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June 22, 2015

Book Notes - Ben Tanzer "The New York Stories"

The New York Stories: Three Volumes in One Collection

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ben Tanzer's The New York Stories collects three volumes of short stories set in the fictional upstate New York town of Two Rivers, and displays Tanzer's evolution into a master storyteller.

The Atticus Review wrote of the book:

"The New York Stories is a three volume set, each published as separate books across a span of nearly nine years and because of this, the book builds a wonderful grand arc, narrative hindsight in a way that allows the whole thing to function as a story greater than the sum of its parts. We see not only the long protracted march of Two Rivers and its inhabitants, but, because of the time between when the volumes were written, the development of Tanzer as a fierce and world-class writer. This development is a beautiful thing to watch."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Ben Tanzer's Book Notes music playlist for his book The New York Stories: Three Volumes in One Collection:

It is lovely to be back.

I should say upfront that as Largehearted Boy has very generously invited me to submit Book Notes essays in the past, I find myself considering a slightly different tack with my new release The New York Stories.

I worked on this collection over a ten-year period, writing in binges as I worked on other things, and so some of what I was listening to when working on these stories has been covered previously on this site.

Another thing that is unique, is that these stories were less driven by specific musical inspirations than other work I've done. The rhythms and tenor of 99 Problems, You Can Make Him Like You, or Most Likely You Go Your Way and I'll Go Mine, speak to the musicians and the beats that spoke to me when I was working on those projects.

But what spoke to me on these stories was memory, and my associations with my hometown, the bars there, the neighborhoods I lived in, and the people I ran around with.

Further, the three collections within this collection are intended to loosely cross eras, the 80s, 90s and late aughts/2010 on respectively, and if not entirely riddled with time specific references, than certainly in the feeling of living in those eras, and the passage of time.

These Notes then are about the music I, or the characters themselves, would have been listening to during those time periods, which I guess means there will be some overlap after all. These stories may be fiction, but they are my fiction, and that doesn't mean we don't share some things in common.

One final note, these are songs that favor relationships, lost love, heartache, and confusion. They are also songs you hear in bars. All of which seems right for these stories, and most certainly appropriate.

Repetition Patterns - 1980s

"Bigmouth Strikes Again"/The Smiths

For every disaffected teenager during the 80's and for time immemorial.

"Fight the Power"/Public Enemy

It might be Sugar Hill Gang and Rapper's Delight or Run-DMC rocking their version of Walk This Way, but somewhere along the way small town dudes decided they needed rap music in their life and I don't think there is a more kick-ass rap song from the Reagan 80's than this one.

"Should I Stay Or Should I Go"/The Clash

I once had the chance to see The Clash in the gym of the college in my hometown. I remember not going because I was tired. On the other hand I wasn't too tired to see Blue Oyster Cult. It was the 80's.

"If You Leave"/OMD

Every high school mixed-tape included this song. MTV played the video on repeat. Molly Ringwald ruled. And while I tend to believe that any true debate over John Hughes' greatest movie is between The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles, my wife favors the latter and I prefer the former, we should never overlook the awesome outsiderness that was, and is, Pretty in Pink.

"I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For"/U2 or "Every Breath You Take"/The Police

These songs are practically from different eras within the same era, and frankly, they're both sort of stalkery, but they were inescapable, they spoke to our collective pain, and I saw both bands, and heard these songs, then, live, and in the moment, much as the characters in these stories would have aspired to do assuming the Police or U2 were playing in the Carrier Dome, Space, The Broome County Arena or Holledor Memorial Stadium.

So Different Now - 1990s

"Celebrity Skin"/Hole

During a moment when Kim Gordon is getting so much love, and this slot that could have easily gone to "Smells Like Teen Spirit," I am reminded how badass Hole was during the moment, and how much the following lyrics speak to these stories:

"You better watch out
For what you wish for
It better be worth it
So much to die for."

"I'm Always in Love"/Wilco

It's funny to me how dismissive we can be of Wilco now that they are elder statesmen and there is music is somewhat repetitive, if not neutered, in nature, because to do so is to forget just how wonderful Summerteeth and Yankee Foxtrot Hotel were.

"Sabotage"/The Beastie Boys

Cliche now I know, and yet I remember walking into a bar just before this song really broke, and the place went bananas, and this despite how long the Beasties had already been around. It was a moment that was just totally explosive and filled with violence and humor and exactly what I hope to do with every story I write.


I was in a bar in upstate New York the first time I heard this song and when it came on this group of women removed their shirts to reveal matching, but differently colored bras, began to dance in perfectly choreographed unison, and then when the song ended they put their shirts on and walked away. It was a half-naked flash mob before such things existed. That's all.

"Simple Song"/Avail

Small town dudes raging, joyful and kicking-ass.

After the Flood - The Aughts and Such

"Your Little Hoodrat Friend"/The Hold Steady

More cliche I know, and yet despite the fact that Buzzfeed is already mocking me for this choice, it is the first The Hold Steady song I heard and loved, and I've always felt that the characters in The Hold Steady's songs are kindred spirits with mine, small town, alcohol quafing, and searching for love and parties, though not necessarily in that order.

We Belong to The Staggering Evening/Ike Reilly

Possibly the greatest bar band ever, or of the last decade, and The New York Stories does love, and need, its bars, its bar bands, and its staggering evenings.

"99 Problems"/Jay-Z (The Grey Album remix)

I won't even ask you to set aside the blatant misogyny for even a moment, but do focus on the sparse lines, and the slamming beats, because I want to capture the aesthetic in everything I try to write, and all the time at that.

"Thresher's Flail"/Be Your Own Pet

Our children are us, and they are all our children, whether we have parented them ourselves or not, and they're fucking angry, just as we were.

"Monster"/Kanye West

To be greatly misunderstood is to be the worst feeling of all. To be able to not communicate it, torture. Mostly absent Yeezus' grandiosity, the characters in The New York Stories know this all too well, and in that way it provides a bookend for The Smiths and Bigmouth Strikes Again.

Bonus Tracks:

There is no great explanation required here. The New York Stories culminates in an epic storm and flood, and so what kind of host would I be if I were to leave out some storm specific, and wholly, complimentary, late night bar tracks for you? No kind of host at all, yo.

"A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"/Bob Dylan

"Have You Ever Seen the Rain"/Creedence Clearwater Revival

"Riders on the Storm"/The Doors

"Purple Rain"/Prince

"November Rain"/Guns 'n' Roses

Ben Tanzer and The New York Stories: Three Volumes in One Collection links:

the author's blog

Atticus Review review
The Next Best Book Blog review

Huffington Post interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for 99 Problems
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Lost in Space: A Father's Journey There and Back Again
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Lucky Man
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Most Likely You Go

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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
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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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