I feel as though I am some sort of hipster when it comes to my favorite author in that he’s relatively unheard of in the States. Having never met another American acquainted with his work before my meddling, I simply want to document the unlikely events that directed me to discovering John Niven.
Niven is a Scottish author who has five published books on record with two more scheduled to be released this year, including his first nonfiction piece about The Clash. His full length debut Kill Your Friends is a scathing satire of the music industry for which he worked for the better part of ten years as an A&R guy.
The year is 2008. As an optimistic music student visiting England to play drums in the Hocking/Havering colleges theatrical production of Hair, we visiting Americans had some tourist activities planned out. Residing in Romford near the Havering campus, our class was visiting the Victoria Palace Theatre in London to see a production of Wicked before our rehearsal schedule really kicked off.
Arriving with more than an hour to spare before the show, we students scattered into the nearby shops and eateries to pass the time. After getting a bite and some coffee, I was intrigued to find a bookstore in the area and ventured in.
I found myself looking over the classics with covers I had never seen before. 1984 and A Clockwork Orange caught my attention, but I already owned copies of those books and wanted something new. Being skeptical of new things, I searched the shelves unsure of what I was actually looking for.
That’s when I found it. With the display having multiple copies showing both the spine and the front cover, I pulled one from the shelf and scrutinized it. A cassette with a pink label that revealed the title rested on the top half of the cover over a white background. From the bottom of the cassette, tape had been pulled from it and shaped into a noose on the bottom half of the cover. I read the back of it and thought that as a music major, it would be an interesting and fun read. I put it back onto the shelf and poked around a bit longer before deciding that I would actually spend my food money on the book. I had committed the lowest of my sins in judging a book by its cover, and it was the best decision I’ve ever made in terms of book purchasing. After paying for Kill Your Friends, I made my way back to Victoria’s Theatre and forgot about it for a little bit.
Reading the first fifty pages during the down time I was able to salvage over the course of a twelve hour rehearsal, I was hooked. The black comedy with scathing observations of a corrupt music industry was a perfect excuse to take the next available day for myself as I read the remainder of it in a single afternoon while my American peers spent the day at some mall in London. If it weren’t so dark, I’d suggest making the book required reading for anyone looking to work in the music industry as it is full of insightful observations and even bits and pieces of legitimate advice.
I have kept up with Niven’s publications since then and typically order his new books from overseas as the American distributors are often late in releasing the work of a man whose primary audience is in Europe.