In Tim Thornton’s The Alternative Hero, protagonist and 30-something Clive Beresford has yet to get his life together. He works a rather mundane job, lives in a shoddy London flat and spends his nights at the pub. He’s broke, about to lose his boring job and stuck in arrested development, obsessed with his rock and roll youth.
As a teenager in the late 1980s, Clive became a fan of the Thieving Magpies, a British band that hit the big time and then fell apart when lead singer Lance Webster broke down at the Aylesbury Festival. Since then, Clive has wondered what caused Lance’s freak-out and why he left music all together.
You see, the Thieving Magpies were more than just a band to Clive; they were a way of life. Clive spent his youth collecting every Thieving Magpie record, following them from concert to concert and writing his own music fanzine. So when Clive spies Lance coming out of a martinizer near his flat and later finds out where he lives, he figures this is the chance to ask Lance why he lost it so many years ago. And by doing so, perhaps he could get an interview and resurrect his flailing music journalism career.
Not surprisingly, Clive’s first attempt at befriending Lance doesn’t go so well. In a drunken stupor, Clive writes an overly emotional letter to the former Magpie frontman, slips it under his door and gains stalker status from two of Lance’s former roadies who eventually pay him a threatening visit.
But later, much to Clive’s surprise he does meet Lance and strikes up a friendship with the singer. However, he does this under the guise that he’s not too familiar with the Thieving Magpies and their career. This makes Lance think Clive is coming at him from an angle of friendship, not fandom, and slowly Lance begins to reveal what lead up to that fateful day at Aylesbury. Clive soon learns that his rock and roll hero is all too human, with the same flaws that so many of us possess.
The Alternative Hero is written in the first person, which truly allows you to get into Clive’s head. Often expressing himself in a stream-of-consciousness style, Clive is at turns pathetic, touching, neurotic and funny. To anyone whoever obsessed over a band, Clive’s devotion will cut a little too close to the bone. Ah yes, how many teenage days and nights did I devour copies of Star Hits and Rolling Stone? How many times did I watch MTV (when it still showed videos and not crappy reality TV shows) or listen to “Rock Over London” on the radio just to see or hear my favorite bands? Far too many to count I must say.
However, most of us grow up, and those musical memories are just that, memories.
Still, I found myself liking both Clive and Lance, and wishing them the best in the end. Plus, it was fun to revisit those hazy rock and roll days with Thornton name-dropping actual bands like Nirvana, Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, The Stone Roses and Jesus Jones among the pages. Each chapter opens with recommended listening. These albums include the Pixies’ Doolittle, the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Automatic, Jane’s Addiction’s Ritual de lo Habitual and The Cure’s Disintegration. I thought this was a clever touch.
Most likely, this book will bring comparisons to Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. However, The Alternative Hero stands on its own as a very honest depiction of music fandom, one I highly recommend.