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August 31, 2016

Book Notes - Tama Janowitz "Scream"


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

Tama Janowitz's Scream lives up to its subtitle, "A Memoir of Glamour and Dysfunction" as it recounts her youth, her NYC glory days of the '80s, and relationships with her mother and daughter.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"...grim, and hilarious, Janowitz's primal scream exposes...the highs and lows of her writing life, and the boons and traumas of fame and love"

In her own words, here is Tama Janowitz's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Scream:

Music To Scream To

My memoirs, Scream (Dey Street Books/HarperCollins) are a rambling recollection of times in my life that I hadn't written much about before, or things that interested me -- from hearing the Sex Pistols playing at Andrew Logan's loft in London in 1976, to living in Israel right after the Six Day War in 1968-1969, to hanging out with Lou Reed in NYC in the early 1980's, (among many other things).

Right now I'm living in upstate NY, in Schuyler County, one of NY State's poorest counties. It was a shock to arrive here and discover the most popular music is Country Western. Schuyler County doesn't seem to have indigenous music. It's not West Virginia with old time authentic blue grass or a unique "California Sound" of its own. No, it's Country WESTERN. We are not in The West. Gradually however I've become used to, even fond songs such as "She thinks my tractor's sexy," "Chewing Tobacco, Chewing Tobacco, Spit Spit Spit" and Brad Paisley singing about how he'd like to pick the ticks off his girlfriend.

In Israel I was a 12 year old and we (me, my mom and my brother) lived all over the place, at various Ulpans (centers for language for new immigrants) and this very young country really had not developed any kind of modern music of its own. It was "the Hora" – hora, hora, hora all the time – or socialist and nationalist folk music. You wouldn't hear the Beatles on the radio nor even things like klezmer pop. But I remember so clearly the Hebrew version of "Those were the days, my friend" which had only just come out in the States. We loved this song so much we actually bought the 45. We didn't have a record player, though.

Back in the United States, before and after that trip, the '60s were just arriving in the small New England town where I had (mostly) grown up. Before we left, my dad -- who even back then was smoking a LOT of pot, and it was so illegal back then us kids were warned NEVER to mention it to anyone as Dad would be thrown in jail and we would be sent to foster care – would get me to lie down on the big sheepskin rug in front of his fancy hi-fi so he could play "In a Gadda Da Vida" through headphones he positioned over my ears, to capture fully the wonders of the drum solo.

Dad did have other favorite music and had all the old records of Django Reinhardt, who I always loved. Reinhardt was not at all known then, particularly in small town Massachusetts. I remember I wrote a school paper on this musician and how he was a gypsy who lived in a trailer filled with celluloid flowers that caught on fire, burning off his hand but who went on to learn to play great guitar despite his injury. My teacher was baffled by a fifth or sixth grader writing a paper about Django but I got a good grade anyway.

When we got back from Israel we still lived in that town for another year before moving. I was thirteen and I had a boyfriend who was eighteen and, to me, terribly glamorous. Because of him I listened to early Allman Brothers, early Elton John, Curtis Mayfield, John Mayall, the Coasters and Chuck Berry. I thought he had incredible music taste (he did!) and he contributed a large part to my musical taste and likes.

A few years later I spent my junior year of college abroad in England and as I write about in Scream, I met some guy who looked like Andy Warhol who took me to a party where, at one in the morning, the Sex Pistols played for the guests – either their first or second 'public' performance. I remember turning to a guy there and saying, in astonishment, "But they are TERRIBLE!"

"I know," he said. "But they are so bad they're going to be famous."

They were.

Now, while I can't really think of playing "Anarchy in the U.K." I realize how seminal and profound what they accomplished really was. Punk was a global movement that still has influence today.

When you listen to music and you are young, it becomes the sound track to your life. And most people have a cut-off date after which new music doesn't really affect them they way they did when they were growing up. Some people can't stand ANY music they didn't know about or hear before they were, say, 18. Maybe the mind gets hardened to receiving new sounds – I don't know. Other people get older and still listen to new music, although they might feel its just a rehash of things that came earlier. Or they like it but it doesn't create the same profound effect that the music they heard when they were young did, becoming a sound track for your life. Like, me, for Country Western, growing up I heard Patsy Cline, Kitty Wells, Hank Williams and even George Strait – not often, not much, but those artists got imprinted on me. Now, here in upstate, some of the time I can listen to SOME Country Western – but it will never be something I automatically turn the radio to find.

Tama Janowitz and Scream links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Buffalo News review
New York Times review

The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
New York magazine profile of the author
New York Post profile of the author
W Magazine profile of the author
Whitehot Magazine interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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