Alternative Hero

Alternative Hero

by Tim Thornton

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In this comic, wildly energetic first novel, Clive Beresford is a failed music fanzine writer in his early thirties who fears that his best days are behind him.  The turning point came when Lance Webster, the lead singer of Thieving Magpies, the band that Clive is obsessed with, self-destructed on stage right before his eyes.  Years later, Clive has discovered that Lance has moved in down the block.  Desperate to meet him, but more desperately nervous, Clive concocts an ill-advised, alcohol-fueled scheme to befriend Lance and land an “earth-shattering exclusive” interview that will revive both their careers.  With the story shifting between Clive’s life-changing Magpies past and his frantic present, Tim Thornton has written a warmhearted, uproarious view of friendship, hero worship, and the full-blast power of music.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780307272362
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/21/2009
Series: Vintage Contemporaries
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 416
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Tim Thornton plays the drums for the alt/blues artist Fink.  The Alternative Hero is his first novel.

Read an Excerpt

But by the time eleven o’clock had struck, two things had magically happened: one, I had been transformed into a selfless hero of the hour, possessed of endless public spirit and generosity, sensitive, thoroughly modern, masculine and (perhaps) attractive; two, I had decided to rub along through the day after all. The power of women, eh?All right, bearing in mind that our fourteen-hour relationship has just come to an abrupt and fairly acrimonious end, by which I must be slightly influenced, I can still say that she wasn’t that attractive. I think it was more the initial shock of her bursting through the door (carrying her bike), actually being female and close to my age, then the fact that she spent the next five minutes telling me how wonderful I was for giving up a whole day and how much she’d heard about me from Jackie (eh?), all the time flashing her eyes and doing that tactile thing. I mean, I suppose it’s just nice to be flirted with, andcomplimented and stuff, because to be frank (and I don’t mean the violins to come out here) it’s been a while. So when she finally put on her white tunic and disappeared inside the consulting room, I was gasping a bit. Okay, I’m being unfair. It’s also because she’s . . . you know. Pretty. An ingredient not lost on me when, some eight (nonetheless knackering) hours later, she (yes, she) suggested we go for a drink.Now, before you start worrying that this is all getting perilously close to the Nick Hornby zone, there’s a good reason for telling you all this. Here we have, or had, a fairly standard thirty-year-old London-dwelling Englishwoman. Born in Kent, I think, normal school, studied to be a vet in London. Likes doing normal London things: drinking, partying, eating out, going to the cinema. Clearly— although we didn’t discuss it properly until much later—enjoysmusic, as she mentioned she had tickets to this year’s Glastonbury. But halfway through the evening, which was going very nicely, thank you (a few pints in, chat flowing, the pub buzzing but not too crazy), the following exchange occurred.“Well, at least you only have to talk to them on the phone,” she was despairing, on the subject of the general public. “I actually have to meet the fuckers. Tell ’em what’s wrong with their bloody pets.”“You don’t enjoy it?”“I love the animal part.”“You love animals’ parts?”“Silly,” she laughed. “I love the actual vet bit. It’s the bloody publicrelations bit I can’t bear.”“Right.”“You know what I wish?” she began, playing with an empty crisp packet. “I wish it could be a vet drive-through. They drop the animals off at a kiosk, bugger off and wait in the car park. Then they get called over the loudspeaker when I’ve finished, drive to a second kiosk where they get their pet back and a printout of what’s wrong with them.”“That’s a great idea. I should think they’ve got those already in America.”“Probably.”“But you do get relatively interesting characters in your place,” I suggested, deciding the time was right.“Like?”“Well, the guy today, who picked up Jessica the cat. Just before you arrived.”“Jessica? That old tabby with lymphoma?”“Lymphoma,” I winced. “That’s like cancer, yeah?”“It is cancer. Poor thing.” She drew her index finger sharply across her neck and shrugged.“Curtains?”“Weeks, I’m afraid. Maybe less. The guy’s heartbroken, though. He keeps taking her in for pointless treatment. Seems to not care too much about the cost.”(Ah. So maybe he has got a few bob stashed away somewhere.)“Well,” I confided, “you know who that guy is, don’t you?”“His name is . . . um . . . Webster.”“Yeah,” I smiled, patiently. “Lance Webster.”“Okay,” she nodded, still expecting something more.“Lance Webster,” I repeated. “Used to be the singer with Thieving Magpies?”She frowned and swallowed a mouthful of beer.“Now, that name rings a bell. Remind me who they were?”There it is.I mean, I ask you. This kind of bloody thing happens all the time.Remind me who they were.Usually, depending on who has said it and how much I’ve had todrink, such a comment heralds the arrival of a rather large argument. Not because I’m offended, you understand—it’s just that I’m genuinely confused. Nah, bewildered. Flabbergasted. I just can’t understand it. It doesn’t compute with the way my brain operates.Who were they? Only the biggest British alternative band in the world, between the years 1991 and 1995. With the arguable exceptions of The Cure and Depeche Mode. Oh, and maybe New Order. “Bad Little Secret,” their biggest UK hit (although far from my favourite song of theirs, as it happens), held the number-two position on the singles chart for three weeks (only kept from the top spot by that stupid “Please Don’t Go” song). Bruise Unit, the 1992 album that propelled them into the same arenas around the planet as the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam and REM, shifted four million copies. Between 1989 and 1995, the Thieving Magpies sold out Brixton Academy a record-breaking twenty-five times, including three four-night runs. In addition to goodness knows how many NECs, G-MEXs and festival-headlining slots. But no one ever remembers all this. They just have vague memories of a band who were kinda fun down at the student disco, but who were ultimately forgettable. Or, if a music journalist is talking, an outfit who represent quite howbad indie music managed to get, before Britpop came along and, by the grace of its fucking hairdo, corduroy jacket and afternoon drink at the Good Mixer, saved us all.Or, even worse, a recollection like the one my “date” offered me.“Oh, I know—they did that song that went ‘Nothing ever happens, dum-dum de dum-dum de dum . . .’ ”“No, that was Del Amitri.”“Oh, sorry.”I have no idea how people do it. But they do.“You remember,” I coaxed. “ ‘You still don’t know how . . . look who’s—’ ”“ ‘ . . . laughing now,’ ” she finished off.“There you are! You know them.”“Yeah, I know that one. Christ, that was him?”“Yup.”“Blimey,” she remarked. “I always kind of preferred the Mondays and the Roses, though.”“Ah.”“You’re a big fan, I take it?”“Um, yeah,” I mumble.“Wow. So it must have been quite a kick for you, meeting him today?”“Sort of, yeah—I’ve met him before, though.”Technically not lying, but all the same I decided it was a good time for a toilet visit. The last thing I wanted was my noble, gallant and (not to mention) date-acquiring day’s activity to be exposed for the devious, self-interested and ultimately useless exercise that it really was. I regrouped with the assistance of the mirror in the gents’; I get pretty flustered on this sort of occasion and need to check that I’m still with the programme, especially after a minor blow like this one. It’s funny, if I’d mentioned the Magpies and she’d exclaimed, “Oh my God! Not them! He was the most hideous creep and all their videos sucked!”—I’d have been happier. Marginally. But it’s the indifference that does my head in. The predictable, let’s-ring-up-XFM-and-askthem- to-play-“I Am the Resurrection”-for-the-fifteenth-time-todaystyle ennui which leaves me gagging. The sort of musical apathy that drives a listener straight into the arms of . . . well. You’ll see.Having said all that, I am nothing if not a nine-months-single, thirty-something loser with a few pints inside him who wouldn’t mind a shag. I returned from the loo and the evening rolled happily along, music remaining firmly on the conversational reserve bench, and before I knew it they were chucking us out of the pub. How the decision was made to come back to mine I can’t now remember, but I do recall being glad that Polly was still at her parents’ house, and then having a bit of a snog in the kitchen. That, unfortunately, was as good as things got.“You got any music?” came the enquiry, after I’d poured us a glass of wine each.“Of course! What do you want to hear?”(Mental note: never ask this question. Just select. It’s so much easier.)“You know what I love, love, love to listen to on nights like this?” she enthused, already starting to dance a bit.“No,” I replied, hoping I had whatever it was.She took a sip of wine and proclaimed, with some drunken passion:“Snow Patrol.”Oh God.“If I lay here . . . If I just lay here . . .”She closed her eyes and started to sway her hips.“Would you lie with me and just forget the world?”“Oh, really?” I asked, feigning innocence.“Have you got that?” she beamed. “Or Keane?”“Um . . .”“Is it any wonder I’m tired . . . Is it any wonder I feel uptight . . .Oh, such a good song.”“Yeah, I suppose . . . I’m not sure we have it . . .”She clapped her hands, gave me a big kiss and asked excitedly,“Okay, what do you have? Show me. Which one’s your room?”Before I could respond she’d skipped off down the corridor. I followed, hoping my quarters weren’t in too much of a state. She turned into Polly’s room and snapped on the light.“Ah, that’s my flatmate’s room.”“Bloody hell, what a tip! So this one must be yours,” she smiled, bursting into the room opposite. “Oh, such boy colours . . .”She settled down next to my unruly stacks of CDs while I folded a few items of clothing and generally tidied up a bit. Her fingers skipped through some titles that clearly didn’t register and it was a while before she spoke; each time she did, it irritated me.“Nirvana, cool . . . Oh, you’ve got the Pulp Fiction sound track! Excellent . . . Mondays . . . Oh, I love the first Oasis album . . . Who the fuck are they? [I think she was eyeing a Butthole Surfers album at this point] . . . The La’s. Oh my God, ‘There She Goes’ is so amazing . . . Loads of people I’ve never heard of! . . . Oh, here’s a Thieving Magpies album—let’s have a look . . . Oh my God, it really is him!”“We could put that on if you like?” (It was the MTV Unplugged album.)She frowned. “Not terribly romantic stuff, though, is it?”I was rapidly losing interest in the whole thing.“Chili Peppers . . . Oh, it’s an old one, though . . . Wonder Stuff. Has this one got ‘Dizzy’ on it? [I didn’t bother to reply] . . . Christ, have you actually got anything recorded recently?”“Yeah, loads! I think there are some Elbow albums in there . . .”“Boring.”“Fratellis? Boards of Canada?”“Yeah, shall we try to stick to people I might’ve even vaguely heard of?”“Or Arctic Monkeys?” I held up their CD hopefully.“Bit punky for late at night, perhaps?”“There’s vinyl too . . .”“Oh, bit of a palaver. Has your flatmate got some music?”Without my say-so, she strode back into Polly’s room and to her diminutive CD rack, where, I knew full well, some true horrors lurked. I hovered in the doorway, huffing a bit.“Oh, this is a bit better! . . . Björk . . . Moby . . . Scissor Sisters . . . Oh my God, she’s got Snow Patrol! [She extracted this for later use and continued] . . . Bluetones . . . Leonard Cohen . . . The Verve . . . Oh, Joni Mitchell. I love this . . . Coldplay! Is this the one with ‘Fix You’ on it?”“It had better not be,” I grumbled.“Cheer up, Granddad!” she laughed. “Can we hear this?”“Um, I’d rather not . . .”“Oh, come on. It’s gooorgeous. Better than your Snoozing Magpies,” she chuckled, giving me another kiss. My sour face must have said it all. She frowned again, this time genuinely. “Seriously, Clive, brighten up! It’s only music.”“It’s not only music,” I snapped, and stomped off to the kitchen. Okay, I know what you’re thinking. She’s right. Lighten the fuck up, sad boy. Let her stick on her Chris Martin claptrap, or whatever she damn well wants, have another drink, forget about it, and get ready for some action. But no. I’m sorry. Perhaps I’m getting old—or older, at least—but I can’t be arsed with that sort of thing anymore. I was going to spare you the cringesome details of the next ten minutes but you ought to hear them, really, as it gives you some insight into what really goes on in my head. Put differently, it demonstrates what a fuckwit I am. Especially when I’ve had a few.She followed me into the kitchen, her face a picture of uncertainty; although it was pretty close to a certainty that the useful part of the evening was already over.“I’ve a feeling I’ve done something to offend you,” she began gently, “but I can’t say I know what it is.”“No, it’s not you,” I sighed.“Well, that’s good to hear,” she commented, with a healthy twist of sarcasm.“It’s just . . . oh, I don’t know.”“Well, if you don’t know, then . . .”“Sorry,” I muttered, taking a swig of wine. Bloody hell, I thought I’d seen the back of this kind of discussion.“Is it your ex?” she asked suddenly.“My ex?”“Well, in the pub you said your ex had pretty shit taste in music.”“Well . . . yeah, but not really,” I dithered. “But I suppose it does still kind of depress me that, um . . . it begins with having sex to Kings of Convenience, then finishes with fighting for the CD player over Queens of the Stone Age versus KT Tunstall.”“Uh-huh . . . it sounds like it is your ex.” She picked up her mobile and checked her text messages: always a sign that an evening is going well.“But then, you think . . . if it begins with fighting for the CD player, then where does that take you?”She looked up, appalled.“Oh, what the fuck is your problem? For a start, we weren’t fighting for the CD player; you were. And plus, what makes you think this is the beginning of anything? We were having fun, having a laugh, and now suddenly you’ve made it into something awfully heavy and boring.”“Oh.”“And what the hell is wrong with KT Tunstall?”“Um, nothing, it’s just . . .”“What?”“Um . . . what she represents.”“Oh, do yourself a favour, Clive, take a load off.” Gathering up her bag now.“You going?” I asked, downcast.She shrugged. “You tell me.”And then for some reason I still can’t really understand, maybe because I correctly figured that the evening couldn’t get much worse, I did this:“I’m writing a book about Lance Webster. I’m trying to interview him. That’s why I volunteered to work at the vet’s for the day.”Now here’s the interesting thing, if you’re interested in atmospheric shifts. Instead of storming out, hurling abuse (“How dare you deceive me!,” etc.)—she sat down in one of the kitchen chairs with her bag on her knee, her facial expression flattened, and she nodded, bidding me to continue. But from that split second onwards, it permanently ceased to be a romantic evening.“I discovered he lives on this street, so I followed him on Saturday.”“Why do you want to write a book about him?”“Vindication. Among other things.”“For you, or him?”I smiled at this. “Him, really.”“Why does he need to be vindicated?”I sighed. “Because everyone’s forgotten who he is.”“How do you know he’s not pleased about that?”“Well, I don’t. But that’s what I want to find out. Do you remember . . . well, maybe you won’t, but . . . he had a bit of trouble, just before the band split up . . . he got drunk onstage at a festival, had a fight, got arrested . . .”“Actually, yeah . . . I’ve a vague memory of something.”“Well, after that, the Magpies were forgotten within six months. Virtually erased from the rock history books, as though Lance had been arrested for child molesting rather than simply having a pissed punch-up.”“What was the fight about?”“No one knows. There are all sorts of rumours.”“Like?”“This friend of his had vanished a few months previously. People reckon he was told she’d been found dead that night, or something. The guy he punched was just a security guard. It’s pretty clear he was just . . . you know.”“In the line of fire?”“Yeah.”“Did he go to jail?”“No, but I think he got fined or something. But that was basically the end of his career.”She shrugged again, and stood up. “Well, I don’t know . . . but if I were you I’d be careful. People don’t usually enjoy reliving shit likethat.”“Do you want another glass of wine?” I asked, aware of the fact that I’d enjoyed the last minute or two more than I had the rest of the evening.“No, I’d better be going, Clive. It’s really late.”As I let her out, she gave me a look such as you might give someone who’s about to climb a skyscraper without a rope.“Take it easy, will you?”“I’ll try. Oh . . . and sorry.”“Yeah,” she nodded, and was gone.So there we are. Yes, I am alone on my bed—no night of hot passion for me—but at least I told the truth. In the end. And I don’t have to pretend not to be disgusted by some turgid musical bollocks that, in truth, would have been liable to seriously affect my performance anyway.

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