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August 5, 2010

Book Notes - Rachel Shukert ("Everything Is Going to Be Great")

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

Rachel Shukert's Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour tells the tale of a trip to Europe in her early 20s as a struggling actress. Shukert recounts this calamity-filled trip with her unique brand of self-deprecating humor and an honesty that truly puts you in her shoes. I haven't laughed this hard and often while reading a book all year...

Entertainment Weekly wrote of the book:

"Scrap your preconceived notions of travel writing. We're not talking The Innocents Abroad here; Everything Is Going to Be Great, this irreverent, profane journal of Rachel Shukert's college trip comes off like a cross between David Sedaris and Chuck Palahniuk."

In her own words, here is Rachel Shukert's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir, Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour:

First a little disclaimer: I'm not a "cool" music person. Until I was about fourteen or so, the only cassette tapes I owned were Bona Drag by Morrissey and the original Broadway soundtrack to Camelot, and while my collection has expanded somewhat since then, the underlying aesthetic has not. I don't really have a problem with this. I find coolness oppressive in all forms. It's not that I don't appreciate music; on the contrary, I like it too much, which is why I have to limit how much I can listen to it. I get incredibly involved. I usually perform along, assign myself parts of the harmony, stand in the middle of the room as though I'm on a stage. Sometimes, depending on the time of day (or more accurately, the time of the month), there are tears. It can become very tiring, and obviously, listening to music in public, or when I'm trying to work is out of the question.

Everything Is Going To Be Great, is a memoir of the mostly disastrous time I spent living in Europe after college. When I look at this list of songs I've chosen to represent it, it seems that they fall into two categories: loneliness, and ironic detachment. I didn't do that on purpose, but it makes perfect sense. Loneliness and ironic detachment are the twin pillars of the expatriate experience. And underpants dancing. A LOT of solitary underpants dancing. Anyway, here is my list:

Francoise Hardy, "Tous le garcons et les filles de mon age"

I first heard this song in my 8th grade French class. My teacher played it for us in class and passed out lyric sheets, which we were supposed to translate. I remember it really well because it was one of the first times I can recall a teacher doing something that hinted at having some sort of inner life. Listening to it now, I think it really captures the kind of existential despair you can only have when you're really young before the deadening forces of "perspective" obliterate all traces of intense emotion from one's psyche apart from anger. It's a melancholy song about worrying that no one will ever love you, but it's still stylish and peppy. It makes loneliness chic.

The Smiths, "Half a Person"

This song for me is the epitome of memoir--all these different perspectives converging on one another and you get a very clear picture of something that at the same time seems very skewed. The idea of someone from you past resurfacing, someone who knows where the bodies are buried, so to speak, is something I felt a lot while doing the necessary excavation to write this book. It also does that thing only Morrissey can do, lyrically--it manages to utterly romanticize something in a totally unsentimental way. And it has that amazing line: "in the days when you were hopelessly poor, I just liked you more." I feel that way sometimes, about others and myself, although I'm not exactly aching to go back. Poverty is grueling, and it didn't work with my hair type.

Cheap Trick, "Surrender"

When I was living in Amsterdam I didn't have a wireless Internet or anything like that, so if I wanted to listen to music that wasn't already on my computer I would go to this stall at the flea market on Mondays and buy these weird German compilation CD's from a former herring fisherman for a euro apiece. They all had titles like "70 Hits for Lovers 70" or "1981 Groovy Times," and were sort of this alternate universe in pop music, in that they were all songs you'd heard before, barely. Like, "Oh right, this song." There was a lot of Uriah Heep involved, a lot of lesser Air Supply (I say lesser because I genuinely love Air Supply, although I loved them a lot less when I found out that they were actually not lovers in love with each other, as I had always assumed as a child.) Anyway, "Surrender" was on one of these, and I had always loved this song, so I used to play it every morning and vigorously dance around. Some people do sun salutations to greet the day; I jump around to Cheap Trick in my underpants. One morning, while I was performing this ritual, I realized that the old man that lived across the street was watching me. His living room looked directly into mine. He was also in his underwear. I immediately stopped dancing in terrible shame, but then he started jumping around, making encouraging gestures in my direction. So we danced together, in our underpants, to this song. It was a warm moment, I suppose, but after that I always made sure the shutters were closed.

Air Supply, "Making Love Out of Nothing At All "

See above. Far too intimate to share with my old man underpants friend, however. Perhaps in another book.

Blossom Dearie, "They Say It's Spring"

I became stupidly besotted with a totally inappropriate and unavailable man. Our relationship was doomed from the start, but I was totally consumed by him, to the point that after we would see each other, I would literally be too excited to sit still, like a little kid who had too much sugar. To burn off energy, I would ride my bicycle around and around in a giant circle through the Vondelpark, singing old romantic songs under my breath. This was one of my favorites, with witty lyrics that I felt proud to have learned by heart: "If poets sing/That when a heart's sympathetic/It's merely spring/Then poet's plights are pathetic/Though I'm poetic too." That blend of sweetness and sophistication is something I hold very deep in my heart.

Kenny Rogers, "She Believes In Me"

André Hazes, the Dutch Elvis, passed away unexpectedly and the country went into a deep morning. In retrospect, it was perhaps tactlessly of me to choose the day of his death to announce to all and sundry that his beloved trademark, anthem, "Zij Gelooft In Mij," a song with which he was instantly identified, was in fact a translated and inferior cover of this original by Kenny Rogers.

Joni Mitchell, "Cactus Tree"

If I try to explain this, I'll kill it. I don't have the gift for earnestness that such a thing would require. That's why Joni Mitchell exists, to articulate heartfelt feelings for people who fine them humiliating.

Queen, "We Are The Champions"

When I saw my first and last live sex show, this, interestingly, was the background sound for the main event. Never again will I be able to hear it without a mental image of desultory intercourse in a choreographed sequence of increasingly acrobatic positions, and the sense of crushing despair that overwhelmed me at the climax. It was the most depressing orgasm I've never had. Some months later, I saw the male performer on the moving sidewalk at the airport. Alas, I failed to get his autograph; it took me too long to recognize him without his cape.

Phil Collins, "Take Me Home"

After years of exhausting and entirely involuntary study, I have come to the conclusion that of the dizzying array of Lieder that comprise Mr. Collins' repertoire, this is the one I despise the least. When you read the book, you'll understand.

Rachel Shukert and Everything Is Going to Be Great: An Underfunded and Overexposed European Grand Tour links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Entertainment Weekly review
Jewcy review
Jewish Literary Review review
Jezebel review
The Roaring 20s review
Tablet review

Daily Beast essays by the author
East Village Radio interview with the author
The Faster Times posts by the author
Galleycat interview with the author
Jewcy interview with the author
Smith Magazine interview with the author
Speakeasy essay by the author
The Undomestic Goddess interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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