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November 21, 2012

Book Notes - T Cooper "Real Man Adventures"

Real Man Adventures

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.

T Cooper's Real Man Adventures is a powerful and personal exploration of gender identity through a collection of essays, interviews, and even poetry.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Sublime confidence and spirit distinguishes this unorthodox memoir of gender and identity."

On December 2nd, McSweeney's will host a book release party for T Cooper at Le Poisson Rouge in Manhattan.

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 T Cooper's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Real Man Adventures:

Real Man Adventures is my first nonfiction book. Roughly, it is a meditation on the topic of masculinity, with autobiographical elements. Also kind of a love story. It is not a memoir. But sure, there's a little memoir in there, in addition to interviews, journalism, essay, a poem, artwork, a few six-word-memoirs, some lists and letters, and other things I should probably leave out to build a sense of mystery. I already produced a playlist for the book: an actual album on CD with mostly original songs inspired by specific chapters of the book--written and recorded by amazing artists I'm honored and humbled to have had the opportunity to work with. I can't offer those actual songs here, because most of them are only on the CD (which is available for free, but in limited quantities with purchase of the book--or from me in person at my events, many of which will feature artists playing their music, including songs from the CD).

The reason I produced a CD for the book was probably to take a little focus off myself. That's not entirely true, but there is some truth to that. Mostly I wanted very much not to be the end-all be-all authority on the subject of masculinity, and for the Real Man Adventures album to take the conversation off the page and into another medium, creating a sort of chorus of voices sounding off on what it means to be a man. And on the flipside, a woman. Or even somewhere in between.

My Book Notes playlist below contains additional songs that compliment specific chapters in the book--either I was listening to the songs or thinking about them while writing various chapters, or the songs embody the spirit of certain chapters, or vice versa. Some chapters in the book are already named after songs anyway. I don't think you have to read the book to enjoy the playlist, but it certainly would be nice, wouldn't it. Either way, I've tried to include some general topics covered in each chapter mentioned, for your convenience. There are something like 48 chapters in the book, but I'm including songs for just a dozen of them--because unless you're going on a road trip, you won't have time for a song for every chapter. (If, however, you are going on a road trip and you happen to run into me, feel free to ask and I'll happily provide 36 more songs that can accompany the book and your travels.)

"Lo Siento Spanishburg West Virginia" by Scott Miller (with Rayna Gellert)

Chapter: "My Number" (p. 163), which concerns high school football in the south, and my never getting to play on a team as a kid, and also taking my daughters to our local school's game one Friday night not too long ago.

Scott Miller's songs almost always make me tear up, which I resent, since sometimes one will come up on shuffle when I don't necessarily feel like crying like a little bitch, but then the writing and stories are just so good that I'll usually just give in. Miller let me use his song "12th Man" for the Real Man Adventures CD (for the same chapter), which is a beautiful ballad about being the runt of the litter--the benchwarmer in every sense, from the football field to the ladies. "Lo Siento" is another beautiful one of his newer songs, with expert guitar, and fiddle and viola accompaniment--about nothing less than the current state of this entire country, and what shit like meaningless wars, drugs, technology, and capitalism are doing to our towns and the people who are trying to survive in them. This song (in addition to "12th Man") could've been on a soundtrack for "Friday Night Lights," because I know Coach Taylor would be rocking it while driving his American-made SUV by gently swaying fields on his way down to interview for a bigger and better coaching job than the Dillon Panthers or East Dillon Lions.

"Toxic" by Mark Ronson (feat. Ol Dirty Bastard and Tiggers)

Chapter: "A Brief Interview with my Wife" (pg. 61) which touches upon what she thought when she first saw me, whether her mom thinks I'm good for her, and how much she worries about my getting beaten and/or man-raped to death--plus some other things like our entirely unique and lovely love story.

This is by far the best cover of the original Britney Spears song, and I appreciate hearing it from the mouths of dudes. Favorite scenario comes in an ODB verse, "I want a girl that helps me take my medication, so I don't end up at the police station. I don't want to go back to the police station. They tried to send Dirt on a long vacation!" Is there a better encapsulation of what good women do for their (usually undeserving) men all across this planet and throughout history? Sure, Mark Ronson is kind of annoying, mostly because he's so stylish and handsome, but the horns arrangement and beat are really good on this track, and it's funny as hell.

"Stand By Your Man" by Tammy Wynette

Chapter: "Ten Things People Assume I Must Understand About Women But Actually Don't" (p. 59), which consists of a list of items, including "How much sex is enough sex."

Kind up picks up where last song left off, but I suppose there are a lot of chapters in this book that touch upon what women put up with in their men, like Tammy says, "You'll have bad times, and he'll have good times, doing things that you don't understand... After all, he's just a man."

"Up Up & Away" by Kid Cudi

Chapter: "How to Be a Man" (p. 25), which contains an interview I did for Esquire's "How To Be a Man" issue, even though my responses were cut in favor of insights from fellows like Tom Cruise instead.

"I'm feeling like I'm Peter Pan minus the tights and the fairies, happy to see how far I've come..." This is an upbeat track that sure, has one tiny homophobic line, but besides that, it makes me feel like maybe I'm doing what I'm meant to be doing with my life and that I am capable of taking care of myself and my family and just standing up and being a decent man in the world. And that everything's going to be okay despite feeling like the "man in the moon" that Common mentions in his narration at the end of the song--also that it's not a crime to have a little fun, even though it sometimes feels illegal once you reach a certain age.

"Dead Wrong" by Notorious B.I.G. (feat. Eminem)

Chapter: "The Violence Chapter" (p. 95), concerning: James Byrd Jr., Matthew Shepard, Brandon Teena, pit bulls, and efforts to protect my and my family's privacy.

Okay, this song is homophobic throughout, but I think that Biggie and Shady--and a lot of hip hop artists actually--work out fear and anxiety around violence by going so over the top to the point of caricature and cartoon, perhaps because there's no other way to begin to process it. I know I go there for similar reasons, like, I have to envision the worst in order to stop being afraid of it. "The weak or the strong who got it going on?" runs the chorus, and the way the question is addressed in various verses reminds me how simple the world is sometimes, how whomever has more power always knows it and seizes it, and generally wins in the end. Like, through all of time.

"Cleaning out My Closet" by Eminem

Chapter: "The First 48" (p. 179) which is one of the angrier and sadder chapters in the book, and concerns a terrible bucolic oil painting hanging in my house, and me hating myself when I act like an asshole to my wife, and how sometimes I'd sit under that painting and stay up all night in the company of murderers while watching the excellent TV program "The First 48" on A&E.

This track is one of Eminem's more furious and cathartic ones (and that's saying a lot); it starts by asking, "Have you ever been hated or discriminated against?" and later, "My whole life I was made to believe I was sick when I wasn't, 'til I grew up, then I blew up, it makes you sick to your stomach, doesn't it?" My mom didn't have a prescription pill problem, nor Munchausen Syndrome by Proxy, and I didn't grow up dirt-poor in a suburban Detroit trailer-park or anything, but I can nevertheless sometimes relate to a lot of Eminem's oeuvre, especially the art in it.

"Just Because I'm a Woman" by Dolly Parton

Chapter: "Man Club" (p. 187), which opens, "The first rule of Man Club is: You do not talk about Man Club," and then ends up in a strip club.

Dolly is simply a genius, one of the few true American treasures, my personal angel, and she, more than anybody--male or female--understands the concept of the Man Club. She worked its fringes, eventually joined it, beat it, then completely turned it upside down and inside out. I couldn't love and respect this lady more.

"Whatever You Like" by T.I.

Chapter: "My Wife's Job" (p. 243), in which I talk about all the people I'm jealous of when my wife spends intimate time with them for work (Harrison Ford, David Beckham, Reggie Bush, Jay-Z, D-Wade, Mark Wahlberg, Orlando Bloom, Liam Neeson, Viggo Mortensen, Jude Law, Matthew McConaughey, and so on).

T.I. was on my plane recently from Atlanta to NYC and I rode down the escalator beside him at LaGuardia. He was getting some love from random dudes in the airport; they were hollering stuff like, "A-T-L in the building!" and "Tip!" I considered asking to snap a quick photo with him when we made eye contact and he nodded, but then I felt like he probably just wanted to be left alone, and I chickened out. I don't really get excited about celebrities (pretty much just Dolly Parton and Alan Alda would make me stupid if I met them); a couple weeks ago I got a picture of me with the "Gangnam Style" guy for my kids (they think I'm really cool now), but I'd be happy to trade that for one with me and T.I. instead. That guy has swag (T.I., not the "Gangnam Style" guy--he has virtually none). Anyway, I've always loved this song (and some of the covers out there of it), and it relates to this chapter because it's about "late-night sex so wet and so tight," but even more about being a sugar daddy, which is something I wish I could do sometimes, you know, buy my chick "five, six rides with rims and a body kit. You don't got to downgrade, you can get what I get."

"99 Problems" by Jay-Z

Chapter: "99 Problems and a Bitch Ain't One" (p. 257), which contains another interview with my wife, and demonstrates how fortunate I am not to have girl problems, and thus Jay-Z doesn't have to feel bad for me, Son.

I know Jay claims the "bitch" to which he refers isn't intended to mean women (but rather a female police dog that might've helped lock him up one time when he was running drugs in his car and got pulled over), but I think he just said that because he got so much flack for using "bitch," but whatever. (The title and chorus were of course taken from the original Ice-T song of the same name, and I'm pretty sure what kind of "bitch" Ice meant.) Anyway, there's also a really good, newish cover by Hugo, which isn't on Spotify, but you should definitely find it if you can--I listened to that version a lot while writing this book, and specifically this chapter.

"Magic" by B.o.B. (feat. Rivers Cuomo)
Chapter: "Invisible" (p. 263), in which I recount how my wife and I were brought up on stage by David Copperfield during his magic show in Las Vegas, where we assisted in one of his illusions.

"These tricks that I'll attempt will blow your mind... Come on down to the front, and stand right here and don't be shy. I'll have you time-travelin', have your mind babblin'..." Nobody can resist dancing to this track--not even Mitt Romney. This is a joyful, playful, boastful song, and when it comes down to it, most of the time I feel like my whole life is the result of some sort of magic, and that I'm one of the luckiest guys in the world. (If I were religious, I'd say blessed.)

"Rocket Man" by Elton John

Chapters: "Not the Man They Think I am at Home" (p. 15) and "Rocket Man" (p. 73), which contain excerpts from a draft of the letter I wrote my parents to let them know I wasn't their daughter anymore. Also stuff about roid-rage, Oprah, the Incredible Hulk, and outer space.

I remember hearing the entire "Honky Chateau" album blasting from my brother's turntable in his room when we were kids. "Rocket Man" is such a haunting, beautiful, and ultimately sad song, and it always touched me, before I really knew what it might be a metaphor for, or how it might relate to me. This song holds up, with Bernie Taupin at his finest: "I miss the earth so much, I miss my wife. It's lonely out in space," and, "Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids. In fact it's cold as hell... And all the science, I don't understand. It's just my job five days a week."

"Goodbye, Horses" by Q Lazzarus

Chapter: "When I Knew" (p. 229) which is about buying boxer briefs and Marky Mark in his Calvin Kleins, before he was Mark Wahlberg and nominated for an Oscar--among other personal things I don't really feel like going into here because it's too intimate for the interwebs.

I don't own this song or listen to it often--nor do I even really know who Q Lazzarus is, beyond the fact that the song was playing during one very memorable scene in "Silence of the Lambs," when the serial killer Buffalo Bill is tucking his penis between his legs and mincing around his house in a silk kimono. He's also in the process of sewing a lady-skin suit out of the plus-sized women he's methodically abducting and killing--I guess because he is such a fucked up self- (and woman-) hating transsexual. Anyway, I tried using a few lines of lyrics from this song in this chapter that illustrates the absurdity and over-simplicity of the "born in the wrong body" premise, but when my publisher contacted Sony to secure rights (and pay for them, mind you), we were denied. What happened was that the young lady at Sony requested to see the chapter in which the lyrics were to appear, after which she decided it was not in the best interest of MGM/Sony to allow it. She seemed fairly offended by the material, and said she was "just doing her job," which was to protect Sony. So I guess this chapter of my book is somehow worse than the scene in "Silence of the Lambs" described above. Making my mother proud!

T Cooper and Real Man Adventures links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review
Reviews by Amos Lassen review

Advocate piece by the author
The Believer interview with the author
McSweeney's interview with the author
Publishers Weekly profile of 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

The list of online "best of 2012" book lists
The list of online "best of 2012" 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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