Some Indie Rock-Related Literature For Your Summer Reading List

Alongside rote one-dimensional characters and an overly familiar critique of wealthy liberals, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom features plenty of clunky indie rock references, including mentions of Ben Gibbard and Jack White and an analysis of a Bright Eyes show. (There’s also Wilco, Michael Stipe, etc.) After finishing it a few months ago, I started Jennifer Egan’s (now Pulitzer Prize winning) A Visit From The Goon Squad, which talks about “jock hardcore” bands like Black Flag and the Circle Jerks, not bands you’d reference as “indie rock,” but it reminded me that Bad Brains (and Ian MacKaye) appear in Freedom as symbols of prime D.C. exports. (Tellingly, no mention of Rollins. Or his spoken word.) Jumping between these two books in less than a week, I decided to put together a short list of some “indie rock” (or whatever) references in more recent works of fiction. Some are just rock references, I guess. And when I say “recent,” I opted to include Bret Eaton Ellis’s Imperial Bedrooms instead of American Psycho, etc. It’s just a starting point, really, so don’t read it as a “Top 10″ … it’s just 10 (or so), a brief spewing that should be built upon, especially as the weather gets warmer and “Summer Reading” becomes something people start considering. In that vein, even though I’m personally revisiting William Gaddis, it might be interesting to have a music-related list of novels and short story and poetry collections and black metal zines for folks to take to the beach. Start it with the previously mentioned Freedom and A Visit From The Goon Squad and add, via a caffeinated morning:

Zachary German Eat When You Feel Sad
Zachary German Eat When You Feel Sad refers to cocorosie, mentions Steve Malkmus/Pavement, Weezer, the Shins, Ugly Casanova, Morrissey, the Rapture, Feist, Death Cab For Cutie, etc. It’s a blog onto itself. And there’s:

He puts on a t-shirt. He takes off the t-shirt. He puts on a collared shirt. Robert looks at a glass of water. He drinks from the glass of water. The album Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective is playing. Robert checks his email. Robert has no new email. Robert looks at his cat. He thinks “Animal Collective are probably happy.”

Trinie Dalton Wide Eyed
Trinie Dalton’s older Wide Eyed opens with a epigram from Pavement’s “Range Life” and goes onto to reference the Flaming Lips, Lou Reed, the Stones, etc. (I focused on all of that in a Village Voice review a few years ago.)

Dennis Cooper Guide
Dennis Cooper, aka the guy I did my graduate work on, published that book as part of his Akashic Little House On The Bowery series. From the Guided By Voices riffs in Guide to Joy Division in his first novel Closer to his association with Deerhunter and onward, he sorta gets his own separate list. (Speaking of which, another book published via Cooper’s imprint, Mark Gluth’s The Late Work Of Margaret Kroftis uses Spencer Krug for one of its epigraphs, makes allusions to Robert Pollard.)

Artificial Light Sonic Youth
Does James Greer’s GBV-themed Artificial Light count? How about Peter Wild’s anthology Noise: Fiction Inspired by Sonic Youth?

Bret Easton Ellis Imperial Bedrooms
Bret Easton Ellis’ Imperial Bedrooms is named after the 1982 Elvis Costello album (and there’s a “Beyond Belief” epigraph among other Costello-isms) and references the National (“one time you were blowing young ruffians … sung over the digital billboard on Sunset advertising the new Pixar movie”), Bruce Springsteen (“So leave everything you know and carry only what you fear…” on repeat), Bat For Lashes (“What’s A Girl To Do?”), among others, etc. It’s also a weirdly disliked/underrated book, one that maybe doesn’t stand up to Lunar Park or American Psycho, but that deserves a reevaluation.

Tao Lin Richard Yates
Richard Yates by Tao Linn alludes to Jets To Brazil, among others … like Hot Water Music. That, and for a bunch of folks, Linn is to literature what chillwave is to music, so feel free to mention at cocktail parties/BBQs.

Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor offers two cents on his own books, the short story collection Everything Here Is The Best Thing Ever and the novel The Gospel Of Anarchy:

…Mostly my story collection- there’s Pixies, Animal Collective, Silver Jews, Will Oldham, Hüsker Dü …. I wrote a Largehearted Boy piece about it when the book was new. The piece goes through story by story, with bands and individual songs identified, and the logic behind each choice … The novel is set in a punkrock house in Gainesville, Florida in 1999 and so the bands name-checked in it are more “diy punk” than properly “indie,” but This Bike Is A Pipe Bomb gets a mention, and in one chapter a character geeks out for a couple pages over Dead Moon’s “Strange Pray Tell.”

My friend Andrew Leland mentions a Silver Jews reference in Keith Gessen’s All the Sad Young Literary Men. Camden Joy wrote The Last Rock Star Book: Or, Liz Phair, A Rant, etc. (He was also deeply into Camper Van Beethoven.)

Another friend, Mark Sussman, mentions: “Joe Pernice wrote his Meat is Murder 33 1/3 as an autobiographical novel, though that’s probably not the kind of thing you’re talking about.” Maybe. (Which means John Darnielle’s Black Sabbath’s Master Of Reality is also a maybe…) He also noted: “David Foster Wallace called Flaming Lips’ Transmissions From The Satellite Heart ’my generation’s Sgt. Pepper’s,’ but he did it in an interview.”

And, as I’ve said in the past, Destroyer’s “Bay Of Pigs” constantly reminds me of The Savage Detectives, though doesn’t mention it explicitly. Any other cases like this? Does Nick Hornby get his own list? Douglas Coupland? People writing about Pavement? Don DeLillo on Wolf Eyes? (Just kidding.) (Though why not his Dylan riffs in Great Jones Street…)

Comments (26)

  2. So to be serious, few of the ones I could suggest have been translated to English. But 101 Reykjavík gives an alright description of local musicians’ living conditions.

  3. I just finished Joe Hill’s “Heart Shaped Box” which features an aging rocker, but I could swear it references one or two indie bands at some point. I’m not 100% certain, but thought I’d throw that out there.

  4. Imperial Bedrooms was mediocre. I didn’t hate it, but I did hate paying nearly $25 for what is essentially a novella (169 pages!). In the grand scheme of things, I’d say skip it.

    • I think it’s pretty fascinating in the context of the rest of BEE’s work. It’s like a skeleton key, or something — a bit like Dennis Cooper’s Period in that way.

      • You make a good point. I think I was just sort of disappointed because I read it right after finishing Less Than Zero, which many (myself included) consider to be his best.

  5. tao lin’s iiiiiiiiiii is probably the worst book i’ve read in my life and i’m assuming the rest of the suggested artists are taking the same look-my-book-has-your-fav-band-mentioned-in-it-but-it’s-crap path!a peace of advice for so called writers-a pop reference does not make a book!a dead elijah wood is funny as an idea on twitter. full stop.

  6. tao lin is the ‘devil’


    But A Visit From the Good Squad is fantastic! And just the mention of The Savage Detectives gets me excited. My Lord.

    Not sure about that Justin Taylor book…the most authentic writing about music in it is when he’s musing on the Grateful Dead…which isn’t my thing. But the stories are pretty great.

    But you should probably mention Franzen’s Freedom–specifically name drops Jeff Tweedy and Ben Gibbard and a post-punk rock star is one of the main characters.

  7. Also, this is the best post on Stereogum, ever.

  8. malkmus shows up extremely briefly in franzen’s the corrections

  9. and then of course there’s the lotion album that pynchon wrote the liner notes for, though i guess thats sort of the opposite

    • That does tie in, though. You know, I have a Pynchon tattoo. That I got when I was 17. I was a real fan boy.

      • any chance it’s the horn from crying of lot 49?

      • I’m too curious: what constitutes a Pynchon tattoo? Is it just text? Or an image?

        Full disclosure: I’ve only read Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49, so your answer will likely be over my head.

        • You’ll get it then: It’s the muted post horn/Tristero symbol. On my left arm next to an old woodcut, my wife’s name, and beneath a big ol’ whippoorwill. (The book nerdery continues: I have a William H. Gass symbol on the right arm surrounded by a bunch of other stuff.)

  10. The only expression of mediocrity in Imperial Bedrooms is the awful cover art.

    btw It’s not exactly recent but Lou Reed’s Transformer album acts as a kind of chorus to Patricia Highsmith’s The Boy Who Followed Ripley.

  11. I should have mentioned that Gessen actually gets it wrong. He has: “Hey said, ‘Man, it’s because people leaving / know no highway will bring them back.’”

    The line actually goes: “He said ‘Steve it’s because people leave and no highway…”

    It’s fiction, though, so maybe Gessen fudged it on purpose? (Also, is it safe to assume that “Steve” is Steve Malkmus?)

    Has anyone read Christopher Sorrentino’s MOUNTAIN TO SOUND? Just kidding, what’s it really called… sound on sound.

  12. It is indeed a nice collection, wish there were Stephen King’s works included in your list. Do you guys know about the t-shirts from Versant? You can get it here

  13. Perverted By Language: Fiction Inspired by THE FALL, also edited by Peter Wild, is as great as the Sonic Youth “companion” is disappointing. Just as pure reading, no judgement of the bands’ relative musical merits (I love them both). Weird how that turned out.

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