Another great book that was turned into a hilarious film with a rocking soundtrack, The Commitments chronicles the lives of the Dublin working-class young men and women who form the band. The members discover American Soul music and how it speaks to their class identities. As they embrace the sound and perform the songs, they find meaning in the music and in each other.
Nelson George has earned a reputation as one of the premier scholars of hip hop. His love for the music he listened to coming up became the basis for his Netflix series, The Get Down. In his memoir, George records his life in four of New York’s boroughs, Detroit, Los Angeles, and the Tidewater area of Virginia, as a “city kid” is raised on music and nurtured by his family’s love.
The Music Shop
Frank owns such a music shop, and he possesses the near-magic ability to match customers up with the new music they need to hear. That level of listening should make it easy for Frank to meet women, but here, his skills don’t seem to work. One day, Ilse walks into the shop and she asks Frank to teach her about music. Thus begins a relationship full of tender humor and quiet joy that is complicated by Frank’s terror of getting close.
A Visit from the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the collection of characters she created in this tour-de-force of a novel. Told in chapters that resemble short stories, readers first meet Sasha, whose compulsion to steal is complicating her life, and Bennie, her boss, who owns a hip record company in contemporary New York. The novel’s supporting cast of characters who populate Egan’s time-traveling narrative include former band mates, struggling musicians, and assorted hangers-on looking for musical redemption.
In his fictional imagining of the 1960s music scene, David Mitchell presents the band, Utopia Avenue, which took a shot at rock stardom and created two albums that had everyone raving. But a desire to be “rock stars” soon brings its members unexpected consequences. Set against the backdrop of the momentous societal changes that rocked Europe and the United States in the Sixties, Mitchell tells a rock story for the ages.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist (Movie Tie-in Edition)
Nick’s a mess with a broken heart. Norah is questioning everything. Their random encounter at an indie rock show leads them on an epic quest through the clubs of New York City in a search for a rumored gig by a legendary band. Will their club-hopping lead to a meaningful connection? After you read the book, check out the film starring Michael Cera and Kat Dennings.
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran
Rock journalist Rob Sheffield’s second memoir about how specific songs played out in his life is full of the self-lacerating humor and emotional reveals that made Love Is a Mixtape a hit. Whether he’s talking about how his dream was to be the only boy in The Go-Gos, to how his stint as an ice cream man cemented his love for “Purple Rain,” Sheffield documents those magic moments when a song makes us feel better about everything.
The Invisibility Cloak
Ge Fei’s protagonist lives in modern Beijing where he builds custom audio equipment for wealthy clients. The craftsman portrays his spoiled clients in wry details that also offer commentary on China’s rapidly changing culture and economy. But in his more vulnerable moments, he reveals that he’s still carrying a torch for his ex-wife. His humorous observations on the lengths to which certain audiophiles will go for the right sound are a delight.
Top Five Desert Island Albums (List #3,657)
1. Peter Gabriel, “Security” (AKA “Peter Gabriel #4)
2. Arctic Monkeys, “AM”
3. Tracy Chapman, “Tracy Chapman”
4. Prince, “1999”
5. Stevie Wonder, “Songs in the Key of Life”
6. Tori Amos, “Little Earthquakes”
(Five is impossible.)
If you’re like me, naming just five albums, or singles, or artists whose records you would take with you to a desert island changes depending on your mood. But that’s part of the fun of loving music. On any other day, my list would have to include Gary Clark, Jr.’s “This Land” and Pearl Jam’s “Ten” or “The Two of Us” by Brook Benton and Dinah Washington. My music choices are tied into my mood or my personal history.
Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity revels in the compulsive ranking of everything from “best SideOne/Track Ones” to “worst heartbreaks.” So the announcement of a new series based on the novel has got me excited.
Hulu’s new take on High Fidelity, with Zoe Kravitz in the role John Cusack made famous, should be lit. The idea of a female take on the hilariously bad-tempered and inept record-store owner feels long over-due, and the fact that Kravitz’s mom, Lisa Bonet, starred in the original just makes it feel as if it were always meant to be.
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High Fidelity was Nick Hornby’s debut novel, the story of a thirty-five year old man who struggles to understand why he always gets “dumped.” Surrounded by “the musical moron twins”—Rob’s two record-store employees who spend their days debating their all-time top five greatest music choices while refusing to sell records to undeserving customers—Rob is destroyed when long-time girlfriend Laura leaves him. But as Rob examines his past in order to understand his present, he discovers that maybe his past isn’t the way he remembers it and that he has a lot of growing up to do.
Hornby’s novel features musical and pop culture references that whip us back to 1990’s London. In the 2000 film, in which the location had been changed to Chicago, SubPop and other indie label’s stickers and a killer soundtrack gave the film a cultural authenticity that still delights twenty years later. But at the heart of the story is a man who eventually realizes that in many ways, he’s an adolescent whose approach to women is in need of a serious reboot. The chance to watch Zoe Kravitz play such a character as a woman feels like progress, and I’m eager to see how she makes the character her own.
Now would be a great time to read (or reread) the original novel. And if you’re looking for other books that center on pop music, audiophiles, and the ways that life and music mix, here are some suggestions.
Featured image: Zoë Kravitz in High Fidelity (2020)