Author Nick Hornby does not believe in guilty pleasures. The self-confessed music obsessive, who wrote the classics High Fidelity and About a Boy, shares his musical boy crush, the soundtrack to his teenage love affair, and his own work as a songwriter. Hornby was recently nominated for an Academy Award in the “Best Adapted Screenplay” category for “An Education.”
EL: Hi, this is Eric J. Lawrence from KCRW and I am here with author Nick Hornby. He's written a number of books involving music, including the classic, High Fidelity, and his most recent novel, Juliette Naked. And today we'll be playing some excerpts of some songs that he's selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Nick, thanks for joining us--
EL: So what's the first song you brought for us?
NH: Well, the first thing I wanna play is by the Irish blues guitarist, Rory Gallagher. And the particular recording you're going to hear is actually the first song I ever heard played live. We used to go, when I was a kid, to BBC concerts; they were free and you were in this tiny little venue and this was the first show I ever saw, and this was the first song he played at the first show I ever saw, and this was the recording from that show
NH: So these opening bars were my introduction to live music. I'm quite lucky to have this as a souvenir
Song: Rory Gallagher’s “Tore Down”
NH: He was something that was going 'round when I was at school. One of those guys, you know, a Clapton guy or a Peter Green guy, but he was the only one that was actually playing. (laughs) I think Eric Clapton had other things going on and Peter Green had disappeared, so if it was your loud blues guitar you wanted, he was the jobbing guy; he was going around every townhall in the country at the time and I had a big crush on him, I think. I think I had a boy crush on him.
EL: That was an excerpt from Rory Gallagher’s "Tore Down," a song selected by our guest, author Nick Hornby. So Nick, what's the next song you got for us?
NH: The next thing I'd like to play is a song called "Debris" by The Faces, off their album A Nod Is As Good As A Wink. This is another song from school days. In 1972, 1973, Rod Stewart meant a lot to teenage boys, especially if you liked football, which I did, because Rod Stewart was one of the only rock singers who ever showed any interest in the game. This song, I always used to ignore on the album because he didn't sing it -- Ronnie Lane sang it.
Song: The Faces’ “Debris”
Recently, I've discovered that Ronnie Lane was actually the presiding genius of The Faces. I think this is just a beautiful song that uses American idiomatic music but he sings in an English way and it sounds like English subject matter to me, about Sunday morning markets and union strikes and things that were going on in the ‘70s.
EL: That was The Faces with "Debris" as selected by our guest, Nick Hornby. The next selection that you've got for us is from the blue-eyed soul group, Hall & Oates.
NH: I don't believe in the term "guilty pleasures" -- either you like it or you don't like it and if you like it then it's fine. This particular album, Abandoned Luncheonette, is a beautiful record. This reminds me of university and of being in love. I'd just met somebody at college and fallen passionately in love and all I was listening to was Sex Pistols and The Clash. I went to go see my dad in America -- my dad lived in Connecticut, my parents were split up -- and on the way home, I sat next to this pretty cool guy who I started talking to and he was the guitarist for Hall & Oates. He was sat in economy class and his singers were up at the front of the plane, but the band were in the back.
EL: Of course
NH: And I was just really interested. He was a really nice guy and we had quite a long talk about music. I would never have dreamt of picking up this album, but when I got home, I wanted to hear it and I bought it and I thought it was wonderful. And of course, it was a much more fitting accompaniment to a teenage love affair than The Clash.
Song: Hall & Oates “Had I Known You Better Then”
EJL: That was Hall & Oates with "Had I Known You Better Then," as selected by our guest, author Nick Hornby. Now we're sort of taking a big jump forward. The next selection you've chosen for us is from Badly Drawn Boy, from the soundtrack to About A Boy.
NH: I loved his first album --The Hour of the Bewilderbeast I think it's called. It is actually very cinematic, and when I was listening to it I thought he'd make a wonderful soundtrack. I never have the nerve to say what I want because it tends to be a waste of time, especially with studio guys -- they want what they want and that's the end of it. But the first time I met Chris and Paul Weitz, the directors of About A Boy, we went out for a cup of tea and they said, ‘We've had this idea that one guy does the soundtrack like Simon & Garfunkel for The Graduate,’ and they said, ‘We like this guy called Badly Drawn Boy,’ and I really couldn’t believe it and it seemed like an incredibly constructive and happy coincidence.
Song: Badly Drawn Boy’s "A Peak You Reach"
EJL: I assume that with something like High Fidelity, that it's somewhat autobiographical in that you are somewhat of a musical obsessive…
EJL: How difficult is that to sort of let go with these films and the soundtracks?
NH: Oh it's not so hard. I mean the thing with High Fidelity is, again, one of the other reasons that those guys wanted to make that movie is because they're music obsessives. They not only moved the location of the film, but they moved the timeline slightly. I was really writing about a 35 year old guy in 1995 and they were writing about a 35 year old guy in 2000 and that 5 year difference is quite significant. They went for more early '80's American indie and onwards which I didn't know so much about and they're cool guys and they've got cool taste in music -- the soundtrack's fantastic
EJL: That was a bit of Badly Drawn Boy with "A Peak You Reach," as selected by our guest, author Nick Hornby. The next selection you've got for us is a little unusual.
NH: Yes, there's a fairly direct explanation for this
EJL: *chuckles* Ok
NH: This is the only song I've ever written
Song: William Shatner’s "That's Me Trying"
NH: A few years ago I wrote a book called Songbook which was essays about some songs that have meant something to me, you know, a literary version of what we're doing now. One of the songs I wrote about was a Ben Folds song called "Smoke," and soon after that Ben got in touch and we began an email correspondence that continues to this day. A couple of years on, he suddenly said, ‘Look, I'm doing this album for William Shatner, do you want to write a song for it?,’ which seemed like an irresistible offer.
EJL: *chuckles* Sure
NH: It's not the sort of thing you get asked everyday.
NH: I had a go at a couple of them and they recorded one which is this one, "That's Me Trying." I also had the pleasure of talking to Mr. Shatner over the phone. He's an incredibly charming and interesting man and the experience was not something that I'll forget in a hurry but I think one of the great things about writing words, and I've been doing it with Ben recently, I think you realize that what makes songs is the music. *laughs* That you can write bad words and somebody can write a great melody and it's a great song, but if you write good words but you've got a bad melody, you've got a bad song. There's a terrible truth to that, I think, for anyone who only deals with words—that the talented people are the musicians and, obviously on this song, you've got Mr. Shatner's unique vocal delivery but there's also a lovely chorus with Ben and Aimee Mann singing and I think it's a really pretty tune.
EJL: That was a bit of William Shatner with "That's Me Trying," a song co-written by our guest, Nick Hornby. Well Nick, I want to thank you so much for joining us here on KCRW.com
NH: I really enjoyed it, thank you for inviting me.
EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/GuestDJProject