August 25, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The funniest book I have read all year, Greg Mania's Born to Be Public is a smart and engaging memoir.
Lindsay Hunter wrote of the book:
"Greg Mania's Born to Be Public is a delightful coming-of-age memoir filled with poignance and deep self-reflection, plus "advice" no one should take but everyone can relate to. I felt charmed and beguiled by this fizzy triple-threat: a book that is smart, insightful, and so funny that I got annoyed with myself for laughing so much."
I’m a six-foot-four gay dude with giant blonde hair, tattoos, and, more times than not, seen sporting ostentatious footwear. I am, by nature, always performing to a sold-out stadium in my head. Writing a memoir—from growing up closeted in New Jersey with two Polish parents, to discovering New York City nightlife, to eventually carving a space for myself as a comedy writer—without a playlist was never an option.
Born to Be Public is a comedic memoir, yes, but its playlist is a nesting doll of sad, sad, and more sad. Since I couldn’t just list “Where Is My Mind” by The Pixies ten times in a row, I’ve garnished an entrée of depression with songs that recall some of the delightful memories I’ve woven into the book, like the time I met Debbie Harry, ergo the inclusion of “Heart of Glass.” I’ve met the best people in my life dancing to David Bowie. I’ve raged to Iggy Pop—both in concert and in bars—and woke up with a headache, a half-smoked cigarette in my sheets. I was a mess. Hot? Depends on whom you ask. But I’m here to honor those moments just the same.
There are other moments that are...not so delightful: toxic relationships, bad jobs, self-destructive tendencies, and everything in between, but just like anything, there’s a song for that.
“Teenage Kicks,” The Undertones
When I was asked to put together a playlist for this book this was one of the first songs that came to mind. I immediately think of my drunk underage ass at my favorite dive bar in Manhattan’s Lower East Side—that is now probably a juice bar or a TD Bank or whatever the hell they’re turning iconic NYC staples into these days—and the hot summer nights spent there. There was an AC in the corner, but it was just for display. I can taste warm Jameson and horrible decisions when I listen to this.
“Search and Destroy,” Iggy and the Stooges
Most of my memories from the period of my life that I’ve tried to capture in this book are swaddled in a cloth held by my now-defunct Honda Civic. This was always the first song I hit Play on when I got in my car to drive back to Hofstra after visiting my parents, driving over the Williamsburg Bridge from my dorm, or just on the NJ Turnpike at four in the morning, with no fewer than seventeen cigarettes hanging out the side of my mouth.
“L.E.S. Artistes,” Santigold
This song pokes fun at the pretentious name-droppers roaming the streets of the Lower East Side, yes, but that chorus, bitch! We must protect it from another show about a bunch of privileged white twenty-somethings trying to find themselves at all costs. You too, Urban Outfitters, paws off!
“Satellite of Love,” Lou Reed
Please know Annie Lennox’s cover goes hand-in-hand with this selection. “Satellite of Love” is a quintessential NYC jam. This is my favorite song to have a nightcap to.
“Be My Baby,” The Ronettes
They’re classified as a ‘60s pop girl group, but The Ronettes are rock and roll and anyone who says otherwise can meet me behind Kohl’s to duel it out. When my best friend used to DJ, she would always include this one in her set, which usually included everything from ‘60s to garage to glam to punk to heavy metal, and it always worked. The appropriate time for this song to come on is usually around three a.m., when you’re narrowing down which ex you’re going to text.
“Where Is My Mind,” The Pixies
GOOD GOD, I can’t tell you the amount of times I have driven up and down Myrtle Avenue in Brooklyn in my Civic, blasting this song and chain-smoking. The reason I brought my car with me to New York, to Hofstra’s campus, was because I wanted to impress a boy I was “seeing.” If I could put the quotes in size 44, I would, but since I can’t I’ll just tell you that we were literal boyfriends without the actual label, and the second I brought it up—well, you know how the story goes. The passenger seat of my Civic would be occupied for years to come by a slew of boys I was “seeing,” but this song remained an automatic go-to. SAD.
“Heart of Glass,” Blondie
“Ring My Bell,” Anita Ward
When I first moved to New York City, to East Harlem, I blasted this song on repeat. I started work and grad school and was full-steam ahead on the first draft of Born to Be Public. I was also still pretty active in nightlife, so I would pregame to this song every time before I left my apartment for the night with the goal of coming home with another person.
“Young Americans,” David Bowie
During my last semester at Hofstra, in the spring of 2013, I used to go-go at a burlesque bar in the Lower East Side. It started as a joke. One night I just had one too many whiskey gingers and started dancing on the platform that was typically occupied by professional burlesque dancers on the weekends. I was wearing Doc Marten boots, knee-high socks, black denim short-shorts, suspenders, and a ripped white T-shirt. The song that I danced to was “Young Americans.” Our friends and even the strangers who meandered into the bar were into it, so we continued Monday nights with “casual go-go” performed by Greg Mania for a few months until our friend came home from tour and we resumed our Monday nights at our usual spot around the corner.
“American Nights,” The Runaways
This song is important to me for two reasons, both of which are connected to my best friend, Ky.
1. Ky and I grew up not even an hour away from each other, so anytime we both visited our families, I would usually pick her up in Pennsylvania and we’d drive back to NYC together where I’d drop her off at her apartment in Bushwick and I’d go back to my dorm in Long Island. But we’ve also spent a lot of time driving through rural Pennsylvania, up and down winding roads and countrysides, screaming to this song, especially with that one deliciously satisfying throat-charring scream at 2:37.
2. Ky used to photograph all of our nights out and eventually released a photo book, which included portraits of all of our nightlife friends and community members, called American Nights.
“Lady Starlight,” The Sweet
I listened to this on repeat when I wrote the chapter “Yes, That’s My Real Last Name.” It’s not uncommon to inhabit a moniker, a persona, stage name, or whatever you want to call it, when you’re trying to make a name—pardon the pun!—for yourself. While I’m lucky enough to flip-flop with my actual last name, (pronounced “mahn-ya”) and my nickname (the way you pronounced it in your head before I told you the actual pronunciation), my story isn’t nearly as interesting as my friends’. One of my best friends, Breedlove, was given his name by Lady Starlight, who is named after this song. ‘Nuff said.
“Lucid Dreams,” St. Beauty
Please know that I am just three crying cat memes, standing on top of each other under a trench coat, and this is the only song I want to listen to for the rest of my sad life!
“Heavy Metal Lover,” by Lady Gaga
While the world knows her as Gaga, she’s still Stefani to a lot of people in our nightlife community. I think of her as an extended cousin since I’ve only met her briefly once or twice—never sober, oops!—but this song contains a nod to the bar we’ve all spent many-a-night in.
“New York City Rooftop,” Breedlove & Chew Fu
If you read this book, you will come to know Breedlove very well, who is the beating heart of our nightlife family. While this playlist contains a vast selection of songs, this is the one that plays at the end credits.
Greg Mania is the author of the memoir, Born to Be Public.