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November 9, 2012

Book Notes - Richard Kramer "These Things Happen"

These Things Happen

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Richard Kramer brings his considerable screenwriting talent (which included writing for Thirtysomething and My So-Called Life) to his debut novel, These Things Happen, a moving coming of age story filled with wit, wisdom, and clever dialogue.

The New York Journal of Books wrote of the book:

"Earlier in his career, Mr. Kramer worked on the acclaimed television dramas, “My So-Called Life” and “Thirtysomething.” From the former, he has borrowed the focus on teen angst as narrated by perceptive teens. From the latter, he has borrowed the insecurities of highly competent parents caught in the act of flogging themselves for their non-omniscience."

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 Richard Kramer's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, These Things Happen:

Wesley Bowman, 16

(Wesley isn't officially sixteen, but why make trouble? He will be soon. In September he went to live with his dad and his dad's partner in the theater district in Manhattan; the plan is that he'll stay for one term of school, go back to his mom and stepdad on weekends, and hopefully get to better know his admirable dad.)

So in answer to your question about what kind of music I, personally, am "into", or what inspires me to create, not that I have ever created anything -- well, what can I tell you? I actually believe that a person's musical taste should be private, so you can find out for yourself what you like and not worry about certain people (no names, although you know who you are) who try to make you feel out of it because a) your music threatens them because a) it is better than theirs. I realize I never said what "b" was; I just felt I'd made my point. That being said, in the interest of being co-operative, one might say my musical tastes are Catholic, even though I'm not. I like the Beatles. I like Ella Fitzgerald. I like Taylor Swift, although I fear she is dating too much. I like Fred Astaire, who was this thin dancing guy in movies who can't really sing but somehow sings better than people who can (my dad's boyfriend George told me about him). The less said about Madonna the better (sorry). I like Sam Cooke! He sang this song called "A Change is Gonna Come," and I feel that besides being a beautiful song there is wisdom in that statement. Mr. Mendelsohn, this somewhat inspiring teacher at my school, says that the only true singer of the last hundred years was this German lady Lottie Lennya (probably spelled wrong); he says you need to hear her in the original German, which once made my friend Theo ask "As opposed to what? The plagiarized German?" But if I had to pick one song I like more than any other it would be "Lose Yourself, by Eminem"; as I approach sixteen I am learning that I believe, passionately, in the concept of abandon.

Feel free to contact me with further questions, although it may take me a while to get back to you, as I am probably busy somewhere attempting to appear "well-rounded".

George Seeger, 40

(George runs a restaurant in the theater district that caters to theatergoers, actors, playwrights, producers, agents, and actors (he was an actor once, himself, mostly in musicals.) He's been the partner of Wesley's father for ten years; they live on the top floor of the brownstone that house the restaurant, which is half-a-dozen steps below street level.)

You're asking the right person. I only hope my answers don't seem "too gay", whatever that means. Because it took me a long time to get what was good about Judy Garland. It took "Easter Parade." She does this movement with her hand while she sings it, which didn't make me want to be gay or be Judy Garland but to be a performer, to give joy to people, which began for me on the stage and turned later on into the stage of restaurants. But if you're talking about music she's the skyscraper that blocks all other signals. You have to get her out of the way; you just do. Because now I get what was good about her. Maybe I could even have saved her. But we'll never know.

I like Sinatra, especially when he sings "Lost in the Stars" because he makes you see how he knows in his soul how it is to feel like that. I like" A Foggy Day," no matter who sings it, because it was one of the last songs Gershwin wrote before he died and because it tells you to hang in, no matter what, because things can suddenly improve. I worship at the feet of Barbara Cook, who, in what I regard as one of the privileges of my life, often comes into my restaurant; she is as lovely and wise as her voice. When she sings the beginning of "My White Knight" from The Music Man -- "All I want is a plain man ..." Right, that part. And the depth of her feelings catches up with her and she sings, as if surprising herself "And I would like him to be/ more interested in me/ than he is in himself ..." She takes a pause then. And then she sings, quietly: "And more interested in us ... than in me ..."

It makes me cry every time I hear it. I told her. She asked me to sit down, and she took my hand, and she sang it to me personally. Which is one reason I love what I do.

Sondheim? Why not? I probably like "The Worst Pies in London" the best, from Sweeney, maybe because we've had such trouble finding a decent pastry chef for the restaurant.

And then, in no particular order --

The theme from the movie Hawaii
"Pavane for a Dead Princess," by Ravel
The theme from To Kill a Mockingbird
"Here You Come Again," by Dolly Parton.
"You've Been Talkin' in Your Sleep" by Crystal Gayle
"Surabaya Johnny," as sung by Bette Midler
"Perpetual Anticipation" from A Little Night Music
"On the Radio," as sung by Donna Summer
"My Pa," as sung by Barbra Streisand
"Chain of Fools," as sung by Aretha Franklin
"I Loves You Porgy," as sung by Ella Fitzgerald, Leontyne Price, Audra MacDonald
"My Funny Valentine," as sung by Anita O'Day
"God Bless the Child," as sung by Billie Holiday
"My Heart Stood Still," as sung by the Mamas and the Papas

The Willow song, from Otello. Even though it's an opera, which is why it doesn't have the "h". It's still beautiful, especially when Stritch sings it. Even though I don't like opera, even though everyone says opera was the musical comedy of the nineteenth century. It wasn't; opera was the opera of the nineteenth century. Which settles it.

And, always, forever, world without end, amen: the overture to Gypsy. Original cast recording; accept no substitutes. Yes; the Merm.

All of the above: the playlist you'd make for someone after a second date has gone well. If it's a cliche -- I don't care. And if I'm "too gay" -- I'm just getting started.

Theo Rosen (16, soon)

(Theo is Wesley's lifelong best friend. With Wesley as his campaign manager he runs for the presidency of the tenth grade of his school. When he wins -- "swept in on a sea of change," he says, "like Obama was" -- he surprises Wesley, his schoolmates, and even himself by suddenly announcing in his victory speech that he's gay.)

Well, I like stuff like early music, and plainsong, and stuff written in the Lydian scale. And zithers ... if it has a zither in it, I'm happy; I'm zitherphilic, one might say. In fact, I even play the zither, which when it comes time to apply to impressive colleges might make me seem more interesting than I actually am. And I also like folk music but not the kind where someone sings O, they're comin' to hang ye, Billy O'Hara, they're comin' to hang ye this mornin'. You know what I mean. I like the kind that's raw, and recorded poorly, from the 20's say, the kind some white guy went around and recorded with very primitive equipment.

I should say I am at a slight disadvantage vis-a-vis this music question. My dad is a lawyer, and somehow he wound up having people like Beyonce and Jay-Z and Kanye as clients. Don't ask me how. He always wants to play me new "tracks" and stares at me, "grooving out", while I listen. These clients allow me and my sister to go to private school and have IPads and live in a loft -- I know all that -- but my dad seems to have permeable boundaries, as he easily becomes whatever client he's working with. Example: Once my Grandma Janice, my mom's mom, was over for Rosh Hashanah dinner. My dad shows up with Kanye, who apparently wasn't aware that the High Holy Days had begun. My dad calls my grandma "niggah," in a perfectly nice way, probably to impress Kanye. I don't think she heard him; as I recall she just went on talking about ballets or cancer or something. My point: I would probably have cooler tastes, if my dad wasn't so problematic.

And also, now that I seem to be gay and stuff, I may have to start at least pretending to like certain gay-oriented music, as I don't think the boyfriend pool is too deep in the zither community.

Lola Korman, 42

(Lola is Wesley's mother. A successful book editor (her specialty, as her son puts it, being authors who write about their colorful, bittersweet childhoods, usually on islands) she lives in an apartment on 81st Street with a glorious view of the East River. Her second marriage, to BEN KORMAN, is a long and happy one.)

Cautionary tale. You can like any kind of music, but you have to be very careful about making your enthusiasms known to others. Case in point, and full disclosure. I have always loved Phantom of the Opera. I don't know why. I love Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, as sung by Jessye Norman, just as much, and the late Beethoven string quartets. I adore Cosi Fan Tutte, and La Fanciualla del West, and Phillip Glass, especially his music for The Hours (a book I was desperate for us to do.). And Phantom. So there you go (and it's between us). And how did I learn not to make this generally known? Well, it was about five years ago. We had people for dinner; wonderful Nora Ephron and her darling Nick were among them. Someone said let's have music, so Nora -- who brought this extraordinary bread pudding -- said she'd go in and pick cd's with me. We were sorting through piles and she was telling me some marvelous story when she came across -- Phantom. She looked at me, and I knew something was very, very wrong. When she spoke, at last, her voice was quiet. "Lo," she said. "I love this, too. But I would never, never tell anyone that." She took the cd, went to the bookcase, and hid it behind The Magic Mountain (boxed). "No one will ever look there," she said.

Oh; and Lady Gaga might do a book for me; she's terribly bright and seems to have read everything. People like that usually just want to do children's books. But not her, thank God. And I've come to love the music. Have you heard her do "The Lady is a Tramp" with Tony Bennett? She told me "Mrs. Korman (she's very formal) ... that's who I really am."

Richard Kramer and These Things Happen links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Marie Claire review
New York Journal of Books review

Publishers Weekly profile of the author
The Quivering Pen guest post by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
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musician/author interviews
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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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