The Song is You
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation, smart reviews for modern readers on Sirius XM Book Radio. The book is The Song is You by Arthur Phillips
One of my favorite songs is U2’s Bad. I don’t think you need a reason why you like a song, it just speaks to you. The bad news is I was briefly involved with a musician who liked to play that song in his act. So now whenever I hear that song I think of that somewhat horrifying relationship. Is the song ruined for me? Yeah, a little. Music and memory, for good and bad, are lined up right next to each other and can’t be picked apart even though Lord knows I’ve tried to listen to the opening bars of Bad without automatically mentally ticking off the Roster of Mortification. Cannot be done.
Listening to the classic rock station (and by the way when I started playing those songs (on vinyl!) it wasn’t classic at all, just rock) has turned into a bit of a minefield. Maybe the only thing to do is stop trying to avoid the bad memories, search a little harder for the good ones, and just listen to the song. Like the Kinks reminded us, it’s only jukebox music.
Arthur Phillips loves music. I think he’d probably rather be a musician if you asked him, but loving something so fiercely doesn’t always mean creation of that thing. Instead, Phillips has written a love letter to the things about music that tie us to other people, our pasts, stories, memory. In The Song Is You, a fan and a musician dance a very complicated pas de deux of watching and performing, listening and responding, his infatuation and her fascination as she turns the mirror of celebrity back on her admirer.
Cait’s got a touch of the magical young thing who reminds our hero Julian how to truly be alive. One of my least favorite fictional women, but Phillips gives her the depth and flaws to lift her away from trope and into personhood. Along for the ride are some truly memorable supporting characters, notably the has-been rock god from the dark ages of the 80s who decides to mentor the young Irish singer with decidedly mixed results, and a brother-in-law whose experience on Jeopardy (of all things) was both the comic highlight and blood curdling horror of the book.
Comedy, horror, memory, love it’s just like listening to the radio!