Wait, what do you mean I already own every Ani DiFranco album…? Songbook by Nick Hornby

I hate it when I can’t think of a single thing I want to say. It happens more often than not, unfortunately. I’ll read a book that I absolutely love and then have no idea how to begin telling you how much I loved it. It doesn’t matter what I say, it can never be enough. The most recent novel I fell flat reviewing was Double Feature by Owen King. It’s fantastic, it truly is. There’s a 13 page paragraph with an oedipal reference smack in the middle of it. Seriously. Read it.

I often feel the same way about music as I do about books. And I do love Bob Dylan; I think you know that by now. If you don’t, you’re one of those random viewers who happened to submit the right keyword combination to pull up this post. Please stay awhile. You’re joining the legions of viewers who have found my blog by searching ‘locked inside jail cell’, ‘the vanilla thrilla vs the delicious destroyer’, ‘opium drink recipe’, ‘leinenkugel beer tee’, ‘lillian dining porn’, ‘sardonic sharp-tongued outsider’, ‘deeply in love’, and ‘in awe of you’. Welcome, I take all kinds here.


Back to Bob Dylan. I have immense respect for the cultural icon that reinvented American music. So does Nick Hornby. And much like Nick Hornby (who is perhaps the only writer I know that starts more sentences with conjunctions than I do), I often wonder how, exactly, I got sucked down the Bob Dylan hole. Because I am not the biggest Dylan fan. Or am I?

I’m not a big Dylan fan. I’ve got Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisted, obviously. And Bringing It All Back Home and Blood on the Tracks. Anyone who likes music owns those four. And I’m interested enough to have bought the Bootleg Series 1-3, and that live album we know wasn’t recorded at the Royal Albert Hall. The reviews of Time Out of Mine and Love and Theft convinced me to shell out, as well, although I can’t say I listen to them very often. I once asked for Biograph as a birthday present, so with that and the Bootleg Series I’ve got two Dylan boxed sets. I also, now I look, seem to own copies of World Gone Wring, The Basement Tapes, and Good as I Been to You, although this, I suspect, is due more to my respect to Greil Marcus, who has written so persuasively and brilliantly about Dylan’s folk and blues roots, than to my Dylanphilia. And I have somehow picked up along the way Street Legal, Desire, and John Wesley Harding. Oh, and I bought Oh Mercy because it contains the lovely Most of the Time, which is on the High Fidelity soundtrack. There are, therefore, around twenty separate Bob Dylan CD’s on my shelf; in fact, I own more recordings by Dylan than by any other artist.

Exactly, Mr. Hornby, exactly. I don’t know quite how it happened, but I own more of Bob Dylan’s music than any other recording artist. I also own a fair bit by Regina Spekter, R.E.M, Van Morrison, Ben Harper, and Emiliana Torrini (I remember being in the movie theater in 2001, watching Crazy/Beautiful and getting giddily excited when I heard ET’s To Be Free play during a pivotal scene in the middle of the film – the love is that deep). I think it’s hard for non-musicians to write about a love of music. And I am most definitely a non-musician – unless you count playing the clarinet and oboe, and later the flute and piccolo, when all I really wanted to play was the piano and the cello. None of which I have touched for 12 years. So don’t count that, even if you wanted to give me the benefit of the doubt.

At this point, as we’re both well aware, I am rambling. What I really wanted to say, and the point Songbook drives home, is that music is meaningful. It can define a moment, a decade, or a lifetime. It triggers memories and connections. I can’t listen to R.E.M. or The Who without thinking of my mother. When I picture my father, it’s always in his Pink Floyd or Styx t-shirts. I consider the Braveheart soundtrack synonymous with my step-dad. Every time I hear Tessellate by Alt-J, I think of my brother (and thank whatever is holy that he left his rap phase behind).

Let’s all pretend that’s a Styx t-shirt. I can’t find the photo I was looking for. As an alternative, you can admire what a cute baby I was. Bonus points if anyone can identify the shirt.

Nick Hornby’s Songbook is not a great book, but it is fun to read. He is fanatically passionate about music and he is not a snob – which is rather refreshing, though I do not share his love for Nelly Furtado or Mmm-Bop.

That’s the thing that puzzles me about those who feel contemporary pop (and I use the word to encompass soul, reggae, country, rock – anything and everything that might be regarded as trashy) is beneath them, or behind them, or beyond them – some preposition denoting distance, anyway: does this mean that you never hear, or at least never enjoy, new songs, that everything you whistle or hum was written years, decades, centuries ago? Do you really deny yourselves the pleasure of mastering a tune (a pleasure, incidentally, that your generation is perhaps the first in the history of mankind to forego) 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.

And as much as I hate to admit it (but I will in honor of Nick Hornby admitting his love for Mmm-bop), I actually like Taylor Swift’s I Knew You Were Trouble. I can sing all the words, all 20 of them.

Nick Hornby has written a touching, poignant ode to what music means to him. One particularly moving chapter focuses on the author bonding with his autistic son. Another focuses on a song he hates so much (Suicide’s Frankie Teardrop) that he’s refused to listen to it in 15 years, yet the song itself is so terrifying, he’s never forgotten it. So go ahead music (and Hornby) fans, read Songbook (or 31 Songs for those of you outside the US). While doing so, superimpose your musical history onto his, it’s more effective and I think it’s what he intended anyhow. I’m kidding about the last bit, but, after reading about Hornby’s adventures in music, do spend time thinking about what songs mean the most to you. Then share them with me…

And yes, I do own all of Ani DiFranco’s albums.

Songbook rating: 3.5/5.

Heart Cupcake

The book is a series of essays about music. Food references are few and far between, I don’t think I actually noted any. So, I am recommending a heart-shaped cupcake, because I heart music. Good god that last sentence is all the proof I need that I shouldn’t write anything late at night. Enjoy the cupcake anyway.

11 thoughts on “Wait, what do you mean I already own every Ani DiFranco album…? Songbook by Nick Hornby

    1. I would hope so, I read it on your recommendation. 🙂

      Sometimes I forget how funny NH can be. His books tend to be hit or miss for me, so this was a pleasant surprise.


    1. I am glad to find another Bob Dylan fan, I want to see him live, but he sticks mostly to the east coast. Someday, maybe.

      It’s a fun book, he seems to like all sorts of music, which I appreciate. His all time favorite is Thunder Road – I can’t really fault him for that…


    1. The book is great in that particular way. He realizes that it is ‘proper’ for him to like certain music, but he openly likes it anyway. I sometimes forget how much I like his style – in fiction and non-fiction.


  1. I don’t think it’s all that easy for anyone to write about love of music, musician or no. Our language just doesn’t have the words to do it. Oh sure, some people are better at it than others, but I’ve never read anything that truly captures the feelings that music can create.


    1. I tend to agree and certainly some people write better about music than others, I think that’s true across most subjects though. I want to write well about books (and, well, anything I write about), it’s just not a particular talent I have. I admire people who do. Someone (best guess as to who, maybe Martin Mull?) said ‘talking about music is like dancing about architecture’. I think that’s true. One of the difficulties, or it would seem to me, about capturing the feelings that music can create is that is that the feelings are entirely individual. People rarely have the same response to a particular song. One example that I was just reading about is One Headlight by The Wallflowers (I’m both dating myself and revealing the true depth of my Dylan family fascination), apparently the song is about the death of ideas, but that’s certainly not how I related to it. Part of the song reminds me so much about trying to get out of the place I where I grew up, it’s not the ‘right’ interpretation, but it the one that stays with me: ‘Well this place is old / It feels just like a beat up truck / I turn the engine, but the engine doesn’t turn / Well it smells of cheap wine, cigarettes / This place is always such a mess / Sometimes I think I’d like to watch it burn / I’m so alone and I feel just like somebody else / Man, I ain’t changed, but I know I ain’t the same / But somewhere here in between the city walls of dyin’ dreams / I think of death, it must be killin’ me’. Anyway, that’s a rambling, awkward way of saying that response to music is unique.

      Sooo…basically what you said. Ignore the rest.


      1. Well I guess you’re dating both of us; I was in high school when that song came out.

        And the music/architecture quote, I don’t know if it was written for the movie or someone said it beforehand, but Angelina Jolie’s character says it in Playing by Heart (one of my FAVORITE movies).


      2. That is approximately how old I was when that song came out. I know someone said the quote at some point, not for a movie, and it’s constantly attributed incorrectly…

        I’ve never heard of that movie, but I like quite a few of the people in it (Gillian Anderson, Amanda Peet, and Jon Stewart particularly, I’ve added it to my netflix queue).

        I think music you listen to as a teenager stays with you the longer than most, it might be how I ended up being such an Ani DiFranco fan – all the superfluous emotions.


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