Nick Hornby – “Juliet, Naked”

juliet_nakedReading Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, I was reminded of the lyrics to “Superfan” by Cracker, written by Johnny Hickman:

I heard the words, now here I am
You were talking to me, I’m your super fan
I loved you then, I love you still
But if I can’t have you, no-one will

I will make you understand
I’m your super fan

Rock stars and their fans. Is there any way to describe the special bond? The commitment? The connection? The adulation? When you love a band, you think they hold the key to the universe and that they speak to your soul. It’s magic. And maybe a bit spooky. Stalker-ish. Yes, I’m speaking from experience. There’s no explaining. It just is. You will go anywhere. You want to know everything.

Hornby (High Fidelity, many others) mines the fan-musician mystery bond perfectly in Juliet, Naked. In one corner, we have the reclusive and retired performer Tucker Crowe. Tucker’s career was minor but he has an ardent, albeit small, fan base including Duncan and Annie, who are boyfriend and girlfriend.

Duncan and Annie live in England. Tucker lives in Pennsylvania. It’s been ages since Tucker recorded a record (1986), but that fact only enhances the zealous adoration among Tucker’s followers. Obscurity breeds fascination. His most critically acclaimed album, “Juliet,” only reached No. 29 on the Billboard charts. It was a break-up album based on Tucker’s relationship with a noted beauty and “L.A. scenester” Julie Beatty. Wikipedia says the “second side of the album is regarded as the most tortured sequences of songs in popular music.” (Yes, we are in wry, dead-pan “Spinal Tap” territory.)

Duncan runs a website named after the title track from one of Tucker’s obscure EP’s, “Can Anybody Hear Me?” The website covers all the news (a relative term) about Tucker Crowe. “There was always something that passed for news among the faithful, though—-a Crowe night on an Internet radio station, a new article, a new album from a former band member, an interview with an engineer.”

Duncan is so devoted that he has pre-written Tucker Crowe’s obituary—so he’s ready when the time comes. Annie lives in the shadows of the intense relationship between fan and musician and tries to find her place with Duncan. She feels more like a “school chum” than girlfriend. She sees a shrink on the side. Duncan will go to great lengths to see, touch and absorb every location where Tucker Crowe has every lived or performed. But Annie, when Juliet, Naked begins, is starting to think of better things to do.

In San Francisco, as a result, Duncan must trek solo to the house of a woman who inspired one of Tucker Crowe’s most famous records (the famous Juliet). It’s a pilgrimage. Without Annie along to navigate, he can’t listen to Tucker’s music in quite the specific way he had planned because he must concentrate on finding his way to the site via BART.

Juliet, Naked is a dynamite romp in this fan-star territory. I laughed, I laughed. Duncan knows more about Crowe than Crowe himself, Annie observes. When Duncan, leader of the fan army, is shipped an advance copy of “Juliet, Naked”—acoustic, stripped-down versions of the songs that would ultimately be recorded on “Juliet”—it’s Annie who first listens. Even she knows this is an act of aggression. And she posts a review. Annie thinks “Juliet, Naked” is “tentative, so unadorned—it was like listening to one of those people you’ve never heard of who comes onstage at lunchtime in a folk festival.” Of course, Duncan thinks “Naked” is better than “Juliet,” which was his favorite album of all time.

Hornby’s easy-flowing narrative style makes for a breezy read and his complete understanding of the worship zone makes for some ripe spoofs. We get to see the world Tucker Crowe has built for himself—a trail of ex’s and children—and, of course, when Tucker reaches out via email to thank Annie for her thoughtful comments, well, the writing is on the dressing room wall. We all know where this is heading.

Or do we?

The ending could have been taken from “Superfan:”

I’ll track you down, I’ll steal your mail
A lock of hair, some fingernails
A piece of you upon my shrine
Now you’re with me all the time