Affectionate memoir of a second-career songwriter finally making a record, alongside a cast of music-scene lifers.
Siblin (The Cello Suites: J.S. Bach, Pablo Casals, and the Search for a Baroque Masterpiece, 2011), former pop-music critic for the Montreal Gazette and recipient of the QWF Mavis Gallant Nonfiction Prize, loved playing in garage bands until “university and then journalism took over my life, while songwriting remained a hobby.” More recently, he wanted to complete these long-gestating musical projects. “For a long time songs had been percolating in me,” he writes. “But a new urgency had recently been brought to the equation.” This determination stemmed from chance encounters with musicians from his past and newly beguiling chanteuses from the blues and club circuits. The gradual development of these friendships is a thread throughout the narrative, as these new and old acquaintances update Siblin on industry upheavals and new recording technologies. Considering his options, the author writes, “a few decades into the songwriting process, I felt ready to make a truly professional recording.” His determination to capture ideal takes of a dozen songs fuels a meandering but detailed production narrative. He began at a friend’s attic studio and then graduated to the elaborate setup of a producer associated with the Arcade Fire, who warned him, “people often come in here thinking that I have some gold dust that I can sprinkle on them…but your record is going to be a reflection of you and your songs.” The producer brought a variety of professional players, who exposed the wistful Siblin to the grit and glamour of the working musician’s life. Throughout the journey, the author remained equally fascinated by the technological transformations of pop music and the emotional undercurrents of collaboration. Only occasionally does the observational prose become solipsistic.
Engaging look at the seductions of late-in-life creativity and a cleareyed account of the strange state of today’s music industry.