September 30, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Caryn Rose's B-Sides and Broken Hearts is a rare book, one that incorporates music seamlessly into its core. Rose's debut novel is filled with characters whose love for music is great and relatable, their passion for '80s and '90s indie rock and punk jumps off the page in this absorbing novel.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn wrote of the book:
"What I loved about B-Sides was that unlike other punk novels to come out in the last year, Rose took what seemed to be a more personal, possibly semi-autobiographical story, and turned it into something very appealing. I appreciate the heavy research of some of the other novels that have a punk component to the story, but B-Sides and Broken Hearts was a no fluff, completely real, and highly enjoyable read."
There are 53 songs mentioned by name in B-Sides and Broken Hearts. I didn't start writing the book with a list of songs I wanted to include, or have any kind of outline. It wasn't until the book was published and I had the idea that cataloging all the songs might be a good idea that I did the final count. If you'd asked me to guess, I would have come up short.
I don't write with music in the background, until I know the characters, make a playlist, or can utilize one of the Sirius/XM decade-based channels. With B-sides, the challenge was even greater because although I love almost everything mentioned in the book (except for Dave Matthews, natch), this book was not about me, and Lisa Simon, the main character, has a much different temperament than I do. I needed songs that would tug the right heartstrings but would help me fill out the character of Lisa.
The decision to make Lisa a Stones fan -- as opposed to a Zeppelin fan or a Who fan (which were your essential choices back in the dark ages) -- wasn't a casual one. She was a Stones fan because her heart held the dark primal ooze I think of when I think of the Stones. Zep was raw sex and the Who were cerebral; you made your choices and you made them carefully. What you wore, what you drove, where you ate lunch and who you dated would all align back to that one core musical choice, at least in the suburbs of the Tri-state area in the late 70's, when Lisa came of age. Whenever I worried I had lost who she was, or wasn't sure what she would do in a situation, I would cue up side one of Sticky Fingers, side three of Exile or the intro to Get Yer Ya-Yas Out and find her again.
“Someone Take The Wheel” - the Replacements: When this record originally came out, I used to joke that the intro to this song, the shouted *ONE, TWO* and the double snare beat were the closest we were going to get to a "Highway 61" for the 80s. It's the perfect song about driving, the rhythm feels like wheels turning over and over again against the concrete, the visuals and the emotional ennui of hours and hours and hours of your body in motion. The change from "I don't know where we're going" to "I don't care where we're going". This isn't the first song mentioned in the book, but it's the first song Lisa Simon plays when she gets in her car and starts driving. She wouldn't have just gotten in the car and turned on the radio, she would have very carefully chosen what song played her out of town.
"How Many Friends" - the Who: The penultimate track on The Who By Numbers (which Lisa would have owned two copies of, one to listen to, one to connect the dots on the cover art with) is textbook classic 70's FM rock, straight out of the old WNEW-FM in New York City. Lisa would have grown up hearing this song late at night, driving home from the city, windows rolled down, Townshend guitar riffs floating out the window. "And you all sit together to watch the sun come through." This was one of those songs I knew I didn't understand, but there was enough anguish and self-doubt and bombast to make any teenager feel better - if Pete Townshend didn't have anyone who understood him, well, I didn't have it so bad, now did I? (I am waiting for the Hold Steady to write a song that sounds like "How Many Friends". Craig could do it. I know he could.)
"Something In The Night" - Bruce Springsteen: This is another song to have blasting out of the speakers in the back window as you drive home with the radio towers and the refinery lights blinking in the distance. If you laugh, then I know you've never driven home from Philadelphia to New York City or North Jersey at 3 in the morning; Bruce wrote it because it's what he saw, and it's what you still see today. Lisa would have gone down the Shore to play pinball at the then-dilapidated Palace, turning up the radio loud so she didn't have to think on the way. She would have driven down Ocean Avenue, taken a left, and timed it just right so that she'd be turning onto Kingsley, headed home, just after the trademark 78 moans launched into the opening lines: "I'm riding down Kingsley/figuring I'll get a drink/turn the radio loud/so I don't have to think."
"Jumping Jack Flash" from Get Yer Ya-Yas Out: "Everything seems to be ready…. are we ready?" I always wanted to be the girl in the background of this record yelling "Paint it Black, you devil!" I was envious of her, of everyone in Madison Square Garden those nights, elbows on the stage, no security to push them away or b-stage or cherry picker or [insert unnecessary Jagger stadium gesture here] to get between them and the Stones. I would daydream about it endlessly. I collected the bootleg, the Mickboy remix, some black label version collected off Kazaa one night at 4:30 a.m. I imagined that Lisa had an older babysitter or aunt who would have been old enough to have been at those shows and the genesis of her Stones fandom could be traced to their retelling of the memories of that night. I will argue that "Jumping Jack Flash" is the greatest rock and roll song ever written (sorry, "Like A Rolling Stone") or at least in the top five. I have watched Keith Richards play those chords so close to me that I could see every line in his hand. It was like watching God work.
"Unsatisfied" - the Replacements: If you made me pick one song to describe the entire novel, this would be it. When I realized that I couldn't have any song lyrics in the book and I had to take everything out and find a way to paraphrase them without losing any of the emotional impact, I did that for every song in the book except this one, leaving it for last. I'd never been able to write about it to my satisfaction for the 20 years that preceded the creation of the book and I didn't know how I'd be able to do it justice and not hate myself forever. I considered using another song. I considered taking it out. I considered using any number of other Replacements songs. I finally just put the song on repeat and on the 10th play, sat down and started writing. It is still a monster. It still sneaks up on you. It will still rip your heart out, stand it upside down, turn it inside out. Even if you think you really don't give a shit about the Replacements, please do me a favor and try listening to this one song. (In the Replacements documentary Color Me Obsessed, I go so far as to compare "Unsatisfied" to the moment that Sam Cooke wrote "A Change Is Gonna Come." I still stand by that.)
"Country Feedback" - R.E.M.: Bitter, angry, despondent, twisted, forlorn and furious. By the time Lisa is listening to this song while driving through the mountains in Oregon she would have been screaming "I need this, I need this" and crying silently during "It's crazy what you could've had." While the live version is superior, even the studio version of this song could be the soundtrack to either a bank robbery or a self-immolation, with nothing in between. The fact that this song is on Out of Time - of all records - was just so R.E.M. to me at the time. You have your shiny happy people over here, and you angry suicidal people over here - and it makes perfect sense. At that point in the story that this song makes its appearance, Lisa was exhausted and manic, wanting to turn around and go home while at the same time wanting to floor the accelerator, all at the same time. In the background? "Country Feedback".
"Prove It All Night" - Bruce Springsteen: While there's no doubt Lisa had Darkness On The Edge of Town at repeat at some point during the night while she was driving, or early in the morning just as the sun was peeking over the edges of the Siskyous, what would have been on the stereo so loud that it bordered on distortion would have been a live version of 'Prove It All Night' from 1978, with the piano intro, soulful intro growl asking the crowd if they were ready to prove it all night, before barreling like a laser beam into a searing guitar solo intro. It was the perfect companion to "Prove It All Night" in 1978 but would be bombastic overkill if Bruce tried to do that today, despite the legion of fans who carry signs reading PROVE IT 78, as though fireflies can stay alive inside a mason jar forever.
"A Song For You" - Gram Parsons : We all need to have our touchstone songs, the songs that mean an emotion or symbolize an event, that wake you up (emotionally or physically), give you power, to stand alongside you or to help you let go. To quote the original Rolling Stone review of this particular song, "It's the saddest song I've ever heard." It's sad on two dozen different planes and dimensions. Sometimes you want a song to help raise the sad in you, so you can get it out, so you can feel it for a little while, so you can say hello to it before and then putting it back on the shelf. I think this song does all of these things in B-Sides and Broken Hearts.
"The Demon of White Sadness," Marah: If you asked me to play you a song by a real band that sounded like Blue Electric, this is it, even though the book predates this record's release. The sound, the production, the feel, even the lyrics are very very close to something that would come out of Jake McDaniel's head. The first time I heard the record, I was lying on the couch with headphones on, and when I reached this song I thought I had fallen asleep and was dreaming about the book. When I told Dave Bielanko about it - "Oh my god, it's my band!" his response was, "No, it's *my* band, motherfucker." It would have been a good 5th song in a typical Blue Electric set. (This has nothing to do with the reason that Dave and Serge Bielanko's feet are on the cover of the book, which is just a happy coincidence.)
"Today Your Love, Tomorrow The World" - the Ramones : out of the hundreds of Ramones songs, I picked this one because every time I hear it, I go back to a 15 year old me, who snuck into the city to meet up with her friends and go to a real new wave dance club, the old Hurrah's on 62nd Street. I was wearing red skinny jeans from Fiorucci, black Converse sneakers, a Who "Maximum RnB" t-shirt picked up on St. Mark's Place, and a leather jacket my mom had bought me at Alexander's (not what I wanted, but it what I had). We walked in, stepped on the dance floor, and this song came on. Excited, I started dancing like I had done it every night of my life, and lost my nerves and self-consciousness and fear that my fake ID (which I borrowed from a friend's older sister) would be found out. Every time I hear that song, I am that girl again.
Caryn Rose and B-Sides and Broken Hearts links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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