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April 29, 2009

Book Notes - Ariel Schrag ("Likewise")

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

For years I have been following Ariel Schrag's high school comics, both Awkward and Potential are among my favorite graphic novels. The finale of the "high school chronicles of Ariel Schrag" is Likewise, which follows the artist through her senior year.

Likewise is Schrag's most ambitious and impressive work yet, exploring themes of self-discovery, the creative process, and personal growth.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"By turns funny, raw and self-indulgent, Schrag perfectly captures the growing pains of a precocious high school senior. Events come and go, punctuated by her obsession with Sally, her anxieties about college and her constant wondering about how she’ll recount everything in her comic. Schrag’s figures are simple but expressive, which allows her to dig into some of the more complicated emotions her cartoon counterpart experiences."

In her own words, here is Ariel Schrag's Book Notes essay for her memoir, Likewise:

Playlist for The High School Comic Chronicles of Ariel Schrag

Awkward – 9th grade

The soundtrack to Awkward is primarily an L7 album. Entering high school, L7 was my identity band. They were popular, but most people chose bands like Hole or Nine Inch Nails to be their favorite bands. L7 was just discordant and raunchy enough that no one else claimed them, but they were perfect for me. I loved the story about Donita Sparks throwing her tampon out into the crowd at a music festival. I related to that sentiment. I owned 17 L7 T-shirts.

The most important L7 songs on the soundtrack are Slide, Everglade, Fast and Frightening, Andres, Can I Run, Pretend We’re Dead and Deathwish.

The Awkward soundtrack also features the following songs:

Ringfinger – Nine Inch Nails

Nine Inch Nails was the favorite band of the boy I was obsessed with and Ringfinger was my favorite song. I remember being drunk and blasting it at top volume one night with my head next to the speaker lying next to the girl I was obsessed with who was obsessed with the boy we were both obsessed with. It felt like perfection.

Sweet Jane – Cowboy Junkies

The Awkward soundtrack is actually also kind of just the Natural Born Killers soundtrack, but this song in particular. Juliette Lewis was the sexiest girl in the entire world and whenever I hear this song I picture her dancing on top of Mallory and Mickey’s car in the desert. You can also hear her peeing at one point.

Cake and Sodomy – Marilyn Manson

Of all the bands I loved when I was 15 the one I still actually listen to and really enjoy is Marilyn Manson. Who would have known? My friend and I would spend hours deconstructing the concept of their Portrait of an American Family album. It seemed like the most brilliant thing ever created.

Gutless – Hole

I can’t really listen to Hole at all anymore. For some reason they make me feel nauseous. But at the time, I really related to the line “You can try to suck me dry, but there’s nothing left to suck.” I spent a lot of time screaming that line at the top of my lungs, drunk.

Mother - Danzig

My friend and I had to see Marilyn Manson live, which meant we had to see Danzig, who they were opening for. I wanted to be able to get into the music so I listened to Danzig’s album a bunch of times and the only song I could fathom even mildly getting into was the hit Mother. I didn’t even like it that much, but listened to it over and over and when Danzig played it at the show I sang along like it was my favorite song ever written and felt really cool for knowing all the words, and hoped someone noticed.

Hit Single off the Awkward soundtrack:

Shitlist - L7

In ninth grade I listened to this song every single morning before getting on the bus to school. It made me feel ready for anything.


Definition – 10th grade

The soundtrack to Definition is basically a No Doubt album. I wanted to be Gwen. I wanted to f**k Gwen. I wanted to plaster my walls with pictures of Gwen and have Gwen constantly playing on the stereo and live in an all-Gwen-all-the-time-world and I did. She was a great role model. I would put on Tragic Kingdom and run around my room doing jumping jacks and practicing kicks and lifting weights so I could be like her. (Actually I only did that like three times and then realized it was easier to be like her by just slathering my face with glitter make-up). Even today, I still love Gwen.

The most important No Doubt songs on the soundtrack are Get on the Ball, Let’s Get Back, Total Hate 95, Excuse Me Mister, Different People, Move On and Sixteen.

Along with No Doubt, here are some of the other featured songs on the Definition soundtrack:

Pin Stripe Suit – Let’s Go Bowling
A Message To You Rudy – The Specials
Train to Skaville – Selector
Zoot Suit Riot – Cherry Poppin’ Daddies

All of these songs represent my attempts to have the identity of someone very cool and knowledgeable about ska. I didn’t even actually like the music all that much.

Add It Up – Violent Femmes

This is the song that Julia and I put on the jukebox and play a jubilant game of air hockey to when we’re recovering from the horrors of nasty guys hitting on us at the boardwalk on my sixteenth birthday. It completely turned our night around.

Glycerine - Bush

For some reason, usually because I was trying to see No Doubt, but sometimes completely randomly, I ended up seeing Bush like 8 times in concert. And I never even liked Bush! This song in particular really creeped me out.

Daterape – Sublime

Sublime is the band I crowd surf to at BFD III at the end of Definition. Crowd surfing remains one of the most fun things I’ve ever done in my life. (Unfortunately, stagediving is also the reason I now have a shoulder that’s always coming out of its socket. You have to make sure people are there when you jump.)

Hit Single off the Definition soundtrack:

Ache – No Doubt

This is the song Gwen is singing at the No Doubt show when I start to faint in the front row and Gwen stops and bends down and asks me if I’m OK and the security guards come and pull me up and I pass out on stage so they give me Gwen’s water bottle and carry me backstage and then Gwen comes back to check on me and chats with me and my friends and hugs me and says “I’ll never forget the girl who fainted on stage.” Bliss. Gwen, do you remember?


Potential – 11th grade

The theme band for the Potential soundtrack is The K.G.B. This is the character in the book Zally’s band. As soon as I met Zally and heard his music I was hit with the teenage revelation that we were meant for each other (which also translates into must lose our virginities to each other). Zally and I would spend hours with me drawing and him playing his guitar and it really felt like while I was creating the comic to our lives, he was creating the soundtrack. Zally’s real name is Toby and he now makes music under the name Pailboy. We’re still close friends.

Here are the most important K.G.B. songs on the soundtrack:

Plan 15 - This was the first K.G.B song I ever heard, played on my walkman on a crappy tape cassette given to me by our mutual friend Elizabeth and I was floored. I couldn’t believe a kid our age had actually written this song. I listened to it over and over filled with anxious anticipation – I needed to know this boy!

Basement Song – This is the song Zally wrote about me eventually leaving him for girls.

The Great Eskape – Zally wrote this about our disastrous, failed virginity-losing trip in Capitola.

The Time Machine – This was one of the K.G.B.’s most loved songs and when they played it live would always end in everyone jumping up and down singing along. Zally would include shout outs to his friends, doing different variations on the line “Something went wrong with the Time Machine / And now I’m stuck in 1953.” My shout out was: “Something went wrong with Ariel / And now I’m sterile.”

Other favorite K.G.B. songs were: Stellar, Agent 56, American Child, Suzy’s Dilemma and Alibi.

The rest of the Potential soundtrack is made up of songs that the characters Harriet and Sally put on mix tapes for me. There was something about Harriet and Sally’s taste in music that just made me think they were untouchably cool. Here are some of the highlights:

Debaser – The Pixies
Dirty Old Town – The Pogues
Johnny Are You Queer – Josie Cotton
Who’s the Mack? – Ice Cube
Pale Blue Eyes – Velvet Underground
Angst In My Pants - Sparks
9th and Hennepin – Tom Waits
Stuart – The Dead Milkmen

Bizarre Love Triangle – New Order - Harriet put this on a mix for me, referencing the situation between me, her and Sally. I thought that was really bold and cool.

In Potential, Sally and I go to a Kaia show to hang out with our hip, dyke scenester art teacher, Ms. Salt, who was best friends with Kaia. Therefore:

No Sides - Kaia

And of course, the Potential soundtrack also includes a few of the songs that I put on the one mix tape I ever made for Sally right before we broke up. The inclusions from that are:

Did You Ever Have To Make Up Your Mind - The Lovin’ Spoonful

Like Harriet, I included this song for the line “Sometimes you really dig a girl the moment you’ve kissed her / And then you get distracted by her older sister.” I don’t think Sally was amused.

Everything Counts – Depeche Mode

I kind of can’t believe I actually put this on the mix for her. “The grabbing hands grab all they can” ??? (Well, it was true.)

Saturday Night at the Movies – The Drifters

Pick you up at 8!

Your Woman – White Town

I didn’t actually have the guts to put this tragic gay guy-in-love-with-straight guy-song on the mix, but it makes the soundtrack now. I actually did put it on the original mix, but then in a panic recorded over it with this completely lightweight fluff song:

Semi-Charmed Life – Third Eye Blind

Hit Single off the Potential soundtrack:

Don’t Worry about the Government – Talking Heads

Sally put this song on a mix for me. When I finished writing Potential I put it on, lay down on my floor, stared at the ceiling, and cried with happiness.


Likewise – 12th grade

The soundtrack to Likewise is silence and/or the sound of a scratching pen and/or the sound of weeping. And a couple of laughs.

There is however, a much better soundtrack, which goes along with the process of writing Likewise (which took me one year while living in a windowless basement in Brooklyn.)

These are some of the songs I found especially inspiring during the time I was writing Likewise, and would listen to over and over:

Candy Says – The Velvet Underground
All the Umbrellas in London – Magnetic Fields
Stars of Track and Field – Belle & Sebastian
Nude as the News – Cat Power
Stratford-On-Guy – Liz Phair
In My Secret Place – Magnetic Fields
Out of Gas – Modest Mouse
The King of Carrot Flowers – Neutral Milk Hotel
Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying – Belle & Sebastian
Between the Bars – Elliott Smith

All of these songs have at least one line (or at least one line as I interpreted it) about the pain and joy of making art.

Hit Single off the writing Likewise album:

100,000 Fireflies – Magnetic Fields

I love this song so much I try to listen to it only very rarely so that it will stay special.

Ariel Schrag and Likewise links:

the author's website
Facebook group for the author
excerpt from the book

East Bay Express reveiw
Publishers Weekly review
Time Out New York review

Bay Windows interview with the author
Decider Bay Area interview with the author
Graphic Novel Reporter interview with the author
San Diego Union-Tribune profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Antiheroines (interviews with comics artists)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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