Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Recommended read: The Alternative Hero

The Alternative Hero by Tim Thornton
Find it in the catalog!

Thirty-something Clive Beresford lives in London and works at a boring insurance job. One day Clive discovers that Lance Webster, former lead singer of his favorite band The Thieving Magpipes, lives on the same block as him. The Thieving Magpipes were popular during the late '80s and early '90s and broke up after a drunk Webster lost control on stage at the Aylesbury Festival in August 1995. Webster released a solo album in 1997 but nothing from the Thieving Magpipes has been released since then. Clive hopes to interview Webster about what happened at that festival gig in 1995 so he will not only let Thieving Magpipes fans know what happened that fateful day, but to redeem Webster. Clive feels that The Thieving Magpipes haven't gotten the respect that other bands have, and can't fathom the idea that Webster now goes by Geoff, his given name, and is living out of the spotlight. Clive's devotion to Webster leads to some funny situations as Clive embarks on his plan to meet Webster and win his trust to do an interview.

In addition to the status of his mission to meet Webster, Clive recounts moments from his youth when he and his friend Alan bonded over obsessing over The Thieving Magpipes and creating their own fanzines. Alan still has his scrapbook/journal filled with concert reviews, ticket stubs, and photos from the gigs he attended, but he gave up on The Thieving Magpipes at that Ayesbury Festival gig in '95.

The Thieving Magpipes is a fictional band made real by the author. Through album reviews and the fanzine reviews of Clive and Alan, Thornton gives the reader an in-depth history of the band, quoting their songs and expanding on gigs, and explaining how their music fit alongside other popular bands of the day. Thornton also includes a discography of the band at the end of the book.

I really like the character of Clive. Any music fan who at some point lived each day having a fixation with a particular band or singer will identify with Clive’s obsessive fan-following for The Thieving Magpipes. I enjoyed the way fiction and fact mixed together in this novel and I thought it was clever how the author told the stories of both Clive and The Thieving Magpipes through multiple viewpoints: gig reviews, fanzine excerpts, lyrics, emails, and even scribbled notes. I highly recommend The Alternative Hero, and I think music fans especially will enjoy the characters and stories in this book. Thornton not only demonstrates how music and song lyrics become an important part of our memories of the past, but how the support of devoted fans affects musicians in the bands themselves.