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November 12, 2010

Book Notes - Adam Bertocci ("Two Gentlemen of Lebowski")

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

We live in an age of cultural mashups. Adam Bertocci's Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance re-imagines the story of the film The Big Lebowski in the style of a Shakespearean play to great success. Not only does Bertocci capture the film's essence, but he also successfully mimics Shakespeare's style and creates a wholly new work that captures the spirit of both the Bard and the cult favorite film.

In his own words, here is Adam Bertocci's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance:

The easy way to do this would be to play the songs I listened to while I wrote the darn thing. But I very rarely keep the ol' iTunes going while I'm trying to work, for the same reasons I don't write in coffee shops. I'm the kind of guy who needs the world to disappear before he can chronicle it.

There is, nonetheless, an inherent musicality to Two Gentlemen of Lebowski, at least if I've done it right. It's a Shakespeare spoof, so a good half the text is in iambic pentameter, and nailing the rhythm is crucial. When I was in the thick of writing it, if I tried to switch gears and compose an e-mail or a blog post, I'd actually find myself slipping into that rhythm: di-daah, di-daah, di-daah, di-daah, di-daah!

In any event, the man who hath no music in himself is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils, man. Here, then, is an appropriate soundtrack for the book that dares to ask, "What if... William Shakespeare wrote The Big Lebowski?"

"Her Eyes are a Blue Million Miles" by Captain Beefheart

Obviously you have to start from the movie soundtrack. But I'd be inclined to pick one of the lesser-known selections. Sure, everyone remembers "The Man in Me" or "Just Dropped In" or the Creedence. But Two Gentlemen isn't about highlighting the old familiar favorite qualities of the movie; it's about exploring new territory. "While all that was happening in the movie," my humble little volume says, "here's what else was going on, just waiting for you to find it."

"Hotel California" by the Gipsy Kings

Another obligatory song from the movie. This one's a cover. And it surprises you, it sneaks up on you; I love watching the film with new viewers, and keeping an eye on their faces as they figure out, at the last possible second, that they're listening to "Hotel California". There's mystery in how you can take a piece of art and recontextualize it, turn it into something new. I respect covers that bring something new to the original; new and worthwhile, anyway.

"Go West" by the Village People
"Hook" by Blues Traveler
"Basket Case" by Green Day
"Graduation (Friends Forever)" by Vitamin C

All these popular songs, and so many more, are based on Pachelbel's "Canon in D". Which I continue to stubbornly adore in even its most clich├ęd employments. It's a wonderful first step in the conversation about where pop culture comes from, about what the old has to teach the new. There's a similar scene in the film "Mr. Holland's Opus", where Mr. Holland plays "A Lover's Concerto" by The Toys back-to-Bach (if you will) with the minuet that fathered it. Simple but effective.

"Oops! Slim Shady Did It Again" by Eminem vs. Britney Spears

You never forget your first... exposure to mashup, that is. It was one of those glorious summers in between the high school years, and I was in a school bus on the Tappan Zee Bridge, en route to my job as a day camp counselor. The morning wags on 103.5 KTU ("The Beat of New York!") had gotten ahold of some crazy new track, wherein some enterprising soul had laid the lyrics of "The Real Slim Shady" atop the breathy grunts and grinds of a Britney Spears tune with a title too silly to document. I was agog. It was like the two were designed to fit together all along, with each song improving on the other, a reinforcement of qualities rather than a duel. I knew I had to learn more of this mysterious art. In time. In time.

"Love Gamebusters" by Lady Gaga vs. Ray Parker, Jr.

It's one thing to enjoy two tunes well-mashed; it's quite another to see an icon you all but worship go head-to-head with the iconic theme from your favorite movie. I can't get over what a brilliant job remixer Alex Fruen did here. It's the best of both worlds that were already pretty damn great the way they were; the Gaga element in particular has been turned into something completely different and wonderful. If there's anyone out there who loves both Shakespeare and "Lebowski" as much as I love Gaga and Ghostbusters, well, I hope my book gives you the same electric thrill that this track gives me.

"Shakespearean Pie" by Robert Lund

The plot of Hamlet set to American Pie. Yes, I know, another novelty tune, but lyricist M. Spaff Sumsion knows his scansion, and every rhyme's a gem. Do yourself a favor and try to listen to the tune before you read any of the lyrics, it's better to be surprised.

"The Wind and the Rain" by Hem

This Brooklyn-based folk band did the music for the Shakespeare in the Park production of Twelfth Night that I mention at some length in my afterword. Any time I tackled a period song in Two Gentlemen, and needed to think about how music might have sounded back then, I thought of this track.

"Penny Lane" by the Beatles

It's probably a really awful idea to compare anything of mine to the greatest band ever, although since I'm already cribbing from the undisputed top of the totem pole in the Western literary canon, why not. But the Beatles' maturing work rewards people who do their homework, and those who know their music theory are rewarded with all the more riches. I recently watched a fascinating documentary on the Beatles; composer Howard Goodall dissected "Penny Lane", showed you how the sophisticated and unusual modulations work to make the tune more interesting, how the choices to move up and down the scale enhance the storytelling and lead different elements to play off one another. It's a song that rewards listeners who've done their homework. And I am nothing if not a compulsive homework-doer.

Pretty much anything by the Rutles

While we're on the topic of the Beatles and dissecting the masters and whatnot. Neil Innes didn't write parodies, he wrote pastiches, and it's almost distracting how many Beatles hits he manages to pack into one song. Listen to "Hold My Hand" and you get mostly "All My Loving", but also "Please Please Me" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"; the "Penny Lane" spoof "Doubleback Alley" somehow also manages to recall "With a Little Help from My Friends". Pretty soon all possible descriptions devolve to something out of a wine tasting; a whisper of this, a flutter of that, but with a hint of some third thing. Innes's obvious love for, and encyclopedic knowledge of, the Fab Four's catalog is both impressive and infectious, and as he traipses through the years, plucking quotes and chords with the impish delight of a kid in an apple orchard, it's hard not to come away with new appreciation for the Lennon-McCartney spark. As you listen, I hope you'll reflect on my glee at being able to shoehorn a reference to every Shakespeare play into Two Gentlemen.

That really unbelievably beautiful orchestral piece from the Clorox commercials, by the Amber Music Company

Because art is where you find it. And I think that's as good a note to end on as any.

Adam Bertocci and Two Gentlemen of Lebowski: A Most Excellent Comedie and Tragical Romance links:

the author's website
the book's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Bookgasm review
The Bookish Kind review
BookPleasures review
BSC Review review
CNN review
CultureMob review
The Dudespaper review
Feathered Quill Book Reviews review
Lebowski Podcast review
Library Journal review
Mansfield News Journal review
Racket review
Wilmington Star News review

The Dudespaper interview with the author
Lebowski Podcast interview with the author
Onomatopoeia Magazine interview with the author
Popeater interview with the author
Speakeasy profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

Online "Best Books of 2010" lists

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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