John Rowell The Music of Your Life: Stories

ISBN 13: 9780743236959

The Music of Your Life: Stories

3.98 avg rating
( 90 ratings by Goodreads )
 
9780743236959: The Music of Your Life: Stories
View all copies of this ISBN edition:
 
 

With a voice that is both sophisticated and deeply Southern, first-time author John Rowell evokes the memory of the great Truman Capote in this wonderful collection of short stories, peopled with unforgettable, endearing characters and filled with wry insights.
Drawn from the emotional well of a young man who grew up in love with the glittery, glamorous world of music and movies and theater -- far removed from his own more prosaic life in North Carolina -- and informed with honesty and compassion, the seven short stories that comprise The Music of Your Life mark the impressive debut of a remarkably gifted writer. Compulsively readable and always accessible, each story takes the reader into the mind and heart of its central character, whether a young boy suffering from Lawrence Welk damage and teetering precariously on the edge of puberty ("The Music of Your Life") or a not-so-young-anymore man for whom fantasy and reality have become a terrifying blur and who finds himself slipping over the edge toward total meltdown ("Wildlife of Coastal Carolina"). Nostalgia plays a part in these stories as a somewhat jaded New York film critic looks back on his life and the movies that shaped him ("Spectators in Love"), and an aging flower-shop owner ruefully assesses the love he found and lost when, as an eighteen-year-old, he embarked on a Hollywood career that never soared but did include one particularly memorable appearance on the I Love Lucy television show ("Who Loves You?"). Sex and sexual identity are also major factors in these stories, as a choir director finds one of his altos trying to play matchmaker for him with a recent divorcée ("Saviors"), and a group of forty-something men find themselves in the awkward company of a lusty bunch of twenty-somethings ("Delegates") and reflect on how surely they were never that age. These stories, along with "The Mother-of-the-Groom and I," a wonderfully wry look at a failed New York actor who has come home for his brother's wedding and who is given the task of helping his mother find the proper dress for the event, all create entire worlds within which the characters live and struggle to find their way. Funny, touching, serious, and tender, these are tales sure to appeal to anyone who has ever known the awkwardness of being "different," and while life is often harsh for the stories' characters, the bold determination with which they persevere offers inspiration to all. Crafted with affecting sincerity, The Music of Your Life marks the beginning of what is certain to be an extraordinary career.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

John Rowell is a native of North Carolina who now teaches and writes theater criticism. He is also currently studying writing at Bennington College in Vermont, under the tutelage of such luminaries as Jill McCorkle, Susan Cheever, and Amy Hempel. He lives in New York City.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

The Music of Your Life

You're ten years old. It's summertime. And you have Lawrence Welk damage.

You are, in fact, America's biggest little fan of The Lawrence Welk Show. You can't get enough of him, of him and his weekly television variety hour. Lawrence Welk: "Mister Music Maker," the leader of the band, a fussy, exacting man who sports a red or pastel blue polyester blazer that gives him the look of, say, the president of your father's Rotary Club, but that could never be, because this man is famous; Lawrence Welk belongs to America, to American living rooms, like some eccentric, musically inclined uncle from another state who suddenly appears in front of you -- "Hello, son..." -- bearing an undertaker's freeze-dried smile, lifting his baton and welcoming you to his show in a speaking voice that sounds eerily Transylvanian: "Good-a evaning, everybody, I'm-a Lawrence Welk..."

But you are eager for it, eager for him, because Lawrence Welk brings music into your home. From the television screen, Mr. Welk lifts his pencil-thin baton to conduct his big band -- "here we go, a one-a and a two-a..." -- and he might as well be conducting your heartbeat, because your little-boy heart accelerates with the thrumming of the tympani and the brassy blast of the horn section; it keeps tempo, marks time, this junior-sized metronome in your chest, and your entire body pulsates with the rhythm of the music; you can't help but be carried away by it as you listen and take it all in. You are mesmerized, you are utterly fascinated, you are Lawrence Welk's Number One Fan. Is it love? Are you in love with Lawrence Welk? Maybe; or maybe it's the show you're in love with. Yes, you're in love with The Lawrence Welk Show, if such a thing is possible. And it's not the dancing or the stars or the costumes or the sets that have stolen your heart away...

It's the music.

And because you love it too much, it has damaged you.

"Wunnerful, wunnerful," you say to no one in particular, appropriating Mr. Welk's curious accent and employing it like an actor. You whisper it under your breath to your mother as you watch her prepare dinner. As she places the Sunday-night special of Salisbury steak, green bean casserole, and mashed potatoes in front of you at the table, you say: "Ladies and gentlemen, tonight's dinner has been brought to you by Geritol -- good for what ails you."

"Just eat, please," says your mother, Connie.

Behind his sports pages, and without looking at you, your father, Ray, says: "That'll be enough of that, son."

Yes, you're damaged, but no one seems to notice. Or: they notice, they just pretend not to.

It's the Summer of Love in America, but for you it's the Summer of Discovering the American Popular Songbook, courtesy of the musical selections on the Lawrence Welk program. You've taken to joining Connie and Ray in the family room, plopping in front of the new Zenith console television set, for an hour of what Mr. Welk refers to as "champagne music." You've come to know all the regulars on the program: the dancers Bobby and Cissy, the accordion player Myron Floren (his upright, high-swinging rendition of "Flight of the Bumblebee" was a big highlight on last week's "Songs of the Great Outdoors" theme show), Joe Feeney, the Irish tenor whose signature number is "Danny Boy," and the silvery-voiced, heavily hair-sprayed soprano Norma Zimmer. (Connie: "I wonder if she uses Adorn or White Rain..." You: "'Adorn. To give you that natural look -- all day, and all night.'" Ray: "That'll be enough of that, son.")

Lawrence Welk calls Norma Zimmer the "Champagne Lady." Before the summer started, you knew nothing about champagne -- now you pretend to drink it on a daily basis. Your grandmother gave you one of her champagne glasses after she quit drinking last year -- a "flute," she called it, and then she said, "No, a magic flute," and this caused her to laugh uproariously, a smoker's hacky laugh, a laugh that seemed both happy and furious at the same time...you'd never heard anyone laugh that way before.

So you have taken to tossing back ginger ale in a magic champagne flute and then asking, or maybe even commanding, your mother to refill it, and repeating a phrase you recently picked up from a Dialing for Dollars afternoon movie: "Hit me again, baby, and don't be stingy."

And then you laugh throatily, uproariously, in your best smoker's hacky laugh.

"Hahahahaha..."

In your Underdog shortie pajamas and striped white crew socks, you sip ginger ale on hot August Sunday nights with Connie and Ray as Mr. Welk and company serenade you, and when the program breaks for advertisements of Martini & Rossi ("on the rocks...say ye-e-es!") and Pall Mall cigarettes, you inquire of your mother, whom you have dubbed "Iced-Tea Lady," "Madam, is there any caviar in the house?"

"Can you talk like a normal person?" Ray asks, as Iced-Tea Lady serves the two of you her best version of caviar on a moment's notice: Ritz crackers topped with discreet orange dollops of pimento cheese. "How come you like all this old-people's music, anyway?"

"I don't know," you say. "It has style." You must have read that somewhere.

"Style," Ray grunts, flipping back pages.

"I think he has good taste," says Connie, hostess perfect in a pink and mauve sleeper set with matching short silk robe and mules topped with feathery puffs. Connie: tall and occasionally thin, blond enough, but blonder with a little help from Miss Clairol, not a former southern beauty-pageant beauty, like her sisters were, just always the "cute" one.

"And we know good taste comes from my side of the family," she adds, winking at you and gingerly tasting her own spur-of-the-moment Ritz cracker creation.

Ray makes a playful swipe at Connie, then grabs her and pulls her into his lap. You sit cross-legged on the floor and study them. It thrills you to see Connie and Ray like this, playful and affectionate; you imagine you're living with Rock Hudson and Doris Day from one of their romantic comedies, the ones you've seen on Dialing for Dollars. It's the final reel: obstacles surmounted, no more resistance, in love, together forever. From the TV, Mr. Welk's special guest, Miss Jo Stafford, sings: "Look at me, I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree..."

"That's one of our songs, hon," says Ray, half-whispering in Connie's ear, pushing a few strands of her hair away with his nose.

Connie giggles and rests her head on Ray's big, round shoulder, running her fingers through his military-looking brush-cut and cupping his strong, shadowy jawline. In her moderately well-trained church choir voice, she sings along, something about left hand and right, something about hats and gloves; you don't quite follow it all...

And Ray joins in, and then so you won't feel left out, so do you, singing as high and as loud as your boy soprano will allow. What a trio: you're misty, they're misty, everyone's too much in love.

And what a fabulous night. Great American standards perfume the air, Connie and Ray are in love like movie stars, and you have a front-row seat, an insider's view, an aficionado's appreciation, for all of it. Even all the recent unpleasantness about your grandparents' divorce seems to have vanished for now. This summer, you and your grandmother have spent hours together, reading her movie magazines, Photoplay, Movie Mirror, Modern Screen. You feel as though you could be photographed, right here, right now in this very setting, for Photoplay's "Movie Stars at Home" section. You imagine that you are a child star, perhaps the youngest vocalist ever to perform a standard on The Lawrence Welk Show, and you become instantly famous, you become what Photoplay calls "an overnight sensation." You are photographed in your pajamas, brandishing your champagne flute aloft, and you consent to a few photographs with Ray and Connie, though you make sure the photographer doesn't snap Connie doing the ironing or Ray reading the sports page. You grant an accompanying interview in which you say you like it here in this house, but, really, it's too small, and the three of you will soon be moving from North Carolina to Beverly Hills, California, where you will be neighbors with Lucille Ball and Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. Once ensconced in sunny southern California, you are sure to attend your neighbors' smart cocktail parties, where you will stand in the crooks of their grand and baby grand pianos and sing, and everyone will recognize you from your appearances on Lawrence Welk and even Miss Jo Stafford will ask if she can sing with you, shyly revealing that it had always been her dream to perform a duet with an Overnight Sensation.

"Hey, sport, change to the channel for Batman," Ray says, rattling the ice cubes in his tumbler, the finish of his second gin and tonic. He knows he'll get no resistance from you on this: you love Batman, too. In your hierarchy of entertainment, it is second only to Lawrence Welk.

And so: Batman...

Watching Batman is a different experience altogether: no one sings from the American Popular Songbook, no one dances in chiffon dresses and high heels. But Batman has something Lawrence Welk could never even begin to supply: men -- handsome, grown-up men who live together in the same house, men who are each other's best friends, men who look out for each other in all sorts of strange circumstances. Also: men who wear tights. Men in tights! So why do the other boys in your class love the Batman show, too? They certainly don't like Lawrence Welk. But you're aware they watch Batman -- you've overheard them talking about it in groups on the playground -- and they watch it with their dads, too. You don't usually have much in common with the other boys in your class, and, for that matter, not much in common with Ray, either. So why Batman? Why is Batman common male ground?

It doesn't matter why, because you, being you, see it differently. Ray looks bored until the action breaks out into violent fights and scuffles (POW!!!!! THWACKK!!!!!!!!! BAM!!!!!!!!), but you're hooked way before that. You're hooked in the setup, at the woozy-music entrance of the villainess, Miss Eartha Kitt as Catwoman. You have memorized her lines, even practiced them in bed late at night, when no one could hear you. With the covers pulled up over your head, gazing down at your rolled-up pillow, you whisper: "You are purrrrfect, my little Boy Wonderrrr!" But no one hears you, of course; some things you must keep secret.

Watching Batman with Ray, you maintain a blank face so he won't see how you really feel about it. It's an acting exercise, this art of making your face Go Blank at key moments, and you've mastered it. And going blank doesn't work just for Batman: it's equally useful when you're caught in the middle of an angry argument between your parents, or the time you watched your grandmother tumble suddenly to the floor after too much wine, nearly hitting her head on the coffee table. Go Blank, and no one will know whose side you're on. Go Blank, and you can be as neutral as Switzerland. Go Blank, and you won't make enemies within your own family.

But this summer, for some reason, it's not as easy as it used to be to go blank in front of Batman, especially when a villain ties the Caped Crusaders to a plank, where they struggle against each other, bound, helpless...in their tights. You keep watching, but you keep reminding yourself: Ray is here. Go Blank, Go Blank, Go Blank...

"No more music?" asks Connie, in the other room now, where she is spraying Niagara onto a shirt collar and steam-pressing whoosh! She pokes her head around the door: "Oh, I can't stand that Batman show."

"We watched all your girl shows, hon," says Ray, draining his third drink. "Gotta have something manly for us men now. Right, sport?" He doesn't wait for your response, he just shakes his tumbler in Connie's direction, which means: "Get me another one, babe?"

In tonight's opening segment, the Dynamic Duo are being lowered by a thick rope from a large ceiling pulley, which will slowly submerge them into a pool of hungry, snapping alligators. Batman and Robin are tied together, back to back; their legs, their calves, their feet kick together, their heads slide and knock against each other; if they were tied face to face, it seems to you, they could quite possibly...kiss. Batman and Robin kissing each other...the way Connie and Ray kiss? The way Rock Hudson and Doris Day, in the movies, kiss? Why would you think about such a thing? Why does your head suddenly feel light and balloony? Why does Ray have to be here? Why is Going Blank not working?

"Lawrence Welk is on the other channel," you offer quickly, turning to Ray but keeping the TV screen in the corner of your eye. Much as you want to, you're too afraid to watch it straight on. Oh, wouldn't it be great to have your own television set in your own room? Memo to Santa Claus...

Connie returns with Ray's freshened drink.

"Wouldn't you rather see Lawrence Welk, Mama?" you say. It's a rally cry; you have to change this channel.

"Well, yes, I would," she says, sitting down.

"Oh, for God's sake," Ray says. "Just change it then, and stop talking about it."

And that's your cue at last. You twist the channel dial on the Zenith back to the music. It's better this way; you'll just have to imagine the conclusion of Batman later for yourself, after you're in bed. You can do that; already, you're an expert at coming up with alternate endings.

What a relief to be back with Lawrence Welk and his orchestra! Mr. Welk is leading his musicians in the love theme from A Summer Place. You glance over at Ray -- he's starting to nod, as he usually does after a few gin and tonics; perhaps it didn't even matter that you switched channels. You're listening, Connie is listening, Ray is half listening. The three of you sitting there, doing nothing but breathing and staring at the set, listening to an old romantic movie theme. And even though there's music filling the room, no one is commenting; there's just silence between the three of you.

And you're not a fan of silence. You prefer to keep conversation going, as if at a cocktail party; if you can keep your parents talking, and talking about themselves, they won't have as much time to notice you and ask you questions. You ask the questions, you get them to reminisce about themselves and the old days. These are the skills of segue, and you possess them in abundance; you have studied at the feet of Merv Griffin and Mike Douglas. Merv and Mike have taught you how to move guests along, how to fish for information, how to prompt a certain response. Also: How to cut to a word from the sponsor. How to thank everybody for watching. How to say good night.

"Does this song remind y'all of Chapel Hill?" you ask. You're aware that Connie and Ray would never recognize that query for wh...

"About this title" may belong to another edition of this title.

Top Search Results from the AbeBooks Marketplace

1.

Rowell, John
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN 10: 0743236955 ISBN 13: 9780743236959
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
onlinecheapbooks LLC
(Redford, MI, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon & Schuster. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0743236955. Seller Inventory # 3K-6FPF-44ZC

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 2.00
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 3.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

2.

Rowell, John
Published by Simon and Schuster 2003-05-01 (2003)
ISBN 10: 0743236955 ISBN 13: 9780743236959
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 3
Seller:
BookOutlet
(Thorold, ON, Canada)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon and Schuster 2003-05-01, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Hardcover. Publisher overstock, may contain remainder mark on edge. Seller Inventory # 9780743236959B

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 7.99
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 6.00
From Canada to U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

3.

John Rowell
Published by Simon & Schuster (2003)
ISBN 10: 0743236955 ISBN 13: 9780743236959
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Ergodebooks
(RICHMOND, TX, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0743236955

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 19.43
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 4.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

4.

Rowell, John
Published by Simon & Schuster (2003)
ISBN 10: 0743236955 ISBN 13: 9780743236959
New Hardcover First Edition Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
VJ Books
(Tualatin, OR, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2003. hardcover. Condition: New. First edition, first printing, mint, new/unread in a flawless dust jacket, review copy. 2003 NY: Simon & Schuster. Seller Inventory # ROWMUSI11R

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 27.49
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: FREE
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

5.

Rowell, John
Published by Simon & Schuster (2003)
ISBN 10: 0743236955 ISBN 13: 9780743236959
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 2
Seller:
Murray Media
(North Miami Beach, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon & Schuster, 2003. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110743236955

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 34.19
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 1.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds

6.

Rowell, John
Published by Simon & Schuster
ISBN 10: 0743236955 ISBN 13: 9780743236959
New Hardcover Quantity Available: 1
Seller:
Cloud 9 Books
(Wellington, FL, U.S.A.)
Rating
[?]

Book Description Simon & Schuster. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0743236955 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.1233719

More information about this seller | Contact this seller

Buy New
US$ 59.99
Convert Currency

Add to Basket

Shipping: US$ 4.99
Within U.S.A.
Destination, Rates & Speeds