The Alt’s Bookshelf: Vol. 3

Posted: by The Editor


The Alt’s Bookshelf is a series where our staff highlights some of their favorite books and zines related to music. For our third volume, Bineet shares new reads including Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity,” Ann Powers, and Positive Musical Attitudes.

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby

High Fidelity is narrated by Rob, a record store owner in England. His business isn’t flourishing, but it supplies him with fun coworkers he can chop it up with and extensive music knowledge to potentially woo women with. Rob tries to cope with his break-up with his girlfriend Laura by convincing himself she’s middling and lackluster. But it’s a facade – under his nonchalant aura, he’s insecure. This pours out of him in several ways, like panicking over the prospect of Laura’s new love interest being superior to him.

Rob’s snarkiness is the fulcrum of his sense of humor. He seeks to elude responsibility by never taking life too seriously. He’s sarcastic and blunt, sometimes at the expense of being rude to others. Like, when his coworker Barry asked Marie, the musician Rob uses as a rebound, if she likes living in London, Rob’s take on the question was “good one. I wouldn’t have thought of that.” A fair comment, sure, but small talk can be difficult to maneuver.

At other times, Rob being bereft of compassion is less comical and more concerning. In the book’s introductory chapter, he admits to hooking up with his friend’s girlfriend. And when someone asks him why he tends to be bitter towards women who have attained more career success than him, he said that feminists often aim to paint men as more vile than they actually are. He’s frustrating. But people set him straight, and he eventually learns that kindness and sensibility are worth prioritizing.

This book helped me learn more about how cruel people justify their actions. Rob routinely fills the role of his own defense lawyer. At one point, after listing the ways he hurt Laura, he said that although he’s made poor decisions, he’s far from the only person who has done so. Additionally, it prompted me to be more skeptical of anyone who seems stoic and unemotional, for it’s very possible they’re compartmentalizing their agony. 

Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music by Ann Powers

Good Booty is a comprehensive look at how music has influenced culture, and vice versa, including notable influences like The Doors, Led Zeppelin and Beyonce. Powers did a stellar job of including non-white, non-male individuals, something that cannot always be said of historical writings, and elucidated how being marginalized impacted their career. Namely, the blues genre alloted black women more prominence in a society that didn’t otherwise bestow that upon them. And Jimi Hendrix’s career was convoluted because he was a person of color as well as a heartthrob – two identifiers often considered mutually exclusive before his fame. Powers wrote that he became “a new kind of invisible man, accepted as a cipher, not a real person born into a black community.

She used chapters to separate genres and time periods, but also drew parallels between them to exemplify the expansive and intertwining nature of music. This could have easily become perplexing and jumbled, but she provided coherent, accessible comparisons that were easy to follow. After expounding on candios, who were flashy, lively men hailing from New Orleans in the 1800s, she said Kanye West and Andre 3000 would fit into that archetype, too. Also, gospel star Archie Brownlee’s growling and frenetic energy set the stage for garage rock. Historical musings can often feel out of touch with what we’re familiar with, but not in this book. 

Good Booty taught me that the music I cherish today would be much different without the music that existed before it, for everyone takes influence from some source that preceded them. Before reading this, I didn’t think so much overlap could be found between polar opposites. On a larger scale, this could serve as a metaphor for how perhaps, everything is more similar and correlated than we may think.

Positive Musical Attitudes

In this zine, several musicians elaborate on a particular song that has stoked joy for them. Some are easy to understand, like Taylor Swift’s “Shake it Off,” a springy, jumpy ballad, and “Good as Hell,” Lizzo’s song about bursting with confidence. For many, their happy song of choice is less about the song itself and more about the memories they associate with it. Proper’s Erik Garlington chose “Reckless” by Arin Ray, a greased-up, languid track, because it’d frequently play at the roller rink he worked at as a teenager. It was a sacred place, one in which people from all age groups immersed themselves in glee. And in that time period of his life, he wasn’t weighed down by the responsibilities of adulthood. Justin Canavaciol of Macseal chose a Katy Perry tune that he and his bandmates listened to several times while driving through the idyllic, serene Rocky Mountains.

This zine is produced by Big Scary Monsters, a United Kingdom-based record label. Proceeds will be donated to The Samaritans, an organization that provides a hotline for people grappling with thoughts of suicide, and Help Musicians UK, who provide support for artists.

Anyone interested in purchasing a copy can do so here


Bineet Kaur // @hellobineet

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