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Juliet, Nakedby Nick Hornby
Author Q & A
You've come back in this book to some of your signature themes — rock 'n' roll, super fandom, the truths and lies we tell ourselves about love. What prompted the return?
Well, of course now I see it written down like that, I can see some of Juliet, Naked might seem like familiar territory to someone who's read a couple of my other books, but it didn't feel like that, either in its conception or its execution. I wanted to write about the way art is consumed, how it means different things to different people, and easily the best way of writing about that democratically and accessibly is to use rock 'n' roll as a subject, because more or less everybody has some kind of relationship with it. And as for "the lies we tell ourselves about love"...Well, what else is there? Also, these characters are well into the second half of their lives. The stakes are higher then. The mistakes cost more.
Is Tucker Crowe based on any actual singer-songwriters?
No. But there are bits and pieces of other artists in there, anecdotes and episodes that might bring other legendary writers and musicians to mind.
Have you ever been the object of over-zealous fandom? Was Duncan's pursuit of Tucker Crowe inspired in any way by your personal experience?
Not that I'm aware of. My readers seem like a pretty level-headed bunch, on the whole. And anyway, I would rather chew off my own arm than Google my name. That way madness lies, I think.
This novel is in part a kind of anatomy of obsessive fandom. It seems that you're both celebrating it and satirizing it. There's the sheer geekiness and borderline stalker behavior, of course. But then there are the positive elements — the pure admiration of art and a sense of genuine curatorship. Can you comment on that tension?
It's just as you've described it, I think. It's pretty funny, but it's valuable too. Many of us enjoy reading biographies of the artists we love to read or listen to or watch on screen, but you wouldn't necessarily want to be trapped in an elevator with the people who've written them. Scholars do illuminate their subjects, frequently and dazzlingly, but they can be very weird souls.
Tucker thinks at one point, "If you wanted to get into people's living rooms, could you then object if they wanted to get into yours?" Is there an implicit bargain between artists and their fans? Are musicians or movie stars or writers being disingenuous or hypocritical when they object to excessive attention from their fans?
It's a difficult line to walk, especially if you have consciously cultivated some kind of mystique, which to a certain kind of fan is a provocation. The truth is, you're always going to disappoint people who have something invested in you. If you're going to have any kind of career in the arts, you get found out in the end.
One of the key questions in this book is, "What do you do if you think you've wasted fifteen years of your life?" We'd all like to think that we can start our lives over at any point, but is it sometimes really too late?
Yes, of course. One of the hardest things to recognize is that our mistakes — and these mistakes can take years, decades even, to unravel — are essential to who we are. I have wasted whole chunks of my life, but actually, none of the waste ever really went to waste, if you see what I mean. It just has to be endured, painfully.
The province of failed relationships — the relationships between ex-partners, in which the smallest exchanges are loaded with meaning — is a major preoccupation of this novel. Why are you particularly concerned with this subject at this point?
I'm not sure it's a particular obsession of mine. But once you get to a certain age, you're much more capable of writing about it than you were before....
How much of yourself did you put into each one of your main characters — Duncan, Annie, and Tucker?
Oh, I recognize all of them, and Tucker is a writer of sorts...But this certainly isn't an autobiographical book. It's just that, when you get to a certain age, you've made lots of little messes in all sorts of areas of life, and you can see how those little messes might have become big messes, and the kind of havoc they might have wreaked. Anyone who has kids, a few broken relationships and a job has the raw materials for several novels.
The Internet is almost a character in this book. It keeps Tucker Crowe's memory alive, even though his career has gone dormant. "Nobody was forgotten anymore," you write. Is the Internet the new form of eternal life? The Internet also allows the international community of Tucker Crowe fanatics — or "Croweologists," as they like to call themselves — to find one another. How is the Internet changing our definitions of community, communication, and individual and group consciousness?
First of all, the Internet has had an enormous impact on music, and that had to be reflected in this novel. Nobody could write High Fidelity now. And of course one of the biggest changes has been on the solitary geeky fan. Thirty years ago, if you'd been an obsessive devotee of a cult artist in a small English seaside town, you'd have been on your own. Now, you can talk to people who think the same as you about any subject you care to name, all day and every day, if you so choose. And I'm not sure how healthy that is: you don't have to try and get on with real people in the real world, people who don't share every single strand of your cultural DNA. Blocking out all these other influences leads to stagnation.
From the artist's point of view, I think it can lead to a sense of self-importance, a lack of humility. Someone, somewhere, is talking about you, this second — you can prove it, more or less. That can't be good for you.
Some of the most wryly amusing parts of the book have to do with Tucker reestablishing contact with his far-flung children by his many ex-wives. He quips that he's becoming an expert in the art of Paternal Reintroduction. Is it possible to maintain these kinds of distant parental relationships in any kind of meaningful way? Or are we deluding ourselves in thinking that it's just a matter of developing the proper etiquette?
Here's one thing I've never understood: what use is Frasier Crane supposed to be to his kid? He's in Seattle, his boy is in Boston, and yet he's supposed to be this wise, emotionally literate guy. Tucker realizes that he's messed it up with all of his kids bar one. I suspect he's right. He's no good to them, and yet for some reason the people surrounding him think he ought to be.
One of Tucker's children accuses him of choosing art over her. Is that judgment too harsh?
I don't think so. That's what happened. As the narrative develops, it's clear that he's chosen the health of his reputation over the relationship with his eldest daughter. I wouldn't make the same choice myself, I'd like to think, but now he's done it, he has to live with the consequences. And one of the questions I've tried to pose in the book is: Are they really so terrible?
Is Gooleness a real town in England? Why did you choose it as Annie and Duncan's home?
No, it's not a real town. There are towns like it, but I chose to invent one, for various reasons. And I chose it as a home for Annie and Duncan because it makes their sense of cultural isolation more real, and because it seemed more likely to me that fear and inertia would have kept them together far longer than they should have been together.
Have you ever had a creative block, like Tucker? It would seem not, given your level of productivity, but do you fear that it could happen?
I've had the odd couple of months, here and there — in fact, this novel came out of a creative block, a different novel that never got off the ground. And since then there's been a big burst of creativity — this novel got written, as did a radio series, and some song lyrics for Ben Folds, and An Education, the movie for which I wrote the screenplay, got made. But there was a lot of sitting around feeling miserable before all that. And, yes, that will happen again. But hopefully not for a Tucker-length of time.
Tucker considers himself a phony because of the disparity between what he actually experienced in his breakup with Juliet and the emotions he conveys on his album about it. Is he right in this belief? How closely do the life and the art have to be aligned for the art to be "true"?
See, I think he's wrong about that. Annie has it right: there's an awful lot of artifice involved in art. And it's all so random anyway — some of my favourite works of art, especially movies and songs, were written and made by people looking to make some money. And we've all suffered through excruciatingly boring things that were emotionally honest and pure...It's a crapshoot, basically. But nobody can let out the unfiltered primal scream and hope to make a connection. It's all got to be shaped and messed with.
Tucker muses that in autobiographical songs, you have to make the present become the past. In other words, you have to turn every feeling or relationship into something that is over, so that you can be definitive about it. Whereas nothing in life is definitive until you die. Is this perhaps the fundamental distinction between art and life?
I suspect it is, and Tucker has this right. The trouble with material, subject matter, is that it has to mean something, whether it's autobiographical or not. So quite often you're looking for meaning in something that is open-ended, something where the meaning might change before too long. I'm not sure what that does to you as a person — whether it makes you a more or less functional human being. Less, probably. Less is usually the answer to that question.
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