An audio extract from the downloadable audiobook edition of Nick Hornby's touching tale Juliet, Naked. Read by Jennifer Wiltsie, Bill Irwin and Ben Miles.
In a dreary seaside town in England, Annie loves Duncan or thinks she does, because she always has. Duncan loves Annie, but then, all of a sudden, he doesn’t anymore. So Annie stops loving Duncan, and starts getting her own life.
She sparks an e-mail correspondence with Tucker Crowe, a reclusive Dylanesque singer-songwriter who stopped making music twenty-two years ago, and who is also Duncan’s greatest obsession. A surprising connection is forged between two lonely people who are looking for more out of what they’ve got. Tucker’s been languishing (and he’s unnervingly aware of it), living in rural Pennsylvania with what he sees as his one hope for redemption amid a life of emotional, familial, and artistic ruin his young son, Jackson. But then there’s also the material he’s about to release to the world, an acoustic, stripped-down version of his greatest album, Juliet, titled Juliet, Naked. And he’s just been summoned across the Atlantic with Jackson to face his multitude of ex-wives and children (both just discovered and formerly neglected), in the same country where his intriguing new Internet friend resides.
What happens when a washed-up musician looks for another chance? And miles away, a restless, childless woman looks for a change? Juliet, Naked is a powerfully engrossing, humblingly humorous novel about music, love, loneliness, and the struggle to live up to one’s promise.
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They had flown from England to Minneapolis to look at a toilet. The simple truth of this only struck Annie when they were actually inside it: apart from the graffiti on the walls, some of which made some kind of reference to the toilet's importance in musical history, it was dank, dark, smelly and entirely unremarkable. Americans were very good at making the most of their heritage, but there wasn't much even they could do here.
'Have you got the camera, Annie?' said Duncan.
'Yes. But what do you want a picture of?'
'Just, you know . . .'
'Well . . . the toilet.'
'What, the . . . What do you call those things?'
'The urinals. Yeah.'
'Do you want to be in it?'
'Shall I pretend to have a pee?'
'If you want.'So Duncan stood in front of the middle of the three urinals, his hands placed convincingly in front of him, and smiled back over his shoulder at Annie.
'I'm not sure the flash worked.'
'One more. Be silly to come all the way here and not get a good one.'
This time Duncan stood just inside one of the stalls, with the door open. The light was better there, for some reason. Annie took as good a picture of a man in a toilet as one could reasonably expect. When Duncan moved, she could see that this toilet, like just about every other one she'd ever seen in a rock club, was blocked.
'Come on,' said Annie. 'He didn't even want me in here.'
This was true. The guy behind the bar had initially suspected that they were looking for a place where they could shoot up, or perhaps have sex. Eventually, and hurtfully, the barman had clearly decided that they were capable of doing neither thing.
Duncan took one last look and shook his head. 'If toilets could talk, eh?'
Annie was glad this one couldn't. Duncan would have wanted to chat to it all night.
Most people are unaware of Tucker Crowe's music, let alone some of the darker moments of his career, so the story of what may or may not have happened to him in the restroom of the Pits Club is probably worth repeating here. Crowe was in Minneapolis for a show and had turned up at the Pits to see a local band called the Napoleon Solos that he'd heard good things about. (Some Crowe completists, Duncan being one, own a copy of the local band's one and only album, The Napoleon Solos Sing Their Songs and Play Their Guitars). In the middle of the set, Tucker went to the toilet. Nobody knows what happened in there, but when he came out, he went straight back to his hotel and phoned his manager to cancel the rest of the tour. The next morning he began what we must now think of as his retirement. That was in June 1986. Nothing more has been heard of him since - no new recordings, no gigs, no interviews. If you love Tucker Crowe as much as Duncan and a couple of thousand other people in the world do, that toilet has a lot to answer for. And since, as Duncan had so rightly observed, it can't speak, Crowe fans have to speak on its behalf. Some claim that Tucker saw God, or one of His representatives, in there; others claim he had a neardeath experience after an overdose. Another school of thought has it that he caught his girlfriend having sex with his bass-player in there, although Annie found this theory a little fanciful. Could the sight of a woman screwing a musician in a toilet really have resulted in twenty-two years of silence? Perhaps it could. Perhaps it was just that Annie had never experienced passion that intense. Anyway. Whatever. All you need to know is that something profound and life-changing took place in the smallest room of a small club.
Annie and Duncan were in the middle of a Tucker Crowe pilgrimage. They had wandered around New York, looking at various clubs and bars that had some kind of Crowe connection, although most of these sites of historic interest were now designer clothes stores, or branches of McDonald's. They had been to his childhood home in Bozeman, Montana, where, thrillingly, an old lady came out of her house to tell them that Tucker used to clean her husband's old Buick when he was a kid. The Crowe family home was small and pleasant and now owned by the manager of a small printing business, who was surprised that they had travelled all the way from England to see the outside of his house, but who didn't ask them in. From Montana they flew to Memphis, where they visited the site of the old American Sound Studio (the studio itself having been knocked down in 1990), where Tucker, drunk and grieving, recorded Juliet, his legendary break-up album, and the one Annie liked the most. Still to come: Berkeley, California, where Juliet - in real life a former model and socialite called Julie Beatty - still lived to this day. They would stand outside her house, just as they had stood outside the printer's house, until Duncan could think of no reason to carry on looking, or until Julie called the police, a fate that had befallen a couple of other Crowe fans that Duncan knew from the message boards.
Annie didn't regret the trip. She'd been to the US a couple of times, to San Francisco and New York, but she liked the way Tucker was taking them to places she'd otherwise never have visited. Bozeman, for example, turned out to be a beautiful little mountain town, surrounded by exotic-sounding ranges she'd never heard of: the Big Belt, the Tobacco Root, the Spanish Peaks. After staring at the small and unremarkable house, they walked into town and sipped iced tea in the sunshine outside an organic café, while in the distance an occasional Spanish Peak, or possibly the top of a Tobacco Root, threatened to puncture the cold blue sky. She'd had worse mornings than that on holidays that had promised much more. It was a sort of random, pin-sticking tour of America, as far as she was concerned. She got sick of hearing about Tucker, of course, and talking about him and listening to him and attempting to understand the reasons behind every creative and personal decision he'd ever taken. But she got sick of hearing about him at home, too, and she'd rather get sick of him in Montana or Tennessee than in Gooleness, the small seaside town in England where she shared a house with Duncan.
The one place that wasn't on the itinerary was Tyrone, Pennsylvania, where Tucker was believed to live, although, as with all orthodoxies, there were heretics: two or three of the Crowe community subscribed to the theory - interesting but preposterous, according to Duncan - that he'd been living in New Zealand since the early nineties. Tyrone hadn't even been mentioned as a possible destination when they'd been planning the trip, and Annie thought she knew why. A couple of years ago, one of the fans went out to Tyrone, hung around, eventually located what he understood to be Tucker Crowe's farm; he came back with a photograph of an alarmingly grizzled-looking man aiming a shotgun at him. Annie had seen the picture, many times, and she found it distressing. The man's face was disfi gured by rage and fear, as if everything he'd worked for and believed in was in the process of being destroyed by a Canon Sureshot. Duncan wasn't too concerned about the rape of Crowe's privacy: the fan, Neil Ritchie, had achieved a kind of Zapruder level of fame and respect among the faithful which Annie suspected Duncan rather envied. What had perturbed him was that Tucker Crowe had called Neil Ritchie a 'fucking asshole'. Duncan couldn't have borne that.