Fiction writers seldom get rock right. Perhaps it’s because they aim for the bleachers—you know, like Cameron Crowe’s Stillwater, the Almost Famous band that was Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers, and Skynyrd rolled into one. Somehow, in trying to achieve too much, most writers don’t achieve anything at all. William Gibson, though, he’s different. In his new novel, Spook Country, the post-science fiction novelist gets at something substantial.
Here, Hollis Henry, the former lead singer from the Curfew (terrible name, I know), is asked by Alberto, a geo-hacking, culture-jamming, Wired-type artist, where the band broke up:
“She looked him in the eye and saw deep otaku focus. Of course that tended to be the case, if anyone recognized her as the singer in an early-nineties cult unit. The Curfew’s fans were virtually the only people who knew the band had existed, today, aside from radio programmers, pop historians, critics, and collectors. With the increasingly temporal nature of music, though, the band had continued to acquire new fans. Those it did acquire, like Alberto, were often formidably serious. She didn’t know how old he might have been, when the Curfew had broken up, but that might as well have been yesterday, as far as his fanboy module was concerned. Still having her own fangirl module quite centrally in place, for a wide variety of performers, she understood, and thus felt a responsibility to provide him with an honest answer, however unsatisfying.”
What I like about this quote is that Gibson, who was born in 1948, nails the granularity and fractionalization of today’s music culture. The Internet has allowed us to bury ourselves inside our own Curfews to the point where few of us seem to realize how inchoate things have become. To borrow a term from Robert Christgau, there is no monoculture anymore. For those of us who want to at least understand the place and appeal of all the Curfews of the world—even if it’s the most surface understanding—the landscape is more treacherous than ever. Any good music critic has been Alberto, with the “deep otaku focus.” (Anyone heard the new Baroness? It totally rules, dude!) But there’s a difference between being that guy and being that guy and knowing which Ravel or U2 record to recommend.