Book Review: Perfect From Now On-How Indie Music Saved My Life’ by John Sellers

I have to admit I held a few reservations when I picked up music journalist John Sellers’ musical memoir Perfect From Now On: How Indie Music Saved My Life. I was afraid Sellers would be one of those hipster douchebro types bragging about eschewing mainstream pop for bands so obscure that even they don’t realize they exist. I was afraid Sellers would be a dry, humorless music fan who looks down his nose at people who watch The Voice or own a Madonna CD. But after reading Perfect From Now On, I realize that I had nothing to fear.

Sellers, a card carrying member of Generation X, chronicles his musical fandom from being forced to listen to Bob Dylan by his father to his almost religious following of the indie band Guided by Voices. And he does this with some good-natured humor, a conversational tone and exhausting lists on his musical musings.

By the time Sellers is a young teen, he is obsessed with music. And he’s not too cool to share some of the more embarrassing musical choices he made as a kid coming of age in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first album he bought was by Sammy Hagar. He made up some dance moves to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration.” And he admits to scissor-kicking to Duran Duran’s “The Reflex.” I can relate to these embarrassing moments only too well. You think scissor-kicking to a Duran Duran song is bad? I once wrote a very long and tedious letter to Duran Duran bassist John Taylor where I told him my deepest secrets and feelings. Fortunately, I had enough sense never to send Mr. Taylor my teenage angst in written form.

By the time Sellers gets to the University of Michigan his musical tastes have evolved. He becomes a huge Smiths fan. And he also worships the short-lived band Joy Division and the band New Order, which formed in the wake of the suicide death of Joy Division lead singer Ian Curtis. Sellers is such a fan of New Order that he travels to England to see them in concert. And on the 25th anniversary of Ian Curtis’ death, he pays homage by getting really drunk and listening to Joy Division all day. For anyone who views music as something more than an enjoyable time-waster these moments will be a very relatable.

However, it is the Ohio band Guided by Voices that Sellers gets freakishly obsessed with. Sellers describes how casual fandom of Guided by Voices grew into a near addiction, and then actually being invited into the band’s inner circle. Sellers’ neurotic worry over what he was going to say and do when he finally met Guided by Voices front man Mark Pollard really made me nod my head. Yep, I’ve worried about those things too when confronted with meeting some of my favorites.

Sellers expands certain points of Perfect From Now On with footnotes that almost make up another book, and with a trio of appendices featuring exhaustive musical lists. I had to giggle when I read these because I’ve also made musical lists. However, I doubt Sellers ever wrote a list of rock and roll boys he would totally have sex with.

Reading Perfect From Now On is like sitting down with a fellow music fan and discussing the good, bad and ugly of being a fan. Sellers is both self-aware and self-deprecating, and truly hilarious. A casual music fan will gain insight into indie bands that don’t get the recognition they deserve, and music obsessives will be able to tell themselves, “I am not alone.”

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Book Review: The Vinyl Princess by Yvonne Prinz

the vinyl princessMusic sales are lagging. Record stores are becoming extinct. And the music in MTV has been replaced by various reality TV shows. The state of music is quite uncertain, which leads me to wonder: Do today’s teenagers obsess over music the ways teenagers did in the past?

Allie, the teenage protagonist of Yvonne Prinz’s young adult novel The Vinyl Princess does. She works at Bob & Bob Records in Berkeley, one of the last hold-outs of independent record stores.While her peers fill their iPods with the latest releases, Allie prefers the romance of putting a needle on the record’s groove and cherishes her massive vinyl collection.

She is also a walking encyclopedia of musical knowledge. Name a Beatles’ song, and she knows exactly what album it’s on. Allie puts her knowledge to good use (and not to mention, her access to all the great music at Bob & Bob), and starts her own music blog and hard copy zine, aptly titled The Vinyl Princess.

She blogs about vintage LPs and the tangibility of records. “I love the look of vinyl, the smell of it, the tiny crackles you hear before a song starts.” And others agree with her – before long her fan base grows, wanting her opinion on everything from David Bowie to the perfect music mixes.

Meanwhile, beleaguered store owner Bob (there is only one Bob) claims he’s going to shut down because people prefer to download music. Plus, a string of neighborhood robberies has him worried that Bob & Bob will be next.

Allie’s personal life also hangs in the balance. Her parents are divorced. Her dad’s new wife (barely older than Allie) is pregnant, and her mom is dipping her toes into the world of online dating. Allie has boy troubles of her own — she has serious thing for the mysterious Joel who often visits the store, but whose intentions may or may not be sinister in nature. Then there is Zach, who brings Allie homemade music mixes, and tries to fill her brain with new musical facts. Guess which boy she likes better?

As summer unfolds, Allie realizes she’s going to have to embrace some pretty huge changes, both personally and at work. But will hard-won maturity come at the end?

While reading The Vinyl Princess, I kept forgetting that it was a young adult novel. Prinz never talks down to her audience, respecting them no matter what generation they got slid into. Being into music makes Allie a cool girl — her love and knowledge of music was infectious, and her real-life problems rang very true.

The depiction of Allie’s blog was a bit unbelievable. It became hugely successful overnight, and within a couple of months a business wants to buy it. To anyone with a blog, this is quite unrealistic. It takes a very long time to get an audience in the blogospshere, and some of the best out there get ignored for absolute dreck.

Still, my complaints are minor. Allie is the kind of teenage girl character that needs to be represented more in pop culture: smart, relatable and interesting. The Vinyl Princess’s crown may be a bit tarnished, but it still royally rocks.