Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Music, or the Misery?: Pinkerton

I couldn't help but think of Nick Hornby's novel (and subsequent film) High Fidelity when I read Francois Samson Dunlop & Alexandre Fontaine Rousseau's book Pinkerton. The line, "Which came first? The music, or the misery" refers to the notion that melodramatic, sad pop and rock tunes about break-ups instills those who listen to it with idealized expectations of both what a relationship should be and what a break-up should feel like. The sense that one is doomed to fail in creating meaningful relationships because one's been programmed to fail is a funny concept, one that Dunlop and Rousseau take and run with in this book. A friend visits another friend, only to find him nearly comatose after listening to the titular Weezer album after his girlfriend dumps him. They decide that the record is their root of all emotional evil, the origin point for their misery. The book is their quest to conquer each song's effect on them, and in so doing, get over their own heartbreak.

While this book is about break-ups, it's also about the fear of growing older and losing touch with what is culturally relevant. When the heroes refer to younger people as "kids", it horrifies them that there's even a class of people culturally relevant enough to designate in such a way--especially if they happen to laugh at them. I've always felt that thirty is the cutoff point for being aware of youth culture; after that point, you're an outsider, no matter what. I was 27 when Pinkerton was released and must confess that I've never even heard it, which greatly detracted from fully enjoying this book. Knowing the album is a kind of short-cut to understanding the book's jokes in much the same way as laughing at Hornby's jokes in his books; the reader is rewarded for understanding a reference. Fortunately, Dunlop & Rousseau are able to get across the essentials: it's an album about an especially harsh break-up by a budding rock star.

The book consists of a series of funny debates and arguments about each song, which in turn are about different aspects of relationships and identity. They easily get over the song "Tired Of Sex" because it's about a rock star's bedding too many women and getting sick of it--a problem the protagonists don't have. They debate co-dependence and the possibility of relationships working for the right reasons, dealing with one's own emotional fragility, and pie charting break-up mix tapes. They seek solace in all-female Weezer cover bands ("Sheezer"), poutine, beer and each other's company. The quest eventually bogs down as neither can quite agree on a proper course of action or what defines getting over a song, with the eventual resolution a shock-therapy session of listening to Weezer's post-Pinkerton work. It's a perfect hipster solution--their hatred of those albums and what they perceive as mediocrity tears down the idol that Pinkerton had become in their minds.

The tiny, almost Herriman-esque figures and their scratchy world help the characters attain a certain Everyman character, and I'm pretty sure that's intentional. This is a book with a specific audience: men in their late 20s and early 30s who are betwixt and between the energy of youth and the responsibility of growing up. Jobs are not mentioned in this book, nor mundane tasks. It's all about the music, romanticism, nights in pubs and clubs, and the earnestness of the quest. Jobs happen off-panel and have little to do with identity or purpose. Some might identify with the characters, while others might laugh at their self-seriousness (there are certainly times when the characters catch themselves in emo mode). I found it amusing but lacked the cultural connecting point to lock in on the book for 160 pages; the book felt lightweight and repetitive at points even as individual gags managed to score more hits than misses. This is likely to be a favorite book for a small audience, but its in-jokes and skewed perspective will automatically limit its appeal.

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