September 10, 2007

The Long and Winding Novel Excerpts

From my unfinished novel, Most Likely to Succeed

Because even when I'm writing fiction, I'm really writing music reviews.

1. Jordan’s All-Time Top-Eight Albums

That summer, I listened to The Beatles everyday, preferring their work from the years when they weren’t on speaking terms. The Beatles, or The White Album, was then my all-time favorite, just as The Beatles were then my favorite band.

As I cleverly opined in "The Long and Winding Column" (The Rage, October, sophomore year), "Not only were The Beatles bigger than Jesus, but they harmonized better, too."

Two other albums by The Beatles, Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper, also ranked high on my All-Time Top-Ten Albums list, following albums with skulls (Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction), a naked baby (Nirvana’s Nevermind), and a dead guy (Jeff Buckley’s Grace) on their covers. Sure, the covers totally ruled, but the music on the albums was pretty cool, too.

The next two albums were by The Smashing Pumpkins (Siamese Dream and the double-disc Mellon Collie), and I better stop soon – or rather, like, now – so whatever this is remains what it is and doesn’t turn into a Special List Issue (Entertainment Weekly, seemingly every three months).

2. Jordan’s Stereo vs. Johnny’s iPod

My problem was I read too much: The Catcher in the Rye (again and again and again), Romeo and Juliet, Huckleberry Finn... And I watched too many movies like Rebel Without a Cause. And I listened to songs like DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince’s "Parents Just Don’t Understand," which I heard every Friday for a two-to-three-year period, thanks to our attendance at Roller World’s "Flashback Friday."

I know, I know, it’s a silly example, but it’s also the one that proves my point the easiest: Parents just don’t understand, no duh, not in the world’s greatest masterpieces anyway. (Will Smith’s other masterpiece is "Girls Ain’t Nothin’ But Trouble." No shit.)

Perhaps it was the Beatles, my parents’ favorite band, who made me less reticent than usual to speak, at least until after I’d drunk a second cup, at which time I’d start to enjoy my verbal rants. I can’t understate the importance of the Beatles, the consensus pick for the best band ever, in a rare case of the huddled masses being right. Other examples include the deliciousness of pizza, the comfort of jeans, and the total adorability of babies.

Or perhaps The Smashing Pumpkins, whom I’d listened to up in my bedroom, had awakened or invigorated or otherwise inspired me: to express myself outwardly, to re-think my habit of internalizing everything, and to seek a connection with other human beings, instead of merely substituting writing and reading for living.

Sandwiched between The Beatles and Nirvana, The Smashing Pumpkins were then the number-two artist on my All-Time Top-Ten Musical Artists list. As I theorized in "The Greatest Band of Our Time?" (The Rage, May/June, freshman year), The Smashing Pumpkins are "at least the greatest band to have named themselves after a gourd."

Even though the band had their heyday when I was in kindergarten, I somehow fell in love with them when I was in junior high, thanks to an Ottumwa, Iowa, radio station, which only came in on clear nights in the summertime, and its hourly rock blocks, organized by decade.

I knew and believed and understood completely the rage and the loneliness and the pain in the lyrics. And the knowledge of being unique and alone was something I related to and let myself be defined by. And the music itself was the sound of pure emotion, somehow giving melody to everything I felt, from whispering doubt to deafening uncertainty to all the shades of pink in between, with piercing guitars and face-busting drums, which broke and mended and re-broke my heart.

Billy Corgan, the band’s singer, guitarist, and songwriter, was one of the heroes in my personal pantheon, right up there with Thomas Jefferson (because even great men can be hypocrites), Jeopardy! whiz kid Ken Jennings (living proof that nerdiness can be lucrative), and Mr. Peanut himself, Mr. George Washington Carver (without whom we wouldn’t know the joy of Reese’s Pieces). And Benjamin Franklin, who goes without saying. (See chapter one for a discourse on his bad ass.)

But The Beatles, not The Pumpkins, were playing during breakfast, and "Paperback Writer" came on the stereo. You could say the song was becoming my anthem. It was either that, or The Smashing Pumpkins’ "Zero." In third place was another fine choice, Elvis Costello’s "Everyday I Write the Book."

Johnny, to provoke me, said, "Is this the Monkees?" Johnny, a daydream believer himself, had dated three homecoming queens in the tri-county area in just that one summer. The twinkle in his eyes revealed he was playing.

I took the bait. I tried to play back. "You know who this is," I said, with a razor’s-edge less of an edge than usual. I wasn’t exactly what anyone would call cheerful, but at least I was less dour than my usual pre-noon self. "Take a wager. Who do you think?"

Johnny, as always, was nice enough to humor me. "The Kinks? Herman’s Hermits?" Wow. Where’d that come from? His musical knowledge surprised me that morning. Typically, he listened to "whatever’s on the radio," and he didn’t buy CDs or read music magazines like I did. He claimed his favorite rock bands were Green Day and Metallica, even though, when questioned by me, he couldn’t name five of either band’s songs.

When he ran, somewhat inexplicably to me, he listened to guys like John Mayer and Jason Mraz, acoustic singer/songwriters who "put (him) in the zone." His iPod was full of Jack Johnson downloads, songs that were as mellow and cool as the listener. "They help to clear my head," he once told me. "They help me not to think. It’s music to run a sub-five-minute mile to." For me to run a sub-nine-minute mile, I would’ve required an all-star, all-ghost band: John Lennon’s songs, Jimi Hendrix’s guitar, Keith Moon’s drums, Janis Joplin’s vocals, and Beethoven’s and Mozart’s dueling pianos.

His theme song, in my mind, though, was Nada Surf’s "Popular," full of "Johnny Football Hero" and his conniving "cheerleader chick." Yes, of course, my brother ran cross country, but just that summer, he’d dated two cheerleaders. Also, after winning state, he’d become "the biggest fish in (the) pond," the guy who set the standard for "being attractive," which, of course, as everyone anywhere knows, is pretty much "the most important thing there is" in high school.

3. The Nada Surf Defense

I’ll end by sharing one key detail: My favorites, as a rule, were not from this millennium, except for Nada Surf’s Let Go, which the band released when I was in middle school – i.e, those years when we’re all the most impressionable. Nada Surf, as I say, and I say it quite often, is kind of, like, well, I guess, like, "my band," as no one I’ve ever met owns this album, and everyone who’s heard of them thinks they’re one-hit wonders.

But Let Go, their third album, has a song that’s even better: "Inside of Love," which I learned about in a chatroom. "‘Inside of Love,’" wrote NadaBoy8, "will change ur pathetic life." Endquote.

And I myself asserted as much, in "Three Important Rules for Breaking Down Your CD Collection, or Why Nada Surf Deserves to Be ‘Popular’" (The Rage, December, freshman year):

The alternative-rock trio Nada Surf, known today, if at all, for their one big hit, "Popular," an MTV "Buzz Clip" that was popular (get it?) back in our elementary school daze, makes me feel like a schoolgirl with a secret, which is something I don’t even know how it feels, other than giddy and dying to tell you.

Their recent CD,
Let Go, is their masterpiece, despite or because it lacks the song "Popular," and because, not despite, it has a better song, the beautiful, moving "Inside of Love," perhaps, no joke, the greatest song ever, a song that, if the world were right, and if the world were fair and just, and if this silly world of ours were not afraid to love, well, it’s the one that would be their one hit, a new "Amazing Grace" or "The Star-Spangled Banner," an improved "Hallelujah" or "Y.M.C.A.," because it deserves to commemorate your life, a life that, once you’ve heard this song, deserves to be commemorated.

And sure, that’s hyperbole, like I’m foaming at mouth, but I meant it when I said it, and I’ve sometimes meant it since. I sent the piece to Rolling Stone, where it must’ve gotten lost.