Monday, 16 March 2009

Tim Thornton - The Alternative Hero (Jonathan Cape 2009)

'The Alternative Hero' is the story of my teendom, an account of obsession and pop culture meaning more than life itself, of bands and their cults and the blood sweat and tears poured into rock'n'roll as a movement, as a punk barrage of unity. Clive Beresford is 30, working in a dead-end job and still obsessing about music, in particular the band that changed his life 'Thieving Magpies', who were the alternative's saviours before Britpop arrived and they imploded under the weight of expectation and an apparent meltdown by the lead singer, the enigmatic Lance Webster. Clive still obsesses over their every moment and minute and while his friends have all moved on and gone on to successful jobs and well-adjusted lioves, he's still caught in the nostalgia of fanzines and rare import-only seven inches and the scrawl and sprawl of his teenage years. The book zips between his recollections, articles, earnest fanzine rants and reviews and memories.

One day Clive notices (*plot contrivance alert*) that Lance Webster, now seemingly retired from making music, lives on his road. What follows is an earnest uncomfortable stalker fantasy plot where Clive seeks to befriend his alternative hero, who meant more to him than life itself, find out what exactly went wrong and restore Lance to the rock’n’roll museum. Though written like an excitable teenager’s diary, it manages to messily saunter through a series of clunky plot contrivances to make it work. Clive’s relationship with Lance, built on a lie, is uncomfortable and funny yet slightly tragic in its highlighting of his arrested development. Somehow Lance Webster remains elusive, an overriding figure in proceedings yet never quite engaging with the action, knowing what he does. The coverage of indie music and rock’n’roll is nostalgia-inducing and the helpful recommended listening are certain cause for reaching amongst your CDs and dusting of those gems that meant so much to you years ago. As the impending doom of Britpop approaches, Clive and his hero achieve some sort psychic connection that spiritually intertwines them forever. Clive is certainly the only one who cares, and as he tries to befriend the impenetrable hero we watch that age-old adage that one should never meet their heroes unfurl in awkward horror. It’s funny, easy listening with a distinct ear for music, but alas, it works if you can suspend your disbelief enough to get past some clunky exposition. Relating to the main character is easy enough as a music lover, but this would leave anyone cold who either wasn’t there or doesn’t hold any of the bands in reverence. Also, the tendency to write the whole thing in gushing fanzine language, relying too easily on pop culture similes to make points means that this has a limited appeal and is unpolished. However, as a debut novel, it shows promise and man, Thieving Magpies certainly remind me of some my favourite bands,

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