expression. On him, it’s cute and funny. I think he’s seen Blackadder.
What follows are “bits and bobs” of prose writing that I like in the book .
From “Thunder Road” (Bruce Springsteen)
…admiration is a very different thing from the kind of transference I’m talking about. I’m talking about understanding – or at least feeling like I understand, the soul of both the work and its creator. “This is me,” I wanted to say when I read Tyler’s rich, sad, lovely novel.
When I first read this bit, I read it as a reader – taking in the words, the basic comprehension, then moving on. The further I got through the book, my mind kept coming back to this. With every chapter, it became truer and truer for me. I started this blog based on my admiration of NH’s style and author persona. His prose collections do for me what the songs in SONGBOOK did for him.
They lived in towns for losers, I told myself, and I, like Bruce, was pulling out of there to win.
I live in a town for losers. Even the successful people are losers. Soulless, sightless, simple, subsisting on arrogance and exploitation. I got out for a while, then got pulled back in by the fickle finger of fate.
From “I’m Like A Bird” (Nelly Furtado)
Do you really deny yourselves the pleasure of mastering a tune…because you are afraid it might make you look as if you don’t know who Harold Bloom is? Wow. I’ll bet you’re fun at parties.
Ha! He said the magic words – “Harold Bloom”. This – the sentiment, is me. ME. The sarcasm – Classic ME. This is something I would say. That’s practically an impression of ME. How does he do it!
From “Heartbreaker” (Led Zeppelin)
…I have less time, less tolerance for bullshit, more interest in good taste, more confidence in my own judgment.
This Led Zeppelin song is the first one in the book that I actually like. Heartbreaker been a part of my life for so long, I don’t question its presence. Heee! In this section, Hornby muses on the development of his musical taste. From young and noise-oriented to mature and skill-oriented, he did not throw the baby out with the bath water. His tastes became finer and even sophisticated, but unashamedly admits that sometimes…sometimes, only Zeppelin will do.
I’m excited to read this bit because the same thing happened to me. As a child, I was moderately interested in jazz and classical. Starting in about high school, and especially from college on, I dined on classical music. (Classical cassettes were 3 for $10 back in the late 80s!) I started listening to more jazz when I worked at H&B Recordings Direct. One of the perks was getting free sample/promotional CDs and tapes of jazz artists! I was in heaven! As I listened to more, I began to have more confidence in my choices. I could argue my choices for and against and people would listen. Now, it’s become a habit to listen for pleasure and analysis at the same time – a skill I apply when listening to music AND reading. That’s what this post is – pleasure and analysis (left brain and right brain activation).
From “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window”, “Rain” (Bob Dylan, The Beatles)
“…the best music connects to the soul, not the brain…
As a teacher, we get some training in how the brain works. The human brain likes patterns. It likes repetition. But we don’t talk about souls in teacher workshops. Talking about engaging the soul of a student is verboten. Education should connect to the soul as well as the brain. More sticking power.
This bit also reminds of a line from Much Ado About Nothing where Benedict has just listened to Don Pedro’s musicians sing a song out in the garden. He says, “is it not strange that sheeps’ guts should hail the souls from men’s bodies…”. (That’s about 98% accurate.) Similar wisdom unifying two men, centuries and philosophies apart.
It’s two different sensations when music engages your brain and your soul. When it engages your soul, it’s possible to feel physical pain! In 1986, after I got back from England, any song I would hear on the radio that had been on the radio in London would immediately transport me back to the Tube or my dorm room. “Holding Back The Years”, “Lady in Red”, “Human” – they would leave me catatonic with misery as I felt my spirit being yanked out of me and back to Blighty. When “Lady in Red” came on, I swear I could smell the Tube train again. They’re not songs to be proud of liking. Too schmaltzy. Too pop-drek. The only saving grace for “Holding Back The Years” is its heavy blues influence. But they encapsulate my experience to such an extent that any other association is impossible and that’s why I love those songs.
From “You Had Time”, “I’ve Had It” (Ani DiFranco, Aimee Mann)
Aimee Mann’s lyrics: “Everyone I know is acting weird or way too cool / They hang out by the pool / So I just read a lot and ride my bike around the school.” (“Ghost World”)
Ahhh, the song of the fringe dweller…so bittersweet, so torn, so enlightened. The best thing about truly skilled songwriters is that they know how to make a powerful impact with a few well-chosen words. This handful of lyrics represents the same kind of autobiographical endeavor Wordsworth cobbled in four volumes. Songwriters would probably make great therapists.
I’m not going to link all the song titles and artists since their work is readily available from any major retailer
Some Harold Bloom posts – just so you can see what the fuss is about.
- ROOTING OUT BLOOM’S WRITING ROOTS
- ROOTING OUT BLOOM 2: The Western Canon
- ROOTING OUT BLOOM 3: Where Shall Wisdom be Found?