By Eric Siblin. Anansi, 298 pp, hardcover
The world possesses a seemingly inexhaustible source of memoirs; if the energy spent on first-person accounts of bad parenting or naked ambition were redirected toward more beneficial ends, our dependence on fossil fuel would already be an ancient nightmare.
Every once in a while, though, the universe flings an entirely readable diary over the transom, and Studio Grace: The Making of a Record is one of these. Even more remarkable, it’s author Eric Siblin’s second such effort: his The Cello Suites, having won an assortment of Canadian literary awards in 2009, was listed as an Economist book of the year for 2010.
Like its predecessor, Studio Grace has to do with music. But while The Cello Suites used Johann Sebastian Bach’s compositions for the loveliest of instruments as its lodestone, the new book chronicles the making of its author’s first CD, an undertaking that took either one year or four decades, depending on who’s counting.
The story allows Siblin room for reflection, tracing his musical inclinations back to seeing the Monkees and the Partridge Family on ’70s TV, then moving on to his days as a high-school cover-band guitarist and his stint as pop-music critic for the Montreal Gazette. The uncharitable might say that his self-reinvention—upon finding himself in his early 50s, single, and with a stack of unrecorded songs—as a recording artist is a quixotic one, but no one can argue that the Man of La Mancha’s story wasn’t compelling reading.
What makes Studio Grace more than an unusually entertaining midlife chronicle, however, is the way that Siblin’s journalistic tentacles also encompass Montreal’s bohemian music scene, differing philosophies of recording, and how technological change is affecting the music industry. Along the way, we meet teen YouTube star Hayley Richman, grizzled bluesman Michael Jerome Brown, and veteran backup singer Rebecca Campbell, among others. By weaving their stories into his own, Siblin has deftly avoided the trap of narcissism.
He’s far too self-effacing on his accompanying CD, Songs From Studio Grace, however. With guest singers fronting nine out of 13 stylistically diverse tracks, it comes across as a random compilation rather than a focused calling card—a problem that isn’t an issue with his well-paced and enlightening book.