In 1994 back when I still reviewed books regularly, I wrote about Jerry Wexler’s autobiography, ‘The Rhythm and the Blues’, for the Sunday Times. And a few weeks after the review appeared I received a letter from Wexler himself. I’m looking at it now, because of course I kept it safe. Gerald Wexler invented the phrase “rhythm and blues”. He is responsible for Aretha Franklin’s entire career. He produced Bob Dylan, and ‘Dusty in Memphis’. You wouldn’t throw a letter from Jerry Wexler away.
“Dear Nick Hornby,” it begins. (Actually, he used a colon instead of a comma at the end of the salutation, but when you co-found Atlantic Records, you can do whatever you like with punctuation.) “Hell yes I read it and enjoyed it. (The unappeasable rage for approbation.)” He went on to wonder whether I was a fan of Frederick Exley’s work (I was – ‘A Fan’s Notes’ was an inspiration for Fever Pitch) and to defend Delaney and Bonnie, about whom I’d been mildly disparaging in the review, in a vain attempt to demonstrate that Wexler’s tastes were not infallible.
And every now and again he’d write to me about a book I’d written (he was a voracious reader), or to send me an album that he thought had been unjustly overlooked; he would sometimes include a profile that someone had written of him. Jerry died on August 15th, aged ninety-one, and it’s hard to imagine a richer life than the one he lived. I still can’t quite believe that he wrote to me.