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November 2, 2011

Book Notes - Keith Cronin ("Me Again")

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Keith Cronin's Me Again is a clever and poignant debut novel that manages to be both heartfelt and humorous.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Cronin's debut is an engaging read, utilizing an affable tone and ample humor to temper subject matter that could easily fall into melodrama. The novel shines when navigating the complex interpersonal relationships Jonathan has been thrown back into, as he gets to know not just the family he's unable to remember, but also the man he used to be."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Keith Cronin's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Me Again:

I tend to listen to instrumental music when I write, so that there are no words to distract me. This could range from Bach's sublime solo cello suites to some brooding, swampy slide guitar work from Ry Cooder; from the toe-tappingly exotic Quadro Nuevo to the atonal piano music of Schoenberg and Josef Matthias Hauer (which to most people sounds like cats walking around on a keyboard). While I could list some of my favorites, I think it would be hard to find a thematic tie-in with the plot of Me Again; plus, the atonal piano stuff would likely be a deal-breaker for all but the most largehearted of listeners.

Instead I've spent time coming up with a soundtrack for Me Again, which was a real labor of love. I started with about fifty songs, and slowly whittled things down, testing many different variations of the list, listening to each of them all in sequence until I felt I'd got it just right (yes, I was the sort of guy who used to make mix tapes back in the day). Here's what I came up with to accompany the story of Jonathan and Rebecca, two young stroke victims who become friends while in the long-term recovery unit of an Illinois hospital.

"Nowhere Man" by The Beatles

This was actually a contender for the title of my book. I love the way the melody and the message of this song hit you right in the face from the very first note, with no warning or introduction - not unlike the rude awakening Jonathan experiences after six years in a coma. As swarms of doctors and nurses converge to examine their newly awakened patient, it becomes evident that the stroke has wiped away most of Jonathan's memory, leaving him a man who doesn't have a point of view, and knows not where he's going to - a real-life "nowhere man." But he's about to meet somebody who has equally dire problems.

"The Same Person" by Veruca Salt

To me, the dreamy fragility of this introductory snippet from Veruca Salt's Resolver album evokes the vulnerability and disorientation Rebecca experiences as she begins her awkward re-entry into the world after her stroke. And the tentatively whispered lyric underlines the truth that Rebecca keeps being faced with: that through no fault of her own, she is not the same person anymore. The stroke has changed her personality, making her a stranger to her husband.

"Glory Days" by Bruce Springsteen

This is one of the only songs directly mentioned in Me Again ("The Ballad of Gilligan's Isle" is also briefly referenced, but I'll spare you). It's basically the theme song for Rebecca's husband, who wants nothing more than to go back to the way things were before Rebecca's stroke. In this song Springsteen masterfully captures the experience of people making the uncomfortable realization that their best days may well be behind them. But Rebecca finds herself emotionally incapable of returning to those times, and Jonathan can't even remember whatever glory days he might have had. Slowly they begin to realize the direction they need to be looking is forward, but that's going to mean a departure from everyone else's expectations.

"Desire" by Ryan Adams

This one haunted me from the first time I heard it, in a memorable episode of The West Wing that used the song to highlight the maddening effect of being painfully close to something you want, but cannot have. That's Jonathan's problem (well, one of his many problems), and a situation I think many of us have encountered in our own lives.

"Scenes from a Troubled Mind" by Gov't Mule

Jonathan is on a mission to piece together a sense of who he used to be, but he's not liking what he finds. The three distinct sections of this song reflect the path he's on: a slow and deliberate initial search, followed by a frantic reaction to some of the darker secrets he unearths, finally slowing back down in an effort to calm down and "see what the moment brings." I imagine this Gov't Mule song hits younger listeners in a different way than those who are old enough to detect some of its clear musical influences from the 70's. I hear a blend of James Gang, Bad Company, Led Zeppelin, and even a bit of early Yes in this complex yet bluesy piece. I didn't think they wrote 'em like that anymore.

"I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" by Willie Nelson

In his first attempt to email Rebecca after she checks out of the hospital, Jonathan's conflicting feelings make it hard for him to figure out the most appropriate way to address her. When first drafting Me Again, I experimented with using famous song titles as headings for each chapter, and this song was the obvious choice for the chapter where Jonathan types his first tentative words to Rebecca. Ultimately that literary device seemed too forced, so I scrapped it, but this song continued to come to mind whenever I worked on chapter 10. Plus, I just love the unlikely voice of Willie Nelson taking this musical chestnut out for a spin.

"Numb" by Linkin Park

Both Jonathan and Rebecca are constantly reminded that they are not the people they used to be. Ironically, most of these reminders come from people with good intentions, whether they are healthcare workers or their own loved ones. Think about it: every time somebody tries to encourage you by assuring you that you'll eventually be "as good as new," they are driving home the point that currently, you're not. That's one thing when dealing with something like a broken leg; it's another when you've got permanent brain damage. This song captures the growing anger and frustration of not living up to the expectations of others, a problem that ultimately becomes unbearable for Rebecca.

"Time After Time" by Eva Cassidy

Eva Cassidy - a singer who most of us only became aware of after her death - made a hauntingly beautiful recording of Cyndi Lauper's hit, a pared-down solo arrangement featuring only her voice and guitar (you'll find this version on the Simply Eva album). Without giving away any major spoilers, I'll tell you that somebody dies in my book, and for some reason this song kept coming back to me while assembling this list. I'll admit, knowing who is singing changes how I perceive this song: when Lauper sang it, it was a song about troubled lovers, but with Cassidy's achingly pure voice essentially coming to us from the grave, it's easy for me to hear this song from the perspective of a departed character speaking to the survivor, promising to always be waiting.

"Ready or Not" by Wax UK

I spent a large portion of the 80's touring with bands, and whenever my travels took me through LA, I would get together with a friend of mine who worked for one of the big record companies. She'd usually send me off with a box of promotional cassettes (yes, cassettes - hey, it was the 80's) of whatever her label was pushing as The Next Big Thing. Among those myriad cassettes was one by a band simply called Wax, made up of Andrew Gold (one of my favorite session musicians, who just recently passed away) and Graham Gouldman from 10cc. This song - a stylistic mashup of the Beatles, 10cc, and a soup├žon of Todd Rundgren - always lingered with me, both for its dreamy/anthemic vibe, and its gentle but firm reminder that sometimes you have to go ahead and DO something, even if you don't feel you're ready. It's a perfect message for both of my main characters. (Note: the band was renamed "Wax UK" when this recording was resurrected in the iTunes era.)

"Only 'Cause I'm Lonely (Me Again)" by Luna Jade

It might break from LHBMT (Largehearted Boy Musical Tradition) to include a song the author was personally involved in, but this song definitely belongs on the list. Book trailer videos have become quite trendy in recent years, and I had been brainstorming possible trailer concepts, but kept coming up dry. When I expressed my frustration to my life partner, indie artist/producer Luna Jade, she offered to write a song for the trailer. Sitting at the dinner table, she reeled off a quick rhyme, which happened to capture one of the metaphors I used in the book to describe how Jonathan's memories elude him. That rhyme became the first two lines of her song, and launched a creative back-and-forth between us that snowballed into a video that we're both really proud of. But it all started with the song, and Luna, the most steadfast supporter of Me Again (and of my work in general) totally nailed the spirit of the book, with both a jingle-length musical segment for the trailer, and a full-length song that will soon be available on iTunes. You can see the trailer here. Yes, that's my voice at the beginning.

Keith Cronin and Me Again links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Bibliophiliac review
Elizabeth A. White review
Jenn's Bookshelves review
Kirkus Reviews review
The Well-Read Wife review

Author Expressions interview with the author
Barnes and Noble profile of the author
The Debutante Ball interview with the author
Drummer Cafe profile of the author
Natalia Sylvester interview with the author
The Readers' Writers interview with the author
Women's Fiction Writers interview with the author
Writer Unboxed interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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