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September 17, 2019

Stuart M. Ross's Playlist for His Novel "Jenny in Corona"

Jenny in Corona

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

Stuart M. Ross's Jenny in Corona is a remarkable New York City novel, a book as funny as it is moving.

Debutiful wrote of the book:

"This hilariously poignant novel from an indie press is seemingly flying under a lot of radars. It shouldn’t be. Jenny in Corona is a must read for those looking for something a little more peculiar than the typical recommendation. Ross may not have written a perfect novel out of the gates, but he’s close. This is a career you’ll want to follow."

In his own words, here is Stuart M. Ross's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Jenny in Corona:

I’m so lucky to be here. I had a hotlink to your blog on my sidebar back in the day. You know writers learn to write more than one time. The first way I learned was a gazette distributed to subscribing family members. Then singer-songwriter. Rapper. Linebreak Poet. Then I tried the Iowa Writers Workshop thing—still trying that … but blogging seems more important than any of those, a lazy open-hearted form spending time with yourself and your references in an internet café beneath a Times Square wax museum. Back then I dreamed in bobblehead Maria Bartiromos. I mean my silvery poets were doing this decades before. Probably poets were always blogging in their prose. Kerouac was a blogger, the endless scroll. Twitter is a group blog for silly rabbits. Megan Boyle’s Liveblog is pretty much the high point of experimental fiction in this country. And all those essays for and against David Foster Wallace inventing our collective blogginess. Bloggers unite, or, you know, absolutely not.

My debut novel, Jenny in Corona, tells the New York story of a boy named Tyrone the year after he graduates from Queens College. He has several problems: a girlfriend (Jenny) who sleeps around, a boss he’s sleeping with, and various types of guilt (Catholic, Jewish, White) he can’t live without. Plus, there’s his deceased mother, his pill-popping father (who does at least share the good ones), the death metal guitarist who lives in his father’s attic and shreds into the wee morning hours, and the coworker who’s obsessed with the 200 lost movies that Robert De Niro may or may not have filmed between 1974 and 1976. I think of Jenny in Corona as Saturday Night Fever without the dancing. But that wouldn’t fly on the marketing copy. Here’s a list of songs that inspired the novel and/or are mentioned in it.

“Unwritten” by Natasha Bedingfield

This song is literally about the curative powers of writing. You of course remember an edited version of this tune kicked off episodes of MTV’s The Hills. Sometimes I write down: Drama! I can’t believe what Heidi did. Who does Heidi think she is? I’m going to get back at her if it’s the last thing I do! I’m trying to warm up my motivations. Because what if my character’s motivation is blogging about The Hills.

“Turned Out” by Helmet

The drums turn and turn in this Helmet song with an airtight reprise and a chorus about Downtown Julie Brown, who, 25 years after this record, keeps turning out the hits on SiriusXM’s 90s on 9.

Tyrone uses ‘turned out’ to mean ‘have sex with.’ I would never say this, but I heard it a lot growing up. From two-fare zone Italians. This ‘turned out’ is closest to the 76th verb entry for ‘turn’ in the OED: to change from one’s normal condition, to ‘put out’. I should know because I read through all the entries for turn.

“Dine Alone” by Quicksand

Tyrone riffs on this song when he’s waiting for a mass shooting to occur in his favorite food court. ‘Breaking bread with other people is for communists,’ he says. ‘I prefer dining alone.’

I, too, must eat alone. I read sometimes that’s bad for your health. But it’s also possible to dine alone with other people. Especially laborers. Probably Walt Whitman did this. Sometimes in the food court I sit near the laborers and convince myself we’re eating together. I eat fast and sorrowfully, like a laborer, and I must shut my mouth when I eat.

Another benefit of eating alone is listening to the people around you. Because they’re always talking. I liked the way Diablo Cody used this in Young Adult. Her delusional protagonist wasn’t popular anymore, and she had to fulfill a contractual obligation to write a novel about popular girls. So she retrieved content by listening in on the conversation of still popular girls at the food court. With Jenny in Corona, I sometimes felt like I was fulfilling some kind of spiritual obligation to write a novel about growing up in NYC.

“Whore” by Mayhem

This song has the lyric ‘she fucking hates you all’, a line that shows up a lot in Jenny in Corona. Juan and Tyrone pass this nihilistic lyric back and forth when they’re sitting in the broken park smoking blunts after church.

‘Whore’ is a real horror, but it always makes me feel better. I love metal, write to it when shit is really burning, but writing-about-metal on its own intrigues me. It’s something I take very seriously. I can spend hours reading the user-generated content on Encyclopaedia Metallum, one of the web’s friendliest places. Many satirize what they don’t respect. I satirize what I’m deathly serious about. I spend a few pages satirizing metal reviews in this novel.

“River Runs Red” by Life of Agony

This song comes from a pretty great hardcore concept album about bad parenting. Tyrone lives with his father, who is a drug addict. My Dad is not like that, but I knew a lot of guys with dads and moms like that growing up. Their parents would say, you can do drugs here but you have to share the drugs with me. These were blue-collar parents who would need to ‘shower after their shifts’, as those centrist democrats said in the CNN debate, but these parents often forgot to show up for their jobs in the first place. I am lucky to have a Dad with a strong work ethic, who still, to this day, must keep working. And maybe I was perversely jealous of those heartbroken kids with loser parents. They couldn’t express themselves. I so wanted to be unable to express myself.

“One Man’s Ceiling is Another Man’s Floor” by Paul Simon

If you grew up in pizza bagel Queens like I did, you never expected to escape Donald Trump or Paul Simon. Someone said they thought Jenny in Corona was one long Paul Simon song, which I took as a compliment. No one has told me I write like President Trump.

This delicate song goes out as quietly as it came in. Much like your desired NYC neighbor. It’s about playing nice with others who are insane.

“Eighth Avenue” by Hospitality

I had a few twee songs on this list but knew I had to pick one. And this is the one. It’s an overpowering love song about a twinkling Manhattan I try to capture in this novel.
Henry James, our great twee novelist, wrote many stories about a damsel who moves to NYC only to lose interest in her pastels. In one of them she’s depressed because, ‘how could you ever draw Fifty-Third Street?’ For me, this song draws Eighth Avenue.

“Classic Cars” by Bright Eyes

This deepish cut off 2007’s Cassadaga has at least a dozen lines you could name your chapters with. The final chapter of Jenny in Corona, ‘The Blindfold Faith’, comes from this song. It’s Conor’s second best song about falling in love with an older woman. The first being ‘Take it Easy (Love Nothing)’ off Digital Ash in a Digital Urn. The crisscrossing riffs on ‘Classic Cars’ are the brim of goodness that overflowed on ‘Stray Dog Freedom’ from the same session’s Four Winds EP. This is no longer the visionary music, the aspirin for hungover feelings, that I’m Wide Awake It’s Morning always turns out to be. Rather, this is normal music now. Dylan retreats to Woodstock. Like Bob, Conor is a compiler and adjuster of keywords. A songwriting search engine. As an artist he is, quite simply, the artist I always dreamed of being. A drunk kid Catholic, spirit bursting out of closeted forms.

(This would be the proper place to tell the internet that the way Phoebe Bridgers pronounces the word “bar” in ‘barroom floor’ on Dylan Thomas is the sexiest sound I’ve ever heard. There’s a beautiful comment on the YouTube link from username Iceberg Lettuce: when I listen to their music I feel like I’m in a cult.)

“Daylight” and “Nightlight” by Aesop Rock

At some point as a writer I put anachronism behind me. I can’t finish anything if I spend too much time thinking about whether or not the Delta Sky Lounge served mixed nuts that had pecans in them in 1863, or if the Delta nut mix didn’t include pecans until 1917. Hive mind, colon, did Delta include pecans in the Oriental mix before Chickamauga? For that reason, I set Jenny in Corona in the year 2003.14444. And I landed there in no small part from the Aesop Rock lyric: ‘never gave a fuck how far pi went.’ Born Ian Matthias Bavitz the year before me near Huntington, Long Island. Where my parents were married and I was later bar mitzvah'd. At a catering hall that is now, I think, a Target.

No one I encountered in 2003.14444…, a most imperial year, could keep on ‘preaching the great American fuck you’ quite like Aesop Rock. Fred Moten wrote that after 9/11, American imperial policy took no time off to mourn. Neither, I would argue, did our rappers. Aesop and related crews delivered the bonkers batshit laid-back writing I wasn’t really finding in serious writing, you know. Wet prose, dank and delirious, wrap it three times in plastic dank. Everyone writerly in 2003.14444 was talking about ‘sentences’ and that always made me think of prison. The Daylight EP and the Bazooka Tooth follow-up showed me what the page deserves; dirty dusty intelligent wit and word murdering, as El-P put it on the diss track. I spent many midnight hours waiting for an E-train that wasn’t going to go express digesting these picked apart halo kibbles.

“False Relationships and the Extended Ending” by Morton Feldman

You ever have one of those? A false relationship with an extended ending? I am old enough to remember when the major works of John Cage and Morton Feldman were inaccessible. Now it’s all streaming, which is still unreal to me. When I was a kid, all you could do was stare at $119.98 box sets in locked cages at the Lincoln Center Tower Records. Lucky for me, I went to high school behind Lincoln Center and spent most of my free time, and even more of my supposed-to-be-in-class time, in the listening section of the Lincoln Center library. Where you could find, but never take out, discs from those box sets. You placed a triple-stamped CD into a CD player the size of a server farm and wore big headphones like the kid in the last shots of Dazed and Confused. It was the type of hoary experience Nicholson Baker would write an entire book about.

Morton Feldman’s music and writing, and his uptown personality around the downtown hipsters, was a big influence on Jenny in Corona. His compositional style is compared to Edmund White’s poetics of prose weaving, where the next thing weaved must be slightly off-center. You know there are few New Yorkers like Morton Feldman. Kathy Acker is another example. You just feel like a cooler person because you live in the same city as them. In the bloggy days I used to feel this way about Elizabeth Spiers. That I would give up my seat for her on the Madison Avenue bus. Or expecting to see Julian Casablancas fidgeting in line at the Astor Place Starbucks. Of course this is how a fitter, happier Donald Trump assassins down the avenue in the novel American Psycho. New Yorkers like these people are forever present in the city spirit. Even in August they are fresh. Or I think about the corner musicians in Kramer vs: Kramer, who are playing the movie’s soundtrack. Living in New York the soundtrack to your novel is gifted, not earned. So I think all New York books need someone like Derek Jeter or Morton Feldman lurking in every chapter.

A Feldman story not in the novel, about running into John Cage at Carnegie Hall after a performance of the Webern symphony, is one of the most touching aesthetic encounters between two men I’ve ever read. Both men snuck out after the Webern and ran into each other on the red carpeted steps. One man came from the left, one man came from the right, just like in Dostoevsky. But unlike in Dostoevsky, they were pushing themselves together, not pulling themselves apart. Some accounts say they ditched the program to miss the Tchaikovsky, some the Rachmaninoff. Of course we could easily discover the upvoteable answer. Last week I saw a tattered copy of Feldman’s collected prose, Give My Regards to Eighth Street, at Uncharted Books. My first thought was that I had died, and my inheritors were redistributing the wealth of what I’d barely remembered.

Stuart M. Ross and Jenny in Corona links:

the author's website

NewCity Lit review

Rob McClennan's Blog interview with the author
Vol. 1 Brooklyn essay by the author
Writer's Bone interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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