Sasha Frere-Jones's evolution as a writer and musician with the deceptively casual intelligence that marks all of his work.
Shuttling between his first year of life (1967) and the year he wrote the book (2020), Earlier
is a glorious sequence of moments, a record of the experiences that set the shape of a life. Frere-Jones's prose floats between clinically precise fragments and emotional impressions of revelations, pleasures, and accidents. It's a book about how lives happen and sensibilities form.
As fellow music critic Alex Ross observes, "It is weird to write a book about yourself, as this book is well aware. Gazing in the mirror is not mass entertainment. Sasha Frere-Jones, a writer of nonchalant, rope-a-dope power, drops the illusion of self-knowledge and instead offers up a kaleidoscope of memory shards, faithful to the chaos of inner and outer worlds. Earlier is funny, cool, raw, wise, and secretly sublime."
Begun in 2010, Earlier
was completed at the request of Deborah Holmes, to whom the book is dedicated. Holmes is the mother of Frere-Jones's two boys, Sam and Jonah. Diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July of 2020, Holmes died in January of 2021. Earlier
is the last book she read. Frere-Jones says, "Deborah was the most enthusiastic reader I've ever met. She read when she wasn't doing something else, and that never changed. She asked me to write this when we met, in 1990. I am sorry I made her wait so long."