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The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to You by Pop Culture Paperback – July 13, 2010
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“[The Big Rewind is] written with [Rabin’s] trademark humor, quirkiness and self-deprecation. It’s an homage to pop culture." —USA Today
“Nathan Rabin had the kind of childhood that aspiring memoirists dream of.” —TimeOut New York
“With his uncanny grasp of cultural zeitgeist, Rabin could unseat Chuck Klosterman as the slacker generation’s vital critical voice.” —Heeb Magazine
About the Author
Nathan Rabin is a staff writer for The Dissolve, a new film website from the popular music website Pitchfork. Previously, he was the head writer for The A.V. Club, the entertainment guide of The Onion, a position he held until recently since he was a college student at University of Wisconsin at Madison in 1997. Rabin is also the author of a memoir, The Big Rewind, and an essay collection based on one of his columns, My Year of Flops. He most recently collaborated with pop parodist "weird Al" Yankovic on a coffee table book titled Weird Al: The Book. Rabin’s writing has also appeared in The Wall Street Journal, Spin, The Huffington Post, The Boston Globe, Nerve, and Modern Humorist. He lives in Chicago with his wife.
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Nathan Rabin guides the reader through the byways of his very rough childhood spent in a group home. He then segues into describing his life as a Blockbuster Video employee living in a college coop with his 'shroom-addled and poly-amorous cohorts. The final portions of the book are devoted to describing Rabin's ray-of-light, as it were, those years wherein he discovered The Onion as an outlet for his acerbic wit, as well as his short-lived tenure as a TV film critic.
The author's breadth of pop culture knowledge is without peer (except maybe Patton Oswalt), and Rabin's writing style is at once painful, honest, self-deprecating, and hilarious. I try to pace myself when I read a book, and it's a tribute to this author's gifts, and the story he has to tell, that I read, nay-devoured- this book in short order. After reading a few chapters of Nathan Rabin's sordid tale, I abandoned all hope of pacing myself. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read. I would also encourage readers to pick up Rabin's book "My Year of Flops."
"The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought to you by Pop Culture," Rabin's first foray into memoir-writing, is a fantastic and funny (even when it's heartbreaking) look at Rabin's life and how pop culture saved him from an uncertain future. You might be thinking at this juncture "why would a critic write his or her memoir?" Much like Roger Ebert (whose "Life Itself," a wonderful book, served as the inspiration for the amazing documentary of the same name), Rabin has a life story worthy of retelling. Abandoned by his birth mother as a child, he was raised by a well-meaning but illness-stricken father, was committed to a group home in his teens after a suicide attempt, and has battled depression while trying to make his way in a world that stigmatizes the sufferer and doesn't understand the disease. Through it all, Rabin cites the examples of pop culture that either spoke directly to the period of his life he's addressing or else in retrospect seemed appropriate for the time that he's discussing in the chapter.
In many ways, this reminded me of Nick Hornby's "Songbook" project, in which the "High Fidelity" author talked about individual songs that he loved or had discovered and how they related to his life, all usually in a brief essay (in fact, I stole that premise myself for a time, to liven up my blog during a year or so when not a whole lot else was going on in my life). Rabin employs a similar tactic and uses the pop-culture objects that he cites (usually at the beginning) to set up the basis for the chapter itself. Some examples work better than others, but the overall effect is of a man looking at his life through the various prisms that pop culture has provided.
What I think is interesting to consider is that pop culture (usually derided as crass and materialistic, as it so often is) can also provide moments of transcendence and salvation from the everyday dull and boring lives we sometimes lead. I have always felt torn between pursuing my pop-culture obsessions (off the top of my head: Star Wars, British rock music from the Beatles onwards, the French New Wave, Lethem, Portis, punk rock, Talking Heads, and so on) and hiding them from the world, lest people think I'm not serious enough. But Rabin makes it okay for those of us who spend inordinate amounts of time talking about whether Boba Fett survived the Sarlacc or whether Van Halen was better with Roth or Hagar (for the record, yes Fett survived and Van Halen was best with Diamond David Lee).
It's a tenuous balance that Rabin must maintain between the giddy highs of pop-culture addiction and the sometimes crushing lows of real life (for instance, his chapter on reconnecting with his mother, nowhere near as "heartwarming" as it usually is when families are reunited on TV, is fantastic). He's lived through a lot in his life, and he airs much of it out with candor. Some of the things that happen to him are the very worst things that have ever happened to anyone in America, but he's survived it. "The Big Rewind" is the story of how he coped, and how pop culture (often times the boogey man for what's wrong with America) saved him. It's a great story.