The Big Rewind: A Memoir Brought To You By Pop Culture, by Nathan Rabin
In reading this book one finds out a lot about Nathan Rabin and his insecurities, but at the same time, writing this book required a fair amount of cheek. Even the author himself, in later works, has noted that the writing of a memoir like this one can seem to be an act of great unfairness in that it presents disputed or contentious aspects through only the point of view of the writer, and the reader is left having to take the author’s word for it because there is no way that one can easily get the other side of the story when the other parties involved have not written their own memoirs. As a reader and as a music listener I have always been intrigued and fascinated by the duels that exist between famous people who have some sort of contentious personal relationship, but within my own life I have found that my own stories and the stories of other people with whom my life has been entangled is by no means a straightforwardly enjoyable task, as other people see the same situations as very different than I do, and no less fiercely. So it is here, more than likely.
This book is organized in a generally chronological fashion in chapters that tie together the events of the author’s life with some pop culture phenomenon that the author found himself interested in or influenced by. The book begins with a discussion of the juxtaposition of the anthem “King Without A Crown” to the author’s experience spending summer with some religious Hasidim youth (1) and then moves on to a discussion of the connection between the excellent film Sullivan’s Travels and the need for escapism from the awkward years of one’s youth (2). After that the author moves into more embarrassing territory, connecting Girl Interrupted with a stint at a mental hospital (3), the Great Gatsby to a disastrous time with some wealthy Jews (4), and the Catcher In The Rye to his arrival at a group home (5). Later chapters continue this theme of discussing the author’s fondness for grunge music (6), his secret enjoyment of vermouth (7), and the strange career of the caretaker of the group home (8), as well as experiences in working at Blockbuster Video (9), and a couple of disastrous relationships (10, 11). A couple of chapters detail the author’s awkward experiences in college as part of a collective (12, 13) and show him working at the Onion for the first time (14). He talks about meeting his birth mother (15), dealing with fear and self-loathing (16) and the sex industry (17), discussing some meetings with famous people (18), pointing out some of the silliness of his time as part of a less than entirely heterosexual review show (19, 20, 22), and detailing why polysexual relationships aren’t for everyone (21).
Is this a good book? I don’t know. It’s not a book I plan on recommending to anyone, except for one of my friends who could relate to the experiences of being a teenager in an asylum, but if you like gossipy memoirs that make the protagonist look like a total schmuck, you can do a lot worse than this. This book is a memoir in the classic form of the self-hating Jew and not everyone is going to appreciate that. The author clearly had a dramatic and troubled youth, and this certainly has influenced his own life and career, but it can be wondered whether the author made the most of his opportunities. Given his own troubled youth and clear struggles with intimacy, it can be said that the author has lived as good a life, and perhaps even a better one, than he had any right to expect. He has a loving father, a crazy mother, enough talent to review films, and the right sort of absurdist sense of humor to turn the inevitable lemons of life into lemonade, or at least to slice them up to adorn glasses of water and sweet tea. And while few people likely care about the life of the author, it is an interesting enough life to read about.