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March 6, 2007

Book Notes - John Sellers ("Perfect From Now On")

John Sellers is an avowed fan of indie rock, and this memoir tracks the music that helped define his life in a way that every music nerd will appreciate. The irreverent footnotes and appendices of music lists and rock and roll formulas make this book the perfect gift for any music fan.

In his own words, here is John Sellers' Book Notes contribution for his book, Perfect from Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life:

Creating a mix CD for a book about the music that's changed my life should have been a two-minute task. So many songs motivated me while writing Perfect From Now On that picking a few of them to spotlight initially seemed laughably simple. When I got into the selection process, however, I realized two things: 1) It was going to be impossible to narrow down the list to less than 1,000 songs, and 2) half of those were written by Robert Pollard of Guided By Voices. What I've decided to do instead is use only tracks that I was unable to write much about in the book, whether due to space, time, or total lameness. Rest assured, it will start with a Pollard song. It is what I do.


1. Lexo and the Leapers, "Alone, Stinking and Unafraid"

Let me get this out of the way: Bob Pollard is a genius. So much so that he doesn't worry about throwing away priceless tracks on one-off side projects that very few people will ever hear. Every few weeks I find myself asking myself how famous Pollard would have been had he released only his best songs (like this one from 1999), and done so using only the Guided By Voices name. Would he have found mainstream success? Would he at least be more well known than he is now? Probably. But it doesn't matter: At least he released the songs somewhere. Much of the joy of being a GBV fan is in finding them.


2. Silkworm, "Tarnished Angel"

One of the problems with being a musical obsessive is that you tend to ignore music not relating to that obsession, which leads to great regret when you ultimately discover a band you should have been loving long ago. When the Chicago band Silkworm was in its prime in the mid-1990s, I was deep into my Malkmus phase, a phase that still endures and always will. But just over a decade ago, Malkmus had struck me blind. Much too late, just last summer, around the time I was finishing up the final draft, Silkworm entered my life via this masterful song off their Steve Albini–produced 1996 album Firewater. As a Rush/Police/Nirvana/Hüsker Dü fan, I'm predisposed to liking power trios, and this track actually contains that all-too-rare thing in indie rock: a killer guitar solo. But it's the first lyric that won me over: "I thank God for relentless thirst/A quart of liquor can't speak unless you drink it first." True!


3. Archers of Loaf, "Web in Front"

Midway through writing the chapter about Pavement, I became completely obsessed with Archers of Loaf, and that new obsession shamed me. I had disregarded them in the past because the songs I'd heard sounded a lot like Pavement, and well, there can only be one Pavement in a person's life. But it was a faulty assessment, of course; Eric Bachmann's seminal indie band should have been in my collection *because* they're reminiscent of Pavement. Not too long ago, I listened to this song 27 times on repeat in just over an hour.


4. Mission of Burma, "Academy Fight Song"

I'll state the obvious: This is one of the best songs ever written. When I finally unearthed this band in 2004, after years and years of hearing indie luminaries like Kim Deal, Thurston Moore, Michael Stipe, and Ira Kaplan cite them as an influence, it must have been fate: Mission of Burma had recently re-formed and their first new album in over 20 years was just about to come out. Well into their forties now, these guys rock out in concert harder than dudes half their age. Their shows help stop the aging process while simultaneously ruining your hearing.


5. Queens of the Stone Age, "Mexicola"

Hard rock is the foundation of my current musical preferences, and a mullet lurks in my personal history. So even when I started getting into the more introspective music of the Smiths and the Cure, I still felt the need to blast scorching guitar rock every now and then. What used to be Van Halen, Rush, and Black Sabbath slowly morphed into Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr., and Soundgarden. Much more recently, the Queens of the Stone Age have taken hold. Their 1998 debut record contains this sludgy stoner nugget, and the only way to play it is to play it as loud as my crappy computer speakers will allow. Man, I hate my speakers.


6. Sonic Youth, "Theresa's Sound World"

Even though they're one of my favorites, I didn't get into Sonic Youth much in the book. There are too many people out there who know and love their catalog better than I do, and I felt it would be unwise to try to claim the band as my own. Still, Sonic Youth has been on hand during some very powerful moments in my life, most notably that time in 2002 when I was driving alone across the Mohave Desert and this track came on. I was doing 90, the setting sun was filling my rearview mirrors, Vegas was still hours away. It's one of those great driving songs that makes you happy that you're nowhere near your destination.


7. The Wedding Present, "A Million Miles"

Right after turning in the final draft, I finally consented to listen to the Wedding Present, a British group that's been churning out clever, rambunctious music since the mid-1980s. Because I tend to be overly dismissive, the hype this prolific band was getting in the early 1990s in the pages of New Musical Express and Melody Maker annoyed me, even though I had never heard anything they'd ever written. Now they've come to me nearly two decades after they could have changed my life, and this song rubs in my regret at failing to adopt them when it would have counted. Opening lyric: "I must have walked past this doorway 30 times/Just trying to catch your eye." If that doesn't perfectly sum up the stalker impulses coursing through my veins back then, I don't know what does.


8. Built to Spill, "Randy Described Eternity"

Okay, I want to kick my own ass for this, but I failed to name-check the very song I swiped the title of my book from. My decision to swipe Perfect From Now On (a lyric in this sprawling six-minute track that also serves as the title of Built to Spill's landmark 1997 album) came very late in the writing process -- too late, actually, to include anything worthwhile about Built to Spill, a tremendously talented Idaho band I'd decided to leave out of the first draft because they didn't figure much into the story. But as I was lying on my couch one night last summer, depressed about some things happening in my life, and also looking for a way to replace "Gold Soundz" as the title of my book, because I was never happy about that ironic "z," this Doug Martsch gem came on and blew me away like it was the first time I'd heard it. The foolishly resolute lyric "I'm gonna be perfect from now on" fits the theme of my book almost exactly. I will never be perfect, and my decision not to include more than an off-handed mention of Built to Spill proves that for the millionth time.

see also:

the author's website
the author's blog
the author @myspace

Newcity Chicago review
other reviews

the author's guest posts at Powell's blog
Things I'd Rather Be Doing interview with the author

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)

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