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Talking about B-Sides and Broken Hearts with author Caryn Rose

 

One of the most enjoyable reads this past year was the novel B-Sides and Broken Hearts (Till Victory Press) by music writer Caryn Rose. It’s a fantastic book about music fandom, and how big music fans relate to those who both do and do not share that passion.

The story centers around Lisa Simon, fan of The Who, Rolling Stones and The Ramones. It’s about her love for music, with some of the most vivid descriptions of going to concerts and being up close to your favorite rock stars. Lisa moves from New York to Seattle at the start of booms for both grunge music and Microsoft and befriends a band on the cusp of stardom and makes a road trip from Seattle to Los Angeles right after Joey Ramone dies.

This book works so well as a response to High Fidelity. Not just told from a woman’s perspective but from one that celebrates musical obsession, rather than treating it as a neurosis. It is also a great portrait of Seattle in the early 1990s with vivid descriptions of concerts from the Central Saloon to Key Arena. It’s a book that can remind you why you fell in love with music in the first place, written by an author who is both an encyclopedic resource of knowledge and as passionate of a fan as anyone you’ll likely ever meet.

Caryn Rose writes about music at her blog Jukebox Graduate and about baseball and the New York Mets at metsgrrrl.com. She writes about all things Bruce Springsteen for Backstreets and works for Billboard as Director of Digital Product Development. That’s not even mentioning the baseball travel blog she writes or that she wrote for the much-missed Seattle rock magazine Backfire. She knows her shit.

I chatted with Caryn Rose via gchat last week about this book, researching it, what she has coming up next and more.

What I really loved about the book was that it was one of the few novels I’ve read that really gets being a big music fan right. I know you’ve answered this before, but how much of the Lisa character is based on your own musical experience?

You mean “I know you’ve refused to answer this before.” :)

Fair enough.

I’m an obsessive music fan. I’m a big Stones fan and know people as obsessive as Lisa. It doesn’t matter what band you’re a fan of, it’s the same in many ways. It’s kind of like understanding a similar language. But I definitely didn’t want to write a memoir, so while I borrowed things – like going to see the Clash at Convention Hall or the Who at MSG in 1979, my actual experiences were not the same as Lisa’s. Not at all.

Right, I just thought that there was a lot of things that were universal to music fans, I definitely didn’t think it was a memoir, but that readers could find a lot of parallels to their own musical education.

Definitely, the things like shared understanding, collecting, knowing trivia about the bands, calling them by their first names… everyone I knew did that. “Normal” people, or the people I’d consider “normal.” Everything else I’d read before trivialized it or put it down somehow.  I wanted to embrace enthusiasm and fandom. There is enough detached irony out there about bands. I wanted to write about the people who didn’t give a shit about what you thought of them getting there the minute the door opened and heading for the front of the stage.

Absolutely, and that’s what I really loved about the book.

Thank you. It was important to me to get that right.

Another thing that I really liked was your Seattle history and a lot of it hasn’t changed from 1991 (you still probably shouldn’t wear khakis to the Cha Cha, for example). How long did you live in Seattle?

Almost 10 years. 95 to 04.

Was there a lot of research you had to do to, for example, tell the story of the Pearl Jam concert at Memorial Stadium?

You mean Mural Ampitheater?

 Yeah, my mistake (your history is much better than mine!) I would’ve swore that you were there for it, just from reading that particular passage.

I used to run a huge Pearl Jam site. I was a big fan for a long time. There is a very good video of that show, and it was always such an interesting moment to me, in terms of where the band was in their history at that time.

I’m pretty retired from PJ fandom & have been for about a decade now, but that video is still absolutely fascinating. I wrote the book a while ago, before everyone decided to revisit grunge this year. Good timing. :)

It was! Did you expect everyone to revisit that time?

I was always surprised that nobody did in some ways, but not surprised in another way, because I knew it would take a lot of work because it would be difficult to challenge the existing narrative. I said this in my review of Mark Yarm’s book (Everybody Loves Our Town), that I was amazed he was able to get people to talk, and his scholarship was just phenomenal. He cared about getting it right. He’s a funny guy and he has a sense of humor but he also clearly had respect.

I am glad someone noticed the Seattle history. Most people either don’t notice (or don’t say) or say something like “Nirvana is only mentioned once, and only in passing!” as though it was all anyone ever talked about all day every day.

That’s actually one of the first things that stood out to me from reading the book, was the history and how it was told. I like Nirvana fine, but I think only telling their story misses so much more, including how they broke through in the first place.

Seattle was such an interesting city when I got there. I’m glad I got to live there before the quirkiness was destroyed. I pinpoint the moment they opened up Westlake Plaza as the decline.

I missed all of that! I didn’t start getting involved in the music scene until about 2002ish.

I loved living in Seattle, so the book is definitely a tribute to my adopted hometown.

What do you think are the differences between Seattle’s music scene and New York’s, since both are sort of characters in your book?

Seattle is so much easier. You don’t have the barrage of media looking at the first thing you do. You have houses, with basements and garages, practice space – such a huge thing here, even back then you were paying for practice space.

I also think Seattle is more forgiving, even the super indie scene here feels so intense, and back then, definitely by degrees – Seattle was so hidden and New York was, well, always New York.

I really liked how they contrast with one another, somewhat implicitly, from reading your book.

I’d love to say that was intentional but it wasn’t. :)

Was there a lot of research you had to do to get the details right?

 Yes and no. Some of it I just knew. Lots of it I double-checked. Other things I did just to make sure it was right. I did the drive from Seattle to LA because I wanted to really know what that drive was like. I didn’t do it in the middle of the night, but I did it. I had a friend in LA get me into a recording studio because it had been so long since I’d been in one. And even with all my research, there is still stuff that I got wrong. Two things that will bother me but this is where I invoke the “it’s fiction!” card.

It was important that I get the details right, because everything I’d read in the past didn’t even try. And as a music fan, it drove me nuts.

I didn’t notice anything that was amiss, and I thought particularly the Seattle things were right on.

Thanks again.

My pleasure, I loved this book because I haven’t read a lot of books that really care about getting what a music fan is like. How did you decide that writing a novel was how you wanted to tell this story? (vs., say a biography or other nonfiction book)

I had always wanted to write about all of this – being a fan, listening to music, experiencing music – I wanted to write about it because no one had done it right and then later it became that I wanted to do it because it’s not the same and never will be again and it needed to be remembered.

 I was never interested in writing memoir.  I do not mean to insult anyone, but most people’s lives are just not that interesting, and I like building worlds and creating characters. Editors & agents all thought this was memoir, got lots of “you need to own your story!” responses. It’s true emotionally, that was important.

That’s what I really loved about it, especially for being a music fan and surrounded both by people who share that passion and that don’t.

Are than any plans for the next book? Will you write another novel?

I’ve written three. I’m on my fourth. One will never see the light of day – I might turn some of it into a short story, but it’s all over the place structurally. One that’s finished is too dark to be my second. The one I’m working on now will come out next fall. The provisional title is “The Easy Out.” It was inspired by an editor who contacted my agent (back when I was still agented) and wanted me to write “the ‘Eat, Pray, Love’ of baseball and rock and roll.” I’m still not interested in memoir, but I can definitely write about someone whose love for those two subjects intersects. It’ll be more chick-lit-y than B-sides was. I’m okay with that. Not that I’m sure what that even means. And there will be a sequel to B-sides.

 I’d definitely be interested in reading all of those.

Well, there’s one book sold. :)

I don’t think there are a lot of music writers who are novelists, what do you enjoy about writing both fiction and nonfiction?

I think that if music writers stopped worrying about writing their memoirs we’d have more novelists, and good ones. I like telling stories. Even in non-fiction, whether I’m writing about a concert or a baseball game, I’m telling a story. Or trying to anyway.

I can’t even say one is easier. Fiction is easier because I control everything and can make stuff up. Non-fiction is comforting because you have the facts and there they are and you don’t have to pull stuff out of your imagination. What I like about non-fiction is when someone tells me that I captured what they were thinking or feeling, but I also like that in fiction, so that doesn’t really answer your question very well.

It does, and I really did think that your book captured a lot of my own thoughts and feelings as well as anything could (that wasn’t my memoir, which won’t ever be written).

Memoir is overrated. Unless you’re Joan Didion. Or maybe James Wolcott. It goes back to my favorite Greil Marcus quote, when he asked when we stopped valuing ‘is it true?’ over the ability to tell a good story.

{You can purchase B-Sides and Broken Hearts in Seattle at Vain, 2018 First Avenue.}

Chris

Chris Burlingame is the editor of Another Rainy Saturday.

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