There are music fans, and then there are music fans. And in Marc Spitz’s engrossing novel How Soon is Never one such music fan is Joe Green, a music journalist who has been obsessed with the British band the Smiths since high school.
Working as a music journalist for the magazine Headphones) Joe joins forces with his co-worker, Miki, to reunite the Smiths whose break up he never quite got over. He does this not just because he’s a huge fan of the seminal band, but to also give his life meaning. And maybe, just maybe, Joe will get closer to Miki, who he has fallen for big time.
The book begins in the 1980s. Joe is a teen-ager growing up on Long Island. His parents’ marriage busted up ages ago, and Joe is feeling alienated at his private school. He finds solace hanging out with the other outsiders in the school’s art room and listening to the alternative radio station WLIR. Needing to believe in anything, Joe is soon drawn to the Smiths whose moody and melancholic music matches Joe’s moody and melancholic adolescence. Lead singer Morrisey’s pain is Joe’s pain.
The Smiths become Joe’s sole reason for existing, making him new friends and expanding his horizons. Joe often finds himself in Manhattan, perusing record stores and clubs, and finally getting to see the Smiths in concert, which not surprisingly, is a highlight of Joe’s existence. But sadly, all good things come to an end. The Smiths break up, and the friendships Joe made in school don’t survive past graduation.
Now it’s years after high school and Joe is about to turn 30. After kicking a horrible smack habit, and wandering through life, Joe has carved out a niche at Headphones. And he has never quite gotten over the Smiths breaking up. It’s at Headphones where Joe meets Miki, the editor’s assistant. Not only do Joe and Miki share the same birthday, they are also huge fans of the Smiths. How cool would it be if they could get the Smiths back together even if it was for just one gig?
Headphones’ editor is very intrigued by this idea, and gives Joe and Miki the green light to pursue this venture. Of course, this is not going to be easy. There is a lot of bad blood among the members of the Smiths and a lot of legal baggage. But Joe and Miki are not to be deterred. And they begin their musical journey with Joe handling the interviews and Miki handling the logistics of getting them from point A to point B.
Our fearless duo is able to finagle interviews with Mike Joyce, Andy Rourke and Johnny Marr. Joe gets each one of them to say “yes” on record, they would reunite the Smiths if possible. And Mike, Andy and Johnny also do a bit of flirting with Miki, which rattles Joe a wee bit.
But it is former Smiths’ lead singer who evades Joe and Miki, and Joe begins to wonder if reuniting the Smiths is even worth it if he can’t have Miki. And as the story culminates outside of Morrisey’s gated house in LA, Joe spills his guts to Miki claiming his love for her and his desire to spend his life with her.
Joe may not get the girl, but he might finally get some hard-won maturity. Later Joe claims, “I couldn’t even enjoy a Smiths reunion, Miki. I can’t even enjoy the songs anymore. It used to remind me too much of the band breaking up. Now it reminds me too much of you. There’s too much pain there! Those songs…they’re fucking ruined! And that’s why the Smiths don’t reunite. That’s why they can’t reunite! That’s why they shouldn’t fucking reunite! That’s why we can’t fucking unite! There’s too much pain here now!”
How Soon is Never is one of those books that grabs and pretty much doesn’t let you go ‘til you read the last sentence. You probably don’t have to be a huge Smiths fan to relate to Joe, but it does help. After I finished How Soon is Never I dusted off my old Smiths’ tapes, and listened to them over and over again. Yep, so many years later, their music still holds up.
Any Gen X-ers will relate to the spot-on 80s references. I thought using song titles and lyrics as chapter titles was a clever touch. And I have to admit I laughed (and cringed) when one of Joe’s high school chums got absolutely indignant when he found out the popular kids in school had discovered the Smiths, “Do not do that,” he (John) screamed, shaking the guy. “They are not for you! You fuckers already took U2!”
Most of all How Soon is Never captures how music gets us through the difficult times both as an adolescent and as an adult, and gives our lives meaning even when things don’t quite according to plan.