Author Playlists

Daniel Wallace’s Playlist for His Memoir “This Isn’t Going to End Well”

“Music is a language shared and spoken sometimes between just two people. A song can function as a message, a letter, a proposal, a promise, a goodbye. Back in the day mixed tapes served a vital role by creating an entire autobiography.”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Daniel Wallace’s This Isn’t Going to End Well is a mesmerizing combination of memoir and biography as it recounts his relationship with his brother-in-law, author and artist William Nealy.

BookPage wrote of the book:

The exceptional first memoir from Big Fish author Daniel Wallace is loving, honest and haunting… [with] honed prose and hypnotic pacing.

In his own words, here is Daniel Wallace’s Book Notes music playlist for his memoir This Isn’t Going to End Well:

Music is a language shared and spoken sometimes between just two people. A song can function as a message, a letter, a proposal, a promise, a goodbye. Back in the day mixed tapes served a vital role by creating an entire autobiography.

My book, This Isn’t Going to End Well, is a love story and a ghost story and a true story, among other things, but at its heart is a friendship between men that’s determined and described, in part, by the music they shared. Here are some of the songs in our language.

“I’m Eighteen,” by Alice Cooper

May 21, 1972. This is the day my sister Holly and her boyfriend William, the hero of my memoir, took me to see Alice Cooper. Alice Cooper! I was 13 and this was first rock concert. Named for its singer who, it was said, would bite off the head of a chicken on stage and drink its blood. Who wore a live boa constrictor around his neck while decapitating baby dolls, and who, for an encore, would hang himself from a gallows. Blue Oyster Cult was the opening act. Holly and William made me feel untouchable—so cool, a cool beyond what most people could even imagine.

I could have chosen one of many songs Vincent Furnier (Alice’s real name) turned into teenage rock anthems. Choosing this one because the lyrics, in their staunch refusal to be a part of a world they despise, reminds me of the life William lived, or tried to. Now Vincent Furnier is a Republican with, I understand, a pretty good golf game.

The Ramones, “I Want to Be Sedated”

Later, when I was 20 and he was 27, we’d be in his van making long drives into town, long drives to the pond where we’d go fishing, long drives taking our mountain bikes to campus to ride, and all the while William and I would listen to his mix tapes. “I Want to be Sedated” was one of our theme songs. Fast, hard, simple, direct and repetitive, with no room for discussion or compromise, the echo of it played in my ears long after it was over and may have been my first ear-worm. The volume was on high. We did not get a lot talking done, but that wasn’t why we hung out with each other. It was almost always more about sedation.

Devo, “Whip It”

William was brilliant. He read widely, could build or fix anything, and wrote and illustrated ten books. He was drawn to philosophers who he felt reflected his world view, especially Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, thinkers who reenforced his status as an outsider. He was also vehemently opposed to and disdainful of organized religion.  He celebrated entities who mocked the church, and so (obviously) was a big fan of the Church of the Subgenius, which, long story short, had even bigger fans in the band Devo, whose big hit, “Whip It,” blared from William’s huge Jensen speakers in his living room. Praise Bob.

Frank Zappa, “Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow”

William was my mentor, but it’s not a formal position. I admired him, maybe even idolized him for a while. I watched him. I copied him to the best of my ability. He loved Frank Zappa and so I did too. I wasn’t as fond of his music as William was, but I thought he was funny and inventive. I was fond of the album ‘Apostrophe’ and the song about Nanook and the yellow snow. When I was 14 Zappa played in Tuscaloosa, about an hour and a half from Birmingham, and I asked my parents if I could go see it with a friend who had a car. They said no, absolutely not, you must be crazy to think we’d let you do that. So on the night of the concert I snuck out of the house, drove with my friends to Tuscaloosa, saw an amazing concert, was driven back and in bed and no one was the wiser.

Years later, my father claimed to have met Frank Zappa on a plane – in first class. My father was pleased to inform me that Zappa told him he was only in it for the money, proving, my father thought, that even the weirdest among us are capitalists, having no idea Zappa had released an album with that very title.

The B-52’s, “Planet Claire”

When I was in high school my friends and I were trying to put a band together but we couldn’t find a bass player. I asked one of my older sister’s friends if it was possible to have a band without a bass player in it and he laughed and said no, so we didn’t put a band together. A few years later, the B-52’s arrived on the scene and: no bass player.

“In every way work of genius we recognize our own rejected thoughts.”

I had no idea, before doing a little research, that the B-52’s were so popular, even when we were listening to them back in the early 80’s. I was going to use them as another example of our interesting and cutting-edge taste, but discovered many of their songs, including the weirdly whimsical “Planet Claire,” actually hit number 3 on the charts. And that now the band has an ongoing gig in Vegas. Happy for them! But on the other hand it puts a big dent in the cool factor.

Romeo Void, “Never Say Never”

What’s not to like about this song? It’s ragged and real, spacey, forlorn, chockful of menace and full of vice – a punk band fronted by Debora Vox. I never would have heard it if William didn’t have it on constant rotation. I’d secretly gotten into soft pillow music – the earnest songwriters of the seventies – but I never told William: he would not have approved. This was much too touchy-feely for William. I kept the sensitive part of me undercover.

The Go-Go’s, “Vacation”

Much lighter fare than William was normally drawn to, but before they turned all power-poppy they were a legit L.A. punk band. They were also what was called at the time “an all-girl band.” This held an undeniable allure for him, as it did for me.

Jackson Browne, “Late for the Sky”

“Late for the Sky” changed my life. Even the album cover (residential street, deep blue sky, one lonely car parked in front of an empty house) quietly celebrated the romance of heartbreak and loneliness, which I was totally into. I brought the lyrics to this album to Mr. Ellis, my wonderful 10th grade English teacher, and we studied them in class.

Little Feat, “Fat Man in the Bathtub”

Alice Cooper was the first and the last concert I ever saw with Holly and William. Not that I didn’t try for more. Holly promised to take me to see Little Feat when they came to Birmingham, but they never did come to Birmingham. They did play in Mobile and we talked about what fun a  five hour road trip could be, but it never happened. Instead, I was taken to Tuscaloosa to see the Allman Brother’s Band. I was fifteen or so, but for reasons I can’t remember now they left me in a friend’s apartment with a joint and a Mountain Dew.

Loretta Lynn, “Coal Miner’s Daughter”

Country music occupied a weird liminal space in our world, like the cousin you never knew you had arriving out of the blue with nothing but a guitar, a song, and a broken heart. Tammy Wynette was a goddess as far as we were concerned, and Loretta Lynn a queen. No matter where we went this Alabama state of mind went with us.

On a Christmas in the late ’80s when everyone was home – me, my three sisters, William – we went into a studio and recorded a song for my father. It was the real deal: sound room, technicians, the whole shebang. It cost a pretty penny. My father had made a good living importing stoneware from Japan, and so it was no sweat to rewrite the lyrics of “Coal Miner’s Daughter” to “Dish Importer’s Daughter.” I’m proud to be a dish importer’s daughter/I feel that way because I do and not cause I outta. My little sister Barrie sang lead, Holly and Rangeley backup, I played guitar and bass (multi-track!) and William played drums. We did two versions: one country and one punk. The country version has been lost to time but I still have a recording of the punk version which is remarkably awful. It was rough and angry as the country version was sweet and touching. Not sure how much my father loved it, but it never could have been enough.

Leon Russell, “Song For You”

Holly and William: I could compare them to Romeo and Juliet (love, death, tragedy). Or maybe they were more like Odysseus and Penelope: William off on his death-defying adventures, Holly surrounded by suitors, awaiting his return. Burton and Taylor: a fierce attachment marked by brutal betrayals and occasional reprisals. Bonnie and Clyde: partners in crime. They were my entry into this pantheon of dramatic lovers, their decades-long attachment proving that love, like water, can keep you alive for a very long time, but not forever. But specifically, this kind of love. It’s another thing I wanted that was his, that was theirs.

Unlike these other, more famous lovers, Holly and William had a theme song. They would never have called it that, but that’s what it was – “Song for You,” by Leon Russell. To this day I can’t hear it without feeling as though my heart has been stung.

“The Beast in Me,” by Nick Lowe

I’m convinced this song was written for William, but isn’t that the way with the perfect song? It’s written just for you, or for her, or for him. It’s the best song I’ve ever heard about the dichotomy of self we all, to one degree or another, are doomed to live with. William was just the most extreme example of that I’ve known – a kind of split personality held together by duct tape, drugs, and TLC. He listened to this song, too, a lot, because he knew all about the “frail and fragile bars” he railed against until one day, the last day of his life, he escaped.

Excitable Boy, by Warren Zevon

Not just the song, the entire album. In early drafts of the book I used the song titles as the titles for my chapters: “Roland the Headless Thompson Gunner,” “Lawyers, Guns and Money,” “Excitable Boy,” “Accidentally Like a Martyr.” “Werewolves of London.” But I couldn’t get them all to line up. The songs have an almost incantatory power, but all that means is that I can’t imagine him not being here to listen to them.

Daniel Wallace is the author of six novels, including Big Fish, which was adapted and released as a movie and a Broadway musical. His novels have been translated into over three-dozen languages. His essays and interviews have been published in The Bitter Southerner, Garden & Gun, Poets & Writers and Our State magazine, where he was, for a short time, the barbecue critic. His short stories have appeared in over fifty magazines and periodicals. He was awarded the Harper Lee Award, given to a nationally recognized Alabama writer who has made a significant lifelong contribution to Alabama letters. He was inducted into the Alabama Literary Hall of Fame in 2022. He is the J. Ross MacDonald Distinguished Professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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