Teddy Wayne has written a book for the new era of rock stardom: The hero of his new novel, "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine," is a Justin Bieber-like pre-teen crooner whose fame balloons into the commercial stratosphere. So, who better than Wayne to delve into novels that have put rock and roll fame--both real and delusional--on center stage? Here are Wayne's riffs on books from "High Fidelity" to the creative ramblings of Bob Dylan.
"High Fidelity" is mostly about rock-star fandom and the ways that it can interfere with a stable romantic life. The Americanized film adaptation starring John Cusack does it justice (in my eyes), but Hornby's novel is a masterpiece of comic, yet wise, insights into the sexual fumbling of 30-something record-store owner Rob and his two music-obsessive employees--and it's filled with strong writing about music itself.
This 1973 novel about reclusive, Dylanesque rock star Bucky Wunderlick is less about the realistic perils of musical fame and more a meditation on two of DeLillo's constant themes: terrorism and language. Wunderlick's lyrics in his unreleased "Mountain Tapes" (modeled off Bob Dylan's hitherto unreleased "Basement Tapes") may not make much sense but, then again, neither do some of Dylan's actual lyrics.
The intricate structure of Jennifer Egan's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel--interconnected stories and formal play (including a chapter in PowerPoint), sweeping temporal and spatial shifts--feels album-like in its construction. The disjointed narrative concerns itself with rock music executive Bennie and his friends and acquaintances (most of whom are in the music industry), but the novel's refrain is about the rapid passage of time--and the relationship between pauses in songs and moments of cessation in life.
Franzen's epic also deals with an aging musician: Richard Katz, who has turned from a punk rocker into a successful singer-songwriter, though he's ambivalent about his newfound fame. Some people think Katz is inspired by David Foster Wallace--but they also conjectured that about a character in "The Marriage Plot," by Jeffrey Eugenides, so perhaps no middle-aged, dissatisfied, intellectual male in any future novel by a writer of Wallace's cohort is safe from speculation. (A fictionalized magazine profile in "A Visit from the Goon Squad," heavily footnoted, also seems DFW-inspired.)
"Chronicles" is technically a memoir, but Dylan employs various novelistic devices and allusions--some detractors term it plagiarism--to discuss stretches of his life, particularly a few discrete periods of unbridled creativity. The music icon touches on his cloistered response to his 1960s fame--which, of course, you can also read about in a proper novel that conversely draws from Dylan's real life, DeLillo's "Great Jones Street."
Teddy Wayne, the author of "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine" and "Kapitoil," is the winner of a 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award and a finalist for the Young Lions Fiction Award, PEN/Bingham Prize and Dayton Literary Peace Prize. He writes regularly for The New Yorker, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, McSweeney’s, and elsewhere. He lives in New York.