Random Rules: Steven Hall
The shuffler: British author Steven Hall, whose pleasantly perplexing debut novel, The Raw Shark Texts, wraps a love story around amnesia, "un-space," and a giant conceptual shark that's made of words and eats memories.
Jurassic 5, "Swing Set"
Steven Hall: I've got so much Jurassic 5 on my iPod, they might come up again. I'm a huge fan, especially this song. It's kind of a mix of old '30s songs. It's my girlfriend's favorite Jurassic 5 song, so we always have it on whenever we're in the car.
The A.V. Club: Do you have a lot of hip-hop on there?
SH: Yeah, probably more hip-hop than anything else. The Blend Crafters album, which I really, really love, I had as my MySpace tune for ages just so people would hear it, because it's an album I've mentioned and people don't seem to know it. Their MySpace disappeared and came back up again, so I sent them a message to say, "Hey, nice to have you back," and they mailed me back. I still get so starstruck when people e-mail me. But J5 They're one of the few groups that I've got all their albums. The other person that I'm just hunting down everything they've done is Danger Mouse. A friend of mine sent me The Grey Album, which is absolutely amazing. It really blew my mind.
Nirvana, "Dumb (MTV Unplugged)"
SH: I don't listen to Nirvana plugged anymore. I think there's a whole group of people who have semi-forgotten that Nirvana used electric guitars, because of the Unplugged album. It's so great. I remember I was at college when Nevermind came out. It was this really cool, underground album, and suddenly it just went "pop!" I was at that age that, when an album becomes popular, you lose all interest in it. I remember it becoming really, really popular, and me thinking, "Maybe it wasn't so good anyway," like you do when you're that age. [Laughs.] Then I remember him dying, and everyone in the world thinking, "Oh my God, Kurt Cobain's dead." I remember telling my friend John that Kurt Cobain was dead five months later, and he had managed to completely miss the whole thing. But he also thought Salvador Dali and Muhammad Ali were the same person. [Laughs.]
Oasis, "Mucky Fingers"
SH: It was an interesting time for music, that period in the '90s when it was all Britpop. I remember seeing one of those things that they do every so often, those 100 favorite songs. It's all the same ones, it's almost always The Beatles and The Stones, the entire top 10. I remember when Oasis first appeared, and Blur, that the entire top 10 was different. It was an exciting thing, that suddenly new music could make it into people's favorite songs ever.
AVC: Were you a big fan when they first came out?
SH: No, I was still in my not-liking-things-that-were-popular phase. I became a bigger fan the more things quieted down. Really, only with this last album did I start listening to [Oasis] properly and realize that just because everyone else liked them didn't mean that they weren't actually really good. I'm coming to grips with the fact that it's all right to like things that other people like.
AVC: What were you listening to when you were being a contrarian?
SH: More hip-hop, actually. Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, that kind of stuff. N.W.A., the perennial classic. It's really funny, because I've always had that attitude. I think it's natural that when something becomes really popular, and when the tenth person has told you that something is really great, you can't help but think, "I don't really care." It's kind of weird—that happened with my book a little bit as well. It seemed like it was everywhere.
AVC: Are you going to have to disown your book because too many people like it?
SH: [Laughs.] Hopefully not.
Danger Mouse & Jemini, "Medieval"
SH: I just got this album. I think it's kind of strange when you're collecting all of someone's music. It's hard to figure out where things come, before or after other things. I think this was after The Grey Album. I was reading up on Danger Mouse, and he was saying that he sees himself as a director, or wants to be seen as a director. That's the way he works, and he skips across genres and creates things in different genres. It's really interesting that he's not just interested in putting a decent beat behind some lyrics. You listen to stuff like this track, it has about 12 different strands going on. He's kind of directing all these different themes and beats. I think there's like a keyboard bassline and a drum bassline that play around with each other. I just think he's great. Can you tell?
SH: I made my peace with Blur before I made my peace with Oasis. When I was growing up, Blur was quite a cool college band, while Oasis was still kind of a popular band. I've been into Blur a little longer, but I must admit that I really only know their greatest hits.
Belle And Sebastian, "Seeing Other People"
SH: This is a band my girlfriend introduced me to. One of the coolest things about touring around, actually, is getting to meet people, and getting to pick up on things that other people like. So many times, people come up to me after a reading and say, "You must have read this," or "You must have seen this," or "Do you listen to this?" Usually I haven't. I started taking a pen with me and saying to people, when people suggest this stuff, "Can you write it in the back of my reading copy?" The last four or five pages of the reading copy of my book are just notes and suggestions of films to watch, or books to read, or albums to check out. I discovered TV On The Radio through that.
Simon & Garfunkel, "Homeward Bound"
SH: Are Simon & Garfunkel cool, or are they just really uncool? I can't decide.
AVC: It goes in waves. Right now, they're maybe dipping toward uncool, but they'll be cool again.
SH: What makes you think they're dipping toward uncool?
AVC: They were re-cool with the height of Belle And Sebastian, when everyone started realizing, "Hey, these sound like Simon & Garfunkel songs." I could be wrong. I think every time Paul comes out with something that isn't great, they become uncool again.
SH: "Homeward Bound." I find myself listening to that tune a lot when I'm traveling. Sitting in a railway station, wanting to go home, carrying all your stuff with you. I got into the habit of checking my pocket for phone, iPod, wallet, passport.
AVC: Is doing a book tour a really solitary thing, or are there people who travel with you everywhere?
SH: It really is solitary. It depends how you do it. The one I did across America was really solitary. I met someone from my publishers in L.A., and they gave me an envelope full of money and a schedule and said, "We'll see you in New York in three weeks." Which was really good, because I had all my flights booked, so it wasn't like I had to make my own way. Sometimes it's nice to be out on your own, exploring. The other thing is that you never really have time to see anything. It feels like you're never really yourself, because you don't have time to relax anywhere. You have to be the you that works hard to get to airports, then you have to be the you who reads from the book, then somewhere in between, you have to try and get some sleep to make it to the next airport. Other places are different because they send someone with you. That's sort of weird. You make friends with a stranger quite quickly, and they look after you and sort everything out, and say things like, "Are you hungry? Can I get you a drink?" [Laughs.] Like you've forgotten how to go and get yourself something to drink.
The Streets, "Could Well Be In"
SH: Who'd have thought—a popular concept album? I just thought that was so cool. I really want to get an iPod connector thingamajig for the car radio, but at the moment, we've just got this huge heap of CDs. It's a case of putting a CD on, and then going, "Please skip through this one, I want to listen to the next one." I don't drive, so I'm sort of Chewbacca. It's my job to juggle the CDs and try and find a decent ongoing flow of music. The cool thing about A Grand Don't Come For Free is that you really should listen to the whole album, so that means I don't have to do anything for an hour when that album comes up. I remember first hearing The Streets in my mate Steve's car. We went to the pub, and it was one of those great times where you hear something that's really different, and you can't work out at first whether you think it's really good or really bad, because it just sounds so odd. They just kept playing it, and kept playing it, and I became a huge fan.