Crafting the “Soundtrack” to my Interrogating Memory book

In 2005, Rupert Holmes published his second novel, a murder mystery called Swing. Being, well, Rupert Holmes, he also wrote and recorded an accompanying seven-track CD of swing-inflected music; both are well worth finding. The combination, meanwhile, led him to quip, “I’ve been singing songs from my new book.”

In the past month, I received ISBN numbers and a Library of Congress Control number for my own new book, Interrogating Memory: Film Noir Spurs a Deep Dive Into My Family History…and My Own, allowing me to complete the publication page. I have designed a new front cover, as well as a back cover; I also wrote the inside book jacket blurb and bio. I have edited and reformatted it multiple times, while removing – then readding – Appendix III. In the next few days, my wife Nell will take a handsome photograph of me.

Once that is done, I will likely send the whole shebang to BookBaby, who will manufacture a single, pristine copy – hardback with a snazzy new dustcover – for me to inspect; the original one now feels too “busy.” Assuming I approve, I will then order a few hundred copies to distribute and sell, as well as have the book available for sale in a wide variety of venues and formats, including as a lower-cost PDF through this website.

As I read and reread Interrogating Memory, meanwhile, Holmes’ words rang in my ears.

Why?

Consider this passage from Chapter 10 (Night Driving):

Not satisfied with driving to earn money, I began taking meandering night-time drives soon after graduation. These were not the late-night drives of my adult years: I wanted to be home by midnight – not 11 pm, as I had long thought– to watch Star Trek on Channel 11, a New York City channel included in our cable package. I had no destination, I simply enjoyed the freedom to follow any road I chose, though I preferred “roads with numbers” like Routes 23 and 29. As much as I found the city alluring, I preferred to drive north and west, especially around the exurbs of King of Prussia, Valley Forge and Phoenixville; what I sought then – and on similar drives over the ensuing decades – I still cannot say. Those nights, the radio was my sole companion; “Always and Forever” by Heatwave and “Lucky Star” by Madonna still play in my memory. (Boldface added for emphasis).

Contextual musical references like this are sprinkled throughout the book. In fact, to paraphrase a song from Swing: the book, it sings to me. So much so that I decided to create my own accompanying CDs; this is a work of history, so we use a slightly anachronistic medium. I may even still have blank music CDs onto which I could burn these tracks, should the need arise.

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The first CD begins, naturally, at the beginning – as we flip through the title/publication pages, Table of Contents and Acknowledgements to find the…

Preface, which opens with a reference to a David Lynch film. I cite Lynch a number of times in Interrogating Memory, so what better way to open this investigation than with the opening theme to Twin Peaks. This carries us through the short Notes on Notes section, and into the…

Introduction. I start with a bang, describing a poignant – possibly fictional? – childhood memory to illustrate the concept of interrogating memory. The rock band Boston makes a charming appearance, making the 2nd track their only #1 hit: “Amanda,” from the 1986 album Third Stage. The remainder of the Introduction lays out the origin of the book and its structure.

This brings us to Part I: The West Philadelphia Story. In a brief introductory section, I describe the Pale of Settlement (“Pale”) and the history of Philadelphia, focusing on the Jewish “city within a city” of West Philadelphia. Fiddler on the Roof reappears in Chapter 2, but no matter: one cannot read about the Pale without hearing “Tradition;” it is thus track #3. As for Philadelphia – given how often it played in my head while writing this book, track #4 must be “Philadelphia Freedom” by Elton John; the City of Brotherly Love embraced every one of my legal ancestors who arrived there between 1880 and 1915.

Entering the text proper, Chapter 1 (From Tragedy to Triumph…and the Tailor’s Daughter) is devoid of obvious musical cues. We meet the Berger family and the Zisser/Caesar family, both of whom make their way from the Pale to Philadelphia via steamship in the 1890s. David Louis Berger dies under violent and mysterious circumstances in October 1919, leaving his eldest son Morris in charge of the family’s storage/moving company and delicatessen. The latter is transferred to a relative as Morris and his younger brother Jules assume control of John Rhoads Company – a well-established carpet cleaning/used furniture business in West Philadelphia – in July 1926. Meanwhile, Moritz Zisser – now Morris Caesar – prospers as a tailor, as we see in a family photograph probably taken on the first birthday of his youngest child Rae in October 1903. Morris Berger and Rae Caesar marry in 1932 then have two children, the younger one a son named David Louis in honor of his late grandfather. I will leave the musical background for this chapter up to the composer, but a sonic blending of Modest Mussorgsky, Scott Joplin and George Gershwin works well here – and in most of…

Chapter 2 (The Dancing Rabbi, the Philly Cop and the Baker’s Daughter), which parallels Chapter 1, down to the “boats” bringing the Cohens, Jacob Gurmankin and the Shore sisters from the Pale to Philadelphia. I write this early in the chapter:

As a boy, I spent a lot of time listening to vinyl recordings of both Fiddler on the Roof and Jesus Christ Superstar, which, I joke, explains a lot.

Various rabbis dominate the first part of the chapter, so – in an ironic twist – I choose “Overture” and “Heaven On Their Minds” from Superstar to be tracks #5 and 6, woven around the incidental music describe in the previous paragraph.

Later in the chapter, Yisrael HaCohen of Shpola (in what is now Ukraine) becomes Samuel Joseph Kohn of Cleveland, OH in order to join the Philadelphia Police Department in August 1931. A few years later he marries Irene Goldman, born Ida Gurmankin, and they have two daughters, the younger of whom is named Elaine. Samuel Kohn serves as a plainclothes detective at the height of the classic era of film noir, which I posit was 1946 to 1951. My maternal grandfather had a “combative personality” and a deeply troubled marriage – and Interrogating Memory is ostensibly about why I love film noir – so I always hear Bernard Herrmann’s dramatic opening theme to On Dangerous Ground (Nicholas Ray, 1951) playing over these pages; it is track #7.

Moving on, Chapter 3 (Golden Boy Marries Golden Girl: What Could Go Wrong?) runs from the late 1930s until 1960. Lou Berger – son of the Vice President of the large and influential Congregation Beth El – is raised in comfort; attends Hebrew School and a variety of professional basketball and baseball games; graduates high school and Temple University; and, after a series of tragedies, assumes control of John Rhoads Company when he is only 23. Elaine Kohn is raised in somewhat more modest circumstances, but still spends summers in Atlantic City, NJ and, after high school, graduates from St. Luke’s Hospital School for Medical Technology. In October 1958 – or so the evidence suggests – one of Elaine’s St. Luke’s classmates held a party to which Lou Berger is invited. They meet and…

Lou Berger and Elaine Kohn “were a couple from day one. She knew it was serious when he brought his baby pictures over to our house.” Lou’s mother “wasn’t thrilled with the match,” but “that never stopped Louie.”

My legal parents hit their teenaged years in 1949-51, at the end of the swing/big band era but before the start of the rock and roll era; neither talked about the music of their adolescence. Thus, only musical cue in the chapter is this:

At the end of my father’s life, he was clearly far more comfortable with his fellow cab drivers who were black, and I remembered hearing one of his favorite songs was The Platters’ “The Great Pretender,” first released in November 1955.

This is track #8. Meanwhile, Chapter 4 (My Father Was a Freemason. So Was Herman Modell) also runs primarily from the mid-1930s – when aspiring politician Herman Modell joins the same Freemasonic lodge as Jules Berger (and, as of 1957, Lou Berger) – through the early 1960s, so we add the archetypal swing tune, “Sing, Sing, Sing (With a Swing)” by Benny Goodman and his Orchestra (1936) and – since this book is literally about interrogating memory – Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole (1951). These are tracks #9 and 10.

To mark the transition from the Eisenhower 1950s into the Kennedy/LBJ 1960s – when a series of reproductive tragedies led Lou and Elaine Berger to ask Modell, now a fellow Member of La Fayette Lodge No. 71, to arrange a private adoption, sight unseen – I choose a tune from a man who embodied that transition musically. Miles Davis closes out his 1960 Sketches of Spain album with the haunting “Solea;” it is track #11.

While I close Part I with Chapter 5 (Parallel Lines of Investigation Reveal My Genetic Parents), it and Chapter 6 (So…What Is Film Noir, Again?) essentially form an interlude between the historic chapters and the autobiographical chapters. Chapter 5 is split into the two ways I interrogated my own “origin story”: 1) tracking down my adoption records and 2) using genetic testing and Ancestry.com to discover my genetic families. I pursued these “parallel lines” mostly in 2016-18, when I opened nearly every playlist I constructed with Jerry Goldsmith’s theme to the 1994 film The Shadow; this is track #12. However, to reflect my determination to learn my true “origin story,” we follow it with “One Way Or Another” from Blondie’s Parallel Lines album, making it track #13.

In Chapter 6, meanwhile, I revise the story of film noir using, inter alia, data I collected between 2015 and 2017. This is when I annually attended NOIR CITY in San Francisco, and when I met sultry chanteuse Laura Ellis. I listened to her 2011 Femme Fatale album more than once during this period, including her cover of Lester Lee’s and Bob Russell’s theme to the 1953 film noir Blue Gardenia. It was also around this time I discovered – while searching YouTube for videos related to film noir – Caro Emerald’s 2010 album Deleted Scenes From the Cutting Room Floor. I found “A Night Like This” especially riveting. These are tracks #14 and #15.

This brings us to the end of the primarily non-autobiographical chapters of Interrogating Memory – and to the end of “Disc 1,” which consists of 15 tracks plus incidental music.

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Part II: Film Noir: A Personal Journey opens with a brief introduction outlining the history of the suburbs west of Philadelphia in which I was raised, as well as the history of Harriton High School. These suburbs – most with Welsh names like Ardmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr – developed around a railroad which first opened in 1832, connecting Philadelphia with the Susquehanna River 82 miles to the west. This Philadelphia and Columbia Railroad, later bought by the Pennsylvania Railroad, was part of a larger “Main Line of Public Works for the State of Pennsylvania.” Over time, these suburban towns collectively became known as “The Main Line.” I prefer to open playlists with an instrumental – and the movie Risky Business, released while I attended Harriton, features a gorgeous Tangerine Dream composition called “Love On a Real Train.” This track – #16 overall – opens “Disc 2.”

As we enter Chapter 7 (Reading Is Fundamental), we return to my birth on September 30, 1966. Five days later, in a moment of pure cinema, I was handed to my new parents in front of Metropolitan Hospital, then taken home to a recently-built split-level house in Havertown. That week, the number one single was “Cherish” by The Association – and the number one album was The Beatles’ Revolver – featuring the aptly-titled “Got to Get You Into My Life.” These are tracks #17 and #18 overall.

The kitchen in this house had a radio built into the wall; a speaker was in my bedroom. One afternoon when I was perhaps six or seven, I listened to some songs through that speaker – and one in particular caught my ear: “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel; this is track #19 overall. Otherwise, I mostly contented myself with Fiddler and Superstar until the end of 1976.

Chapter 7 is roughly divided into two sections. In the first section, I describe my life through the age of seven, focusing on a few key areas: the house itself, getting a dog, being a very intelligent boy who struggled to adapt to school instruction, entering Hebrew school, finding a permanent home for my severely intellectually-disabled older sister Mindy and a house fire of indefinite origin. In the second section, I tell the story of my love of detective fiction –the first milestone on my film noir “personal journey” – from discovering Encyclopedia Brown in 2nd grade through learning about Philadelphia-based pulp writer David Goodis. This focus on reading is why I choose one other track for this chapter – #20 overall – Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind.”

Chapter 8 (Fathers and Sons Are Only Black and White In the Movies) begins with a discussion of my father’s gambling addiction – and one especially eerie photograph – and how it relates to the fire that effectively ended John Rhoads Company; I also note the statute of limitation for arson is only five years in Pennsylvania. We then turn to the two happiest summer of my childhood – 1974 and 1975, which we spent at the Strand Motel in Atlantic City. In my memory, “Rock the Boat” by The Hues Corporation plays over these months; it is probably the first “favorite song” I ever had, making it track #21 overall, and #6 on Disc 2.

All things come to an end, however, and I describe 1976 as “a year of transition in black and white,” much of it chronicled in a half-heartedly maintained diary. We spent this summer at a pool located in the same apartment complex in which Rae Berger and Herman Modell had once lived. The song I most associate with this summer is Lightfoot’s “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald,making it track #22 overall.

The remainder of this chapter addressed my discovery of Charlie Chan films – my second “milestone” and the end of my parents’ marriage. Curiously, the night before my parents separated in March 1977, my father typed a short report on Gershwin I had written for a school assignment. It was around this time, I started listening to our local Top 40 station – “WIFI 92” (92.5 FM) for hours at a time – and about when I bought my first album, Wings Over America, which I still have with other vinyl records downstairs. The proximate cause of their separation was the collapse of their finances – tracing back to the death of Rae Berger in January 1972; she kept a firm control on her son’s gambling and/or paid his debts. One night in October 1976, a sheriff or a sheriff’s deputy came to the door and took my father away, perhaps overnight. It is with tongue planted firmly in cheek, then, I make Wings’ “Let ‘Em In” track #23 overall; in fairness, I adored this song at the time.

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Beginning with Chapter 9 (The Dark City Beckons…On Television), I explicitly insert “songs I hear playing in my memory” into the text. Indeed, this comes on the third page:

Meanwhile, I was being asked to help my mother; what, specifically, I was supposed to do, other than be generally supportive, was unclear. I frequently heard Kansas’ “Carry On Wayward Son” on WIFI-92, and I hated the lyric “Lay your weary head to rest/Don’t you cry no more” because I felt the radio was shaming me for not supporting my mother enough. “But I am only 10 years old!” I should have cried.

Kansas’ rock classic is track #24 overall, and #9 on Disc 2. On the very next page, I am sent to day camp for the summer (1978); I do not record this in the text, but “Grease” by Frankie Valli dominates my recollection of that summer, making it track #25 overall. At home, meanwhile, my mother repeatedly played Cat Stevens’ Greatest Hits and anything by Neil Diamond on our new home stereo system. Given her enormous crush on “Neil,” track #26 overall – #11 on Disc 2 – is “Be/Lonely Looking Sky/Dear Father” from the soundtrack to Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

A few pages later, I am in my last year of Hebrew School, and we perform – what else? – Fiddler on the Roof…in Hebrew. Disappointed at not being chosen to play Tevye, I throw myself into the role of Perchik the student, to whom Hodel travels “Far From the Home I Love.” This beautiful duet between father and daughter – reflecting how far my own Jewish ancestors had come from the Pale – is track #27 overall.

My father’s post-separation struggles are addressed next, including the role played by his friend Barry Lieb:

In the fall of 1978, Lieb converted Harry’s American Bar at 1918 Chestnut Street into a restaurant and night spot called Barry’s. My maternal aunt took me there, likely on the night of Saturday, June 23, 1979, carefully dressing me in a white button-down shirt, white slacks and navy blazer; for the first time, I genuinely liked clothes I wore. It was an early foray into “the dark city,” making it even more exciting; I associate Anita Ward’s “Ring My Bell” with this adventure.

Ward’s subtle disco anthem is track #28 overall.

Speaking of struggles: “Magnifying that loss [the death of Samuel Kohn] was simply being in seventh grade, by far my worst school experience.” I spent the first six months at Haverford Junior High School; I recall standing in the library, hearing Billy Joel’s “My Life.” This eponymous – as far as this book is concerned – song is track #29 overall. We actually revisit Joel’s terrific 52nd Street album a few pages later.

My strongest memory of the winter of 1978-79 is being out at night in a car with my mother, maternal aunt and first cousins, perhaps after eating dinner somewhere. My cousins and I are mashed together in the backseat, and my face is pressed against the passenger-side window, rolled up tight against the cold. Acrid cigarette smoke sits in the air, nauseating me. The radio only plays Bee Gees songs from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, despite its run of 24 weeks atop the Billboard album chart ending in early July; Billy Joel’s 52nd Street was now the #1 album.

I cannot overstate how sick of those Bee Gees songs I was as 1978 became 1979 – and how great I think they are now. Given that a chance glance in a movie theater that December activated all of my lusty pubescent hormones, I make “How Deep Is Your Love” track #30 overall, and #15 on Disc 2.

Actually, I did not so much dislike the Bee Gees, as I was tired of those particular songs:

My final memory of Robindale is a nasty upper respiratory ailment which kept me home multiple days in January 1979. I mostly watched my small black-and-white television in bed, or I read. I also listened to WIFI-92, hoping to hear one of my favorite songs at the time: Rod Stewart’s “Da Ya Think I’m Sexy?,” Nicolette Larson’s “Lotta Love” and The Bee Gees’ “Tragedy.” Mostly, though, I was waiting until 11:30—on weeknights—to watch Perry Mason on Channel 48, after which the station ended its broadcast day.

I somewhat arbitrarily chose Larson’s aching “Lotta Love” to get us through this section…and be track #31 overall. In March 1979, meanwhile, my mother and I moved into a house in Bala Cynwyd with my aunt and cousins. Four months later, we three kids were shipped off to overnight summer camp. After a nasty bout of poison ivy sent me home briefly, I returned to Camp Arthur/Reeta.

Settling into the routine, I won a Certificate of Award for archery on August 18, and I proceeded to make friends. This was the summer of “My Sharona” by The Knack, to which we bopped in the swimming pool, as well as when I discovered Cheap Trick and The Cars.

This infectious ditty is track #32 overall, and #17 on disc 2. At this point, we have filled about 71½ minutes of the 80 available minutes. So, we close out this disc, Chapter 9 – and the 1970s – with two tracks, #33 and #34 overall. The first is the live version of “Surrender” by Cheap Trick, memorializing the first rock concert I ever attended:

[W]hen he patiently took my buddy and me to our first rock concert – Cheap Trick at The Spectrum on October 5, 1979, five days after my 13th birthday – another concertgoer offered my father a joint while he sat quietly one row behind us; he politely declined.

The second – making Disc 2 a near-perfect 79 minutes, 56 seconds long – plays in my memory when I think about the last few weeks I lived in the Manayunk Road house: “This Is It” by Kenny Loggins.

I could easily have included a series of television show themes: All in the Family, Good Times, Welcome Back Kotter, What’s Happening!! and Barney Miller. These shows marked part of my discovery of “the dark city,” my third “milestone.”

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Mimicking Chapter 9, Chapter 10 (Night Driving) opens with the brief history of an apartment complex in which my mother and I lived. It was likely on February 27, 1980 we moved into unit 5C of the Oak Hill Estates in Penn Valley, PA.

Between my window and the walkway was a small outdoor patio bounded by a rough semi-circle of five walls, alternating brick wood brick wood brick, each about six feet high. Female-first-cousin and I clambered over these walls one night before we moved. In my memory, Rupert Holmes’ “Him” – still a favorite – plays in the background; one year later, on March 28, 1981, male-first-cousin and I sat near the stage during his performance at the Host Farm Cabaret – my second-ever concert.

That single bass note at the start of “Him” – two E’s below middle C, I believe – is the perfect opening to Disc 3; it is track #35 overall. I quickly settled into my new bedroom, meanwhile, complete with my own telephone line – my mother operated a business out of our new apartment – and television. Moreover…

…after years listening to Top 40 radio and whatever “oldies” stations my parents played, my musical horizons were widening. Genesis, Peter Gabriel, David Bowie and The Cars replaced Fleetwood Mac and Wings…atop my personal ranking. I was increasingly aware of punk and new wave artists like Gary Numan, Talking Heads, Blondie, The Clash, The B-52’s, The Police and Split Enz. Moreover, year-end countdowns and episodes of Solid Gold had piqued my interest in weekly song rankings. I bought a copy of Cash Box in April 1980 and spent hours poring over its charts, calling lifelong-friend to discuss the lists with him, despite his protests he knew few of the songs. The B-52’s’ “Rock Lobster” was in its first or second week on the top 100, making it either the April 19 or April 26 issue.

This anarchic pop masterpiece is track #36 overall. A few months later, I spent my third summer in a camp – co-running the canteen at Camp Kweebec in Schwenksville; a fellow employee often raved about the brilliance of B-52’s front man Fred Schneider. At the same time, Genesis and former front man Gabriel battled for my personal top ranking; Genesis won, and is still number one, though Gabriel remains in my top 10. The propulsive “Turn It On Again,” from Duke vaulted Genesis into contention, while two tracks from Peter Gabriel (III) did the same for him, one being the ironically-titled “I Don’t Remember.” They are thus tracks #3 and #4 on Disc 3, #37 and #38 overall.

In the summer of 1981, I squared the summer camp circle: day camp camper, overnight camp camper, overnight camp worker, day camp worker in four consecutive years. A journal I kept for a few months that year – about which I write, “Nearly four decades later, it is deeply unsettling to read” – reminds me I listened to a lot of “Phil Collins, Kraftwerk and The Moody Blues,” namely Face Value, Autobahn and Long Distance Voyager, as well as Steve Winwood’s Arc of a Diver and Foreigner’s 4. From these I choose “The Voice” by The Moody Blues and “Urgent” by Foreigner as tracks #4 and #5 – #39 and #40 overall. At a different point in the chapter, I describe sitting in my darkened bedroom, staring out the window into the night, mesmerized by a single pinpoint of light – most likely a street light on Port Royal Road, on the other side of the Schuylkill River. One track I especially loved to play during those reveries was “Nights in White Satin,” also by The Moody Blues. And when we lived in Robindale, I had a copy of Foreigner’s debut album, which I played incessantly. That link – plus Thomas Dolby, to whom we return, playing synthesizers on “Urgent” – explain these choices.

In this journal, I describe a picnic held in Bryn Mawr’s Ashbridge Park on June 19, 1981. There are days in your life when everything fundamentally changes: this picnic led to my membership in a group of inter-high-school friends that was the high point of my adolescent years – what those summers in Atlantic City were to my pre-adolescent years; membership in that group continues to reverberate in interesting ways.

An evolving group of students from Archbishop Carroll, Conestoga, Harriton, Lower Merion and Radnor High Schools hosted at least a dozen Saturday-night parties; being in this group’s core was exhilarating. My mental soundtrack for these gatherings includes local bands The Hooters and Robert Hazard and the Heroes, the first two Pat Benatar albums, The Human League’s Dare and AC/DC’s “Big Balls.”

Our adolescent selves thought the lyrical innuendo of the latter tune was hysterical; it is thus track #41 overall. Meanwhile, I alluded to this concert earlier:

[A part-time job] could be how I afforded the $15.75 ($41.73) for my third concert – and first outdoor festival. On August 21, 1982, JFK Stadium – then home of the Philadelphia Eagles – hosted Robert Hazard and the Heroes, A Flock of Seagulls, Blondie, Elvis Costello and the Attractions, and Genesis. Gates opened at 11 am, and the show began at 2 pm. […]  The day itself is a blur, though I recall A Flock of Seagulls being awful, as they were when I saw them at the Mann Music Center (“Mann”) the following July 30; The Fixx – who were outstanding – opened for them. I also recall one woman we nicknamed “Jiggles” for her dancing and another woman who donned a flower costume in tribute to former Genesis front man Peter Gabriel’s theatrical performances. Second-cousin and I saw Gabriel at The Spectrum on November 16.

It cannot be overstated how beloved The Hooters and Robert Hazard and the Heroes were in the Delaware Valley in the early 1980s. Hazard – who wrote “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (The Hooters were Cyndi Lauper’s backing band on She’s So Unusual) – appeared effortlessly cool. The closest he ever came to a national hit was his signature tune, “Escalator of Life,” making it track #42 overall. Meanwhile…

… [on] August 30, I saw Talking Heads at the Mann, an open-air venue in the western half of Fairmount Park, likely with Radnor-grad. As I later heard the story, somebody asked my mother where I had gone that night. “To see the Walking Dead,” she responded.

Is there any other choice besides “Once In a Lifetime” for track #43 overall, and #9 on Disc 3?

Sadly, two months earlier to the day, my legal father, David Louis Berger, died from a heart attack; he was only 46 years old. In the process of telling this story, I write:

One Saturday night, possibly to give my mother some privacy, I spent the night at father-partner’s house. […] This was likely June 13-14, 1981, when Santana’s Zebop! reached the Billboard top 10. Older son and I had a hearty adolescent laugh about this album title standing in a parking lot near the intersection of Bustleton and Cottman Avenues, a short walk from Doral Caterers.

Eschewing melancholy, I choose the upbeat “Winning” from Zebop! as track #44 overall.

After a brief interlude in which I describe “suburban moths drawn to the urban flame,” and note the importance for my “film noir education” of “The Friends of Mr. Cairo” by Jon and Vangelis,[1] track #45 overall, we return to movies – specifically seven films I first saw on HBO in my bedroom between June 1980 and March 1982. While some of these films are explicitly neo-noir, a term I did not yet know, they all influenced my “personal journey” through their urban setting, storyline and/or cinematography. Most influential in this fourth “milestone” was 1980’s Times Square – but we save its opening song for later.

In the spring of 1983, around the time of my second, equally unsuccessful suicide attempt, I learned to drive. I have literally constructed entire mixtapes based upon these few months, so for track #46 overall we choose the song I most associate with actually learning to drive: Dolby’s “She Blinded Me With Science.”

Once I learned to drive, I drove A LOT – including north about 25 minutes on the Roosevelt Boulevard (U.S. Route 1) to hang out with my second cousin. As I began my last semester at Harriton, we were often joined by two female best friends. Just as I made mixtapes to commemorate the spring of 1983, I could easily do the same for the spring of 1984. For now, though, we content ourselves with a single track, “Hold Me Now” by Thompson Twins, making it track #47 overall. The poignancy of this lovely song perfectly mirrors that night I drove the four of us over the Delaware River, which…

…without a parent felt daring, even a little reckless. After some laughter-fueled meandering, I parked in front of Pat’s Original Diner at 1300 S. Broad Street […] We sat in the second or third booth from the door, which was on the right-hand side as you stood on the sidewalk. Second-cousin – like feisty-brunette, far more extroverted than quiet-blonde and I were – made it a point to tell our friendly older waitress “He’s going to Yale.” If memory serves, we were actually celebrating my admission, dating this night to just after I received my acceptance letter, say April 20, 21, 27 or 28 [1984]. Looking back nearly four decades later, I think second-cousin ordered something for me – heated cherry pie with chocolate ice cream would be my guess – prompting his announcement. I recall this night with both joy and melancholy: I was ecstatic, but it was sinking in I was departing for the Ivy League in a few months, adding to my sense of “otherness.”

And then there was that girl we met at a cousin’s Bar Mitzvah, during which “I won a 45-rpm record of Culture Club’s ‘Miss Me Blind’ in a dance contest.” This new wave gem is now track #48 overall because that meeting had…consequences.

All of which brings us to the night drives which open this essay, as well as the end of Chapter 10. Both tracks I cite are terrific, but “Lucky Star” best captures the mood of that summer, making it track #15 on Disc 3, and track #49 overall.

The “personal journey” ends in Chapter 11 (A Film Noir Fan Is Born) – and my freshman year at Yale starts with a bang as the clerical and technical workers, joined by the dining hall staff, go on strike:

With dining halls closed, undergraduates were given $72.80 each week (about $180 in 2019) – the cost of a basic meal plan – to purchase food. Folksinger’s-daughter and I often walked to Clark’s Pizza and Restaurant at 68 Whitney Avenue for dinner, Cyndi Lauper’s “All Through the Night” and Chicago’s “Hard Habit to Break” providing the soundtrack.

Lauper’s lullaby-like tune – basically a Hooters track sung by Lauper – best matches the underlying film noir theme of Interrogating Memory, so we make it track #50 overall. In fact, it neatly covers my four years at Yale – during which I watched dozens of films, including many classic-era films noir, the fifth and final “milestone.”

After graduating in 1988, I spent a forgettable year living in Washington, DC. And here we return to Times Square

To an emotionally-repressed, lusty suburban white boy with a predilection for new wave, Times Square was a literal siren’s call: after seeing it again in late 1988, I walked 3½ miles roundtrip from my Washington, DC apartment to what was then a Tower Records at 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue NW to buy a copy of its phenomenal soundtrack. Besides “Same Old Scene,” [which plays over the opening credits] its 20 tracks include Talking Heads’ “Life During Wartime” – to which Nicky and “Pammy” dance at night along W. 42nd Street in one of the film’s most joyous scenes – as well as tracks by Numan, Lou Reed, The Ramones, The Pretenders, XTC, Joe Jackson, Suzi Quatro, Patti Smith Group, David Johansen, and Desmond Child and Rouge. The obligatory Bee Gees song, a duet between Marcy Levy and Robin Gibb, somewhat jarringly closes the movie.

I specifically wanted to hear “Same Old Scene” by Roxy Music, whom second-cousin saw in concert one memorable night in 1983, when I bought the record; we thus make it track #17 on Disc 3 and track #51 overall.

Finally, with only a few minutes of free space left on Disc 3,[2] we close out this “soundtrack” to Interrogating Memory with the opening themes of two movies – with due respect to 1982’s Hammett[3] – released in the 1990s which renewed my interest in film noir of any era: The Public Eye and L.A. Confidential.

About the former, I write:

It was most likely at 10 pm [on October 31, 1992] that influential-girlfriend and I settled into our seats in the movie theater then located in Copley Place at 100 Huntington Avenue in downtown Boston to watch Howard Franklin’s The Public Eye. I was captivated by Joe Pesci’s portrayal of Leon “Bernzie” Bernstein, a fictionalized version of Weegee, down to the photographs which “develop” over the opening credits. We enjoyed the film, though the police interrogation scene at the end triggered my visceral antipathy to bleeding. Nonetheless, I later bought a DVD copy and a CD of Mark Isham’s soundtrack. To me, The Public Eye is pure noir: Pesci’s alienated anti-hero/detective; Barbara Hershey’s femme fatale; nocturnal New York City stylishly photographed by Peter Suschitzky; and a plot filled with betrayal, kidnapping and murder. Eddie Muller agrees: at around 9:30 PM PST on Friday, January 22, 2016, The Public Eye was the second film, after Rear Window, screened at NOIR CITY 14.

And about what is still my favorite film, I write:

Two events spurred my renewed interest in classic-era film noir. One was a movie trailer we first saw in the summer of 1997. As exciting as L. A. Confidential seemed in the preview, however, I was blown away by what we saw in the Woburn theater either on September 19 or 26, at 9:45 or 10:15 pm; the 19-screen multiplex showed it on two screens. Curtis Hanson’s complex story of murder, corruption and betrayal in 1950s Los Angeles, stunningly photographed by Dante Spinotti and elevated by Jerry Goldsmith’s score, was as perfect a film as I had ever seen. The references to noir icons Robert Mitchum, Veronica Lake – down to clip from This Gun For Hire – Rita Hayworth and Lana Turner, plus the setting and plot, whet an appetite for classic-era film noir I did not realize I had.

The rest of the book – excluding the Epilogue and three Appendices – addresses the death of my mother from ovarian cancer at the age of 66 and wraps up my “personal journey” with a hypothetical “causal determinist” view of why I became – and remain – a film noir fan. Nell – to whom I read an entire early draft of Interrogating Memory – was particularly taken with this passage.

I think you will be as well.

Until next time…please wear a mask as necessary to protect yourself and others – and if you have not already done so, get vaccinated against COVID-19! And if you like what you read on this website, please consider making a donation. Thank you.


[1] “This 12-minute-long track, edited for airplay, includes a reasonable synopsis of The Maltese Falcon – albeit incorrectly attributed to Mickey Spillane, Barney Miller’s favorite author – as well as allusions to other films of the 1930s and 1940s.”

[2] And using the shorter, 45 RPM version of “Rock Lobster.”

[3] Which I first watched in the 1990s.

9 thoughts on “Crafting the “Soundtrack” to my Interrogating Memory book

  1. I read a few book in the recent past where the authors publish their playlist ( soundtrack if you will) while writing the book. I have always used music to write-well for anything really-and I had a feeling you did just from your vast musical knowledge alone! Great post! Also, the Twin Peaks theme song reminds me of my Grade 11 & 12 Drama class. The teacher was a huge music fan and we would often converse over our shared musical tastes and also discuss our differences. I loved Twin Peaks, although it showed me how different I was from my peers as no one else was watching it lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yikes…how did I miss this awesome reply?!? I apologize! Thank you for your kind words. My musical knowledge may be vast, but it also has well-defined parameters. Our kids have a far better sense of recent music (say, post-2000) than I ever will, which is fine – they absolutely should. TWIN PEAKS came out when I was in my first year as a graduate student, when I watched almost zero television, so I did not actually watch it until around 2016…just in time for the mind-blowing return. Having that teacher(s) to whom you can talk about non-academic issues is incredible. My Latin teacher and I used to cast a hypothetical movie version of Stephen King’s THE STAND (I was obsessed with it for years). 🙂 Speaking of stuff related to my book – it is now officially for sale here: https://store.bookbaby.com/bookshop/book/index.aspx?bookURL=Interrogating-Memory1. You can also preorder it on Amazon and Barnes & Noble, among other sites. Unfortunately, I had little control over the price – but the eBook will be available within a week or two for just $10.99. The hardback version has a cool dust jacket and “feel,” but the eBook has color photographs. I just want folks to read and enjoy the darned thing – *how* they do so is not important. 🙂

      Like

      1. Don’t apologize! All good in the hood 😉
        Music is pure magic in my books! Pardon the kinda-sorta pun there. Can’t wait to order the book and start enjoying it. I’m excited that you’re published!

        Liked by 1 person

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