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it's hard to imagine that God has time to pay a visit to something so wry and so self-mocking. And yet, weirdly, He does.

4.18.2008

I recently finished Songbook by Nick Hornby.  It's a quick, satisfying read if you are a music lover, or at least a music-obsessor (not to be confused with music snob).  

"...but that, of course, didn't stop me from finding [the song] and playing and playing it until it become a part of me, a permanent deposit in my tune bank.  And that's what music needs: this kind of devotion, this assumption that the artists know what they're doing and that, if you give them the time and requisite confidence, they will deliver something you will end up cherishing."

"...music is such a pure form of self-expression, and lyrics, because they consist of words, are so impure, and song-writers, even great ones...find that, even though they can produce both, words will always let you down.  One half of [one's] art is aspiring toward the condition of the other half, and that must be weird, to feel so divinely inspired and so fallibly human, all at the same time.  Maybe it's only songwriters who have ever had any inkling of what Jesus felt on a bad day." 

"Dave Eggers has a theory that we play songs over and over, those of us who do, because we have to "solve" them, and it's true that in our early relationship with, and courtship of, a new song, there is a stage which is akin to a sort of emotional puzzlement.  There's a little bit in "I'm like a Bird," for example, about halfway through, where the voice is double-tracked on a phrase, and the effect--especially on someone who is not a musician, someone who loves and appreciates music but is baffled and seduced by even the simplest musical tricks--is rich and fresh and addictive."

"I try not to believe in God, of course, but sometimes things happen in music, in songs, that bring me up short, make me do a double take.  When things add up to more than the sum of their parts, when the effects achieved are inexplicable, then atheists like me start to get into difficult territory.  Take Rufus Wainwright's version of his father Loudon's "One Man Guy," for example.  There should be nothing evoking the spirit about it, really: the song's lovely, but it's a little sour, a little sad, jokey--the joke being that the song is not about the joys of monogamy but is about the joys of solipsism and misanthropy, a joke that is given a neat little twist by Wainwright Junior's sexual orientation--and it's hard to imagine that God has time to pay a visit to something so wry and so self-mocking.  And yet, weirdly, He does.  There's no doubt about it.  (And, of course, in doing so, He answers once and for all the question of what he thinks of homosexuality: He's not bothered one way or the other.  Official.)"

The book is not so much music criticism as music appreciation--certain songs that (brilliant or not) made an indelible impact on Hornby's life.  And in the hands of a writer like Hornby, it's a joy to read about the love of listening to music.

Dave Eggers of McSweeneys is a friend of Hornby's, so in honor of the book the website had other people submit essays about their favorite songs.  Included are essays on "Willy" by Joni Mitchell, "Penny Lane" and "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window" by the Beatles, "One Tree Hill" by U2, "Another Bites the Dust" by Queen, "Unbreak My Heart" by Toni Braxton, "Alison" by Elvis Costello, "A Whole New World" from Aladdin, and more.

And of course Hornby talks about "Thunder Road" in Songbook.  How could he not?  

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