September 29, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jesse Browner's Everything Happens Today is one of the year's finest novels. The book has already has drawn comparisons to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and James Joyce's Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, but stands on its own with its smart writing and generous dose of compassion.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Browner (The Uncertain Hour) has crafted a stupendous, thought-provoking, devilishly delicious novel that reads like Zen koan meets Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man with some modern "english" that sets the plate spinning."
At the heart of Everything Happens Today are a 17-year-old boy, Wes, and his iPhone. The novel unfolds over the course of twelve hours on the day after Wes believes he has made the biggest mistake of his life, and much of that time is spent inside Wes's thoughts, with music as their background. I took many of my musical cues from my own 17-year-old, whose tastes might be said to be eclectic, so Wes' music library is a mix of old and new, classic and indie. Getting a teenager's playlist right was a challenge for a child of the '70s like me, but my children ultimately agreed that it turned out fairly plausible.
Theme Song from Joy of Painting with Bob Ross
Elevator music at its worst, but the spirit of the late great Bob Ross permeates the entire novel, as "Joy of Painting" is the only show that Wes' bed-ridden mother will watch. And it's only twenty seconds long.
"Get Me Away From Here," I'm Dying, Belle and Sebastian
Wes has a special weakness for Belle and Sebastian's early sweet, tuneful songs and their take on teenage angst. He even has a poster of Stuart Murdoch on his wall, which later gets him into some trouble with a would-be love interest, who thinks the band is pretentious and "daring you to say you're as smart as they are."
"Fixing a Hole," The Beatles
The novel opens and ends with Wes' musings on his life-long failure to understand certain lyrics in this song. This failure was one I shared until I wrote the book, which helped me to finally get it right (I think).
"Ghost World," Aimee Mann
A girl finds herself lost and at loose ends the summer after she graduates from high school, and dreams of meeting someone who will "tell me what I want." Wes is only a junior, but he knows the feeling. By the end of the book he may have found that very person.
"Alameda," Elliott Smith
About halfway through the book, Wes comes to realize that the lyrics "Nobody broke your heart/ You broke your own 'cause you can't finish what you start" were written just for him. He also spends some time brooding over Smith's suicide and his advice to "fight problems with bigger problems." Wes takes this advice to heart, with predictable consequences.
"Like a Rolling Stone," Bob Dylan
This song has been the battlefield of a running struggle between Wes and his father for as long as he can remember. As a little boy, he learned the whole thing by heart to please his dad, who promptly pointed out that the words were not "do the bump and grind" but "threw the bums a dime." In grade school, Wes' idea of writing an abstract poem using only the rhyming words from the song ("Time fine dime grind prime didn't you, etc." etc) was stolen by a classmate. Later, his father cites the song as proof that the generation gap has been closed, while Wes takes it to demonstrate the exact opposite. Finally, Wes disowns the song altogether when Rolling Stone magazine names it the best rock song of all time. "It was typical of adults of his father's generation to think that everything revolved around them and to ruin it for the rest of humanity with their stupid lists."
"Crazy Feeling," Lou Reed
The girl who hates Belle and Sebastian loves Lou Reed, and so does Wes. It's the first thing they manage to agree on. It should be pointed out that Wes has been having all sorts of crazy feelings all day, few of them as positive as Lou Reed's.
"Satisfaction," Cat Power
All The Rolling Stones' frustrations, all of Cat Power's distortion and languor.
"Sunday Morning," Velvet Underground
It's Saturday morning in Everything Happens Today, but everything else is a mirror image of Wes' emotions as he stumbles home at dawn, having spent all night making the mistake he thinks will destroy his life. "It's just the wasted years so close behind… It's all the streets you crossed not so long ago." There is nothing quite so touching as the bombast of a teenager's despair.
"Julia," The Beatles
Wes has been girding himself for his ailing mother's death for some time. He is most worried about the effect it will have on his beloved little sister Nora. For himself, his big concern is that his major reaction will be relief rather than grief, and that he will never be able to summon the kind of lyrical, elegiac feelings for his own dead mother as John Lennon did for his.
"Guess I'm Doing Fine," Beck
A masterpiece of self-pity. Wes would approve.
Jesse Browner and Everything Happens Today links:
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)
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