Friday, 30 October 2009

Blogtoberfest Day 30: Juliet, Naked

I haven't bought a new book that wasn't a knitting or cook book in ages. I've been reading, but mainly borrowed books - most notably, Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford or the backlog of previously purchased books I've never managed to read.

But when I found myself with an hour to kill at Melbourne airport last month, I thought the time had come to dip back into new fiction and I am so glad I did. Juliet, Naked was just the right book for me at just the right moment.

I came late to Nick Hornby. I saw High Fidelity at the movies and became an instant convert. He's comedic, insightful, engaging and writes prolifically about one of my great loves, music. He's always captured that thing that is so hard to put into words, why we love music and what it's like to be music obsessed.

Here are a couple of good reviews that will tell you more than I'm going to. And a recent fantastic interview from the Sydney Morning Herald.

Essentially the book is about a couple, one half of which is utterly obsessed with a has been singer-songwriter from the 80s and what happens when that obsession causes an irreprable rift in the relationship, which was pretty clearly in its last days anyway.

I loved Nick Hornby's oh so accurate depiction of life online and most particularly, music geekery online. My first enthusiastic steps on the internet in the early 90s were driven by music. I found newgroups, fan sites and forums where people like me could obsess about the music we loved most. In the old days we had to join fan clubs with periodic newsletters, or hang out for the latest edition of Q or Rolling Stone. When the internet happened, suddenly we could connect with each other in close to real time and I loved it. And I still do.

After knitting, music sites are one of the other places you'll most likely find me. It's the best way to find out what's to be heard if you don't engage with the core of mainstream music, which I haven't for years, having long ago decided that most of the bland, meangingless stuff was no longer for me. There are exceptions of course but I've by and large left mainstream radio and music video shows long behind me.

I find when people get older and say they don't listen to music much anymore, it's because it seems that after they outgrew top 40 teenage music, they didn't know where to go next. There's a whole world out there of artists who are a lifetime away from mainstream trends and who are producing exciting, wonderful music and I add to my store of loved performers regularly. It keeps my music love alive. I cherish the long loved favourites but I adore getting to know the new artists, many of whom cite old favourites as heroes. The cycle of music goes on.

I think I was a music geek long before I knew there was such a thing. In my early 20s I would scour the liner notes of my favourite CDs, learning the names of contributing musicians. If I liked, for instance, someone who provided some cello on a song, I'd look up other albums they had contributed to and more often that not, I'd find another love.

But even earlier than that, I trace my obsession back to Abba and the way as a very small child I used to stare into the speaker grids on the little cassette player we had in the 70s to see if there were people actually inside singing to me. I'm pretty sure my mum would back up my memory that the only way to stop me being sick on car trips was to give me a cassette player, plugged into the car's cigarette lighter, and let me play Abba all the way there and all the way back. It probably drove them mad, but was better than dealing with a vomiting child.

Now in my late 30s, I'm not obsessive like I was in my 20s but then hopefully we are all not many things we used to be. I don't buy the magazines any more. I don't engage quite as intensely, but I still read and learn; I still like to know stuff.

For instance, just this afternoon I spent a bus trip home scouring set lists online from the recent Tori Amos tour so that I could make a compilation CD for my sister Fee and for Ailsa to help them catch up with the last few albums in readiness for the Australian shows. I love that stuff. I love seeing what albums are getting the most coverage. I love seeing how far back she's digging into her old material and which of the new songs are getting the most stage time, all the while imagining what Fee and Ailsa will think of those songs. I want to get the order right when I make the compilation CD. Isn't that what High Fidelity was? One long take on the virtue of mixed tapes?

So yes, Juliet, Naked felt like a book in some ways about my own experience. True, I don't live in a bleak northern English seaside town and nor do I shut out my husband with my obsession, but I am obsessive and I found his portrayal of the love of music quite evocative of some of my own experiences. And I laughed. A lot. Nick Hornby is a great, humorous writer and this book will stay with me for a long time. I hope there's a movie.

If you love Tori, here's a favourite of mine from the early 90s. Can you tell I'm getting excited about the tour? I'm so glad I have friends to go to the show with me (Sean is also coming). I'm so often alone in my love! Well except for the in the online world, where Toriphiles are legion.