The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel

The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel

by Teddy Wayne

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Overview

One of the most critically acclaimed books of the year, Whiting Award-winner Teddy Wayne’s second novel is “more than a scabrous sendup of American celebrity culture; it’s also a poignant portrait of one young artist’s coming of age” (Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times)—and an enduring yet timely portrait of the American dream gone awry.

In his rave on the cover of The New York Times Book Review, Jess Walter praised Wayne’s writing for its “feats of unlikely virtuosity” and the boy at its center as “a being of true longing and depth, and…a devastating weapon of cultural criticism…You’d have to be made of triple platinum not to ache for Jonny Valentine.”

With “assured prose and captivating storytelling” (Oprah.com’s Book of the Week), The Love Song of Jonny Valentine also showcases “one of the most complicated portrayals of the mother-son relationship since Room” (BookPage). Touring the country in a desperate attempt to save a career he’s not sure he even wants, Jonny is both driven by his mother’s ambition and haunted by his father’s absence, constantly searching for a familiar face among the crowds. Utterly convincing, whip-smart, yet endearingly vulnerable, with an “unforgettable” voice (Publishers Weekly, starred review), the eleven-year-old pop megastar sounds “like Holden Caulfield Jr. adrift in Access Hollywood hell” (Rolling Stone).

Called “a showstopper” (The Boston Globe), “hugely entertaining” (The Washington Post), “heartbreakingly convincing” (People), “buoyant, smart, searing” (Entertainment Weekly), and “touching and unexpectedly suspenseful” (The Wall Street Journal), this extraordinary novel has been widely embraced as a literary masterpiece and the rare “satire with a heart” (Library Journal, starred review).

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781476705866
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Publication date: 02/04/2014
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Teddy Wayne, the author of Loner, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, and Kapitoil, is the winner of a Whiting Writers’ Award and an NEA Fellowship as well as 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.

What People are Saying About This

The New York Times - Michiko Kakutani

"Sad-funny, sometimes cutting...more than a scabrous sendup of American celebrity culture; it’s also a poignant portrait of one young artist’s coming of age.

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for The Love Song of Jonny Valentine includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Teddy Wayne. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Onstage and offstage, from swanky hotels to celebrity green rooms, Teddy Wayne’s novel pulls back the curtain of pop-stardom to reveal the alternately glittering and grueling reality of eleven-year-old megastar Jonny Valentine’s life. The novel follows Jonny, his hard-charging mother, Jane (who is also his manager), and his entourage as he tours for his second album—a tour that will either catapult him into the stratosphere or leave him fumbling for a new record label. As if the pressures of preadolescence weren’t enough, Jonny must navigate marketing schemes, fans, elaborately staged performances, and the growing awareness that his life is not his own, all while he is faced with a startling revelation from his past. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a funny, moving, and unsettling coming-of-age story and a perceptive take on our obsessive and exploitative celebrity culture.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. What do you think makes the first-person narration in the novel ring so true as an eleven-year-old’s voice? When does Jonny display knowledge beyond his years and when does he reveal his inexperience and naïveté?

2. How does Jonny regard his pre-music-career life in St. Louis? Is he nostalgic, or conflicted? Does this change after his tour stop in St. Louis?

3. Why does Jane offer Jonny the choice between continuing to tour and going to school? Do you think he’s equipped to choose well? How do you feel about Jonny’s decision, in the end?

4. How do marketing and promotional concerns circumscribe Jonny’s life? How do you think his life would have been different if Jane had not chosen to be his manager? Do you think he would have more freedom to be a kid, or not?

5. Though they are employees, Walter and Nadine both care for Jonny and he cares for them. Why are these relationships so important to him? Why do you think Jonny has an easier time relating to adults than to his peers?

6. What attracts Jonny to the Latchkeys, especially to the lead singer, Zack? In your opinion, were they using him, as Jonny comes to suspect, or was Zack’s big-brotherly interest in him genuine?

7. Jane tells Jonny, “The top person is never simply the most talented, or the smartest, or the best-looking. They sacrifice anything in their lives that might hold them back.” (p 37) Do you agree? After his appearance with Tyler Beats, how does Jonny’s perception of his own talent and work ethic change? Do you think this is a healthy change, or not? Would Jonny have been able to see himself this way at the beginning of the book?

8. How would you characterize Jonny’s feelings about his fans and celebrity? At one point he says, “A celeb is only a celeb if you remember them. It’s like we disappear if no one is paying attention.” (p 96) Do you think he’d prefer to disappear? Or to be loved unconditionally by his fans? If you could choose, would you want to have Jonny’s level of fame?

9. Towards the end of his tour, before his Detroit concert, Jonny thinks: “So screw them. If this is what they were giving me, I wasn’t just going to do a bad job. I was going to make it my worst show ever.” (p 236) What is making him feel this way? Does he deserve to be so angry? Why is he unable to follow through on his intention to deliver a poor show?

10. How does the author use the video game Zenon as a metaphor throughout the book? Does Jonny gain something valuable from the game or does the fictional world of Zenon obstruct his understanding of the real world?

11. Over the course of the book we learn that Jane has concealed from Jonny information both personal and music-related. In your opinion, are her decisions motivated more by protecting Jonny or herself, or by keeping him career-focused? Is she really the bad mother the press claims she is?

12. By the time Jonny finally gets a chance to meet his father, he has built up a number of expectations throughout the course of their correspondence. Discuss how this plays out, and what the result of this meeting means for both Jonny and the novel.

13. Throughout the book, Nadine and Jonny are studying slavery in their history lessons; Jonny’s final essay question is “What does it mean to be the property of another person and what does it mean to be free?” (p 223) Talk about how this theme ties into the book’s larger message. When Jonny claims at the end that he knows how to answer the essay question, do you think he’s right? What does his answer tell you about the journey he’s taken in the course of the book?

14. After reading this novel did your feelings about celebrity culture or the music industry change? Do you think one can have both celebrity and normalcy, or are they mutually exclusive?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. Have you ever read a musician’s autobiography? If so, were there any similarities to The Love Song of Jonny Valentine? What about the autobiographies of some current teen pop stars, such as Justin Bieber or Miley Cyrus? Ask several members of your group to bring autobiographies to compare to the novel.

2. Set the mood for your book club by preparing a music playlist. What current hits remind your group most of Jonny’s songs? Ask group members to suggest songs for the playlist.

3. Ask each member of the group to recall their favorite musicians when they were tweens or teens. Did any of those bands or singers achieve longevity? Discuss how tastes change and whether stars like Jonny can have lasting careers.


A Conversation with Teddy Wayne

1. How did you come to write this novel? What inspired you?

I wrote a now-defunct weekly column for The New York Times periodically over a span of two years. The focus was on marketing and media, and for nearly every article I would interview an expert in the field, who tended to overuse branding and marketing jargon unironically. Just as my experience editing MBA application essays filled with financial terminology informed the narrator’s voice in my first novel, Kapitoil, I found this a worthwhile source to plunder for Jonny’s vocabulary; it seemed like an apposite metaphor for our culture of self-promotion.

My other interest in writing this book comes from my own tepid flirtation with fame after Kapitoil came out in 2010. I was far from a household name, and literary renown is a pale imitation, but my limited exposure to the public showed me how uncomfortable the process made me (at times; it was also often gratifying)—and how incapable of functioning I would be if I ever had, say, Justin Bieber’s level of celebrity. That, coupled with my lifelong fascination with both gifted children and child celebrities, inspired this novel.

2. Did you do any research for the novel? How did you create such an accurate representation of the music industry?

I read a number of child-celebrity autobiographies and biographies, as well as critical literature on the phenomenon. And I immersed myself in the shallower end of the pool, soaking up celebrity tabloids, concert documentaries and footage, and Internet fan sites. I knew a bit about the inner workings of the music industry from being a longtime fan and about the commercial side of media from my own experiences as a writer, but whenever possible read up on the behind-the-scenes music details, from recording to tour buses to song analysis.

3. Did you listen to pop music while writing? Any favorite artists or songs, now or from your teen years?

I expressly listened to more contemporary pop than I do normally to write this book; typically, I encounter it only through osmosis in public spaces. So while I recognize that such songs can occasionally be fun and energizing, my own tastes run (huge surprise) counter to Top-40 paradigms. When writing, I frequently listen to Bob Dylan, since I know the words well enough that they don’t distract me, and for help in exploring Jonny’s nascent rebellion, reconnected with my teenage musical love, the Clash.

4. The songs in the book are spot on—how did you come up with them? Was it fun?

I’m an intermediate guitarist and singer—I wish I were better, but I don’t have the chops. Over the years I’ve written my own, mostly jokey songs, often in the manner of Zack Ford improvising lyrics for the benefit of friends (mine are likely less appreciative). For this novel, though, I didn’t want to satirize pop lyrics; I wanted to write realistic embodiments of them. If the effect is comic, it should be because they sound like the real thing, which provides enough comedy without embellishment. They were very fun to write, and I have recorded my own version of “Guys vs. Girls” on acoustic guitar. Record labels, I await your call.

5. On the one hand, the novel can be read as a dark, ironic send-up of tween pop stars, but on the other hand it’s a very affecting coming-of-age story. How did you balance that duality?

Although I write a lot of short-form satire for magazines, I don’t enjoy writing or, really, reading caustically satirical novels; I need to feel there’s real heart and lives at stake. The key for any novel is crafting a voice, whether it’s the author’s or a character’s, that makes the reader feel like what he or she is reading matters. Once you do that, a novel set on Mars in the year 2400 can seem more authentic than a warmed-over depiction of a failing marriage in contemporary America.

6. Is there any of your preadolescent experience in Jonny?

Were you not a fan of my 1990 smash hit, “Teddy Time (featuring Tone Loc)”? Most of the novel draws from my and Tone’s now-legendary North American tour as the short-lived T+T Music Factory. Otherwise, Jonny’s preoccupations and anxieties are closer to my current state of mind than to my more unfettered preteen self. Ultimately, the question shouldn’t be how I got into the head of an eleven-year-old boy for this novel, but how do I get out of it in my daily life? Every day is a struggle.

7. What inspired the video game The Secret Land of Zenon? Why is it so integral to Jonny’s story?

Admitting to this childhood hobby will make me sound very cool: When I was around Jonny’s age, I was a fan of Ultima, a role-playing computer-game series. What appealed to me about it was its completist rendering of an autonomous world. If you chose, you could simply live—one could bake bread, sell it for money, buy food, sleep, ad infinitum—as opposed to trying to win the game. Other characters went about their daily lives, too, as if your presence were irrelevant. It was the first time I saw a gaming world constructed in this profoundly nonlinear fashion. I modeled The Secret Land of Zenon off Ultima, as it makes sense why the career-focused, gaffe-fearing Jonny would want to escape into another world in which he can merely exist as a relatively anonymous character, and where he gains “experience points” by exploring different actions, though he doesn’t know what their consequences will be. It’s a metaphor for the kind of childhood which expects little of its participants other than that they should figure out who they are and learn from their experiences, for better or worse—precisely what Jonny’s own upbringing prohibits.

8. Both your first novel and The Love Song of Jonny Valentine are written in the first person. What draws you to first-person narratives? What are the particular challenges or pleasures of creating a character’s voice?

Although third-person novels afford a more epic scale, I have found that first-person novels speak most intimately to me and sustain the strongest illusion that I am inside someone else’s head. As a writer, it is similarly pleasurable to escape my own self through another narrator’s—and, in the process, end up ventriloquizing what is most important to me. I also prefer novels that take big ideas or settings (9/11 and Wall Street, pop-stardom and the gilded cages of a corporate music tour) and funnel them down, quietly, to a highly specific character and viewpoint, as opposed to rendering them in equally sprawling terms (or aiming for a completely hushed story). The challenge is in justifying the first-person voice. If it is a voice that could just as easily be transposed to third person, then it doesn’t necessarily warrant the more limited perspective. Both Kapitoil and this novel employ idiosyncratic voices that draw heavily from professional idioms while cutting them against mathematical and preteen grammars, respectively. It’s difficult to maintain consistency in the writing at first—but then it becomes addictive.

9. Literary novelists don’t command the sort of fame that pop stars do, but being a writer does involve publicity, marketing, and interacting with audiences. How do you balance writing and promoting?

Compared to my experiences promoting even the pre-Internet-age “Teddy Time (featuring Tone Loc),” you’re correct, this is a lot easier. But unless you’re a globally celebrated writer, the publicity demands aren’t that taxing, and to complain about them is a first-world problem among first-world problems. The real complaint should be when no one wants to hear from you, a condition that has afflicted me for lengthy periods (such as last week). So I’m grateful when the public shows any interest in me, and though I’m on various social media platforms, I don’t do it so much that it takes over my life, both out of principle and laziness.

10. Do you see any similarities between the publishing industry and the music industry, though the scale may be different?

While the literary-publishing industry has more integrity than the pop-music industry (and likely an equal amount to the indie-music industry), and privileges intelligence and originality over image and derivative appeal, and sometimes makes knowingly unprofitable decisions, it is nonetheless a business, and functions the way any business must, even one dealing with ostensibly high art: trafficking in promotion and marketing and hype and packaging and positioning. Just as the majority of music hits are fulfilling expectations from their labels, most “big” books are preordained as such, their fates nearly sealed before publication (although there is always room for sleepers, and, of course, many of these fated bestsellers flop). Had I self-published this novel, there is little chance you would be reading it now, and even less chance it would be reviewed anywhere, though it would be the same text, minus my supremely talented editor’s ministrations. It helps to have a polished presentation and a team of dedicated professionals whose job is to disseminate your book to the public. Nevertheless, everyone I’ve encountered in the field of publishing, to a person, believes deeply in what he or she is doing and could probably be making more money elsewhere; I’m not sure I’d be able to say the same about all music-industry professionals. While Valentine Days is Jonny’s second album and The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is my second novel, I’m happy to have a less cynical relationship with my own industry, though it is still fair to use the word industry.

Mostly I’m just glad they never make authors do the equivalent of liner notes.

Interviews

About a Boy Band: Barnes & Noble Review Interview with Teddy Wayne

Teddy Wayne's 2010 debut novel, Kapitoil — in which a Qatar- born oil futures phenom enters the cutthroat world of Wall Street high finance — evoked themes of capitalism and innocence juxtaposed, with the allure of wealth and power at odds with our simpler desires. With The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, Wayne extends Kapitoil's sharp-edged focus on twenty-first-century American ambition — in particular, the will to win found in the nation's increasingly multitasking youth. Love Song chronicles the titular eleven-year-old pop star, who might remind you of a certain real-life teen heartthrob with angelic pipes and impossibly good hair. Grade- schooler Jonathan Valentino becomes millionaire Valentine when his supermarket cashier mom, Jane, uploads videos of his crooning to YouTube and effects his miraculous translation into celebrity. Now his full-time manager, hyper-driven Jane sings Jonny lullabies over the phone, monitors his diet in an effort to keep his body childlike, and watches her son seek refuge in an immersive role-playing video game. Yet the book's sharpest asset is its avoidance of simplified character clichés. Jonny and Jane confront stardom's harsh realities not only as savvy, oft-obsessive fame seekers but also as a nurturing mother and her devoted child.

It seems possible that Wayne might relate to his invented prodigal sons. A winner of the Whiting Writers' Award for Kapitoil, he is at age thirty-three an accomplished author and journalist, as well as a wickedly incisive humorist. His satirical work has appeared in McSweeney's, The Barnes & Noble Review's "Grin & Tonic," and The New Yorker's "Shouts and Murmurs" — a venue Wayne parodies in the pages of Jonny Valentine itself. In a conversation via email, Teddy Wayne offered some insights on the origins of his interest in pop wunderkinder, the effects of media marketing on both his writing and our culture at large, and offered up a generation-spanning playlist that suggested pop music is no laughing matter. —Bill Tipper

The Barnes & Noble Review: There are two initial surprises, I think, in store for most readers of your novel. The first is that eleven- year-old Jonny Valentine—a child pop superstar who shares a number of attributes with the slightly older real-world singer Justin Bieber—is so immediately sympathetic. The second is that he's not just a musical prodigy but clearly an intellectual one as well.

Teddy Wayne: Your protagonist need not be likable (contrary to the wisdom of book publishers) but must simply be interesting. Yet as an author, it does help to like your main character, if only because of the sheer amount of time you spend with him. Although Jonny is not without his flaws — he can flaunt his power over others, engages in perverse sexual fantasies, and has a dismissive attitude toward his fans — he's fundamentally a vulnerable little boy who wants to love and be loved. That's a drive all of us can relate to, even if we don't understand what it's like to perform on a global stage.

Nearly all child narrators in adult literature are wiser than their years, and a high percentage are, in fact, prodigies of some stripe, often verbal. This is because an actual child's voice is seldom compelling enough to maintain an adult reader's attention over an entire novel (there are exceptions, of course, such as Emma Donoghue's Room). I didn't want to write about an eleven-year-old who speaks like a creative- writing professor, so I came up with a hybrid voice for him: half naïve child, half marketing-savvy professional. The tonal opposite of naïveté is someone who wants to sell you something you don't need, and I enjoyed writing about this collision of voices within one person.

BNR: That "marketing savvy" permeates Jonny's world and produces some counterintuitive effects. Jonny may be a performer — and clearly a talented one—but he's also throughout this book a keen observer of the people around him, though he applies the peculiar lens of the show business world he's adopted to almost every interaction.

TW: Jonny's "marketing" voice was inspired in part by writing, on and off for two years, a now-defunct short business column about media and marketing for The New York Times called "Drilling Down." Each week, I'd interview someone who would un-self- consciously rattle off phrases like "develop our assets in the digital space" or "build a corporate identity." This seemed like an emblematic idiom for our entrepreneurial and narcissistic era in which regular people, let alone celebrities, refer to their "personal brands" and recreate the experience of fame by documenting their lives on social media.

What makes this mode of thought and behavior pernicious, I think, is that it can bleed into interactions that should have nothing to do with selling or broadcasting yourself. (Which is something most of us have to do some of the time, such as me, right now, in this interview. Our age is also defined by its hypocrisy.) It's most explicit when you see two people at a table in a restaurant, both texting on their phones, or when someone would rather take a photo of his hike and post it to Instagram than savor it as a private experience. In Jonny's case, he no longer has any sense of how to engage others as a regular person, so it's easier to slip into his default mode as an entertainer hawking his most salable product — his celebrity.

BNR: But he's not just a marketing savant — he's also legitimately and pretty passionately interested in how pop music is made. At one point he breaks down Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" in a completely convincing analysis of why it's a song that "anyone with a pulse loves" — and more or less humbly admits he'd be grateful if he could ever create something like it himself.

TW: It was important for Jonny to have some musical authenticity buried deep under the Top 40 exterior to mirror the real human being trapped within the media-friendly persona. And though most mainstream pop is an exercise in corporate production, with pronounced division of labor, mechanical alteration of the original sound, and heavily backed marketing, the occasional genius, like Michael Jackson, still manages to express his personal vision and create lasting art. Jonny comes to recognize that he's not getting the chance to do so and is simply a cog in the machine, a slave to his masters — both his label and the fickle public.

According to my research, Michael Jackson really did work for three weeks on the bass line to "Billie Jean." As Jonny would say, that's consummate professionalism.

BNR: In a way it's a whole world of "consummate professionalism"—Jonny's own frightening absorption into the craft of hitmaking and media spectacle, his coterie of specialized handlers, and his manager-mother Jane. Did it require a lot of research to put yourself within that very insulated world?

TW: A fair amount of my information came from simply being an avid, longtime fan of music, and keeping one ear open when celebrity gossip crosses my path. It probably helps that I've worked as a journalist for a number of years and live in the media epicenter of New York. Beyond that, I read various child-star memoirs and biographies, as well as works about specific aspects of the music industry. Yet a fiction- writing maxim is to do as little research as possible — not out of laziness, but because you don't want facts to get in the way of your imagination or to serve as proof to the reader that you've done your homework. I'd rather invent something that is moving and aesthetically engaging than plug in the true-to-life, inert detail. No one loves a novel because of its unerring accuracy. That said, I did ask some people who've worked in the music industry to vet the manuscript for anything that felt too outlandish.

BNR: In terms of its excesses or strangeness, did reality ever outstrip your imagination of the life of a child celebrity? TW: Drew Barrymore's childhood, among others, was rife with excess, and Michael Jackson's upbringing sounds none too fun. But to saturate the novel with sex and drugs would simply play to our "behind-the-music" preconceptions about celebrity and detract from the small, less flashy moments that underscore Jonny's loneliness. I dislike it when fictional portrayals of lifestyles of the rich and famous focus so heavily on the reckless glamour inherent in these worlds and end up romanticizing that which they are ostensibly condemning. More compelling to me are the human details and episodes that exist outside the spheres of money and fame: for instance, Jonny playing a video game in his hotel room to ward off his isolation. Such a scene might not warrant inclusion in a biography of a real child star, but, to me, it defines a person's character more clearly and originally than a cocaine binge at a nightclub does.

Nonetheless, it's been strange to see various scenes from the novel see their equivalents in real life, from the lighthearted [Justin Bieber vomiting onstage] to the frightening [the plot to castrate and murder Bieber].

BNR: Let's talk about the portrait of Jonny's mother, Jane— a character at least as complex as her son. Jane is a former supermarket cashier and single mother who seems to have shrugged off her former life to embrace her role as Jonny's manager as if she'd found her life's work. The first conversation we overhear between Jane and her son involves Jonny, sleepless in his hotel room, asking her for a lullaby over her cell phone, which she delivers, along with the suggestion that he use a pharmaceutical sleep aid. I think in that exchange we see the uneasy dynamic between care and neglect, between business dealings and human love, that characterizes much of her mothering.

TW: The stage mom is nothing if not a hoary trope by now, so I was conscious of the need to depict Jane as a real mother whose hunger for fame — even more so than money — is in constant combat with her maternal instincts. There are moments she exhibits genuine tenderness and love for her son, and those need to be there for the reader to accept her overweening business ambitions. She wants to leave behind her former identity and life completely except for the sole fact that she remains Jonny's mother. He has a more uneasy relationship with his new persona, clinging to bits of his pre-fame past. She's monstrous at many points, but I hope there are enough times when we see the cracks in her facade and her own pains. Both of them are seeking love, but Jane is more comfortable using the public for her sense of self-worth than Jonny is.

BNR: Did your conception of her change over time as you wrote the novel?

TW: As with most characters, she was less fleshed out in the early drafts, and my many readers helped round her out more. To me, she embodies the direction our culture has shifted the last ten to fifteen years. We increasingly view fame as an antidote to whatever ails us, and deem it worth pursuing at any price — whether it's eating live insects on a reality show or subjecting one's child to a lifestyle that isn't necessarily in his best interests. I also thought of Jane as a Tiger Mom of sorts, albeit not one academically inclined. My view is that childhood nowadays has far fewer freedoms than it once did. Parents fret far more than they used to about their children's safety and health and over- prepare them for the future in ways that are often counterproductive. Their offspring's independence is compromised, as is their ability to make and learn from their mistakes — one of the privileges of childhood. A friend said that this novel is like an American version of Donoghue's Room, but with the mom as the captor. That seems like an insightful (and flattering) assessment.

BNR: What's your sense of Jonny's future? Are you optimistic for him?

TW: I don't want to give anything away, but I like endings in which the story that's been told is definitively wrapped up, but there's still some open-endedness that projects beyond the narrative conclusion. It's my hope that different readers will have varying responses to the end, as they seemed to have with my first novel, Kapitoil.

BNR: I'm imagining that writing this book made you listen to pop music differently—but is that in fact the case?

TW: A little bit. Research on these songs are made — how manufactured and produced they are — gave me more respect for the amount of work put into them, even if I didn't enjoy listening to them any more, or continued believing that their creation stems from cynical, market-baiting impulses, and not always the desire to make lasting art. I also found a few very poppy songs I confess to liking, such as One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful"; I remain a sucker for a good, simple I-IV-V chord progression (as in Grease's "Summer Nights," which the opening of their song sounds suspiciously similar to). And Bieber's "Boyfriend," at least the rapping part, feels like a quantum leap forward from his previous songs, as would any song that includes this rhyming couplet: "Swag, swag, swag, on you / Chillin' by the fire while we eatin' fondue."

BNR: Did you listen to music while writing?

TW: Usually, yes, though it helps if it's music I know well enough that I'm not distracted, such as Bob Dylan. For this book, though, I frequently went back to the Clash, my first musical love, which Jonny gets introduced to by his older opening band.

BNR: Can you give us a short list of your favorite songs?

TW: The aforementioned Dylan alone would eat up several paragraphs, and the list grows each month, but I'll quickly go through my iTunes library now, listing just a few, one song maximum per artist, that have meant a lot to me over the years, even if I may not listen to them that much now:

The Be Good Tanyas, "The Littlest Birds"
The Beatles, "Twist and Shout"
Bob Dylan, "Do't Think Twice, It's All Right"
Built to Spill, "Strange"
Carla Bruni, "Quelqu'un m'a Dit"
Cat Power, "Empty Shell"
Chuck Brodsky, "Radio"
The Clash, "(White Man) in Hammersmith Palais"
The Crystals, "And Then He Kissed Me"
Dan Bern, "Chelsea Hotel"
The Felice Brothers, "Frankie's Gun" Heartless Bastards, "All This Time"
The Jackson Five, "I Want You Back"
Jimmie Dale Gilmore, "Braver Newer World"
Kath Bloom, "Love Makes It All Worthwhile"
Keren Ann, "Not Going Anywhere"
Kid Cudi, "Pursuit of Happiness"
Led Zeppelin, "Over the Hills and Far Away"
Leonard Cohen, "So Long, Marianne"
Little Joy, "Don't Watch Me Dancing"
Liz Phair, "Polyester Bride"
Lucinda Williams, "Side of the Road"
Neutral Milk Hotel, "In the Aeroplane Over the Sea"
Okkervil River, "Red"
Pavement, "Summer Babe"
The Pixies, "Where Is My Mind?"
Prince, "Kiss"
Regina Spektor, "Fidelity" (especially a stripped-down version she played on NPR years ago)
The Rolling Stones, "Beast of Burden"
Sex Pistols, "Anarchy in the U.K."
Tom Waits, "Cold Cold Ground"
The Troggs, "Any Way That You Want Me"
Tommy James, "Crimson and Clover"
Vashti Bunyan, "Come Wind Come Rain"
The Velvet Underground, "Heroin"
The Wheel, "My Hanging Surrender"
Wilco, "Hesitating Beauty"

That was more than I intended, and I left off too many favorites. I really like making mix CDs for friends.

February 1, 2013

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The Love Song of Jonny Valentine: A Novel 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
KrittersRamblings More than 1 year ago
Check out the full review at Kritters Ramblings Call me a crazy teen pop fan, but I loved this book that is completely loosely based on the life of a teen pop star maybe like a certain Justin Bieber.  As I grew up along side the likes of Britney Spears and Christina Aguilera, I may have a close affection for anything pop and teen!  Jonathan Valentino or Jonny Valentine is a very very young 11 year old singing sensation who through YouTube has gotten a record deal and is in the middle of a tour across the U.S.  The book takes you through the cities of his tour, along the road are quite a few antics with his momager, security, vocal coach, tutor and so many others that impact this teen heartthrob!
MaryGramlich More than 1 year ago
Where do you go when you are too far away from home to return? Jonny Valentine is an eleven-year-old child prodigy with the voice of an angel and a mother who managed to capture his talent and run with it all the way to the bank.  This does not make Jane mother of the year but her ability to tap into a market ripe with cash flow is her brilliance and control her mantra.  There are chefs, bodyguards, and more entourage than Jonny could have ever imagined possible when he started out and still cannot take it all in.  Growing up in the spotlight creates an illusion of grandeur it is hard to keep someone regular when like Jonny they are truly extraordinary.     People come and go in Jonny’s life, some leaving positive impressions while others provide experiences best not repeated.   Jonny must live life in a fish bowl where every move is magnified, and every image reprinted with a caption designed to  suit the moment.  All the while Jonny sings for his fans, serves to satisfy the masses depending on him for an income and searching for real relationships where he can find them.  Jonny also sets out to seek solace from the one man missing in his life, his father.  Chasing memories does not always allow you to make them stay. There is so much in this captivating read that makes you take a deep breath and pause to take it all in and understand the gravity of every decision we make.  The one aspect of this book that is clearly defined is the destruction one can have with a misplaced word or ill-timed comment
feather_lashes More than 1 year ago
Meet Justin Bi... oops, I mean Jonny Valentine. ★★★½ The Love Song of Jonny Valentine is a standalone, literary fiction novel written by Teddy Wayne. Jonny Valentine is an eleven-year-old pop star. He started out on YouTube, he has a signature hair style, a momanger, and a deadbeat dad. There's also some romantic photo ops with Hispanic celebrity peer Lisa Pinto. It was damned hard to read this without picturing the Biebs. That was the point though. Mr. Wayne excelled at creating a voice that was effortless to empathize with. Being famous is far from fun for this child star. He's isolated, limited, and pushed hard. For a kid you would think doesn't want for anything, he has so many dreams he wants to fulfill. From advancing in his favorite video game to finding a meaningful father/son relationship with someone, his youthful innocence shines. Mr. Wayne also follows the mother's life and professional/personal relationships from Jonny's perspective which was equally interesting. The mother/child dynamic was pretty sad though - manager first and mother second. This kid is truly alone. The Love Song of Jonny Valentine was an original and engaging coming-of-age story that I enjoyed. Believe me, you don't have to be a fan of Justin Bieber to like this book. Although Mr. Wayne did his fair share of research on the Bieber family, this book is absolutely a work of fiction and apparently meant to be satirical in nature. Check it out and get ready for a new perspective on what fame feels like. My favorite quote: "It’s not the internet that makes people stupid and annoying, they were always stupid and annoying. Now it’s in our face."
jak18 More than 1 year ago
Mothers, don't let your children grow up to be pop stars. Unless perhaps you can be their manager. Jonny Valentine is 11 going on 12. He is in the second year of mega-fame as a tween pop idol. Think Justin Bieber. His single mother, abandoned by his father when he was a toddler, is his manager. For an unreliable narrator, he is pretty savvy, but there are some things an 11-year-old boy just can't figure out. I read the book because of my long and ambivalent relationship with the music business. It's a manual on how pop stars are created and maintained. It also translates those stories we all pretend we don't read in People Magazine and the tabloids into what really goes on when two stars go on a date or end a romantic relationship, get a bad concert review, etc. The book is wildly entertaining even while it breaks your heart every time you remember that Jonny is still shy of his 12th birthday. As we follow him on a multiple city tour and learn how he has to sneak around to even send an email, how lonely he is, how little choice he has over what he eats, and on and on. If you want to maintain your illusions about celebrity in the 21st century, do NOT read this book. I think it belongs in an indestructible box of books we can save and all read after the apocalypse, as we rub our heads and say, "What were we thinking?"
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
GrammyReading More than 1 year ago
initially jonny was not the goal...wanted to read this for the story...young tween makes good in music...the juice, the meat of the matter...but along the way i heard jonny's heart beating...the valentine part. of him that cried out what about me..his fans, the industry, the media, even his mom and eventually his dad...all wanted some payoff...a piece of jonny that only he could give, a part of his creativity, his energy, his soul...eating and playing video games, his only vices until he found others...and witnessed first hand the results of discovering too many vices...yearning for a connection to a past that had not much to do with his future....jonny and his body guard walter...traveling through the tunnels of life and celebrity...cautiously, carefully, sometimes carelessly...but always caring..sometimes caring too much
Anonymous More than 1 year ago