April 22, 2014
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.
Mimi Pond's graphic novel Over Easy is an impressive semi-autobiographical coming of age story set in the late 1970s. Pond impressively paints the era with her pen and ink drawings and an unforgettable cast of characters.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Her detailed portrait of thee Imperial Cafe's small community, as it remains unaware of its own directionlessness, offers a warm take on universal themes of seeking and belonging."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
My graphic novel, Over Easy, is a fictionalized memoir of my post-art school waitressing career in Oakland, Ca in the late 1970s in a restaurant that was an anarchic opera of sex, drugs, and eggs in the time of punk rock. From a musical perspective, the burgeoning punk music scene was a welcome relief to what had become the dregs of draggy, druggy 70s pop and rock. This was the pre-AIDS, pre-"Just Say No" era. This was the "Just Say Yes" era. To everything. Until, eventually, the consequences caught up with us.
When I worked at Mama's Royal Cafe - 1978-1982 - there were no playlists, no ipods, no spotify. The radio's nonstop blare was the scratch track to the movie unspooling before our eyes. Sometimes, depending on which speed-fried line cook was feeling especially aggressive, it could either be arena rock like Queen, Journey, Foreigner, Styx, and Toto, or the moldy bong-water of leftover 60's rock like Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, and Jefferson Starship. A waitress in a bad mood after a breakup might dial the station that played the cocaine-fueled country rock of the Eagles, Lynda Ronstadt, and the Rolling Stones at their most dystopian, or the R&B one that played funk like Hot Chocolate, Donna Summer, Chic, Michael Jackson and the Manhattans. Yes, as much as the collision of punk and hippie had resulted in the collusion that disco really did suck, it had that undeniable beat. It could creep in when you least expected and if you liked it, back then you certainly couldn't admit it to anyone because disco was mainstream and middle class and the enemy and extremely qiana and although that seems amusing and ironic now, then, it was NOT ironic, and it was almost 100% not a good thing. This is not to say that 70s funk was bad. 70s funk was awesome.
Because FM radio in the 70s still had a renegade edge, stations like KSAN would play Jonathan RIchman and the Modern Lovers, the Ramones, Chrissy Hynde and the Pretenders, Nick Lowe, Iggy Pop,the Tubes, Ian Dury and the Blockheads, X-Ray Specs, Richard Hell and the Voidoids, the B-52s, Blondie,Talking Heads, even our local boys the Dead Kennedys. All of this was cool water in the 8-year desert of music like Seals and Crofts, the Captain and Tenille, Peaches and Herb. Can I make you understand how much we had suffered in a decade of orange, brown, and harvest gold? Now we were stepping into a world of black and white and red!
More and more, Bruce Springsteen and Elvis Costello were getting lots of airtime, which was a good thing because both of them saved me from waitressing. Elvis was my imaginary Bad Boyfriend, Bruce my imaginary Good one. Elvis' brilliant wordplay was that of a nihilistic Noel Coward: I don't want to touch you, how come everybody wants to be your friend, everything means less than zero. To me, somehow, this was catnip. Bruce's call to arms was: this town is a deathtrap, strap your hands ‘cross my engines, we can MAKE IT TO THE PROMISED LAND! ( Plus my name ended in a "y" sound so potentially I COULD have a song written about me.)I wanted to be dark and negative but underneath it all I really was my own Pollyanna. No one can ever make me embarrassed to love the Boss.
At home it was a different story. Already a seasoned thrift store shopper, I trolled the record bins there to discover things I was never going to hear on the radio. For a dime or a quarter you could take chances on old records with funny album covers. I was a jazz fan, and by that I do NOT mean 70s fusion jazz. I loved jazz vocalists like Bob Dorough, June Christy, Blossom Dearie. Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" filled me with a profound melancholy I didn't know was even in me. Ditto Coltrane and Stan Getz. Also my friend and customer, musical savant/record store clerk Gary Lambert, would steal records for me so that I could discover for the first time, Ella Fitzgerald's Gershwin Songbook, all of Frank Sinatra's Capitol stuff, and everything Aretha. Aretha, I decided, was the Patron Saint of Single Girls. I had already been Tom Waits fan #1 since 1974, having discovered him while still a teenager in San Diego, our shared hometown. His observational and storytelling style of songwriting made him the antithesis of the bland pablum of mid-70s pop. He was just what I was looking for, the Harriet the Spy of the music world! The fact that he, like I, was from San Diego, a blank slate of a place, gave me hope. I cannot overstate his influence on my life.
"Beast of Burden" - Rolling Stones
This is the song that you would hear cranked up as loud as it would go the minute the restaurant closed at 3 pm and the "open" sign got turned around. For me it was less about bad relationships and more about being more than just a waitress. I've walked for miles! My feet are hurting!
"Thunder Road" - Bruce Springsteen
If ever there was a heralding cry to get the fuck out of Dodge, it's this song. I spent my entire waitressing career knowing that it was going to take a lot of effort and discipline force of will to save my money and quit and move to New York. Plus the opening lines "The screen door slams/Mary's dress waves/like a vision she dances across the porch as the radio plays" sound like this painting by a personal hero, Edward Hopper.
"Half a Boy and Half a Man" - Nick Lowe
I spent about 18 years knowing that I had to craft my waitress experience in Oakland into a cohesive story and trying to figure out exactly what that story was. After my first child was born, I finally realized that the main character in the story, Lazlo, was who Nick Lowe was singing about, a boy-man caught up in a carnival ride of lowlifes and bars and riding around in cars.
"Surrender" - Cheap Trick
I have the most vivid memory of our restaurant manager ( named Lazlo in my story) singing along with this song. Cheap Trick was an anomaly, identifying neither as hippie or punk or glam or anything else. Like Lazlo, they were just delightfully subversive, making reference to the band Kiss, lesbians in the military, mom and dad smoking pot. And the message seemed to me to be that you can work (at least for a time) for THE MAN and still keep the best part of yourself whole.
"You Sexy Thing" - Hot Chocolate
Every time I try to express what this song means I wind up sounding like Miss Jane Hathaway from The Beverly Hillbillies. It's funk, dammit!
"Love and Happiness" - Al Green
This is a great song about the miseries of love, about those 3 a.m. naked lightbulb moments of complete despair and abandonment and panic, where think if you are betrayed now it means you are betrayed forever.
"I Wanna Be Sedated" - Ramones
You haven't lived until you've been asked by the doctor attending your abortion what kind of music you'd prefer to listen to and you say, "I Wanna Be Sedated" and he says, "Huh. I don't know them. How about classical?"
"Brass in Pocket" - Pretenders
I never saw the video for this song while I was a waitress. It featured Chrissie Hynde as a waitress flirting with her male customers, but all I knew was it was about trying to get someone's attention. Except I misheard the lyric, "Gonna make you notice." I thought it was "gonna make you more tense," which I actually liked better, because when flirting with male customers, I really did enjoy making them nervous. Before I worked in the restaurant I was a nerdy lump. The other waitresses were my feminine role models. The restaurant was where I learned how to be a woman.
"What's So Funny ‘Bout Peace Love and Understanding" - Elvis Costello
Written by Nick Lowe but really put over the top by Elvis Costello, is one of the great rock anthems of all time, if for no other reason, because he betrays the soft, humanist core hidden inside his hard nihilist shell. If a hard-bitten cynic like him is forced to beg hippies and punks to just get along, for god's sake, listen to the man.
"Sex and Drugs and Rock and Roll" - Ian Dury
If ever there was a rallying cry for what was going on in the restaurant I was working in, it's this cheeky ditty.
"Roadrunner" - the Modern Lovers
This is another great rock anthem of all time. Jonathan Richman was the boy every female art student in the country wanted to sleep with in 1975 when this album came out. And why not? You heard this song and suddenly you understood what was wrong with every other song on the radio. It's just a song about driving, but in a way it's like waking up in the back seat of a car in the middle of the night and not knowing where you're going, and that's a good thing.
"Deadbeat Club" - B-52s
Although the earliest B-52 songs were a part of the aural tapestry of my waitressing career, this song, when it came out in 1990, inspired the writing of Over Easy because it really did express that languid ennui of youth. Although I was no deadbeat, working to support myself as I did, it conveyed that sense that we would always have all the time in the world to hang around in diners and drink too much coffee, and dance in the garden in torn sheets in the rain. In the rain!
"Eggs and Sausage" - Tom Waits
As an art student, I kept constant sketchbooks while drawing in diners, in buses, on bus benches and in bus depots. Imagine my thrill upon stumbling upon this aural sketchbook, the perfect version of what I was trying to do visually. Of course his version had a far more expert, noir/30s B movie, Reginald Marsh overlay.
"Young Americans" - David Bowie
This song is seared in my memory because a young gay dishwasher, jacked up on speed was busy singing and dancing along with this song one particularly difficult shift when he was supposed to be busing tables. When I asked him to get to get me some more coffee cups, he snapped, "Get ‘em yourself, bitch." I hurled a cup at him. Allllllll right!
Mimi Pond and Over Easy links:
Comics Reporter interview with the author
Flavorwire interview with the author
Hollywood Reporter profile of the author
Los Angeles Times profile of the author
Paris Review essay by the author
Paste interview with the author
Pop Candy interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists