How indie music saved a ‘Perfect’ writer

By Meredith Deliso

Growing up in Grand Rapids, Mich., John Sellers was a music nerd. He made obsessive lists of the songs, artists and albums he liked, gleaned as much information about his favorite bands such as Joy Division as the days pre-Internet allowed and tried to come up with a mathematical formula to rank his music preferences. Today, a 37-year-old writer living in Park Slope, Sellers is still a music nerd, and he finds nothing wrong with that. In his latest book, Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved My Life, the pop culture fanatic looks back on his music coming of age, and his adult obsession with the under-the-radar 1990s indie band Guided by Voices. Sellers went back earlier this month to Grand Rapids on a tour to celebrate the release of his novel, out since last spring, in paperback. After additional stops in Chicago, Minneapolis and Los Angeles, he'll be appearing in Brooklyn for a reading at Cobble Hill's Book Court. “My favorite bookstore in New York is Book Court, so I really wanted to read there,” says Sellers, a Park Slope resident who until a few years ago used to live a half a block away from the bookstore. “I’m glad they let me.” A regular contributor to GQ and Time Out New York (he currently can be see on the last page Hot Seat Q&A in Time Out New York), Perfect from Now On is Sellers’ second novel after 2001’s Arcade Fever: The Fan's Guide to the Golden Age of Video Games. Growing up in Grand Rapids without a cool older sister to introduce him to underground music, Sellers found his taste determined by the radio, playing Journey and Huey Lewis and the News on repeat. That is, until certain people – music crushes in high school, dorm friends in college – introduced him to bands like The Smiths and Joy Division and changed his life forever, prompting pilgrimages to Manchester, England, and an obsession with Guided by Voices. Being born in 1970 also helped matters, as Sellers was ripe and ready for the genre’s fever pitch with bands like U2 and Sonic Youth during the late 1980s and early 1990s. A music geek by all accounts (Sellers has numerous lists, including the “Top Four Indie-Rock Artists Whom Everyone Likes But Whom I Am Lukewarm To, And Why”), his memoir is an entertaining glimpse into his musical coming of age, and his passion for indie rock that still exists to this day. Perfect is ideal for readers who grew up when MTV was still about music and U2 front man Bono went by alter ego Mr. MacPhisto, for Sellers' nostalgia for the era will certainly strike a chord. Sellers became inspired to write his memoir after learning that Guided by Voices was breaking up in 2004. “It just kind of put me into this bad mood,” says Sellers. “I thought, you know, I have to write about something that makes me this sad and angry.” The way to go about that, he realized, was through the perspective of a fan. At the age of 33 at the time the band broke up, many of his friends were not so much into music any more, but married, with children and mortgages, “crap like that,” jokes the writer. “The book is a sense of my viewpoint on being a fan,” says Sellers. “I feel like being a fan of music shouldn’t be seen as embarrassing, which I feel like a lot of people, if you’re too much of a fan, that’s viewed as not acceptable in certain parts of society.” To go back to when he was just becoming a fan of indie rock, Sellers dusted off his old notebooks and journals, retracing his musical tastes and obsessions as a 13-year-old in Grand Rapids. “I felt like, if I was going to do it right, I had to go and try and remember what it was like to be into the bands that I used to be into,” says Sellers. Getting back into Duran Duran didn’t produce the same feelings, but the lists he kept of his top 100 each week helped, if not a little embarrassing as well. “I liked ‘Careless Whisper’ by Wham!?” recalls Sellers. “It’s humiliating, but hilarious.” With lists in tow, and some new ones he’s made since, Sellers set about writing his memoir, which, after following his musical progression from high school to college, with a few sidesteps in the form of footnotes along the way, he gets to bands like Guided by Voices and Pavement. Originally titled “Gold Soundz,” which fans may know as a Pavement song, it was a title Sellers admits to not being very keen on. After listening to a Built to Spill song, however, Sellers preferred that, and so the book came to be named Perfect From Now On. Though the author, due to time constraints, didn’t get to write about the band, as well as dozens of others (Even More Perfect From Now On, perhaps, he jokes) Sellers makes up for it in the epilogue in the paperback edition, apologizing for ripping off the album title and not writing about them. While some have written in to Sellers since the first publishing of the book last year complaining about that fact, most of the mail comes from readers who have had a similar music progression or were at the same R.E.M. concert in Detroit in 1989. “It was great to hear from people who are into music the same way,” says Sellers. “I wrote the book because I felt like I didn’t know anybody who listened to music any more, and they exist.” Also reading at Book Court is Dean Wareham, author of Black Postcards. Front man of the early 1990s indie rock band Luna, his memoir recounts his years in the indie rock scene, including the band Galaxie 500. John Sellers reads from Perfect From Now On: How Indie Rock Saved by Life at Book Court (163 Court Street) on March 26 at 7 p.m. The event is free. For more information, go to www.bookcourt.org or call 718-875-3677. For more on the author, go to www.johnsellers.net.

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