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September 24, 2008

Book Notes - Ben Tanzer ("Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine")

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

Ben Tanzer's second novel, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, is a glorious amalgam of dating, dysfunctional families, and pop culture. The book explores nascent relationships, complete with their insecurities, possibilities, hurdles and wonders.

In his own words, here is Ben Tanzer's Book Notes essay for his novel, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine:

Bob Dylan, Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine

Growing-up in my house you had three options if you wanted to listen to music, Bob Dylan, The Beatles or some random Klezmer band from Budapest. Anyway, I always listen to music when I’m writing and while working on one of the drafts of the book this song came on and it just seemed to have the right vibe. Thematically it works of course because it’s clearly a song about breaking-up and this is a story about a couple who comes together quickly, implodes just as quickly and then maybe somehow comes back together. But it wasn’t just the theme that worked for me, there are a million break-up songs that I could have referenced during the book, it was the fact that it is both kind of humorous and kind of dark, something I ‘m always trying to aim for when I write. And it was Dylan, someone who I purposely name-drop in the book as a figure who is all-knowing in only ways that Yoda, John Hughes and maybe Bruce Springsteen would understand. The catch there of course, is that once you invoke Dylan you have all the genius-God-should be a Nobel Prize winner stuff that comes with it. Still, when I was growing-up he was just a singer story-teller that my dad claimed my mom had discovered in the early sixties and our family owned in some way. Sort of like the Gore family and the internet.

The Ramones, I Wanna Be Sedated

It’s funny, when I was first introduced to the Ramones back when I was a kid in the late seventies they just didn’t work for me. The thing is, maybe ten years ago as I began finding myself more ravenously consuming music, all music, all the time - more on that below - I heard Sheena is a Punk Rocker on some random compilation someone gave me and I was just floored by it, the speed of the song, the humor and energy, the associations with New York, my childhood, and being Jewish, all things I love. And so I started seeking out the Ramones and just fell really hard for them. This book in turn, and be forewarned, this is a very grandiose statement, tries to embrace the Ramones and their music in two ways. One, the cover band at Betsy and Rollo’s wedding does Ramones covers, and that’s just a blatant shout-out to a band I’m really into, but two, despite my two kids, mortgage, 9-5 job, expanding waistline, yuppie aging dad status, I decided to try and be as punk as possible in the style and structure of the book - short, slamming chapters, filled with some humor and some anger, before bam, on to the next one for more of the same, and then more of the same after that, until you just can’t put it down. Well, that was the idea anyway. You will have to let me know if it worked.

Simple Minds, Don’t You Forget About Me/Otis Redding, Try a Little Tenderness

There’s an ongoing sort of Breakfast Club riff/homage in this book, a movie that sort of represents this generation to me, and one that my friends and I watched over and over again in my basement, hence citing Don’t You Forget About Me, which you know is kind of an iconic tune, but not really such a great song if you think about it. What’s funny to me though is that even if you think of the John Hughes oeuvre in general as kind of lame, which it is, clearly, I know, I don’t know that Breakfast Club is necessarily even the best movie he made. My wife Debbie would vote for Sixteen Candles for sure, which I totally get, and I would favor Pretty in Pink, which is why I need to add Try a Little Tenderness here, because Jon Cryer’s unbelievably faux awesomeness is also riffed on in the book, and the scene in Pretty in Pink when he performs this song in the record store as a pre-Designing Women Annie Pott swoons is clearly the high point of his quasi-illustrious career. Two and a Half Men excepted of course.

The Wrench, Girl

So I know that almost no one has ever heard of this band, which was an obscure punk joint out of Buffalo, New York that was fronted by an old high school friend of mine named Tim Walikis, but they were really good, and had a great off-the-radar CD called Worry When We Get There, and we saw them play one time late one night at CBGB’s back in the early nineties. And so, there’s a scene in the book where the two couples at the center of the story go see The Wrench at CBGB’s like we once did. Initially, as I wrote the scene, they were just in some random bar, but as I was editing, I was also reading the book The Heebee-Jeebies at CBGB’s by Steven Lee Beeber, which I totally recommend, and as I read his book I thought about the night we went there to see The Wrench and the songs on the disc and how it all seemed to fit so well with this story and this passage, and so I decided to build it into the existing scene. I would add that The Wrench and various incarnations of that band used to play the bars in Buffalo with another band who you may have heard of, The Goo Goo Dolls. It always used to kill me that the Goo Goo Dolls became so popular and The Wrench didn’t, but then after Iris came out I started to think that maybe The Wrench got it right.

Bruce Springsteen, Thunder Road

I personally probably, yes, that’s awkward phrasing, feel more strongly about Bruce than Dylan, sorry mom, and his performance on the Born in The USA tour at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center in upstate New York where I grew-up, is still one of the best live shows I have ever seen. The characters in this book are Bruce’s people, they grew-up on him, and he speaks to them, and they just can’t get enough of him. Ironically, and assuming that is the right word here, I saw Bruce on the Tunnel of Love tour around the time this book takes place and it was painful, terrible, there was no E Street Band, and he was wearing a puffy shirt of sorts a la Seinfeld, it felt almost like an oldies show and I was worried for him, and myself. But then we flew back to New York just a few years later after we had moved to Chicago just to see Bruce at the Garden on his supposed final tour with the reconstituted band. It was like a religious experience and all was good with the world again. The reason that I chose Thunder Road in particular, which could be a very cliche choice, you know like Wonderful Tonight cliche, instead of say Backstreets or Loose Ends or a dozen others, is that an old girlfriend of mine once said to me that if some day someone said to her, “you’re not a beauty, but hey you’re all right,” that would be enough for her and she could be really happy with that person. I never forgot that and it is something I can totally picture the character Jen saying as well.

Grandmaster Flash, White Lines

I may be old school, and feeling nostalgic as I roll past 40, but it goes without saying that not only do I love this song, but I hope everyone else, everywhere else, does as well, at least those who were in high school during the eighties anyway. Now what’s both funny and a little embarrassing about this song appearing in the book during the wedding scene, is that I was working on the section where a drunken Geoff gets very discombobulated at Betsy’s wedding talking to this hot chick he may or may not want to hook-up with and I was listening to my iPod, and White Lines came on. It was just thumping and fun and it can be such an awesomely disorienting song, and I thought this is perfect, this song sets the tone for where Geoff’s head is at thematically and works lyrically and I just started to type the words as I heard them, which as you can see, the lyrics in the book are all patchy with words missing, because I tried to stick with the mood Geoff is in and the place I was in as I wrote it. By the way, did I mention I love this song and you should too? Good.

Nirvana, Smells Like Teen Spirit/Rage Against the Machine, Bullet in the Head

I’m not sure that these songs hang together necessarily, but hear me out. First, I must admit, I totally missed the launch of the whole Grunge movement. I was living in San Francisco and following the Dead around and coming out of this extended period where I just really hadn’t been very into music and the Grunge movement wasn’t even really on my radar much less anything that spoke to me. But then just a year or so later I was living in New York and the Grunge-backlash was beginning, something I play around with near the start of the book in a scene where the lead character Geoff explains how the Grunge movement was created by The Gap to sell jeans and flannel shirts. On top of that Singles had come out and then Kurt Cobain committed suicide. And at the same time music, all music really, started creeping back into my consciousness after I just hadn’t been into it for so long. What really changed things though for me regarding listening to music again was hearing Rage Against The Machine’s debut disc and Bullet in the Head in particular. I was just floored by it. I loved it like nothing I had listened to in years, and it felt like something changed in me, like when I found myself suddenly liking horse radish. Now, to be sure, I was definitely starting to drink less at the time, and take less drugs, therapy was going well and I had this idea that I might start writing, but in the middle of all that I don’t know, I suddenly just wanted to hear loud music all the time and bang my head against the wall and get knocked over, in a good way, and listen to everything I could. And so I finally listened to Nirvana and really enjoyed it, and then heard Sabotage at a club and revisited all the Beastie Boys discs I had been ignoring, which were killer, and which ultimately led me back to The Ramones, and then X, and here we are.

The Hold Steady, Your Little Hoodrat Friend/The Ike Reilly Assassination, When Irish Eyes are Burning/Other World, Automatic/Jay-Z, 99 Problems/Avail, Simple Song/Be Your Own Pet, Fill My Pill

And so where are we? I thought I should finish highlighting the stuff I was listening to as I wrote the book, well, besides Dylan of course. First, I fell in love with The Hold Steady and Ike Reilly while working on the book. Both are great storytellers, and while I hope The Hold Steady doesn’t get much more popular, I can’t figure out how Ike Reilly isn’t huge, seriously, huge. I would add here that it was watching The Hold Steady perform at the Metro here in Chicago last fall that the idea for my next book started to jell in my head. So right now it’s tentatively titled You Can Make Him Like You and The Hold Steady is all over it. I also stumbled into Other World which is a band that’s led by a guy out here named Mark Hendryx who I met at junior kindergarten function after his son and my older son became friendly. He played at the release party for “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” and was just awesome. Meanwhile, The Grey Album by Danger Mouse is a real favorite of mine, and while I had always really been into the White Album as a kid, especially Rocky Raccoon, which was my dad’s favorite, it occurred to me that I should probably finally listen to the Black Album as well. Now I’m hooked on that too and 99 Problems just puts a big smile on my face every time I hear it. Same with just about anything by Avail and Be Your Own Pet, both of whom I got exposed to while writing the book, both of whom I listened to incessantly while working on it, and both of whom are especially fun to listen to when editing, because there are times when editing calls for a jackhammer, and not a Ginsu, and at those times I want to be body-slammed in to a wall by the music I am listening to.

Ben Tanzer and Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine links:

the author's blog
the author's zine
the author's MySpace page
the book's video trailer

BookPleasures.com review

Examiner interview with the author
Michael Paige Glover discusses the cover he designed for the book
Orange Alert Press interview with the author
The Page 69 Test for the book
Pilcrow Lit Fest interview with the author
Wordsmiths interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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