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August 22, 2017

Book Notes - Jarett Kobek "The Future Won't Be Long"

The Future Won't Be Long

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.

Jarett Kobek's The Future Won't Be Long is one of the best New York City novels I have read, a wise and funny book that captures the city from the mid-'80s to mid-'90s.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Ambitious. . . . Kobek crafts an electric tale, and the wilds of New York City during this intense time period provide a gritty, undeniably magnetic context."

In his own words, here is Jarett Kobek's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Future Won't Be Long:

#1 "I'd Rather Go Blind" – Etta James

Etta James was so good. Her songs can end up in ten thousand car commercials and still not suffer even an inch of capitalism's corrosive touch. Baby hears this song when he first shows up in New York.

#2 "Starfucker" – The Rolling Stones

Baby hears this coming off a boombox while going to The Strand to buy a novel by the late, great SF writer Thomas M. Disch. With its extreme-for-the-era lyrics, "Starfucker" was released, commercially, under the name "Star, Star" with some material censored. It's typical mid-70s Jagger/Richards sound, dripping with all the misogyny and sleaze that one would expect. In the era of "England Lost," a Tory wassail about the death of The City as a cesspool of international money laundering, it sounds like a god damned masterpiece.

#3 "Let's Dance" – David Bowie

This song plays while Adeline re-engages with the secular sacrament of California, which is to say that she smokes pot after a long abstinence.

Incidentally, a kid I went to school with turned out to be a precocious serial killer, stabbing four people to death before he was apprehended at the ripe old age of 15. He slaughtered his first victim when he was 13. The video for "Let's Dance" was playing on VH1 while she died.

That's a true story.

#4 "Here I Go Again" – Whitesnake

Adeline embarrasses one of her shitty boyfriends by singing this in front of some drug dealers. It's an apparent ironic rendition… or is it?

#5 "Kiss" – Prince

Great song. It's played at a party just before Adeline convinces her boyfriend to have sex with Baby. Chaos ensues.

#6 "Marry Me" – These Immortal Souls

Heard by Baby and Adeline at the Scream club, live, in a hotel overlooking Los Angeles's scenic MacArthur Park. Scream was a long-running Hollywood institution. It looked like someone set off a bomb inside of a Halloween costume shop. Back in '87, Geffen Records released a promo compilation of the club's house bands. The record's awful but worth finding for the liner notes.

#8 "My Prerogative" – Bobby Brown

There was a scene, set in the year 1989, where Baby and Adeline end up in Bret Easton Ellis's apartment on 13th Street, watching some drag queens do an impromptu rendition of Dean Martin's version of "Marshmallow World" followed by someone putting "My Prerogative" on the stereo.

See the next song.

#9 "Only in My Dreams" – Debbie Gibson

I said there was a scene because Bret East Ellis fact-checked his own appearance. His only issue with the broad travesty of himself in The Future Won't Be Long was the suggestion that he'd be listening to Bobby Brown. He suggested, instead, this song by Debbie Gibson.

You can try and get authenticity and verisimilitude all you want, but there's still some things that you'll miss. BEE's suggestion was so brilliant because it was so fucking true. He's from that last generation where pop music made by White People still had any real cultural cachet. If you weren't there, you can't understand it.

#10 "Crash" – The Primitives

There's a scene where Adeline's wearing an outfit that I stole, wholesale, from Tracy Tracy in the video for this song. Great song. Better outfit.

#11 "She Drives Me Crazy" – The Fine Young Cannibals

A chapter in Future deals with Daniel Rakowitz, a lunatic who lived near Tompkins Square Park and ended up killing his roommate, a dancer at Billy's Topless named Monika Beele. Rakowitz boiled the flesh off her body and then used the broth to serve soup to homeless people.

Rakowitz's neighbor, Stephan Ielpi, graffitied on Rakowitz's door: "Home of the fine young cannibals. She drove me crazy… So I killed her!" For Future, my BFF Sarina Rahman did the lettering for a replica of Ielpi's graffiti. Hi, Sarina!

(A weird side-note: the best article about Rakowitz was published in the Village Voice and was written by Max Cantor, who played Bobby in Dirty Dancing. Cantor himself suffered a horrible East Village death. Those were the days.)

#12 "I'll Keep It With Mine" – Nico

One of the most interesting people hanging around the club scene was the drag queen Christina. Marilyn Manson played her in Party Monster, but his performance missed her true wonder. Luckily Nelson Sullivan was there, and captured her on video. You can find her all over YouTube. She's phenomenal.

Before she committed suicide, Christina was brought up on attempted murder charges. She was performing on stage and threw a microphone stand into a heckler's face, knocking out his eye. There wasn't any documentary evidence of what song she was singing at the time, so I went with this one.

#13 "Fast as You Can" – Fiona Apple

The only reason I became a professional writer was because I thought that if I did well with my books, it was my best chance of meeting Fiona Apple and maybe Alicia Keys. I still haven't met either.

#14 "Hallelujah (SNL Version)" – Alicia Keys

Following up on the previous song. I was in Europe when Donald Trump won the Presidency. A week later, everyone started sending me emails about a performance of "Hallelujah" on Saturday Night Live. It was apparently a bitter rebuke of the electoral results. I went to YouTube and I typed in Hallelujah and SNL, and what came up was a video of Alicia Keys on SNL, performing a ripsnorting version of her song "Hallelujah."

This was a moment of existential crisis. I was shocked. The hacks who run Saturday Night Live had come up with the perfect solution to a moment of national crisis: Alicia Keys. I think that Alicia Keys is the solution to every major problem in the world. When there's a North Korean nuclear bomb exploding over my head, in the millisecond before my flesh is vaporized, I'll cry out for Alicia Keys.

So I was now, at last, forced to admit that something on Saturday Night Live hadn't been distasteful and was exactly what I would have done in the same circumstances. I believed this for a week as I wandered around Munich. And then someone told me that, no, actually SNL's reaction to Trump had been a different performance: Kate McKinnon dressed as Hillary Clinton, performing a version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah."

The world again made sense in its sickening mediocrity.

15. "Tell Me Something Good" – 3 Teens Kill 4

This was David Wojnarowicz's band. He shows up in the book.

16. "Changing of the Guards" – Bob Dylan

One of Baby's boyfriends mishears a line in this song—"She was trapped between Jupiter and Apollo"—as "Trapped between Jupiter and a bottle." Which Baby ends up using as the title of his first SF novel.

Someone I dated actually made this mistake, so I turned it into a plot device.

16. "You Like it Real" – Holy Cow

Baby snorts a bunch of ketamine. He goes into a K-hole and imagines that he's in a universe of rainbow gradiation, where aliens communicate through high-frequency light manipulation. Thankfully the ketamine has given Baby the ability to understand communication through high-frequency light manipulation, at which point the aliens recite the lyrics of "You Like it Real" by Holy Cow, the best band to ever emerge from Providence, Rhode Island.

17. "Pretend We're Dead" – L7

This song showed up on the playlist I wrote for Largehearted Boy when I Hate the Internet came out. My publicist suggested that I should tone down what I'd originally written. I duly complied. Anyway, Future is another book with an L7 confluence, which is weird, because I never liked their music.

Here's what I struck from the I Hate the Internet playlist: "I really miss all of the Gen X women from the ‘90s who'd invite you to their threadbare apartments, and spend half the night insulting their cat while insisting that you read a translation of Baudelaire's translation of De Quincey, and then wake up the next day and plot to assassinate their exes. Maybe these women still exist and I'm so dreadfully boring that I haven't run into one in over a decade, but it feels like an essential light went out around 2000. Anyway, I Hate the Internet is a love letter to all of them. I hope they're still out there, somewhere, throwing used tampons at posters of Neil Young."

18. "Feeling Good" – Nina Simone

Dr. Simone at one of her many many many high points—a song somehow resistant to the eldritch touch of Michael Bublé, an individual who looks like a Victorian resurrection man crawled into Frank Sinatra's wardrobe.

Adeline starts listening to Nina Simone after seeing Point of No Return, a remake of La Femme Nikita. She goes to a record store in San Francisco and buys an album, only to be condescended to by the clerk. You cannot overestimate how frequently this condescension occurred in the months after Point of No Return.

19. "Bring it on Home To Me (Live at the Harlem Square Club 1963)" – Sam Cooke

There's a tender reunion scene in Future that follows Baby's purchase of a Japanese issue of this album by Sam Cooke. This live show is almost certainly the greatest thing ever recorded.

20. "Here Comes the Hotstepper" – Ini Kamoze

This song was really, really popular in 1994. It still sounds great, which you can't say for most things that were really, really popular in 1994. Hearing "Hotstepper" is what makes Adeline realize that she's gotten old: like Bret Easton Ellis, pop music has left her behind.

21. "The Beautiful People" – Marilyn Manson

Speak of the devil.

The artist William E. Jones had an idea that the best way to understand the alternative rock music of the early 1990s was as capitalism transforming the so-called trangressive culture of the previous decades into digestible product for straight people.

Nine Inch Nails is Robert Mapplethorpe. Nirvana is William Burroughs. Hole is Lydia Lunch.

I'd suggest that Marilyn Manson was the last of these groups, and that the band's early days were about harnessing the energy and output of the Club Kids and making it into safe product.

Just before Future ends, Baby ends up seeing Marilyn Manson live and having the same idea.

I told Jones that I'd stolen his idea, but he didn't remember having it in the first place.

Jarett Kobek and The Future Won't Be Long links:

excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for I Hate the Internet
OTHERPPL interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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