You Must Go and Win
(Faber & Faber, 2011)
The literature world is full of funny, male authors who tell about the struggles of being a die-hard music fan, or musician, in a world full of lukewarm listeners. Gentlemen, make way for Alina Simone. Simone’s essays all mention her career as a performing and recording singer-songwriter, but instead of detailing the story behind each song or contract negotiation gone awry, she uses these experiences as a means to convey her sarcasm and pop-culture knowledge. She ultimately learns an optimistic lesson from each gritty situation. The optimism is key; at no point in the book do we feel depressed, or as if Simone is at rock bottom, on the verge of binge-drinking into oblivion. Rather, moments like having to be wheeled out of a crappy, shared Williamsburg apartment on a hardware dolly manage to be both funny and somehow uplifting. The author shares these stories in an open, matter-of-fact manner, never in a woe-is-me tale of drama.
While Simone could be grouped with Chuck Klosterman and Rob Sheffield for her love for both obscure indie bands and pop culture, she is interesting for being a struggling female in a male-dominated field, who doesn’t play the “Struggling Female in a Male-Dominated Field” card. She also adds an intellectual, cultural component to the genre of struggling musicians’ memoirs by alternately pushing away, and eventually embracing, her Ukrainian roots.
As those of us who have been the “weird foreign kid,” with immigrant parents who just don’t understand the American way (i.e., attending an absurdly overpriced art school knowing a future of temp jobs and heartache awaits) know, one must either accept this aspect of one’s life, or endure the unnecessary struggle caused by denial of it. Luckily for readers, Simone embraces it and we get to read about her in-depth research and obsession with the castrati (castrated sect of musicians) in Russia.
From her childhood in a Ukrainian household in the Massachusetts suburbs to bad sublets found on Craigslist (we’ve all had them), failed recording attempts, several trips through Siberia, and her baptism as an adult, Alina Simone regales readers with the Euro-American version of a struggling artist trying to make it in Siberia. And Brooklyn.