O'Brien, a poet and critic, narrates his life through the recordings he has listened to—45s, LPs, radio jingles—shaping his memoir as a sequence of musical madeleines. Moving chronologically, he expands on the assertion that "the age of recording is necessarily an age of nostalgia": the covers of jazz albums recall a childhood home where music was constant, even when it was "turned down so low it sounds like the scratching of a squirrel trapped in the walls" a Burt Bacharach song exhibits "well-bred melancholia, the hidden side of a Kennedy-era effervescence" and the Bee Gees' "How Deep Is Your Love?" incongruously takes over the lobby of a movie theatre in Osaka. But, for all the luxurious reminiscence, O'Brien is not merely a nostalgist, and finds the present as rich as the past—a healthy state for a critic, because, as he says, "you need ears cleared of that rattling debris to receive new signals."
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker
"Luxurious reminiscence." -- The New Yorker
"O'Brien evokes music's expanding infiltration of the world-a planet of lonely surfers floating in their own individually sealed soundtracks." -- Village Voice