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October 29, 2009

Book Notes - Richard Rushfield ("Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost")

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

In his memoir Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the '80s, Richard Rushfield captures the zeitgeist of the late 80's, when Ronald Reagan's presidency was a fresh bitter memory and the grunge era had yet to begin, all through the eyes of a student at a bohemian liberal arts college.

In his own words, here is Richard Rushfield's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the '80s:

My book, Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the 80's is very much about music, but not necessarily music than anyone can, or would want to listen to. DFM is the story of a band called The Supreme Dicks that somehow become the outlaws at a school of misfits, during that critical moment when the party of the 80's turned into the earnestness of the 90's. It's the story of how my generation (X) in our one moment dominating the cultural stage between the Baby Boomers and their children, choose a completely nihilist form expression (Grunge, slacking, etc). Nihilism unfortunately doesn't always make for the catchiest music, when the goal is to negate society, but I've picked a few of the songs that were in the air around that time and place that are actually still listenable. For me, these songs still make the idea of being bummed out and gloomy look fun and glamorous. These are the songs that I would listen to or hark back on to orient me to my setting as I wrote.

"Sister Ray" by The Velvet Underground

If this post-post-punk/pre-grunge period had a holy text it was VU, who were ubiquitous, constantly played everywhere. "Sister Ray" was the one cover song the Supreme Dicks performed, although audiences seldom recognized what it was. The song perfectly captured the anarchic impulses and depressive bedlam that inspired my era.

"Five Years" by David Bowie

If there was one song which established the ethos of detachment and gloom which my generation felt, this was it. The anthem of your youth.

"30 Seconds Over Tokyo" by Pere Ubu

The great white hope of avante-garde music at the time.

"Transmission" by Joy Division

One of the great debates of the day was what made something death rock vs. gothic. Joy Division was clearly the ne plus ultra on the death rock side of the ledger. Their songs still bristle with a kinetic static electricity while remaining hauntingly dark.

"Like a Hurricane" covered by Mission UK and "Gimme Shelter" by Sisters of Mercy

Before goth there was Gothic, which was the best friend of punk and didn't involve capes and fake fangs, but had a certain costumey panache to it that was setting it on the road in that direction. Bands like Mission UK and Sisters of Mercy were taking the post-punk depressive mood and creating a sound on a more epic scale,in this case adapting some of the great rock anthems to a moodier vibe.

"Fire" by The Cult

From the rockingest, poppiest album of the Gothic era.

"Just Like Heaven" by Dinosaur Jr.

Dinosaur Jr. was the local band around Hampshire College and its members were very much part of the scene I write about. Their cover of The Cure brilliantly channeled the pop-gothic vibe that was the dominant subcultural movement at the time and turned it into something gloomier, more depressive and somehow more genuinely ominous; a true harbinger of the era to come.

"Death Valley '69" by Sonic Youth

I recall one night on a long drive through the woods near Hampshire, driving through the darkness and listening to this six minute song and at the end feeling like I had emerged on the other side of some portal to the underworld. Takes you on a very spooky intense journey to a sinister place. More than any other Sonic Youth was the band in the mid 80's that seemed to lead the way from the circular wanderings of the post-punk period into something new and combustible.

"Come On Eileen" by Dexy's Midnight Runners

Not gloomy on the surface but this was the unavoidable song in the years just before this book is set, played so constantly on MTV - in the day when MTV only had five videos to play - that it was impossible to like after it had been so violently shoved down our throats. In a climactic scene in the book, my friend and I are Dj's on the radio station of neighboring Amherst College and start playing Eileen over and over to torment the school. But in the course of actually listening to it, the song comes to grow on us and by the time we're kicked off the air, we've come to like it. I like it still.

"Paint It Black" by the Rolling Stones

There was no darker more intense song to hit the nail on the head of our mood than this. However, it took an all night binge for me to really think about the lyrics and not just wallow in them, and when the meaning became clear, it was like my brain had split open in of of the great epiphanies of my life.

"The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen

Still beautiful and spooky as ever. Transcends the make-up and hair theatrics.

Richard Rushfield and Don't Follow Me, I'm Lost: A Memoir of Hampshire College in the Twilight of the '80s links:

the author's website
Facebook group for the book

Neon Tommy interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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


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