Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life
Simon & Schuster, 2007
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New York Times Book Review (April 22, 2007)
Musical preferences were closely associated with status and clique among Sellers’s ’80s generation. So to readers of a certain age, the trajectory of his memoir could be summed up by the sequence of his (decreasingly mainstream) favorite bands, from Journey to Duran Duran to New Order to the Pixies to Pavement. The subtitle, “How Indie Rock Saved My Life,” is only a slight exaggeration: Sellers suggests that if he hadn’t progressed beyond Journey, he might have wound up just another suburban “meathead.” Sellers works in the approved style of post-gonzo rock journalism, with an arch, self-deprecating, emphatic tone, digressive footnotes and “10 best” lists. His clowning about cheesy 1980s culture is only intermittently amusing, but whenever he immerses himself in the esoterica of alternative music the book improves. His knowledge of the subject is impressively obsessive. The central object of Sellers’s very substantial enthusiasm is Guided by Voices, low-fi alt-rock purists; the climax of the book describes a night of “giddy” hero worship and blissful alcoholic excess spent in the company of the band’s leader, Bob Pollard. A cynic might say that indie music failed to subvert the consumerism of the 1980s. After all, Sellers never really stopped identifying himself with musical brand names; he just developed gourmet taste. But those indie bands that found the sweet spot between being co-opted and being ignored served as examples of integrity and passion, helping MTV-era ironists like Sellers to grow up.—Mick Sussman
NPR.org (June 2007)
John Sellers is an obsessive fan of indie-rock music, and his memoir Perfect From Now On is the bildungsroman of a hyperliterate music snob. But this is music snobbery at its most cheerily self-mocking, written in a highly charged style that goes down easy. Sellers dissects his mania via chatty footnotes, exhaustive lists (“Top Five Songs That I Am Most Annoyed By In All The World”) and detailed appendices, including a handy multi-variable equation for figuring out just exactly how much your favorite band does, or does not, rock. Example: “If the band members have costumes, – 10 points, unless that band is Kiss (in which case, + 75.)”—Glen Weldon
Magnet (Spring 2007)
If you’re reading MAGNET, this hysterically naked mash note to the household names and relative nobodies who’ve fueled John Sellers’ rock obsessions could be your so-called life, too. The differences? Sellers isn’t afraid to admit, retroactively, that Duran Duran was his first musical crush; when he runs into Scott Kannberg in a bar, all of his gushing questions are about the ex-Pavement guitarist’s financial stability; and he visits Morrissey’s bedraggled hometown twice because the Smiths mean that much to him. So far, so Klostermaniacal. But because Sellers slashes through his own ironic, wiseacre posing to reveal the needy, neurotic dweeb beneath, you don’t end up wanting to smack him senseless.—Raymond Cummings
Time Out Chicago (March 22, 2007)
If the title Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life makes you do a double take out of spite or intrigue, or you’re the type who can’t resist Spin’s “100 Best” concoctions, Sellers’s homage to indie rock will feel comfortably familiar. A memoir chronicling the thirtysomething’s long-term relationship with the genre (a term he defines surprisingly well), Perfect is very much in the same vein as pop junkie Chuck Klosterman’s work. Sellers spends far less time fleshing out the philosophical implications of pop culture (and boasts better taste in music), though both tend to foucs more on themselves than their material. But is this love letter to the Smiths, Guided By Voices, Joy Division and the like criticism or just fanboy raves? It’s much more of the latter, but Sellers’s self-deprecating wit and personal connection to these bands makes it enjoyable—sort of like a barroom argument with a friend about the influence of the Velvet Underground. When he describes being blown away by Pavement’s Slanted and Enchanted or getting hugged by Robert Pollard, the anecdotes buzz with authenticity. It helps that he’s not snobby or obsessed with obscurity, and refrains from taking potshots at easy, hyped-up targets. Perfect might be unstudied and opinionated but it’s definitely fun.—Tim Lowery
Useful as an update and adjunct to Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, Sellers’ memoir celebrates the self-conscious, (often) low-tech, deliberately nonmainstream, alternatively distributed (i.e., outside of the major recording companies’ channels) music known as indie-rock. Sellers bares his soul from the start—the refreshing opening broadside is “I hate Bob Dylan”—and thoroughly explores what he finds valuable in indie rock and, for that matter, much of life. An accomplished slinger of invective, he provides a rousing evaluation of a phenomenon as ill-defined as its predecessor, alternative rock (alternative to what?) while maintaining the theme of how the mainstream music biz, whenever it’s attracted by indie-rock commercial success, threatens to undercut the qualities of the music that its cultlike following most esteems. Spot-on observations and a willingness to name names and ascribe blame as well as credit make this one of the best resources to date on indie rock, whatever it is.—Mike Tribby
Freelance pop culture journalist and blogger Sellers’s (Arcade Fever: The Fan’s Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games) memoir of his evolution from a Duran Duran and Journey–loving preadolescent to a devotee of Joy Division, Pavement, and Guided By Voices takes a droll look at fandom and how music can truly shape and complement a person’s psyche. Writing in a style that fuses the parenthetical asides of Nicholson Baker (exemplified by 179 footnotes) with pop culture and musical insights à la Nick Hornby, he chronicles the musical “origin story” of his mid-1980s adolescence, his college years spent idolizing Morrissey and New Order, and a life of discovering his emotional soundtrack. He also chronicles a pilgrimage to Manchester, England, and concludes with a more recent beer-filled odyssey to see the final shows of Guided By Voices, his current favorite band. Closing with several list-filled appendixes, the book aptly illustrates Sellers’s maxim that it is “simply wrong to love music halfway.” Although it slows down in its final chapters, its pronouncements will provoke conversation, debate, and smiles among all who love music and pop culture of the past 25 years. Recommended.—Jim Collins, Morristown–Morris Twp. P.L., NJ
A play-by-play history of how journalist and blogger Sellers developed his taste in music. From his father’s Bob Dylan obsession, which drove him to despise the artist, to his own anecdotes with a light touch. The Michigan-born author, who started out listening to Journey, chronicles his musical milestones: first album bought, first concert attended, first rock pilgrimage. High-school days favoring U2 and New Order gave way to the collegiate discovery of Joy Division and the Smiths, and then it was on to Pavement and his New York writing life. It all led to Sellers’s interest in Guided By Voices and the band’s astoundingly prolific songwriter and frontman, Robert Pollard. After consuming every GBV song he could get his hands on, Sellers and a buddy got a chance to live out their rock-fan fantasy of hanging out, drinking heavily and even singing onstage with GBV. Just when the author thought he’d made a decent impression on Pollard, a misunderstanding threatend their tenuous connection and chucked his rock dream into the gutter. Sellers’s self-deprecating, music-obsessed memoir echoes the style of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity, but he manages to maintain a distinctive voice: likable, smart and steeped in music trivia, without being condescending. A fun read for indie-rock fans.
Paste (March 2007)
Headline: JOHN SELLERS’ LONG, STRANGE “JOURNEY” (3.5 stars)
Journalist Sellers, born in 1970 in Grand Rapids, Mich. (where “most everybody listened to Journey. Including me.”), chronicles his lifelong obsession with rock music in this entertaining work. Sellers’ dad was a Bob Dylan fanatic and tried unsuccessfully to turn his three sons into Dylan converts. “We were forcefed Dylan at breakfast, lunch and dinner,” writes Sellers. “There was a lot of ‘Listen to this next song—I think you’ll like it.’ We never did.”
In 1981, Sellers’ world changed when MTV first appeared on this family’s television screen. Sellers begrudgingly admits to a now-humiliating youthful devotion to Duran Duran and Wham!, and he spends several pages describing his fascination with early MTV videos of world-historical cheesiness, such as Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf.” “How embarrassing,” he bemoans, “that a band as brezzy and candy-coated as Duran Duran was once so important to me!” At his lowest point, Sellers sang Lionel Richie’s “Hello” at a karoke bar because “that one girl” told him to.
Sellers’ musical tastes improved in 1985 when he discovered U2, his “alternative gateway drug,” which led to New Order, the Smiths and Morrissey. With U2, Sellers began a pattern of with bands he loved—as soon as they’d become too popular, as U2 did after the Joshua Tree album, he’d become disenchanted and move on to a lesser-known (and thus hipper) band.
During his freshman year at Michigan State University, Sellers hung out with a group of friends equally obsessed with the Smiths and Morrissey, listening for hours to music “that seemed tailor-made to awkward, sensitive, spineless guys such as I unfortunately was at that time.” During a 1990 pilgrimage to Manchester, England, Sellers witnessed “the squalor from which my favorite depressing musicians had sprung.”
Sellers lovingly details the crazy rites of musical obsession. “You let it dip into every facet of yhour life: your wardrobe, your hairstyle, the foods you eat, the drugs you take, the naming of your pets. … You will almost certainly blog about it. Tattoos are possibly invlved.” Sellers describes himself rocking out in cars (“If traffic cops ticketed for DWR—driving while rocking—my license would have been revoked long ago”) and obsessively crafting musical lists. (He includes dozens of them in the book. For example, his “Five Songs I Am Most Annoyed By In All The World” includes Aerosmith’s “Rag Doll” at #3 and James Taylor’s “You’ve Got a Friend” at #5.)
Sellers concludes his funny, self-effacing musical memoir with his most recent monoania, for Dayton-based band Guided By Voices. One of th reasons he loves Guided By Voices, and its booze-soaked frontman Bob Pollard, is the band’s relative obscurity. Sellers feels a highly personal connection to the band and its music. By book’s end, he fulfills two dreams when he makes a 2004 musical pilgrimage to Dayton, where he parties with Pollard, and is then invited onstage to sing with him during the band’s farewell tour. John Sellers has come a long way from “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.”—Chuck Leddy
Metro AM (March 5, 2007)
Headline: The real-life Rob Fleming
If you recognize the title of John Sellers’ book Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life (Simon & Schuster, $23) as an homage to the third full-length record by the Boise, Idaho-based indie rock band Built to Spill, you are already his target audience and you will love this book.
And if you know that the record, released in 1997, was the band’s major label debut on Warner Bros. records, and can name the lineup of the band during that period and the song that gives the record its title, well, you will hate this book, and curse Sellers’ name, right before you turn the page, and fall in love with him all over again.
“I’ve already been giving a talking-to by several Built to Spill fans,” says Sellers, as he sits down at a cafe on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, a few blocks from O’Connors, once frequented by the late Elliott Smith, and Commonwealth, the bar with the best ratio of Bob Pollard to non-Bob Pollard music (thanks to owner Ray Gish, who has a framed poster of Pollard’s now-defunct band Guided by Voices above the bar).
Built to Spill holds the number one spot on Appendix A, “The Top Twelve Indie Bands I Could Have Written About at Length, But Failed To Do So, Thereby Failing the Bands I Love.” Their only other mention is in one of 173 footnotes (a writing gimmick Sellers swiped from his favorite writer, Nicholson Baker).
Sellers’ memoir of fandom broadly covers indie music from the mid-’80s through today; he’s reserved the highest page count for the bands he loves the most, or on which he had the most to say. The Pixies and Sonic Youth were nixed for full-length treatment because, by 2004, “they’d been written about to death.”
The Smiths and Joy Division get the works (the latter in a chapter-length footnote on Sellers’ annual memorial to lead singer Ian Curtis on the anniversary of his death). “I discovered both bands at the same time and I can say my life changed,” says Sellers. “You had the conflict between really witty depression and strange, esoteric depression.” Pavement also scores high.
But by far the most space is reserved for Guided by Voices, the Dayton, Ohio-based band that broke out when leader Bob Pollard, then 35, finally quit his day job as an elementary school teacher. Sellers’ pilgrimage to meet the band ends in near scandal. (We won’t spoil the surprise, but diehard GBV fans on the Postal Blowfish e-mail list may remember a period in 2004 when Sellers was public enemy No.1; rest assured, he has been forgiven by Pollard himself.)
Sellers happens to be 36, almost the same age as Rob Fleming, the list-making, record-obsessed protagonist in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. “Shit,” says Sellers. “That’s embarrassing. I’m the real-life Rob Fleming. I wish I owned a record store.”—Amy Benfer