Love is a mix tape

The playback: late night, Brooklyn, a pot of coffee and a chair by the window.

Sometimes it’s easy to stick to your resolutions. The best non-fiction may not feel like non-fiction. Love is a mix tape is an autobiography through music, but because most of it being balanced out with the people around it, Sheffield manages to not turn this into another collection of navel gazing.

Maybe because he is a journalist and editor (for Rolling Stone, right now). The story is musical history and how songs and bands and acts can influence a people and a society, not just (little) Rob.

It’s clear that music is his life, creating connections and arguments and motivational scrambles over which fits where, how Hanson and Missy Elliott are connected. This book is a passion between two covers, and he delivers it the right way.

Love is a mix tape, Rob Sheffield, Crown Publishing 2007

The Axeman’s Jazz

John Riley stumbled into the offices of the New Orleans Times – Picayune an hour and a half later after he was supposed to have started work.

New Orleans in the early ninety twenties, close to prohibition, close to racial tensions. And in the midst of it is a chain of brutal murders. Yet it is more of a human interest story than a detective or thriller.

There are two main players: cop Michael, ex-cop and ex-convict Luca. On the side there’s Louis Armstrong (that Louis Armstrong) and his friend, aspiring detective Ida. The Axeman at first seems to target only Italians, until he doesn’t. Minorities are pointing fingers at each other, the mob is involved and there’s a lot of layers only amateur sleuth Ida seems to have a clue about. But she’s mixed race, so no-one, and no-one will listen to her.

New Orleans is a character of its own. It might discard rules and morals, but that means it’s dangerous and dog eat dog as well. It’s a mean old lady, as one of the characters puts it, and one with iron teeth as well.

The case gets solved, but the reason for it even existing is more gruesome and interesting. A dark, humid story.

The Axeman’s Jazz, Ray Celestin, Mantie 2014

Nocturnes

Slowly I’m changing my mind about collected (short) stories.For a long time I thought the short story was for the writer that couldn’t come up for a novel-spanning plot, while these days it only shows that creating a good short story is tougher than filling x number of hundred of hundreds pages. The Nocturnes dip and fall, while still managing to leave some element of each story behind.

As the title tells us, all the stories are about music. Musicians, the influence music making or not making has on someone’s life. Some stories are shorter than others, which gives a strange extra experience – a cadence, maybe?

None of the stories are excessively bright gems, it’s more the entirety of the five that leaves a certain feeling behind. Do the characters mentioned need help, was the reader an active participant or was it really only about music?

For a short collection, and for starting readers of short collections, definitely something nice to read.

Nocturnes: Five Stories of Music and Nightfall, Kazuo Ishiguro, Faber and Faber 2009

Dope

103 min.

Oh, wow, what an amazing, fun, emotional, realistic movie. I was interested because of the soundtrack (nineties hiphop and rap), and was so glad that everything else delivered as well. An original story with people of color that spun clichés and tropes and isn’t afraid to confront the viewer. Go see it.

Forest Whitaker's Significant Productions 2015
Forest Whitaker’s Significant Productions 2015

Malcolm and his friends are geeks obsessed with nineties hiphop. They dress like the artists, make music like them, write essays on them. He’s trying to get out of the criminal suburb he lives, aiming high with Harvard. Of course, life happens. There’s a girl, there’s a drugs dealer. There’s a lot of drugs and a muddy connection to those that could help him get into Harvard. What follows is a whirlwind of action, music, comedy and coming of age with from time to time a bit of fourth wall break throughs. Think about this, think about them, think about the society in which we live and where we are all part of.

That doesn’t mean there is anything preachy about Dope. Those with an open mind will see and understand enough to know things need to change.

DopeForest Whitaker’s Significant Productions 2015

Telegraph Avenue

A white boy rode flatfoot on a skateboard, towed along, hand to shoulder, by a black boy pedaling a brakeless fixed-gear bike.

What an incredible load of ‘manpain’, good gracious. I know that a (main) character doesn’t necessarily has to be likable, but the amount of self-pity combined with a very flowery prose (not a comparison-possibility missed) makes Telegraph Avenue (an American High Fidelity) tough to work through.

The main characters come in pairs: old friends and music store owners Nat and Archy, old friends, wives of the music store owners and colleague-mid wives Gwen and Aviva and Titus and Julius. The second is Aviva and Nat’s son, the first is Archy’s son, returning to him after fourteen years of no relationship. Gwen doesn’t know about him and is carrying their first child together. Besides that there’s a big competitor threatening the music store, something happens during a delivery and Archy’s no good father returns to just add to the mess.

It’s not like there’s nothing happening, nor that the things happening are badly written. It’s just that all of the adults, with more weight on Archy’s side and less on Gwen’s, are so incredibly full of self pity and anger and a paralyzing lack of motivation that it pulls you down in a dark hole of frustration. Where is that machine that you can use to kick fictional character ass into gear?

Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon, Harper 2012

Juliet, Naked

They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet.

I saw more of Nick Hornby’s book-to-film projects than read his books. Feeling like a laugh (I never seem to learn about books with the “comedy” genre sticker), I took a risk with Juliet, Naked. It paid off.

Annie’s boyfriend for fifteen years is obsessed with an eighties’ musician. Both of their lives circle Tucker Crowe; his for unknown reasons, hers because her boyfriend can’t live without linking everything back to Tucker Crowe, his music and his life. Everything else is simply (permanently) put on hold. And, being human, Annie kind of gets used to it. She didn’t want this, but how do you change?

Tucker Crowe’s newest CD is the trigger to that change. Annie’s and Duncan’s life together finally splits and it’s up to them to look at ‘Now what?’ and who they have become after fifteen years of symbiotic living. This sounds pretty dramatic, but Nick Hornby’s dry English humour builds a coming-of-age-at-forty-something story without any bitterness or sentimental toppings. ‘Life happens when you’re busy making plans’ never rang more true.

Juliet, Naked deserves the sticker of comedy genre, without being horribly try-hard or  laugh-or-I-shoot.

 Juliet, Naked, Nick Hornby, Viking 2009

The Alternative Hero

You know how it is sometimes.

The Alternative Hero is a coming of age story of the thirty-three year old Clive Beresford. Clive has been an (almost) life long fan of the band The Thieving Magpies and effectively stopped developing (mentally) when they broke up after a disastrous show. He drinks too much, has a shitty job, few friends and no girlfriend. And he thinks he can change all that (or at least his way of looking at life) when he spots the lead singer of The Thieving Magpies. That man should be able to give him closure and with that, somehow, a goal in life.

This book is stuffed with (pop) musical references, real and imaginary bands and persons passing by. Every chapter has a recommended listening, lyrics and texts from (fake) fanzines pop in and Clive simply can’t separate his life from his music.
Like in any coming of age story,  loads of stupid, sad and frustrating things happen, some wise lessons are pushed into the margins and The One Big Lesson isn’t so big and pretty easy to grab. The Alternative Hero reads like a scrap book of a music lover and in some chapters it looks like that as well. Sometimes the reader will probably have the urge to grab Clive’s shoulders and shake some sense into him, but the majority of the time he isn’t a bad guy, he just lost his direction.
And a has-been popstar helps him rediscover it.

Lovers of England, (English) music and coming of age stories, grab The Alternative Hero and enjoy the ride.

The Alternative Hero, Tim Thornton, Cape 2009