Author Playlists

Jared Joseph’s playlist for his novel “Danny the Ambulance”

“Danny the Ambulance is the classic tale of a man who enters a bar and over the course of the night realizes everyone in the bar is named Danny.”

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.

Jared Joseph’s novella Danny the Ambulance is innovative in form, funny, and poignant.

In his own words, here is Jared Joseph’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Danny the Ambulance:

Danny the Ambulance is the classic tale of a man who enters a bar and over the course of the night realizes everyone in the bar is named Danny. The bar is called the Jury Room. The following songs all appear in the novel itself, in chronological order.

1. and 2. “Human Fly” by the Cramps and “The Green Mosquito” by the Tune Rockers.

“Human Fly” is the first song that the first Danny puts on the jukebox, and then he starts talking about the song it’s based on, “The Green Mosquito.” “The Green Mosquito” by the Tune Rockers is a rockabilly song that is entirely instrumental. In “Human Fly,” The Cramps metamorphosize the song into a story of a human fly that becomes, in the song’s final verse, an unzipped fly. The change that takes place is based on a pun, yes, and it’s so clever that it’s delightful, but it is not a shocking change because the potential to become an unzipped fly has been there all along, in the potentialities of language. Did something change, or was that something there already behind a layer, the layer simply unzipped? In the inverse movement, from human to insect, Kafka’s Gregor Samsa becomes (as the literary consensus has it) a cockroach. It’s really hard to go to work when you’re a cockroach. And it’s really hard not to feel like a worker insect at work. The center of my life is missing but I am always searching for it. In the middle of my life I was lost, Dante says, but why did he call it that? How did he know he was in the middle of his life? You can’t GPS your life journey. Did Danny die, or did he become what was already at the center of his life?

3. “Our Lady by Twilight” by The Legendary Pink Dots

I spent years trying to like The Legendary Pink Dots. I haven’t succeeded, but I still haven’t given up. I’m waiting to become a more interesting person, the kind of person that likes The Legendary Pink Dots. This song is instrumental, shiny crackling synths, like gemstones thrown at your face. The title is suggestive to me; she’s our lady, but only for say 30 minutes. She’s our lady in that liminal period between light and darkness where anything can happen and, it seems, everything has already happened, light is unstable, you feel it crackling and fizzling. The light is Rice Krispies. It’s not the golden hour, it’s the pyrite half hour. How will I get through this night, you think, which I watch fall upon me. How do I think I own anything. Danny talks about how he owns this album. He’s a broken record about it, he keeps going on. But I thought a broken record stopped revolving. Permanent revolution, advocated Leon Trotsky, at the twilight of the Soviet Revolutionary period.

4. “The Beginning is The End is the Beginning” by the Smashing Pumpkins

This is one of the worst-titled songs in the world, and it’s on the soundtrack to Batman & Robin, featuring the worst ever batman, George Clooney. But it’s embedded in my brain and in my makeup. It’s one of my beginnings, and in writing you get to channel stuff that’s deep inside of you, and it feels like communion, but then you realize what it is and it feels like the end of whatever was charming or amazing about it, it’s a disenchanting and demystifying moment, like looking around at everyone around you and thinking, “Is everyone here named Danny?” This is when the narrator begins to realize everyone’s name is Danny; he’s bewildered and it’s the one time he leaves the bar to get some air next door at the Dollar Tree. His thoughts spiral and he thinks to himself “The end point really is the beginning. Is that a Smashing Pumpkins lyric?” When I was writing this I didn’t know myself if that was a Smashing Pumpkins lyric. But then I remembered. But the song is pretty cool. I still like it. I listened to an interview with Boots Riley about his new show “I’m a Virgo.” He talks about how when he was a kid he loved superheroes, would read comics while doing gymnastics. Then he talks about discovering Prince, and how this led him to music and community work and activism and art. If I’d continued on the superhero route, he says, I’d probably have become a cop. The show is about capitalism and is a critique of capitalism and tries to imagine ways outside it; but also, it’s on Amazon Prime. The revolution will not be serialized.

5. “Tubthumping,” by Chumbawumba

Oh, Danny boy.

6. “Do it Again,” by Steely Dan

My mom never listened to music when I was a kid, but she said she liked Steely Dan. But I also never heard her listen to Steely Dan. I barely know what this song sounds like, but “Do it Again” seems like the tagline of RevolutionÔ. The record reaches its final revolution and then there is that quiet staticky sound, so you take the needle and do it again. I asked my Mom when I was 6 or so “Mom, why don’t you listen to music?” and she said “car accident” and walked out of the room. Maybe 20 years later I told her this same story and she said “That never happened,” and then left the room again. That’s the thing about the word “again.” Did she do it again, or was it the first time, and my memory is wrong? There’s no one I can ask.

7. “Danny Boy,” by The Pogues.

Oh, Danny boy.

8. “We Go Together” by John Travolta, Olivia Newton-John, and the cast of Grease.

This is the final song of Grease and it’s unhinged. There are at least 100 actors dancing all over some fairgrounds and finally the mass coalesces into two lines that form a human tunnel, and emerging from that tunnel is a black convertible driven by Danny Zuko (John Travolta) and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton-John) and it seems like marriage, the high school rebelliousness coalesces into an image of the husband/wife nucleus of a new nuclear family. The song is mostly scat and most of the lyrics aren’t words, but these nonverbal units nonetheless constitute a lyrical lexicon insofar as they repeat. The most-often repeated “word” is “chang.” Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop, That’s the way it should be. Our names are signed. Boogedy boogedy boogedy boogedy, Shooby doo-wop she-bop, Chang chang changitty chang sha-bop.” It’s one letter short of change. It’s on its way to change, but it never quite arrives. That, according to Grease, is the way it should be. The black convertible literally ascends into the sky, with Olivia Newton-John turned backwards towards the camera waving at the audience, which is us, and the past, which is dead people. Riding high in the sky a big red book floats between the clouds, like the Book of Revelations, or like Mao’s Red Book, that says Rydell High. “Never change,” says most people in most high school yearbooks, where their names are signed. This is the moment in the book where Danny Zuko and the prophet Daniel have a breakup conversation, sort of; it’s actually a moment of recognition, one of those moments of recognition that is actually a super-recognition that the prior moments of perceived recognition were actually misrecognition, i.e. “I thought you were someone else” or “I thought we went together.”

9. “Creep” by Radiohead

I don’t like this song, Radiohead doesn’t even like this song. It’s strange to write a song that everyone likes and that you don’t like. I don’t think everyone liking your song is enough of a reason to dislike it. I think it must be something else. Thom Yorke said in an interview that the song is sarcastic. “Your skin makes me cry” isn’t sarcastic. In the right context it could become parodic, like, if Buffalo Bill said it. But Buffalo Bill didn’t say it. It’s a deeply vulnerable song that allows men to be deeply vulnerable at karaoke bars. In Danny The Ambulance, the song is playing on the jukebox as the narrator is yelling at a dog. He’s jealous that the dog has a unique non-Danny name, because that seems to indicate love. It’s a pet name. Why have you forsaken me, Thom Yorke sings. God is a pet name.

10. “Venus in Furs” by Velvet Underground

It’s a song about a book, and in this book, Blackwell the dog’s first words quote this song: “ermine furs, adorned, imperious.” I like Blackwell as a character because she’s the smartest character, and because she’s a dog, and because she’s a dog that’s the smartest character. She’s the most well-read. She makes the argument, ventriloquizing Amitav Ghosh’s The Great Derangement, that the modern novel’s penchant for description of setting is a bourgeois technology that celebrates a fundamental aspect of bourgeois ideology which is leisure time. So I ventriloquize Blackwell to rationalize my lack of description, I don’t really care about doing it. And anyway, leisure time doesn’t really exist. I have a phone. I literally pay attention.

11. “We’re All Dudes” by Less Than Jake

This song is from the movie Good Burger. Walter Benjamin said that not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. That’s true, but there is no enemy, it’s the system itself. A way of psychically surviving under these conditions, a psychological defense mechanism, is to further remove oneself from the chaotic involutions of systemic bindings by doubling down on personalization – everything is human-centered – and then just saying “we’re all dudes.” It’s all just dudes, and all dudes are one. Damn The Man just becomes Damn The Dude. You cut the Gorgon Knot that way. This is the part of the novel where all the names briefly irrupt and swish around. The narrator thinks he can uncouple the name Danny from all the Danny’s. It’s a kind of chemical instability of identity; it’s an identity crisis on the part of the narrator, but it’s others’ identities. The reference to Good Burger acts as a kind of stabilizer, but that just changes the name of another character to Kel. Then that same character becomes Kenan. Kal-el is Superman’s original name; in Kill Bill 2, Tarantino has David Carradine deliver a monologue describing the unorthodox nature of Superman; unlike other superheroes who undertake an alias (Spiderman) to hide their real names (Peter Parker), Superman undertakes an alias (Clark Kent) to hide his real name (Superman). But his real name is Kal-el. He’s half Kenan and half Kel. “I’m a dude, he’s a dude, she’s a dude, cause we’re all dudes, hey.” I don’t think this simplifies the identity complex.

12. Rockin’ Robin,” by Bobby Day

I didn’t know at first why everyone in a bar would be named Danny, so I asked ChatGPT. Chat GPT’s response, which is recorded in the novel, included the hypothesis “1950s Doo-Wop Theme: In the 1950s, the name Danny was popular, and many popular songs had ‘Danny’ in the title, such as ‘Rockin’ Robin’ by Bobby Day.” This was a really interesting error to me. It’s a human error. It’s a homophonic, anagram error, it’s a writer’s error. Then I made Chat GPT a character, but then I filtered the narrator (also a character) through Chat GPT, too. The writers strike in LA is happening now and one of the demands is to safeguard living human writers against AI writers, and I think that’s important and reasonable, but I don’t share those fears, in part because I don’t make any money off writing, but also because I’m interested in how polite AI is. It apologizes all the time, and I mirror it, and I apologize back, too. I ask for help and it offers suggestions, and then I offer suggestions to help it help me better. We’re both learning, calibrating to each other, and it’s hard to convince myself I’m not an AI. Polite comes from politic, it’s just lacking the body part of body politic. It’s a model citizen. My characters live in a novel society, they don’t have bodies, they need to get along. I needed to build my narrator like an AI, and to train it, and I gave it a lot of my own limitations. Problem: I want my character to be an electrician, but I, as an author and a human, don’t know anything about being an electrician, and I don’t feel like researching it. Solution: my character will be an unreliable narrator. Problem: how do I make my character an unreliable narrator? Solution: I’ll tell the story in first person, everything will be indirect speech, there will be no quotation marks, and my character will think a lot and I will transcribe those thoughts. Side problem: how much thinking can a person do in real-time, and get away with it? Side solution: a lot of characters will address this and call him out for this, and one will call him Rodin, because of The Thinker. Side problem: Rodin is not named “Danny.” Side solution: The orthography will be “Ro-DAN.” Main problem: no quotation marks, but there are a lot of characters, and quotation marks would be very helpful, but again, not using them would structurally facilitate the unreliability of the narrator. Main solution: Sometimes I’ll use quotation marks. Main problem: That’s inconsistent. Main solution: part 1 of the book I’ll call “The part without quotation marks,” part 2 of the book I’ll call “The part with quotation marks.” Main problem: What justifies, plot-wise or thematically, this division? Main solution: I’ll introduce a talking dog. Main problem: This so greatly accelerates the unreliability of the narrator that the quality changes, so rather than a narrator being simply unreliable, maybe it’s madness. Solution: maybe it’s Maybelline.

13. “Name” by Goo Goo Dolls

I learned a lot of things in writing this novel, really surprising things, like that it’s not “The” Goo Goo Dolls, it’s just Goo Goo Dolls. In the song “Iris,” by Goo Goo Dolls, there’s the line “And I don’t want the world to see me, cause I don’t think that they’d understand, when everything’s made to be broken, I just want you to know who I am.” That’s in the movie City of Angels, where Nicolas Cage is an invisible angel who doesn’t want to be seen until he meets Meg Ryan who, upon knowing who he is, is broken by a car and dies. Nicolas Cage felt so caged by his surname, Coppola, that he fashioned a new surname that better highlighted his condition and identification as trapped animal. It’s why he acts so crazy in movies. He doesn’t want to be seen, but he wants you to know where he is trapped, psychosocially. Leon Trotsky, whom I write about in the book a lot, was born Lev Bronshtein, and then after being jailed for revolutionary activities, he created an alias after his jailer, a man named Trotsky. The question isn’t What’s in a name, it’s Who? And do they have a lawyer? The Jury Room bar is directly across from the courthouse.

14. “Infant Eyes” by Wayne Shorter

This song is cool.

15. “Pull Back the Bolt” by Minimal Man

I don’t like the book High Fidelity very much anymore, but I used to, and I relate to relating to music as much as I do to literature. A high fidelity restoration is like the impossible dream of translation, too; to restore sameness through a different medium. I don’t believe in that dream anymore, I think it’s a nightmare. I believe more in difference, change, possibility. A faithful restoration and a faithful translation do translate, however, and the one really positive link between them is the notion of devotion. I believe in devotion in writing. From Danny the Ambulance: “I feel like a camera, or a sensitive plate, on which other people’s feelings emulsify, on which other people’s feelings come to light. Or come to action. Or come to camera. There is a song by Minimal Man called Pull Back the Bolt that goes Lights! Action! Camera! and I think that’s the better order, better than lights camera action, because the action is more interesting than the camera that captures it.” That’s devotion to me; the camera, or the writing, is important, but it’s just an important means to achieving the more important end, which is capturing whatever uncapturable thing you are enraptured by, the action, the object of devotion. But sometimes also this isn’t true at all; sometimes you’re not trying to capture anything, sometimes it’s not writing as devotion, sometimes you’re writing in order to avoid capture. The other side is expressed in “Pull Back the Bolt,” too, with the lines “When they check you out on the runway, turn your good side to the camera, and read your manifesto to the world. Lights! Action! Camera! No!” I think Danny the Ambulance is both.

16. “Mayday” by Marlowe

“I move so quick they think that, they think I’m moving slow.” This is from a conversation between a Danny and the narrator, where they discuss what will happen to the show The Big Bang Theory if the Big Bang Theory is disproven. Creationism is 100% disproven but it’s still in syndication in a lot of charter schools.

17. and 18. “Opening” by Philip Glass and “How You Remind Me” by Nickelback

A bear named Danny that teaches at a charter school called Enlightenment makes the argument that Philip Glass is the Nickelback of experimental composition. Both just keep writing the same song over and over again. It’s revolutionary.

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Jared Joseph’s most recent writing has been published in The Los Angeles Review of Books, The Iowa Review, and Action. His book Drowsy. Drowsy Baby is available from Civil Coping Mechanisms Press, and A Book About Myself Called Hell was published by Kernpunkt Press in February 2022. Jared holds a PhD in literature from the University of California, Santa Cruz and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. He lives in Los Angeles where he writes, plays music, and drinks coffee like it’s a hot dog eating contest.

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