Part 1 – Pattern
The structure of the book is that of a concept album.
- We have A and B pages, what I presume is a reference to vinyl, where each side contains different songs (1 and 109).
- The A sides and B sides do not simply pack prose but are subdivided into six chapters for the A side and seven chapters for the B side, this gives readers subtler pauses, like the ones between songs in an album.
The titles of the chapters are reminiscent of song titles, so much so that at the end we discover that one of them becomes one of the songs written and sang by Scotty:
“That’s when he began writing the songs he’d been writing for years underground, songs no one had ever heard, or anything like them – “Eyes in My Head,” “X’s and O’s,” “Who’s Watching Hardest” – ballads of paranoia and disconnection ripped from the chest of a man you knew just by looking […] had lived in the cracks all these years, forgotten, full of rage, in a way that now registered as pure” (335-6).
The full list:
A Visit from the Goon Squad
The Gold Cure
Ask Me If I Care
X’s and O’s
A to B
Selling the General
Forty Minute Lunch
Out of Body
Good-bye My Love
- The book includes a Power Point Chapter on Pauses titled “Great Rock and Roll Pauses,” that is located where a pause would most commonly be found in a song (234 to 309).
Part 2 – Analysis
Egan’s chapters are singles (in fact, they had been just that for The New Yorker) in the concept album that is A Visit from The Goon Squad. In a baffling act of media magic, Eagan has taken an old medium (vinyl) and mashed it up with an even old_er_ medium (books) to create something that is not only novel but innovative – a word we often use solely to speak of new media. And while some could rightfully argue this book features some heavy doses of nostalgia, – present, it could be said, in this book to album transformation, – Eagan’s reasoning for this mashup is much more intricate. The format of this BookAlbum looks not only to the past but the future, and asks us to consider what is yet to be done with forms that are thought to be obsolete. What Eagan seemed to be looking for – and found – in the novel is the lost art of the art form.
Each of her chapters, or songs in this AlbumBook, is a self-contained machine churning out a voice (tune) and a meaning (lyrics) that is distinct from those found in any of the others. And while unique for their distinctiveness, the chapters, much like the songs in an album, speak more about the author and its preoccupations when in dialogue with other songs. This mere multitude of voices speaks heavily to one of the larger themes of the book: branding culture. This bastardization of the music industry, and even worse, of the music itself, accounts for it being so homogeneous; everything having been packaged and handled and shipped for no other purpose than that of consumption. But that is exactly what branding is: one ethos, one message, one experience. What the AlbumBook does is the opposite, it gives us noise that sometimes contradicts itself but comes off as more real and gritty, like the music that’s being mourned by Bennie.
The musicality of the book is only strengthened by the fact that the Great Rock and Roll Pauses chapter occurs where a pause would rightfully be if this book were a song – into it enough for us to expect it to end, far enough from the end for us to be content with the surprise of a new chapter. Because in music, as in books, as in life, as in stardom, the end is real. You might think it’s not, you might experience hits and pauses, but eventually the end will find you or you will find it (are you a Lou or a Rob?).
But there are more minute pauses in the book: those small ones between the chapters themselves where there is the silence necessary to compartmentalize and give meaning to the story itself – in a way, to miss it. If the objective of the large mid-song pause is to deceive you, the objective of the between stories one is to enlighten you. And is that not the purpose of the book? Of the music? Of the art form? Of the humanist? To create pauses and highlight them, to talk about a human connection of experiences that transcends past and present very much like the ones in this book.
Part 3 – Question
Bosco, a man who had at one point “made Iggy Pop look indolent onstage,” is now largely unrecognizable (125). This past rock star tries to make himself relevant by harnessing not the power of his media (songwriting) but that of the media around him. Suicide as reality TV, he explains, “you try to tell me no one’s going to be interested in that” (129). He hopes that other media will get him what he wants, but flops in the end.
As a stark contrast, we have Scotty, an unplugged “derelict” who in the end, seems to bewitch crying adults and laughing children alike with his voice and his guitar. He gets closer to stardom than any of the other characters in the book. Nevertheless, it is the media around him what makes his concert so successful to begin with.
How do these two case studies look when compared to McLuhan’s adage that the medium is the message? Does the book lean towards this proposition or away from it?