Said the Guests: Jonathan Lethem
by Sean
Please note: MP3s are only kept online for a short time, and if this entry is from more than a couple of weeks ago, the music probably won't be available to download any more.


Jonathan Lethem writes books. Shorter things too, but he's probably best known for writing books. Fortress of Solitude, for instance, is a novel about friendship and Brooklyn and jazz and rock'n'roll. It's about comics and loss and life. It's about magic - several kinds of magic. The cool kind of magic. The kind you leave at the bottom of your pockets for the moments you might need it. Like an alcoholic keeps a little bit of liquor in a back cabinet.

Jonathan composed about music and birds for the mp3blog Moistworks earlier this year. Go look.

I wrote to Jonathan almost a year ago, asking him to write something for us. I can't express how sweet my creaky heart sang when he followed through. -- sean

Danielle Howle - "Still in Love with You" [buy]
Johanna Billing - "You Don't Love Me Yet" [info]
Vulgar Boatmen - "You Don't Love Me Yet" [buy]

It was Southern California in those days. We all worked in a used record store and we all were a certain age, a clerk’s age, the long middle of our twenties, already wrecked. Some of us were in their thirties already! All the clerks played vinyl on a turntable behind the counter in turns, getting royally sick of one another’s music, a certain bluegrass album a dozen times and you’d start trying to time your lunch break to that track about the horse. Somebody else played African music and you might be coming around slowly. The Go-Betweens, every album was on a different label, it was like putting together a puzzle. All the best bands were from New Zealand, mostly, except if they came from Australia. The guy with the suit and the clipboard from ASCAP came around and said we’d have to pay royalties on the songs we played behind the counter since they were being broadcast in a public place and we said they were only for our own pleasure, our customers didn’t even like to hear music, everyone else tittering behind their hands while someone offered this explanation. We’d all been in a band or were about to have been in one or else just owned a leather jacket. Confused about the difference between Syd Barrett and Roky Erickson and Robyn Hitchcock among other things. Everyone was always breaking up, the record store was even built on a fault. A chasm between failing to start and not knowing when to quit. Embarrassed to say you were applying to grad school. Somebody started coming in early and got promoted to manager. Big Dipper, Big Star, Big Daddy. The Fastbacks. The first CD came along, some rock critic dropped it off with a bunch of other comps he was selling and we regarded it like the apes in 2001. Letting some high school punks sell a zine on the magazine rack, they looked at you like you were an adult. One day your life would start. In the meantime we all worked in a used record store.

[Jonathan Lethem's next novel will be published in March 2007.]

(Previous guest-blogs, in and out of the Said the Guests series: Will Butler (Arcade Fire), Al Kratina, Eugene Mirman, artist Dave Bailey, Agent Simple, artist Keith Andrew Shore, Owen Ashworth (Casiotone for the Painfully Alone), artist Kit Malo with Alden Penner (The Unicorns) 1 2, artist Rachell Sumpter, artist Katy Horan 1 2, David Barclay (The Diskettes), artist Drew Heffron, Carl Wilson, artist Tim Moore, Michael Nau (Page France), Devin Davis, Will Sheff (Okkervil River), Edward Droste (Grizzly Bear), Hello Saferide, Damon Krukowski (Damon & Naomi), Brian Michael Roff, Howard Bilerman (producer: Silver Mt. Zion, Arcade Fire, etc.). There are many more to come.)

Posted by Sean at June 7, 2006 3:00 AM

If anyone recognises that mystery song's artist, let me know. I'm still waiting for confirmation of its identity from Jonathan.

Posted by Sean at June 7, 2006 2:58 AM

Great post.
There's a splendid version of Roky Erickson's "You don't love me yet" by Rhonda Harris available free for download here :

Posted by Pol Dodu at June 7, 2006 7:42 AM

What a great, great thing. Even greater that he chose the Vulgar Boatmen, who give me a swell of hometown pride. Um, woot.

Posted by Eric at June 7, 2006 9:38 AM


Fucking hell, I thought he was writing just for me. I was at Magnolia Thunderpussy RECORDS & TAPES when those CDs came in.

Posted by ll kirchner at June 7, 2006 9:50 AM

Oh, cool. We had Lethem come speak once and he was excellent. 'Fortress of Solitude' is on my summer reading list but let me also recommend his excellent essays collection 'The Disappointment Artist', plenty of interest there, some of it muscial. 'You Don't Love Me Yet' is a bit too quiet, kind of Incredible String Bandy, at least until the backing vocals and pedal steel comes in. I liked Lethem's piece too. The recent movie 'The Squid And The Whale' reminded me in part of Lethem's account of growing up in Brooklyn.

Posted by dymbel at June 7, 2006 11:16 AM

while i love the bongwater version of "you don't love me yet," this isn't it. bongwater did a version for the roky tribute album that's the same version that's on "double bummer."

Posted by joel at June 7, 2006 11:56 AM

Mystery over! I have now updated the entry with information on the song's performer.

Posted by Sean at June 7, 2006 12:48 PM

Great guest choice. Thanks. Fortress of Solitude is one of my favorite books. There are so many sited songs, Lethem should put together companion CD or a version of the book with mp3 links ala Said the Gramophone. Of course, that would mean we'd all actually have to HEAR "Play That Funky Music White Boy" by Wild Cherry instead of just imagining it...not sure which is worse.

Posted by Liz at June 7, 2006 2:16 PM

Cool post, and very nice work in the getting, Sean. Also, if you're into Lethem you really need to read "Motherless Brooklyn" and "Gun With Occasional Music." One's this amazing noirish thing about a guy with Tourette's and the other's this pretty remarkable trip into freaky sci-fi.

Sheesh. How record shop-scummy am I? "No no, really, check out their [his] early stuff..."

Posted by chris at June 8, 2006 2:51 PM

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about the authors
Sean Michaels is the founder of Said the Gramophone. He is a writer, critic and author of the theremin novel Us Conductors. Follow him on Twitter or reach him by email here. Click here to browse his posts.

Emma Healey writes poems and essays in Toronto. She joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. This is her website and email her here.

Jeff Miller is a Montreal-based writer and zinemaker. He is the author of Ghost Pine: All Stories True and a bunch of other stories. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Say hello on Twitter or email.

Mitz Takahashi is originally from Osaka, Japan who now lives and works as a furniture designer/maker in Montreal. English is not his first language so please forgive his glamour grammar mistakes. He is trying. He joined Said the Gramophone in 2015. Reach him by email here.

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Dan Beirne wrote regularly for Said the Gramophone from August 2004 to December 2014. He is an actor and writer living in Toronto. Any claim he makes about his life on here is probably untrue. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.

Jordan Himelfarb wrote for Said the Gramophone from November 2004 to March 2012. He lives in Toronto. He is an opinion editor at the Toronto Star. Click here to browse his posts. Email him here.
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