July 1, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Daniel Nester's memoir Shader is a poignant and humorous coming-of-age story.
The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote of the book:
"Shader affectingly explores youthful pain without retroactive adult resentments of the sort that can curdle into self-pity. Wit is the author’s default instead."
My latest book, Shader: 99 Notes on Car Washes, Making Out in Church, Grief, and Other Unlearnable Subjects, a coming-of-age memoir told in 99 short chapters, wears its record nerd proclivities on its sleeve. My family lived in the working class enclave of Maple Shade, NJ, ten miles from Philadelphia and light years from anything that resembled a cultural underground. I'm going to sound like the old man shouting at people to get off my lawn, but here I will just go ahead and point out that nowadays, when we have access to just about every cultural artifact at our fingertips, it's a lot easier to find our tribe. Back then, however, you had to hunt down new sounds and ideas, and for kids like me that meant hanging out in record stores for days on end. I discovered the outside world one album at a time.
Anyway, what follows are some of the songs that are mentioned in Shader, roughly in the order they appear in the book. I need to point out that if it weren't for its unavailability online, I would have included a Prince song here, specifically "The Beautiful Ones" from Purple Rain, because that's the song that caused me to get lost in the Jersey Pines one drunken night in 1985.
Billy Squier – "She's a Runner" (1983)
The idea for my book's prologue is lifted from the first chapter of Duke of Deception, when Geoffrey Wolff learns his father had died. His chapter takes place at Narragansett on the Rhode Island shore; mine takes place at a Billy Squier concert in Patchogue, Long Island. I won't waste your time defending this song choice; I'll just say that I've always thought of Billy Squier as an American T. Rex, someone who made hard rock sound like pop and pop sound like hard rock. It was during Billy Squier's performance of this song when I had an out-of-body experience, just before getting the news from my sister that our father had died. After I published a draft of this chapter online, Mr. Squier wrote a kind note, and he also wrote a nice blurb for the book as well.
Village People – "My Roommate" (1979)
I always said the first album I bought was Billy Joel's Glass Houses and not Village People's Cruisin', as was actually the case. This is an example of a memoirist's selective memory to appear more sophisticated, if we can agree mid-period Billy Joel outclasses prime Village People. Listening to this deep cut from Cruisin' decades later, I now can admit my prepubescent heteropatriarchic tendency to favor the Piano Man over the Macho Men was dead wrong. This track is now in my regular rotation.
Bruce Springsteen – "Jungleland" (1975)
In Maple Shade, NJ, I am still known as "Meri Nester's brother." Meredith Nester's look perfectly suited the early-1980s: long, blonde hair (enhanced by Sun-In), Bongo jeans from Merry-Go-Round, cut sweat shirts, and jelly pumps. I wore husky Wranglers, tube socks, and glasses that remained tinted indoors. Meri made varsity cheerleading by eighth grade. I played trombone and sent away for free pamphlets from the Consumer Information Catalog. Meri was the barefoot girl in Bruce Springteen's "Jungleland" who sat on the hood of a Dodge and drank warm beer in the soft summer rain. If you grew up in New Jersey, you were expected to know the lyrics to Born to Run, start to finish, by age 14. I believe there was a quiz.
Bon Jovi – "Runaway" (1984)
My sister listened to this Bon Jovi song constantly for the better part of two years. Then she went to see the band play at an all-ages club called Bratz. She came back with had a joint in her jacket and, I'll never forget this, she did not get in trouble. This song isn't half had, actually, listening to it 30 years later.
Heatwave – "Always and Forever" (1976)
Maybe it was just a thing at racially diverse Camden Catholic High, but this old school slow jam from the same band that brought us "Boogie Nights" was played at every school dance. I think I sprouted a couple pimples just listening to this song while reenacting my freshman dance.
Queen – "Bohemian Rhapsody" (1976)
I didn't need to listen to this again for book research. I've listened to this so many times now, and in so many incarnations and covers, I've lost count. Back then, however, when I borrowed a cassette of Queen's A Night at The Opera from Andy, a trumpet player in band, my ears had been trained for this moment. As I sat on my room's shag rug and the song began, it felt as if small, shiny objects, like atoms or quarks, sprinkled around my ears, then went inside, until, by the gong at the song's finale, they met in the middle of my head to form a new lobe of my brain. I rewound the tape and played it again. And again.
The Jam – "A Town Called Malice" (1982)
A lot of people I know tell the story of how an older sibling or friend exposed them to cool music. For me, Scot Harter was that person. If I could point to one moment when I was assured there was a way out of Maple Shade, where I could say there was a Before and an After, where someone or some force interceded and changed the way I looked at the world, it would be the day Scot Harter handed to 13-year-old me Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, The Replacements' Tim, Stiff Little Fingers' Inflammable Material, the first Bad Brains LP, Another Music in a Different Kitchen by the Buzzcocks, Wire's Pink Flag, and Snap!, a greatest hits collection by Scot's favorite band and soon to be one of mine, The Jam. Paul Weller's working class portraits mirrored up so much of what I was experiencing you could have convinced me that his hometown, Woking, was Maple Shade's sister city. "To either cut down on beer or the kids' new gear/It's a big decision in A Town called Malice" was a far cry from "Hot Blooded." I suspended listenings of Foreigner and Billy Joel. Some of those new records got played so much over the course of the next two weeks that I had to order Scot replacements. And then I wore them out again.
R.E.M. – "So. Central Rain (I'm Sorry)" (1984)
I saw my new favorite band, R.E.M., play a concert on April 28, 1985 on an outdoor stage at Rutgers in Piscataway, NJ. This was during a period in my life when I listened to R.E.M. and little else. There's something about Michael Stipe's indecipherable singing at this time that taught me a lesson about listening to music: namely, that I couldn't understand a fucking word he sang. No one could. I didn't want to understand, or I didn't mind not knowing. Michael Stipe sang but did not make sense, and that's why I loved R.E.M. It was the sound of words that weren't words. I sang along phonetically, and for once, I didn't care. Until R.E.M., to know and love music was to collect. R.E.M. was all about the being in the moment, or, as Virginia Woolf might put it, a moment of being.
Daniel Nester and Shader links:
The Daily Gazette interview with the author
Fanzine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes by the author for How to be Inappropriate
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Incredible Sestina Anthology
Philadelphia Inquirer profile of the author
Ploughshares interview with the author
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)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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)