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December 20, 2011

Book Notes - Lisa Rogak "And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert"

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.

I enjoyed Lisa Rogak's And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert, which is odd, because I am not a huge fan of his television show, The Colbert Report. As with her eye-opening Shel Silverstein biography, A Boy Named Shel, Rogak's extensive research has once again produced an entertaining and informative portrait of a cultural icon.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"The 40 pages of bibliographic notes indicate her extensive research for this engaging, entertaining biography, which succeeds in capturing Colbert's anarchic, iconoclastic spirit."

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

In her own words, here is Lisa Rogak's Book Notes music playlist for her book, And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert:

I researched and wrote And Nothing But The Truthiness when I was living in downtown Charleston, right around the corner from where Stephen and his mother had lived, and so I would occasionally walk the streets trying to see and feel it through his eyes. Charleston is not a city that easily gives up its secrets, and the esteemed South of Broad neighborhood where he grew up is a very different place today. There are no businesses -- restaurants or shops -- in the area and a lot of the houses are owned by part-time people, but occasionally I'd hear the tinkle of a piano behind those thick walls and shuttered windows.

Of course, most of the time, the piano music was coming from my house -- I'm a classically-trained pianist -- and my roommate there was Michael Murray, a lounge pianist at Charleston Place, and he'd practice for maybe an hour a day. Then when I finished my work for the day, I'd hit the 9-foot Baldwin grand and work on some new-to-me Brahms piece.

The problem with focusing on writing a book when your unmedicated ADD just worsens with age is that you need some outlet to let those hyperactive ponies run. And so my musical tastes bounced all over the place while I wrote.

We are both great aficionados of 70s disco and obscure pop songs -- the cheesier the better -- and so my playlist that served as the accompaniment to Colbert is the following mashup:

I am absolutely a Pandora and Rhapsody junkie. And I listen to a couple of classical music stations on iTunes almost religiously. WCPE, a classical music station out of North Carolina, has a morning anchor with an irresistible British accent, then when he left I switched over to Venice Classical Radio. Now that I'm living in the Bay Area I can't catch him, and miss him.

When I was in the mood for Anything But Classical and also had to research the music in Colbert's life, here's how it went.

Mozart's Missa Brevis in D Major

Colbert joined the Boys Glee Club in his junior year of high school at the exclusive private school Porter-Gaud as a second bass. While he learned songs from musicals like “Nothing Like a Dame” from South Pacific as well as spirituals and folk songs, since Porter-Gaud is affiliated with the Episcopal Church, they also studied a few religious songs as well, including the challenging Missa Brevis in D Major by Mozart. Personally, my favorite Mozart piece is the Requiem, but I became more familiar with the Missa as a result of Colbert.

“The King of Glory Comes”

On Strangers with Candy, a staged or impromptu dance party by the entire cast was typical while the end credits ran. Said costar Paul Dinello: "One thing we liked about after-school specials was that no matter how bad things got, like if someone’s mother has liver cancer, it’s all solved in 22 minutes and then there’s a big dance party." The one exception to the group dance came at the end of the "Blank Stare Part Two" episode, where Jerri -- Amy Sedaris -- joined a religious cult. Colbert danced solo during the end dance segment while singing a capella "The King of Glory Comes," a Christian song that he undoubtedly sang countless times over years of attending Sunday school in Charleston. It's VERY catchy and I lost count of the number of times I watched it. Here's the link:

"I Want You To Want Me" by Cheap Trick

Colbert's character has spoken of an off-camera pre-show ritual; whether he does it for real or in his head is kind of irrelevant, though in the first couple of years, he did involve the audience by running up and down the aisles, high-fiving everyone. “We decided that my character had to sing the lyrics to the song, "I Want You To Want Me" into the mirror,” he said. "It was one of the first decisions we made about the show because, more than anything else, as much as he says he’s bringing the truth, he just wants to be liked."

"Peppermint Patty" by Vince Guaraldi

No matter how crappy a mood I get into, all I have to do is hear the first notes of this song.

"Bears" by Lyle Lovett

See "Peppermint Patty."

"Fish Heads" by Barnes & Barnes

I'm a BIG Dr. Demento fan, and grew up listening to the show every Sunday night. More often than not, the Funny Five list would include a Shel Silverstein song and "Fish Heads." Whenever I headed up to Charleston Place after a full day of writing, I'd have a glass of wine and Michael would play "Fish Heads" in lounge-piano style along with "Brick House" and some other 70s disco pieces that a patron would occasionally catch.

"Vienna" by Billy Joel

One day I heard this song coming from Michael's room and I suddenly got all teary. I knew the song from childhood, but this time I really listened to the words and they hit home. I researched the song and why Joel wrote it, and it made me want to visit the city, which wasn't even on my radar before.

Lisa Rogak and And Nothing but the Truthiness: The Rise (and Further Rise) of Stephen Colbert links:

the author's website
the author's blog
excerpt from the book

Kirkus Reviews review
USA Today review

Charleston Post and Courier profile of the author
Colbert News Hub interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

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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