Dancing To Architecture Part 2 - Gateways To Obsession

Continuing my dubious denouement of Nick Hornby's 31 Songs, I'd like to call your attention to something.

No, please, stay with me. This is interesting. You might like where I'm going with this.

This is Nick Hornby in reference to his love for Rod Stewart. Ignore his irritating and outmoded tendency to refer to all music that isn't jazz or classical as "pop music" and look at this:

“...the people who stick with pop music the longest...are those who entrust themselves at a tender age to somebody like Stewart, somebody who was clearly a fan himself. Those who fell for The Stones got to hear, if they could be bothered, Arthur Alexander and Solomon Burke and Don Covay...Zeppelin fans might have been moved to seek out Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.”

Remember, Hornby believes that those whose opinions differ to his don't really like music. Witness:

“The antecedents of Yes and Genesis were Pink Floyd, and before that nobody much, really, and that was, in retrospect, part of the reason I didn't like them very much. The music felt airless and synthetic, and it seemed even then as if all the prog rockers would rather have been classical musicians, as if pop were beneath them, somehow. They led you up a blind alley; there was nowhere to go.”
OK. Ignoring, for one moment, the fact that Pink Floyd's very name is derived from two old bluesmen (the work of Pink Anderson and Floyd Council could therefore be considered as highly valid antecedents to Pink Floyd), what's wrong with a rock musician aspiring to be a classical musician? Nothing much, really.

Hornby claims to dislike prog rock because it's a “blind alley”. Once you've listened to the big names, there's nowhere else to go.

This is nothing short of absolute horsetwaddle. Beyond the classical and avant-garde composers from which prog rockers ostensibly took their cues (Hornby evidently believes that such music is beneath him), it's important to remember that a major antecedent to prog was psychedelica. Psych is to prog what punk is to New Wave; and psyche is an ocean of considerable depth into which millions of intrepid musical obsessives delve every day.

With psyche, you've got a vast pantheon that thrived on both sides of the Atlantic. For just the very apex of the iceberg, think of The Kinks, The Beatles and The Who in the UK; Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and The Grateful Dead in the US. Each of those bands offer a unique entry-point into a vast world of new musical discoveries, and you'll have a vastly different experience depending on where you happen to start. The Grateful Dead alone must surely have enough material to keep you happy for life.

And every single one of these musicians took inspiration from expansive swathes of roots, folk, country, blues etc; again from both sides of the Atlantic. Also, going on at the same time was a vibrant scene of bands who might only have recorded and released one single before fading into obscurity. So if the past holds no interest for you, why not explore the present? Nuggets is just a tiny, tiny bite of something immense. That's why they called it Nuggets. And trace a path forwards from Nuggets and you get to garage rock, punk, New Wave, indie...

So you see, even if you use Pink Floyd as an entry-point, you've got enough musical exploration to be getting on with to nourish you for a lifetime.

From this we can draw two conclusions. First of all we can reiterate that Hornby is a pretentious bore who, when you apply even a base amount of scrutiny to his assertions, clearly doesn't have the slightest idea what he's talking about.

Second, we can conclude that, if you like music enough, it really doesn't matter where you begin. Any band, scene, musician or genre can act as a viable entry-point into an obsession just as deep as Hornby's. Just as deep, but if you grew up with internet access, your love will likely be a lot more open-minded.

To illustrate my point, I'd like to talk about my own entry-point into what I already know will be a lifelong obsession with music (and not just “pop music”).

I believe I started with Radiohead. I still consider them my favourite band, and one major reason as to why I continue to value them above all others is because it's now possible to view them as the centre of an immense hub from which everything else I love stems. I could likely trace any band or musician I value back, in some way, to my early love for Radiohead.

It began when my brother bought the Paranoid Android single from a street vendor in Glastonbury (the town, not the festival). That song, and the two b-sides (Polyethylene pts. 1-2 and Pearly) would sow some highly potent seeds, but things wouldn't take off in earnest until the release of Amnesiac. You And Whose Army?, heard on a Q best of the year CD, was unlike anything I'd ever heard before. You could say it blew my mind.

I saved up for, bought and immersed myself in the album. It was the start of something beautiful, and I freely acknowledge the role of the internet in kindling my love. I would scour online archives for hours for any material pertaining to Radiohead, and as I went I was making an unconscious mental note of any and all bands or artists listed as influences or descendents.

In this way I got into Aphex Twin and, as a result, most everyone on the W.A.R.P roster. Brian Eno, too, and Jeff Buckley. Remixers such as Four Tet and Zero 7. Krautrockers such as Can, Faust and Kraftwerk. Contemporaries such as Martin Grech, Beck, Sigur Ros and Clinic. In recent years I've started to discover the daunting but enthralling world of jazz. Call me a philistine if you must, but I entered via the very sounds referenced by Radiohead – John Coltrane, Charles Mingus, Miles Davies – the same names that get everyone into jazz, surely; but I know that I might never have even considered making the leap were it not for Radiohead.

But perhaps most importantly, my love for Radiohead made me pay more attention to the music to which I already had access. Adventurous 90s guitar bands such as Blur, The Auteurs and Super Furry Animals wouldn't hold nearly as much sway over me were it not for Radiohead; whilst my parents' Pink Floyd and Genesis albums (on which I had basically been raised) suddenly seemed a lot more interesting.

So I got into prog rock. I even considered Radiohead to be prog rock. For a long time, I referred to myself as a prog rock fan. I still do, but for a long time I was all about the prog. The proggier the better.

And from there – well, see above.

If the potential for deep musical appreciation is within you, it doesn't matter in the slightest where you start. If it's in you, through an insatiable need for sustenance, you'll eventually find your way to achieving that ideal state – a love for music that's free from the artificial constraints of time, space and cool.

Nick Hornby thinks he's there, but he isn't. How can we tell? Well. Because he doesn't see how genres he dislikes (classical, prog etc.) can be worlds in themselves – worlds which are, importantly, inexorably linked to that which he values so much. And even if they aren't linked, they're no less valuable. And because he can't see that, well. I hate to say it, but it might be the case that he doesn't really like music at all.


  1. Yeah, Hornby's a deceitful sod!

    I'd say you started with Space, more accurately - Space who were identified as "indie" and therefore "not the Spice Girls". They were on The Best Anthems Ever, which also had Radiohead's High & Dry, which led to an evening listening to all the Radiohead songs we could find on compilation CDs, which THEN led to the eventual purchase of the Paranoid Android single.


    Ooh, spooky verification moment too! The number it asked me to type in was the same first three numbers as the phone number of the house where the Radiohead-ness began!

    1. Space were definitely there from the start, but I'd lump them in amongst Badly Drawn Boy as those who would ensure that the first albums I heard were diverse and weird. It's probably thanks to those two that I can never really immediately engage with albums that are little more than collections of songs.

  2. Hi!
    That was a great post on Hornsbys ilitteracy. Just curious whats your favorite Radiohead album and whats your brothers name?