Scott’s Bookshelf, Part 5

30. Route 666: On the Road to Nirvana (Gina Arnold) – The gap between my enjoyment of Nirvana’s music and my disinterest in reading about them is more pronounced than it is with just about any other major pop/rock artist I can think of. I can’t really explain this gap aside from admitting I’m just being an unreasonable, stubborn bastard on the matter. I do have a vague sense that, back when they stalked the earth, there was an awful lot of nonsense written about them, and that the nonsense increased exponentially after April 1994. Can I point to anything specific to prove my case? Not really — like I say, it’s just a vague sense. I think part of it stems from the fact that the whole Seattle moment was one of the few genuine pop explosions of my lifetime that I not only didn’t feel part of, but in fact felt a little alienated by (though not alienated enough to prevent me from hearing the music). I wouldn’t say I felt any particular animus towards it — well, maybe a little bit towards goatees – I just never felt like this scene was mine, nor did I want it to be mine. If I was left out, that was fine; I didn’t really want “in.”

Thing is, I did (and still do) kind of buy the line being thrown around back then that Nirvana were in many ways a triumphant moment for everyone who’d been following Husker Du and the Replacements around for years (everyone, I imagine, but Bob Mould and Paul Westerberg). I was one such person — my wig was flipped by both in the mid-80s — but I departed the Amerindie Express sometime around 1987, and couldn’t have been more anxious to do so. (Why? It’s complicated and there are a host of different reasons, but I could probably sum it up in three words: Pet. Shop. Boys. Gee, it’s gonna be interesting trying to explain all this when we get to the Carducci book.) So when Nirvana struck, I coudn’t, and certainly didn’t want to, deny the music. My first hearing of “Teen Spirit” stands to me as a really singular moment in my personal listening history in that I recall every last detail, including how blissfully engaged I became within 15 seconds. But aside from the usual curiosity that followed, I wasn’t subsequently swept up in the phenomenon, and the “triumphant” angle just didn’t resonate with me personally. Not in the slightest.

So, what does any of this have to do with Route 666? Well, as someone who hasn’t read it (you knew that was coming, right?), I’ve always assumed it has everything to do with this, and the subtitle confirms that impression. For reasons that have zilch to do with Gina Arnold, I simply can’t imagine circumstances arising in which I would be compelled to delve in to this story now. I still have favourite Replacements, Husker Du, and Nirvana songs, and occasionally I even listen to them. But musically speaking, it’s just not a period of my life I have particularly fond memories of, and I doubt I would share in the triumph of the “road to Nirvana” any more now than I would have back then.

31. The Guiness Book of Number One Hits (Tim Rice, Jo Rice, Paul Gambaccini) –
32. Billboard’s Hottest Hot 100 Hits (3rd edition) (Fred Bronson)
33. The Billboard Book of Top 40 Hits (Joel Whitburn)
34. The Billboard Book of Number One Hits (Fred Bronson)
35. Top 40 Hits: The Essential Chart Guide, 1975 to the Present (Nanda Lwin)

#31 is a British counterpart to the Bronson collection three doors to the right, and an excellent resource which I’ve consulted frequently. In a kind of cool syllabic symmetry, it begins with Al Martino’s “Here In My Heart” in 1952 and ends with T’Pau’s “China In Your Hand” in 1987. I paid $2.99 for this (which is a steal) and never intended to read it from start to finish, but in the last two or three years it’s been fun to consult it in tandem with Tom Ewing’s great online Popular series, in which he reviews every British Number One (prompting so much interesting discussion in his Comments box, I can’t even begin to keep up). In fact, when I pick up the Guinness book now to consult a song that Ewing has written about, I make a point of not peaking further ahead, as one of the things I like about Popular is its Twilight Zone-ish element of surprise: “What will be the #1 single this week? Wait a minute, haven’t we been here before?” … #32 is a relatively recent purchase, and it’s essentially a different (and ingenuous) way of organizing the same information from the other two Billboard volumes ahead. I particularly find the year-end lists quite useful, as well as some of the “theme” chart lists (Top 100 Instrumentals, Top 100 Duets, Top 30 Songs by Swedish Artists, Top 100 Songs About Colors, etc.)… #33 is the 1992 edition — I think there’s only been one edition since, but at some point, I’ll replace it with a newer version. This is probably my most consulted book of all-time. To call it an “invaluable resource” would be a gross understatement… #34 is the U.S. counterpart to the Rice/Rice/Gambaccini collection three doors to the left. Mine is the 3rd edition, which ends with #806, “Save the Best for Last” by Vanessa Williams (1992). Again, I’m due for an update. The next one that comes out, I’ll buy it for sure, even though I get (and in many ways agree with) the argument that insists that the concept of #1 songs is now meaningless; for me, that just makes the story that much more intriguing… #35 is the Canadian counterpart to the Whitburn collection two doors to the left. Data is compiled from the magazine, The Record, which I think explains why it starts in 1975. Aside from the obvious difference that this volume has way more Can-con than the others — hands up anyone else who remembers Cats Can Fly and Eria Fachin? — I bet if I took the time to do a study I’d also discover that it has a fair bit more British pop than do the Billboard collections. I’ll hold off on the “colonialism — ain’t it a bitch” comments, though; when you have “Making Plans for Nigel” peaking at #15 in April 1980 the last thing you want to do is be a sourpuss about it.

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