February 12, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Teddy Wayne follows his brilliant debut novel Kapitoil with the equally impressive The Love Song of Jonny Valentine. Told pitch-perfectly through the voice of its 11 year old pop star protagonist (who Details likened to "Justin Bieber by way of Haulden Caulfield"), this book skewers our celebrity-obsessed culture while pointing out the often bittersweet reality of fame.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Masterfully executed...the real accomplishment is the unforgettable voice of Jonny. If this impressive novel, both entertaining and tragically insightful, were a song, it would have a Michael Jackson beat with Morrissey lyrics."
In the The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, 11-year-old pop star Jonny spends a lot of time discussing his own (fictitious) bubblegum hits, such as "Guys vs. Girls," "RSVP (To My Heart)," and "U R Kewt." But, with his advanced-for-his-years comprehension of musical aesthetics and commercial imperatives, he also analyzes a number of real pop and rock songs. Here are selections from the novel about six of them:
"Like a Virgin" by Madonna
From the song's bass line, I could tell it was Madonna's "Like a Virgin," which has a dance groove that closely mimics "Billie Jean," even though it's directly influenced by that old Motown song "I Can't Help Myself." But pretty much everyone rips off bass lines.
"Everyday" by Buddy Holly
Me and Rog ended with an analysis session of Buddy Holly's "Everyday." He's been on a Buddy Holly kick lately, and he said to pay attention to the simplicity of the melody and instrumentation, the drummer just beating out the rhythm by slapping his knee, how it wouldn't work without Holly's vocal control and textural smoothness. He had me imitate his "a-hey" and the way he slows down and ranges up and down the scale within a word like his voice is going over a speed bump. I told him to pass on to whoever top-lines the next album that I wanted to do something like this in a song.
"1977" by The Clash
The singer on the stereo kept singing "1977" at the start of each verse, and the bassist of the Latchkeys was like, "If we wrote a song named after this year, and someone was listening to it in three or four decades, what would it be about?" and the drummer said, "Like, fucking Facebook," and the lead guitarist said, "No, articles about Facebook," and Zack picked up an acoustic guitar from the floor and paused the music and played a pretty riff that was like the textural opposite of the song we'd been listening to, and one of the Latchkeys cupped his hands over his mouth and said, "He's playing acoustic! Judas!" and Zack said, "Except for acoustic it would be, 'Jesus!' and he'd whisper to his band of disciples, 'Play fuckin' quiet!'"
"Complete Control" by The Clash
"It's the greatest meta-critique of the music industry in a rock song," Zack said. I tried to listen to the lyrics, which were hard to make out, but I liked how it was part singing, part shouting. Normally this music, it's all shouting because the singer's got zero vocal chops. I could tell it was about how bad their label was, which is a major no‑no. When singers play antimedia songs, they think they're getting the fans on their side, but the fans don't actually care and all you're doing is alienating your ally and mouthpiece. But the fans really don't care about a song slamming your label, even if most people hate their boss. They don't even understand what the label does. They just know what's put out in front of them, like a roast beef sandwich on an airplane, and have no idea anyone else had to feed and kill and cook and package the cow before serving it on their tray. And the funny thing is, they all wish they could be the packaged cow.
"Billie Jean" by Michael Jackson
A groupie would probably expect me to have some music on, so I plugged my iPod into my portable speakers and chose a playlist with "Billie Jean" on it to pump myself up. It's an iconic opening few bars, and even though it sounds like a million other drumbeats with a kick, snare, and hi‑hat, you know what it is right away. Then that bass line starts up, and if you didn't know what it was before, now you definitely do…It's a perfect pop song. The tempo is 117 beats per minute, which I think is the best for a dance song, right about where your heart rate should be for low-intensity fat-burning cardio, and the spare instrumentation highlights the vocals while still driving the song, which is a tough combo. It would be nice if I ever had a song like that, which a broad-spectrum audience will remember forever and which anyone with a pulse loves, instead of singing for tween girls and having them forget about it six months later.
"Stay" by Maurice Williams and the Zodiacs
"Stay" is very short, about a minute and a half. That's part of what makes it such a strong song, right as you're getting into it, it ends and leaves you wanting more. It makes you feel what Maurice Williams is singing about, which is what any good song does, but usually not with track length.
Teddy Wayne and The Love Song of Jonny Valentine links:
Boston Globe review
Boston Phoenix review
Interview Magazine interview with the author
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review
Wall Street Journal review
All Things Considered profile of the author
Art Beat interview with the author
BookPage interview with the author
Cleveland Plain Dealer profile of the author
Jacket Copy interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Kapitoil
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
The Millions interview with the author
The Morning News essay by the author
New York Observer profile of the author
Splitsider interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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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)
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