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August 17, 2010

Book Notes - John Reed ("Tales of Woe")

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

Tales of Woe is a dark book, both thematically and physically. John Reed tells twenty-five stories of undeserved suffering in the book's black pages with white type, broken up by vivid illustrations by an assortment of artists. These stories are especially horrifying since all of them are true. No happy endings, no redemption, just bad things happening to good people for no reason. Reed, like the ancient Greeks, brings catharsis to the reader through observation of others' suffering so that we may feel better about our own lives (and relatively trivial burdens).

Before you pick up that next horror novel, I'd suggest Tales of Woe instead, because sometimes reality is scarier than fiction.

In his own words, here is John Reed's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Tales of Woe:

My uncle was a fat fuck. He was a miserable creep. Homely, overweight, and unloved. His family thought he was a pig, and that his bounteous intelligence had twisted him into a psychopathic geek, which it had. His nephew (me), almost ten years younger, was better than him at everything, and far more attractive. Norman had no apparent talents, his interests were fleeting, and while he could build machines, computers, probably even cars, out of rocks and sticks, he was still the bane of the Tennenbaums, and the neighborhood, and quite possibly the whole bar of sludge euphemistically known to the world as Long Island.

Norman Seth Tennenbaum lived a shitty 28 years, then died in a pointless scuba accident that wasn't his fault. He'd been losing weight, he finally had a girlfriend who could bear him, and he was interested in some futuristic business opportunity that he called the "internet."

He was buried next to his sister, who died ten years before he did, also at 28 (of cancer). He was the second to die of three siblings. (Only my mother survives.)

Norman was to be the first story in Tales of Woe, a pitch I kicked out at Molyvos in 2005. I was having lunch with Jacob Hoye, and he said, "Now that's an idea." True stories that just got worse. Instead of sin, suffering, redemption, just suffering, suffering, suffering. My thinking: our culture is inundated with sin, suffering, redemption, which is a contemporary Judeo-Christian model of story telling. The assumption is that people who suffer deserve it, or that, somehow, their suffering will all work out for the best. In Western culture, these three acts are so widespread, so unimpeachable that they're a part of contemporary journalism. Even in mainstream venues like the New York Times, "objective" reporting is constructed like this: at the outset, a reason for the misfortune; for the sendoff, a glimmer of hope. Sin, suffering, redemption=beginning, middle, end. Sin, suffering, redemption=story.

From what I've known of life, of lives, sin-suffering-redemption is a religious model, not an empirical one. People suffer for no reason, and there isn't always an upside. As employed in our culture, sin-suffering-redemption makes the pain in the world go down easier. All those unfortunates had it coming, or it's for the best. Not true. Which is why Job didn't get excised from the bible.

Surely a few people will not like Tales of Woe; I find it enormously upsetting myself. But any criticism of Woe is hypocritical, unless you're out there complaining about comic books, television, newspapers, movies, magazines, et al. Woe employs precisely the same story-telling techniques as mainstream popular culture (in fact, Woe, which cut three stories, adheres to criteria more conservative than that of normative popular culture). The only reason Woe is upsetting is that the stories are true. The art is ghastly (more so for being beautiful), but it's just art; everyday, every minute, the images in establishment news and entertainment are far more graphic. Why is that stuff ok? The people who are suffering had it coming, or a celestial harp strums.

I'm not special, and I felt that I should submit my own family to the unsparing standards that Woe had set; I would tell my uncle's story, I would use his name, and all of our names, not excusing any of my loved ones. Unfortunately, my uncle's life wasn't tragic enough. Fifty stories, Jacob and I originally thought, but the stories we found were so horrendous we only had pages enough, and sanity enough, for 25. Norman wasn't even close to making the cut.

Everybody has tales of their families; I think I have some doozies. But not one of them warrants the "Woe" brand.

In terms of my own life: the typical abuses and addicts. No adequate Woe. One small thing, recently. When I pitched Tales of Woe, I could hear. Now I'm deaf. Not completely, but I went to the doctor a few days ago, and two words stood out: "premature," "severe."

I put together a playlist for Largehearted Boy in November 2008, back when the doctor's word was "mild." Ironic, maybe fitting, that Tales of Woe should now exact a second playlist from me. But with a little help from my friends, I've put this together for Largehearted Boy. A swan song to music.

Most Best Depressing Playlist

"Karma Police" Radiohead
"Because of Toledeo" The Blue Nile
"Phone Call" New Radiant Storm Kings
"Beautiful Feeling" PJ Harvey
"Cat's in the Cradle" Harry Chapin
"Goodbye Horses" Q-Lazzarus
"Papa was a Rolling Stone" The Temptations
"Creep" Radiohead
"You've Got to Hide Your Love Away" Beach Boys
"Loser" Beck
"Beverly Hills" Weezer
"White Flag" Dido
"Thank Your" Dido
"Must You Throw Dirt in My Face?" The Louvin Brothers
"Dust in the Wind" Gabriel & Dresden
"Rocky Racoon" The Beatles
"Hurt" Johnny Cash
"What it's Like" Everlast
"Soul Mining" The The
"This is the Day" The The
"Never Going Back Again" Fleetwood Mac
"Dreams" Fleetwood Mac
"Landslide" Fleetwood Mac
"Here Comes a Regular" The Replacements
"Country Death Song" The Violent Femmes
"Gone Daddy Gone" The Violent Femmes
"Martha" Tom Waits
"Blow Wind Blow" Tom Waits
"I'll be Gone" Tom Waits
"Ellis Unit One" Steve Earle
"If I Needed You" Thomas Van Zandt
"You are my Sunshine" Ray Charles
"Which Will" Nick Drake
"Black Eyed Dog" Nick Drake
"Ode to Billy Joe" Ashley Gearing
"Eleanor Rigby" The Beatles
"Missed Me" The Dresden Dolls
"My Favorite Things" Claudine Longet and Andy William
"Scarborough Fair" Simon & Garfunkel
"Graceland" Paul Simon
"Shock the Monkey" Peter Gabriel
"House of the Rising Sun" The Animals
"Big John" Jimmy Dean
"Tangled up in Blue" Bob Dylan
"Fire and Rain" James Taylor
"Tears in Heaven" Eric Clapton
"Monk's dream" Thelonious Monk
"Thelonious" Thelonious Monk
"Alabama Song" The Doors
"Lady Marmalade" Moulin Rouge Soundtrack
"Family Portrait" Pink
"Bang Bang" Nancy Sinatra
"Rising" Lhasa
"Message Personnel" Francoise Hardy
"Je suis en Vie" Gregory Lemarchal
"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" Willie Nelson
"Me and Little Andy" Dolly Parton
"La Boheme" Charles Aznavour
"These Days" Nico
"I'll Keep it with Mine" Nico
"Famous Blue Raincoat" Leonard Cohen
"Fine Again" Seether
"Discoteca" Pet Shop Boys
"Jack of Speed" Steely Dan
"The Pretender" Jackson Browne
"Tower of Song" Leonard Cohen
"Religion" Ten Years After
"For the Turnstiles" Neil Young
"Subculture" New Order
"Couldn't Get Ahead" The Fall
"Scar Tissue" Red Hot Chili Peppers
"Last Song" Marianne Faithfull
"Broken English" Marianne Faithfull
"Guilt" Marianne Faithfull
"Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye" Steam
"Luka" Suzanne Vega
"Comfortably Numb" Pink Floyd
"Another Brick in the Wall" Pink Floyd
"Bees Wing" Richard Thompson
"Sweet Jane" Cowboy Junkies
"Vacation Time" Evan Johns & The H-Bombs
"Missed Me" The Dresden Dolls
"Oh, My darling, Clementine" Jonny Hill
"No Children" The Mountain Goats
"Bohemian Rhapsody" Queen

John Reed and Tales of Woe links:

the author's website
the book's blog
the author's book tour events
the author's Wikipedia entry
iPhone app for the book

Brutal As Hell review
Dollar Bin Horror review
Enter the Man-Cave review
From Midnight, With Love review
Midnite Media review
PopMatters review
Super Punch review

Enter the Man-Cave interview with the author
Fictionaut interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for All the World's a Grave
Word Riot interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists