Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Saturday, January 24, 2004

I came across Nick Hornby for the first time when we were working on the NFL book-- long story short, it was a book about American football for Europeans, so we spent some time reading about and watching the football that the rest of the world calls football so that we would be in a position to draw comparisons that our target audience would understand. Hornby's "Fever Pitch" is strong evidence that the condition of being a sports fan is the same regardless of the sport-- something handed down from father to son, an irrational yearing and enthusiasm that gnaws and consumes and, in an odd way, fulfills. "High Fidelity" was next, and it became clear that this guy got it-- the losers that populate this hilarious novel all obsess about music the way that -- well, actually, the way that I do. A lot of the same music, actually, which made it even better. Over Christmas I picked up "Songbook" (stupid title, by the way-- I can think of a half dozen off the top of my head that would work better: how about "Mix Tape"? Or, "Playlist?"). Like Jesse Orosco, Hornby is just about my age, and as we all know a person's age is one of the best determiners of the sort of things you'll have on your shelf. Although I am more of a jazz listener than Hornby, I found that there was a fairly extensive crossover between my collection and his list. What makes the book fun-- what makes lists like that fun-- are the arguments he sets out to make the case for his selections. His defense of Rod Stewart, for example, is spot on-- Stewart is cool, up to a point, and then he is inexcusable. It is best to pretend that his career ended about the time of "Smiler" and move on. None of want to think about what came next, but what came before was pretty terrific.

I am tempted to say that what I liked about the book was that it was like "High Fidelity" without all the relationship stuff, but of course it is impossible to write about pop music and not have some emotional seepage-- one of the reasons that there is pop music is that it allows even the most buttoned up personality a means of expressing things that otherwise would go unsaid. There is no prettier Valentine than a mix tape for exactly that reason, and that is what Hornby accomplishes in this book.

I have set out to make a CD of his selections, and been largely successful, but there are some that are sufficiently obscure that I'll have to keep an eye out as I prowl the record stores of the world. Hornby knows all about prowling record stores-- serious music fans all do. At least one of the bands that he cites is something I will probably never hear-- a local act that he loved when he was in his 20s called The Bible. You'd think that this would be the sort of thing that would be out there in the vast file swapping network that the music biz says is destroying it, but if it is, I haven't found it. That goes on the list along with "This Is The Planet". I'll find copies of both-- I have a list of a lot of stuff like that. Fans understand. Hornby understands.

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