Aug 28, 2007

Too Much Too Late by Marc Spitz

Too Much Too Late is the story of The Jane Ashers, a band named after the British actress who dated Paul McCartney. In the early 90’s, the band starts to get some attention, and after playing some small shows and recording a demo, they finally manage to schedule their first big gig, opening for Liz Phair. However, due to some events in the personal lives of the band members, the gig is never played, and The Jane Ashers are put on a halt for 13 years. Fast forward to 2005: the guys are in their late thirties, and after not speaking to each other for a great number of years they decide to reunite and re-record the demo just for posteriority's sake. Well, with the help of – yes – the blogging world, the band gains momentum once again, and all the success they just missed in the 90’s is finally theirs.

This is a book that any music fan will most likely enjoy. There are a lot of references to bands, from Pavement, The White Stripes, Cat Power or The Pixies to The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and The Beatles. Being a big music fan myself, I got a kick out of these. The book also gives you a glimpse of the process of writing songs, especially in the first part of the story, which describes how the band was formed. The process of songwriting intrigues me. I think that in a way it’s very different from writing a novel, a story or even a poem. With those, once you’ve written them, they are written. But a song… a song is performed, it is played live countless times, and it often changes in the process. In that way, it is more like drama than any other literary genre.

I remember that earlier this year, when I saw Will Oldham aka Bonnie “Prince” Billy in concert, he said that he writes songs mostly to perpetuate something - a moment, an emotion, a specific memory, a relationship. And then when he plays them, night after night, he has to put himself in that place again, emotionally. And after a while, doing that ends up stealing the event in question from his life, and he ends up feeling a little scattered. I can imagine how that may happen, just like I can imagine not being able to play a song if you are unable or unwilling to put yourself in that emotional place again. At some point in the novel, the lead singer of the band, Harry Vance, says he has to write new songs because the old ones just aren’t true anymore.

Another thing I found very interesting is the way this story examines just what it takes for a band (or a writer, or any other kind of artist) to become big. Is it just luck – being in the right place at the right time, meeting the right people? Or is it endurance – making sure you’re always in the right place, until the right time finally comes? And could it be that if it takes too long, when it finally comes you discover that what you thought you wanted the most just isn’t right for your life anymore?

This book is about bands and the music world, but it’s also about people growing up and trying to find their places in life, regardless of what age they happen to be. The tone is casual, funny, bittersweet, and full of nostalgia for both what was and what might have been. Here is my favourite passage:
Do you know that feeling, when you’re in a crowd yourself, and the band onstage plays a song and everyone knows it? You’ve been walking around thinking you’re the only person in the world that feels that strongly about that music, and when you’re exposed to this communal recognition and you realize that that song means something to the guy next to you too, and you’re all here together, that’s a celebration: I’m not the only one who listened to this album alone in my room when I was sad.
Yes, I do know that feeling very well, and I absolutely love it.

This novel will certainly appeal to fans of movies like Almost Famous, or books like Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity. I must confess I was a little suspicious of Marc Spitz because he is also a music critic, and I tend to be a little wary of those. But no, he is a great writer, and his obvious passion for music is very present in the book. He has written another novel, How Soon is Never, which is about a disenchanted man in his thirties who is convinced that getting The Smiths back together will change his live. I have a feeling I will love it even more than this book.


  1. This really does sound like a fun read.

    You know I'd never really thought about song-writing like that...I'd always sort of compared it to poetry. But you're absolutely right; it really is more like drama.

  2. This sounds like such a cool book! I have to read it. I love the quote that you chose. I know that feeling perfectly and it's one of my favorite feelings to experience. I love seeing some of my favorite bands in a small intimate setting, thinking me and Megan are the only two people in the world who have really experienced their music and then seeing others experience it in the same way. That really is a magical feeling. How Soon is Never sounds great too. I'll have to check them both out.

  3. Sounds like a cool book, I like the quote you put up from it. Sharing music with other people who enjoy it as much is a wonderful experience, especially if it is a band you really love.

  4. It is fascinating how the internet can bring new life to artists, musicians, etc. All it takes is for someone to develop a passion, or obsession, and start getting the word out. This is certainly a large as yet fully untapped area of marketing.

  5. Nymeth - I really like how you described the art of songwriting. I had never really thought about it much before (since I'm not really a writer), but I can absolutely understand what you mean. Even various renditions of a particular song can evoke such different emotions within me--such as an acoustic, live, regular, mix variation. Sounds like a great read!

  6. Oh and I left you a message on your librarything profile you need to read at some point.

  7. ah... it seems cool...

    i enjoyed "high fidelity" so this looks appealing.

  8. Debi: Songs also have a lot in common with poetry, of course, but they are more changeable than poems. I guess that in that way we can also seem them as oral tales.

    Chris: It's a wonderful feeling, isn't it? It's one of the reasons why I don't want to ever stop going to shows. The moments I spent seeing my favourite bands are among my best memories.

    Rhinoa: It really is. I think you'd enjoy this book. Also, thank you once again about librarything! And thanks for warning me here, I hadn't been there in a while.

    Carl: There are already some bands out there whose popularity is entirely due to the internet, and traditional labels are starting to realize how important a medium the web is. I think that with time labels will probably become obsolete. There are big changes on the way, that's for sure.

    Trish: That's one of the reasons why I love live music so much. A specific performance can completely change the emotional resonance of a song.

    Jean Pierre: Isn't High Fidelity great? I love both the book and the movie. In fact, I think this book would probably make a really good movie. Someone like Cameron Crowe should direct it.

  9. yeah, its wonderful! its such a warm story, for one that is so witty.

    and i love the film too. i really like john cusack, so it helps. but, yeah, i thought it was a really good translation of the book!

  10. Ooh, I love music, so I just have to add this to my wishlist! Great review, too.

  11. Jean Pierre: I agree, John Cusack does help. He was perfect for the role!

    Dewey: Thank you :) This is a book that a movie fan is sure to enjoy, I think.


Thank you so much for taking the time to comment - interaction is one of my favourite things about blogging and a huge part of what keeps me going.