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November 29, 2016

Book Notes - Jason Diamond "Searching for John Hughes"

Searching for John Hughes

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jason Diamond's memoir Searching for John Hughes is a captivating coming-of-age story that is as funny as it is poignant.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Both funny and heartbreaking, Diamond's memoir is not just an account of how one director's films impacted-and perhaps saved-his life. It is also a memorable reflection on what it means to let go of the past and grow up. A quirkily intelligent memoir of finding oneself in movies."

In his own words, here is Jason Diamond's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir Searching for John Hughes:

I don't really listen to music with words when I'm writing. I usually have on something like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops, John Fahey or Grouper in the background. I can work to Albert Ayler doing crazy things to a saxophone, but if there's somebody singing a song I tend to get too caught up in the lyric and it throws me off. One of the real benefits of this system is that when you are about to hit save on the final book, you might have a playlist with an Explosions in the Sky song on it, and that song comes on just as you're finishing up. It feels sort of like Friday Night Lights in a way.

But there songs, some that I've listened to for twenty years and some that are new, sort of make up a perfect mixtape of all the feelings and moments from Searching for John Hughes. I definitely listened to a handful of these to get myself ready for writing.

I wanted this to fit on a Maxwell 120-minute cassette, but it goes over so you can switch a few out if you want to make somebody a mix.

Side A

"Too Late to Die Young" by Beach Slang

It almost felt like I should have thanked Alex James for helping me get through the tough part of this book. "You are the light of the damaged and fucked" was a lyric that really hit me really hard and got me thinking a lot about Hughes. The whole album is wonderful, but that one song hits me every single time.

"I Was a Teenage Werewolf" by The Cramps

Kinda speaks for itself. We all feel like monsters when we're teens.

"Requiem Once Again Revisited" by Brendan Kelly

I've written before about how much I've liked this guy's music since I was like 14, how he has just gotten better and better as a songwriter and that I've never been disappointed with anything that has his name attached to it, but I especially love the solo album. This one sticks out because it starts off with "His hero is gone" as a lyric. Can't beat that.

"Range Life" by Pavement

There's a part where I mention sitting in a coffee shop all night listening to this album on a dubbed cassette tape. I probably hit rewind on this one at least ten times. I wanted a range life and I guess I still kinda do. That sounds like happiness and security to me.

"American Nights" by The Runaways

I once tried to write a YA novel that was sort of like a dystopian take on Dazed and Confused after I listened to this song on repeat while drinking too much bourbon. It's just the ultimate teen anthem.

"Anchorless" by The Weakerthans

John K. Samson is one of my favorite songwriters ever, and the reference to P.G. Wodehouse novels in this song (which I first heard in the Propagandhi version, the original one), got me thinking I should check out who this Wodehouse guy is. So it's not only one of my favorite songs, but it also got me into one of my favorite authors.

"Be Good" by Waxahatchee

Feel like I could have maybe just put a bunch of Katie Crutchfield songs on this list and just called it a day, but I'm going with this one since I'd probably listen to it every hour if it was around when I was 16 or 17. I think she's one of the best songwriters out there, and watching her evolve her sound over the last few years has been really exciting. She's easily one of my favorites.

"Shadowboxin'" by GZA

I don't know what I'll be able to look back on and say, "I'm really happy I grew up during that time" besides being totally conscious of rap getting better and better from around the time I was 5 until I was 15. But around 1994 and ‘95, I was totally aware of a lot of the good stuff that was coming out besides what I heard on the radio or on MTV because of kids I skated with. Gang Starr, Nas, all the stuff from the west coast, and Wu-Tang. I obviously still love 36 Chambers, but this, my favorite song off the second greatest album connected to the Wu, started a ton of mixtapes I made.

"Wolf in Your Breast" by Cocteau Twins

If I ever did my own 80s teen movie I'd make sure this song was on the soundtrack. This, some Jesus and Mary Chain (like how Some Kind of Wonderful had "The Hardest Walk), maybe a Stone Roses song, and then a few Beach Fossils and some Wild Nothing.

"Kerosene" by Big Black

Ultimate anthem for kids stuck in their town and with no way out. The version St. Vincent did a few years back is also sick as hell.

"Doom Town" by Wipers

Easily one of my favorite bands, I think "Doom Town" pretty much sums up all of our experiences growing up. We think the place we come from is a doom town.

"Professional Widow" by Tori Amos

If I had to do a tally, I'd say I've probably listened to more Tori Amos in my life than nearly anything else. I've just always loved her, and I think this is a cool setup for the next song. It's one of Tori's heavier songs leading into a song by a band known for being doomy and heavy, except...

"Planet Caravan" by Black Sabbath

I'm a huge fan of the Black Sabbath to Black Flag on a mix trick, but I think this feels like a spooky but mellow moment before getting nuts again. Also, gotta say that I think this is definitely one of the best Sabbath songs.

"Depression" (Dez version) Black Flag

Obligatory Black Flag song. It's really hard to pick a best version of this song, but the first thing I ever bought of the band's was that Everything Went Black compilation and I couldn't believe how raw and angry this song sounded even when I was 14. The thing I like about Dez is he kinda has a little more swagger in his version than Keith Morris or Rollins. That's not taking anything away from either of those guys, but I just really dig this one a lot.

"A Kid Who Tells on Another Kid is a Dead Kid" by Nation of Ulysses

Do you remember the Dischord catalog in the mid-1990s? That thing was beautiful! It was like this slim slice of grey cardboard with all these pictures of bands like Lungfish and Hoover in there. I felt so sophisticated just hold it in my hands. I remember looking for it and seeing an album titled 13-Point Program to Destroy America, and thinking, "That looks pretty rad." So I bought it and it was basically one of the best uninformed decisions I've ever made in my life.

"Help Me Mary" by Liz Phair

I'm not Catholic, but I've always like the way the religion looked. I'm also not quite sure if Liz Phair is actually addressing the Virgin Mary in this song, but it always felt like that to me. So when I'd listen to it on this scratchy old cassette mix I had it on, or when I was feeling nervous about something going on in my life I'd quietly sing the lyrics pretending it was a little prayer and it made me feel a bit better. Thanks, Liz Phair.

"Shit, Damn, Motherfucker" by D'Angelo

Because why wouldn't you follow Liz Phair with some D'Angelo?

"I'm not a Loser" by Descendents

Feel like you could write a teen movie based off the lyrics on Milo Goes to College. But this one really makes me think of being 16. I didn't like myself, but I didn't think I was a loser.

"Kiss the Bottle" by Jawbreaker

It would be really shitty of me to not include a Jawbreaker song on this list since I talk about them in the book, specifically this song, which I think could be one of the best songs ever. Thousands of people who have tattoos of regional beer brands, thick black glasses, wear beat up Chuck Taylors, or were in a band that put out one great 7" in 1999 will all agree with me.

"Androgynous" by The Replacements

I pretty much made sure I had this song on me at all times, mix tape or CD or a copy of Let it Be nearby, it didn't matter. There's so much you can say (and people have said plenty) about The Replacements, but in my opinion, Westerberg at his best as a songwriter is one of the best ever. I think this one is especially wonderful. It's an anthem for people society might think are "weird" or "different" but are really just being who they are, and Westerberg does it with such tenderness. His voice, the piano, everything just sounds so bare and honest. This song has always meant a lot to me. When I didn't believe there was much of a world for me beyond the city limits of my town, I'd think of this.

"Titus Andronicus" by Titus Andronicus

This is such a perfect way to end a side of a mix. Also, I think I'd probably read a novel by Patrick Stickles. Not sure if he's ever going to do that, but his band's records will do if he chooses not to.

Side B

"I'm From Nowhere" by Neko Case

Holy shit, Neko Case, you've gotten me through some times. I'm sure people tell her that, but whatever. Writing a memoir requires some sort of comedown music, something that helps take you away from yourself for a little bit of time. This track, along with a number of others by Case, really did that. I should send her a bottle of whiskey as a thanks or something.

"How Blue Can You Get" by B.B. King

I used to have this Zenith little radio that I'd plug into the wall and I'd just scan the dial looking for stuff I wanted to listen to. It sounds so antiquated at this point, or like a Replacements song or something, some bored kid from the Midwest looking for songs on the radio, but sometimes it yielded gems. My favorite would probably be the time I found some station, possibly the Northwestern University station, or maybe one of the classic rock ones, playing B.B. King's Live in Cook County Jail in its entirety. I remember very specifically it was a summer night and I had my window open just letting in this really pleasant breeze as I listened to King play to a room filled with prisoners. I think when you grow up in Chicago the blues gets into your DNA, but this was one of the first times I recall being totally engulfed by the music and listening to the entire album all the way through.

"Celebrated Summer" by Husker Du

As an adult I've noticed I don't appreciate summer as much as I once did. But if there's one thing I noticed throughout the book is that summer really pops up a lot throughout the story. Sometimes good, other times bad, but it was almost always sunny during the warmer months, at least in my memory it was.

"Who Are You??" by Void

The best song on the best hardcore album ever. I can't really explain being pissed off and 16 and hearing this song for the first time. My eyes probably got really wide, i probably pumped my fist, and said "Thank you, Satan."

"Where Eagles Dare" Bratmobile cover

The Bratmobile version of this Misfits song is the superior one. Just wanted to use this opportunity to point that out. Don't @ me.

"All Ages Show" by Dag Nasty

Not sure if I heard this when I was younger or not. I don't think it was easy to find in 1996 before you could just download any song, go on Spotify or before the 20 Years of Dischord comp came out, but that doesn't matter. Feel like this is a total banger. Most Dag Nasty songs are total bangers, but I got really obsessed with playing this one over and over sometimes after I'd finish writing.

"The Jerk" by Joyce Manor

When I first heard Joyce Manor I think I said something like "I"ve been waiting 20 years for this band." It's kinda true, like all the time spent listening to Weezer, then the Descendents, and washing it down with some Jawbreaker prepared me for them. Their songs are like these little snapshots of being young and sad and alive. This one especially sticks to me, leaving off with the lyric, "It all goes wrong."

"Fool" by Frankie Cosmos

Next Thing came out at just the right time last year. I had hit a funk both emotionally and with the writing of the book. This album really got me out of that and I think that she's just one of the best songwriters out there.

"Heart Factory" by Sleater-Kinney

I first heard Sleater-Kinney when I was maybe like 16, and the instant reaction was something like, "HOLY FUCKING SHIT." They're really just the great rock band of our time. I'm sure you could mention some other bands, but the passion and the songwriting and fucking Janet Weiss just destroying the drums with precision. They're just amazing.

Anyway. I got into them through Dig Me Out, and this track instantly made itself my favorite because I could totally get it. Ya know? I'd been so doped up on drugs to get me to act and feel better; it just made itself very clear to me. Jenn Pelly at Pitchfork wrote, "Heart Factory" roars over synthetic emotions of the Prozac Nation," and yeah, that's perfect. She nailed it.

"It's OK" by Dead Moon

I had the lyrics to this taped up over my desk while I was writing the book. I love Dead Moon, and this is probably the closest they get to a "popular" song, but holy shit is it uplifting and beautiful.

"Aja" by Ergs

"I kinda dig these Midwestern summers" is one of my favorite lyrics. I love thinking of this dude from New Jersey ending up in some part of Wisconsin or Michigan and falling for this girl he thinks is named after a Steely Dan album.

"Love Shock" by Slant 6

First, I think this is the coolest record cover ever. I found a used copy of it when I was maybe like 15, saw the Dischord logo and bought it. I judged the album by its cover, and I was just taken from the first track all the way to the last. This song is probably my favorite, especially when you consider I used it as an AOL name for a short time in 1997.

"Note to Self" by Modern Baseball

Modern Baseball became one of my favorite bands at some point while writing Searching for John Hughes. Not sure exactly when, but I found a lot of comfort in listening to them when I would finally say I'd had enough writing for the day.

"Kids in America" by The Muffs

Listen, as far as I'm concerned The Muffs own this song. Kim Wilde is cool and all, but she's not even from America! The Muffs rule and they just turn this into the ultimate bored American kids looking for fun anthem.

"Beliefs Pile" by Avail

I'm sure we all have that band or something that you can look to from your shitty years and think about how much darker your little world would be if you didn't have that band and their songs. When I was fifteen and sixteen, and probably even beyond, Avail was that band and "Beliefs Pile" was my song. They put out a bunch of great albums, but few records will ever carry the same emotional punch as Dixie does.

"Killer Parties" by The Hold Steady

I have my literary inspirations, and Craig Finn is one of them. He's really one of the only songwriters I place along with all people who are known for writing essays and short stories. The guy who sings about fucked up punk kids and other outsiders better than anybody else has this whole little Hughesian universe of his own on some of those Lifter Puller and hold Steady albums. But as I finished the first draft of this book, the first thing I did was pour myself some whiskey and turned this up real loud.

"Dancing in the Dark" by Downtown Boys

Downtown Boys rule so hard, and I feel a little bad picking their cover of a Springsteen song instead of one of their own, but this is just the sound of the best fucking party I want to go to and I like to end these things in a more upbeat way.

"Everythang" by The Coup

Feel like there's a handful of bands like Fugazi, Public Enemy, Billy Bragg, Los Crudos, and Bikini Kill who helped shape a lot of the way I look and think about the world, politically speaking. The Coup definitely belongs in that group, and the first time I heard this track (probably the first time I heard them) made me think, "Yeah, this is real good."

"Wonder Beer" by Naked Raygun

Naked Raygun is sort of your birthright if you got into punk in Chicago in the eighties or nineties. I was obsessed with Raygun because some older kid told me I had to like them, but in 1995 it was really tough to track down their stuff. So when I finally found a copy of Throb Throb, it was sort of like I'd joined the club. Not long after that, a penpal sent me a mixtape with this song on it and it sort of became my anthem. Still is.

"Start Walking" by Off With Their Heads

I love this band and I felt like it was fitting to end it with this one. "It's a long way back to be anything that anyone could love."

Jason Diamond and Searching for John Hughes links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
New York Times review
NPR Books review
Tablet review
Wall Street Journal review

Chicagoist interview with the author
Crave interview with the author
Flavorwire interview with the author
Salon interview with the author
Salon interview with the author
Uproxx interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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