February 2004

Liz Miller


How Soon is Never? by Marc Spitz

I bought my Best of the Smiths CD without ever having heard a Smiths song. That was the sort of thing I did in high school, flailing around in the vast depths of music history, hoping find something better than Sheryl Crow. Morrissey et al didn't appeal very much at the time, as grunge had made me hungry for raw guitars, not the slick licks of New Wave. But I'm listening to that CD again, for the first time in years, because if Marc Spitz's debut novel How Soon is Never? did anything, it made me appreciate the Smiths just a little bit more.

Joe Green, in the early eighties, is a confused, horny teenager who hangs out in the school art room and listens to the legendary indie rock station WLIR. A identity-seeking moth, drifting towards a flame that burns bright with promise, Joe falls hard for the new sound from Manchester, the perfect soundtrack to his moody adolescence -- an adolescence fractured after the Smiths shattered apart.

Joe Green, in the late nineties, is a confused, horny music writer who screws twenty-somethings who like the Smiths for retro's sake. Having survived Long Island, heroin, and checking bags at a bookstore, he's now living a music nerd's fantasy -- free CDs, free concerts, and hanging out with rock stars.

Of course, he's miserable.

When he falls in love with a coworker who shares his exact same birthday, he seems to find salvation, despite the fact that she has a boyfriend. But over many, many drinks one night, they discover a shared love for the Smiths, and a drunken plan emerges -- what if they could reunite the Smiths for one show? With the enthusiasm of fanboys, Joe and Miki begin to contact the now separated band members, slowly working their way up to Morrissey, even as Joe begins to realize that reuniting the Smiths won't do anything to really fix what broke in him before.

Overall, this is a great example of how "write what you know" is consistantly good advice. Spitz's background as a rock journalist for Spin magazine makes the rock aspects of the story consistantly non-poser-ish, and the clear first-person voice really sells the character. Whether Spitz actually survived heroin and a New England liberal arts college is unknown to me, but Joe Green's journey, from the panic about turning thirty to the loathing of youngsters appropriating the music he grew up with, rings true enough to make me believe anything. Unlike High Fidelity's Rob, Joe isn't striving for a faint glimpse of rocker cool; he's trying to form an identity outside of his fanboy idols.

In the end, this book fits like the baggy sweater you loved in high school, well-worn, comfortable and bound to dredge up more than a few memories. You don't need to like the Smiths in order to understand How Soon Is Never?. You don't need to like MUSIC in order to understand How Soon Is Never. You just need to remember what it was like to be fifteen, confused, lost, and desperately seeking an identity of your own, and if you don't remember, Joe Green's booze-addled journey through high school nostalgia will bring it all back for you. How Soon is Never doesn't offer happy endings, but it does offer the solace of pop music -- because no matter how bad things get, they can't ruin a really great song.

How Soon is Never by Marc Spitz
Three Rivers Press
ISBN: 0609810405
368 Pages