In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Leslie Stein’s graphic novel Brooklyn’s Last Secret is an immersive and compelling account of an indie band on tour.
Tunde Adebimpe wrote of the book:
“If you’re in a band, read this book. If you’re not in a band, read this book. And if, for whatever reason, you’ve decided to start or join a band, I implore you, before you go any further: PLEASE. READ THIS BOOK! It’s so beautifully done, heavy on laughs, thick with heartbreak, and honestly the best depiction of band/tour life I have ever read. I feel so seen, it’s disgusting. I’m disgusted. Because it’s SO GOOD.”
In her own words, here is Leslie Stein’s Book Notes music playlist for her graphic novel Brooklyn’s Last Secret:
Yes, the point of tour is to play shows, further develop an audience, and maybe sell some merch and make few dollars along the way. However, the reality of it mostly takes place outside the one hour a day you are up on stage. It’s the endless drives, the waiting around, the shitty backstage food, the punishers who talk to you after the set. It’s also essentially a road trip, and if you are lucky, a unique bonding experience.
I hadn’t seen much of this accurately portrayed in literature or film, so I figured, as I sat alone in my Brooklyn apartment in July of 2020, why not give it a shot? After all, it was everything opposite of what I was doing during the pandemic. So, I lived through the characters I created that year, taking them to real venues I’ve played, to barbecue spots I’d like to try. I had them argue music and run into ex bandmates at music festivals. I gave them the drama, the boredom, the sex, the electric microphone shocks, the weed edibles… I gave them all the things you find on tour.
In order to best understand my song descriptions below, I’ll quickly introduce the band.
Ed, the stoic “band-dad” is on drums, keeping the band on track. Lilith, the lead guitarist, is getting over a major break-up while getting into progressive electronic music. Marco is their new replacement lead singer, who’s just getting to know the band, his favorite being the mostly silent Paul, the bass player.
“Supernaut” by Black Sabbath
As the band departs from New York on the first day of tour, with drummer Ed at the wheel, he asks them: “Okay guys, best rock riff ever?” Many options are thrown out… Hendrix of course, and AC/DC, with Ed throwing a Roky Erikson curveball in the mix. This is based on so many arguments I’ve had with bandmates and friends. And because it’s my book, my favorite, Supernaut gets to win. I remember buying Vol. 4 at Ameoba on Haight Street when I was 18 and listening to it on repeat in my tiny room in the mission district. It remains a favorite.
Ed tends to be the snobbiest member of the band but has some skeletons in his closet (attending Warped Tour as a youth, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones). So when Lillith takes the wheel with an acute hangover, she knows him well enough to ask him to play something “not too challenging.” He responds by cueing up On the Beach. They agree, as they sail through the desert, that Neil “works everywhere.”
“Blue Sway” by Paul McCartney
Lillith is a bit distrustful of the young singer Marco at the beginning of the tour (he just won’t help load-in, major red flag!) but they finally have a bonding moment after discovering their shared passion of solo Paul. I was careful as an ex-record store employee not to make my references too obscure, so this was a no-brainer as I am an avid Wings gal. Sure, I’d much rather have a beer with Ringo, but I love how Paul is not afraid to get weird… at least musically.
“Many Mansions” by Sonny Sharrock
The band stays with Ed’s parents in Michigan, and Lillith is very excited to hang out with his dad John, an anthropology professor and lover of obscure jazz and classical music. He asks if she’s ever heard Sonny Sharrock, and realizing she hasn’t, he plays her a record. When she comes into the kitchen later crying, Ed exhaustedly asks her if she was listening to music with his dad again. She nods and responds affirmatively, “Free Jazz.”
“Journey to Satchidananda” by Alice Coltrane
This doesn’t feature in the book but is the first song on my “drawing” mix, which are tracks that I find centering and inspiring. I remember the first time I heard it was after a really heavy day of tracking vocals at a recording studio in Williamsburg (it’s a Trader Joe’s now), and sound engineer Barry London (Onieda) threw it on to mellow us out as we cleaned up the studio. I sometimes teach workshops and I like to play it for the participants. One person told me he cried a bit while pushing around paint to it. Free jazz, man.
“Blueprint” by Fugazi
I imagine that after Ed’s regrettable ska/punk phase, he got into a bit of a punk/hardcore phase. This seems like the natural progression to me for rock music kids in the ’90s. Not that I’m familiar with it AT ALL. Anyhoo, like me, who has sold most of the records from that era, he’ll still dig into from time to time, which he does while staying at his parents in Michigan. He finds an old box marked Ed in the closet with his old CD player and throws on Repeater. “Fugazi’s still good” he says.
“An Intention” by Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith
As Lillith stumbles through thrift stores and rest stops as she makes her way through the tour she develops what to me is a kind of classic 90’s candy raver style. She has a ladybug backpack, Jnco jeans, and of course her ever present weed lollipops. For some reason this is the song I imagine her listening to on her teddy bear headphones in the back of the van.
“Idiot” by James Holden
This is another Lillith headphones pick. I love listening to this on headphones while I take long walks, Holden does a lot of inventive crossfading here that is hard to pick up on speakers.
“Negative Creep” by Nirvana
Of course, before Ed’s ska/punk phase was his grunge phase. His favorite bands were Meat Puppets, Nirvana, and Sonic Youth. He doesn’t like Pearl Jam, actually he likes a couple songs, but he wont admit unless he’s on ecstasy, which he is accidentally dosed with before a show in LA. In a moment of unbridled sincerity brought on by the drugs coursing through his veins he reveals that all he wanted when he was an adolescent weirdo was one or two good friends, ones who loved Nirvana as much as he did but “weren’t posers.” The band members give him a group hug, and it looks like he’s found his fellow weirdos in Major Threat.
Leslie Stein is the cartoonist of the LA Times Book Prize Award winning Present, as well as I Know You Rider, Bright-Eyed at Midnight, and the Eye of the Majestic Creature series. Her diary comics have been featured on The New Yorker, Vice, and in the Best American Comics anthology. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.