Perfect from Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life

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9780743277082: Perfect from Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life

John Sellers was powerless to resist the call of indie rock -- once he finally heard it. In this hilarious and revealing memoir, Sellers meticulously charts his transformation from a teenage headbanger rebelling against his Dylan-obsessed father to a thirtysomething fixated on the obscure Ohio band Guided By Voices. Along the way, he commemorates the deaths of Ian Curtis and Kurt Cobain, makes a pilgrimage inspired by the Smiths, and riffs on Pavement and the other raucous bands that have ruled college radio since the 1980s. Packed with compulsively constructed lists, ridiculous formulas, and embarrassing confessions, this is a book for anybody who thinks that corporate rock still sucks.

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About the Author :

John Sellers has written for GQ, Spin, Entertainment Weekly, and The New York Times, and maintains the blog Angry John Sellers. He lives in New York City. For more information, visit www.johnsellers.net.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

1

MY IMPRESSION NOW

"You're finding out that it's way too late to be happy around your friends."

I hate Bob Dylan.

Not with the kind of white-hot anger reserved for the asinine personalities of American Idol or the talk-to-the-hand disdain whipped out for the guy who replaced Michael Hutchence in INXS. This is no ordinary hate. It's primal. It's absurd. It makes me look bad. I mean, who doesn't like Bob Dylan?

Only a fool would resist the notion that Dylan might be a genius, would be reluctant to praise any of the 450-plus songs he's written, would fail to recognize that taking potshots at someone almost universally regarded as a living legend is a waste of energy. But until very recently, all of those fools were me. Every so often now, I find myself regretting my intense negative feelings toward him. There are times when I see images of him, especially as a young man, with his rat's nest hairdo and fluttering eyelids, and I feel bad not to be part of the club, many millions strong, that considers him a Martin-strumming Mozart. And then I imagine shaving off his hair and gluing his eyelids shut.

This is terrible, of course. But I've been moaning about Dylan almost since birth. Infrequently discussed, however, is the why. Why do I despise Dylan? Why do I want to press mute whenever I hear his incoherent bleating? Why am I tempted to seek out and club defenseless old ladies whenever someone plays that song about shit blowin' in the wind? The reason: I was abused as a child. Not in a way that will make this book a bestseller. There are no touchy-feely priests here, no overfriendly clowns, no despotic transgendered soccer moms. What I can offer you is a dad who took whacks at me every single day for nearly two decades. Only his weapon of choice was Bob Dylan.

The next time you hear "Like a Rolling Stone," try to picture a man in his early forties with a Tom Selleck mustache, clunky metal-frame glasses, and tufts of curly brown hair sitting shirtless in a cigarette-tortured, baby-shit-colored rocking chair. He's perched Indian style, a position that strains his threadbare denim cutoffs beyond their limit, revealing areas of skin that no kid should be made to witness. Now crank up the volume: In a deeper voice and with far better enunciation than Dylan's, he's singing emphatically along, occasionally puffing on a Carlton 100 or suckling at the Jar of Death, which contains a lukewarm admixture of Sanka, curdled milk, diet cola, and Carlo Rossi Chablis.

This is my dad. Or at least the version of my dad that slaps me when Dylan comes to mind. The image is seared into my brain: I saw him in this guise, or variations of it, nearly every night during my childhood. What I didn't realize then was that he was obsessed with Dylan. Totally. Actually, total obsession doesn't quite sell it. My dad was Bob Dylan's willing thrall. If Dylan had ever put a backwards message on one of his records urging people to take off their clothes, don their best blue bonnets, and skip like nancys across the Mackinac Bridge, my dad would have been the first to be arrested.

Sure, he listened to music by other artists -- John Denver, Jim Croce, the Moody Blues -- but specific examples stick out only because of their rarity. We were force-fed Dylan at breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and when my dad really got going, there were Dylan aperitifs. My mom, a high school English teacher with a preference for Chopin, the Carpenters, and nonconfrontation, had long stopped protesting by the time my memories kick in; she retreated to safe zones out of earshot of the living room record player, the epicenter of the problem. She knew what my two brothers and I eventually learned: No matter how many times you ask for air-traffic-controller earmuffs, you aren't going to get them. Better just to run.

There was a time when my dad viewed us kids as potential converts, blank slates upon which to etch the scripture of Dylan. Starting first with my older brother, Mark, then with me, then with Matt, he'd tell us, usually over marathon sessions of canasta or Yahtzee, about living in New York City in the mid-1960s and sitting in cafés where Dylan once performed. The lyrics of "Maggie's Farm" were explained. (Sticking it to the man, essentially.) There was a lot of "Listen to this next song -- I think you'll like it." We never did. After a while, when the blank slates proved to be far more interested in Top 40 music, he just played the records as we rolled dice or bitched about magpies, and we limited the conversation to mutual interests like baseball and chili. He might have been more successful if he'd pretended to be really into James Taylor or something. I mean, next to the unparalleled earnestness of "You've Got a Friend," anything by Dylan would have compared favorably. After smacking us around for years with Taylor, he could have pulled out The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan and it would have sounded as enchanting as the coos of baby Jesus. But my dad is incapable of insincerity where Dylan is concerned. He is a true believer.

Now, I don't hate Dylan because I have anything against my dad -- well, aside from being denied a childhood of telescopes and Lamborghinis, a financial impossibility due to the extreme lack of demand for unambitious freelance herpetologists in west Michigan during the late 1970s and early '80s. We still get along very well. No, I hate Dylan because the music was crammed down my throat. It's like a guy getting plucked off a desert island after twelve years of eating mostly coconut. There's no way he's eating that crap again. Instantly after my mom, in 1983, finally pulled the plug on the marriage -- not even Stephen Hawking could have theorized a more unsuitable match -- the absence of Dylan in our lives was gleefully apparent: We were four shipwreck survivors gorging at a Chi-Chi's. Gorging, salsa-faced and happy -- that is, until an unfortunate incident a few days after we moved out. The four of us had driven back to the old house to pick up a television set, the last of my mom's remaining junk. The return trip was profoundly, disturbingly silent, apart from the sounds coming from the radio, which was set to a station that played a lot of Billy Squier and Styx. As if the deejay had conspired with my dad on a parting shot, the car suddenly filled with the opening electric chords of "Like a Rolling Stone," and we all -- even Matt, age six -- lunged for the dial before that voice could kick in. Minutes later, just after we stopped laughing, my mom barreled into a drunk jaywalker, causing ridiculous amounts of mayhem. (No one died, thankfully.) Although we didn't say as much to the policemen who arrived on the scene, it was the curse of Dylan.

Viewed from the minimum safe distance -- five miles then, seven hundred now -- my dad's obsession shifted from being weird and oppressive to being weird and mildly endearing. At age sixty-six, for example, he stays in touch primarily via e-mailed exclamations and forwards: "Dylan gets his own radio show!"; "Dylan documentary on PBS!"; "Conor Oberst: The New Dylan?" Not that anything has changed: Dylan is his and he is Dylan's. Which is why, even as my stance toward Dylan and his music slackens, there is little point in giving in entirely: Since I can never hope to enjoy Dylan as fully as my dad does, why bother to get involved? Any effort to do so would feel as false as a former Lutheran minister listening to Black Sabbath simply because his middle child does. Of course, this stubbornness to embrace Dylan has perplexed dozens of total strangers and good friends; it has also prevented a closer relationship with my dad. It's impossible for us to talk about his one true passion in a way that isn't lopsided. Attending a Dylan concert with him is out of the question. As unfortunate as these things are, I decided long ago not to surrender completely. To do so would be an endorsement of my dad's puzzling behavior when I was younger. It would make three decades of Dylan-hate absolutely meaningless. Most of all, though, if I immersed myself in Dylan, it would suggest that I was okay with turning into someone like my dad.

And then two years ago I realized that, without warning, I had already turned into someone like my dad.

A partial list of things music has made me do: fly overseas at considerable expense to see a live performance by a band I no longer liked, nurture a crush on a goth chick way out of my league, nurture a crush on an alternachick way out of my league, write a love letter to a German woman made up entirely of lyrics from my favorite synth band, reconsider fast friendships, get ticketed for doing 82 in a 55, drive around a remote area of England looking for a hero's grave, wear parachute pants without irony, perform the moonwalk in front of a crowded gymnasium, switch college majors, miss a final exam, shoplift (both successfully and unsuccessfully), dive to the bottom of a numbingly cold Scottish pond to retrieve my favorite T-shirt, stab my thumb into the back of a fellow concert attendee's neck to get closer to the stage, drink too much, lose my voice, stage-dive, cry, and regret. But it wasn't until I was thirty-three -- on a Friday night in April 2004, to be more specific -- that I found out exactly how important music was to me.

The evening began like so many others: the twist of a bottle cap, the first sip of beer, the descent of my buttocks into the swivel chair at my desk. My computer, a bulky eMac, still excited me a full year after I purchased it, in large part because it had completely changed the way I listened to music. Converting all of my CDs into searchable digital files had spoiled me. Gone were the days of hauling my carcass up to the wall-mounted CD rack to find the one disc that contained the one song required at a given moment. That song was now available with a click of the mouse -- and it could be found while sitting down. Once again I fired up the iTunes program and within seconds a familiar song was dominating my apartment. As I scrolled through more than three thousand songs for the perfect follow-up, the value of iTunes as something other than a tool to organi...

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