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The Fishbowl Book Tour Playlist


The first leg of the Life in a Fishbowl book tour starts tomorrow, and that means it’s time for a new book tour playlist. When you travel to promote a book, you have a lot of time in cars, on airplanes, and in hotel rooms. You need music. And for me, I don’t want to just put my iTunes on shuffle, I want a selection with a little more thought behind it.

The last time I went through this exercise was three years ago, with The Scar Boys book tour. I’m happy to say that, while there are many of the same artists on the new list, there is only one repeat song. I’ve also taken a completely different approach.

In 2014, I harkened back to my youth and treated the playlist like a mix tape. I restricted myself with a whole bunch of rules. But you know what? Screw that. The world has changed. Here’s how my appoach is different this time:

1. I’m not limiting myself to one song per artist. In fact, you’re going to see a whole lot of Sheryl Crow here. That’s right, I like Sheryl Crow. I like her a lot. I’m even going to cop to being a fanboy. Her voice just makes me melt. Deal with it. I also have two by the Eagles, and two by U2. Everything else is, I think, a one-off.

2. I have some guilty pleasure music on here, and you know what? I don’t feel guilty. We like what we like. It’s all good.

walkman3. As I created the last list to mimic a mix tape, the order of the songs was important. And truthfully, that is the art behind a great mix tape. But times have changed. My “Walkman” now has a “shuffle” button. (For you folks born after 1990, this is a Walkman. Rad, right?) With this in mind, the songs below are listed in the alphabetical order (by artist) in which they appear on my iTunes. I do not intend to ever listen to this list in this order. Shuffle baby, shuffle,

Now that you know my process, I want to know what you think. Specifically, I want you to look at this list and say, “Okay, Len likes this, he might also like this…” Turn yourself into a human Spotify or Pandora, because after all, it’s always better to get a recommendation from a human than an algorithm.

Let’s all have some fun talking about music!

Without further ado, I present to you the Life in a Fishbowl book tour playlist:

You Shook Me AC/DC This one reminds me of my kids. They love to jump around to AC/DC.
I’ve Got A Feeling The Beatles Has always been one of my favorite guitar riffs, and I love Paul’s vocal.
Lord Only Knows Beck Other than the pain-inducing opening scream, I love the haunting mood of this track.
Scenes From An Italian Restaurant Billy Joel I’m staying with my sister two nights on this trip. We saw Billy Joel in concert together when I was a kid.
Can’t Find My Way Home Blind Faith Like so many songs, this is one that gets in my brain and stays there…like an itch that needs scratching, in a good way.
Dreaming Blondie I haven’t included this song on any playlists in a long time, and since I finally got around to watching the CBGB movie last night (Rupert Grint as Cheetah Chrome!!!), I thought I should include it.
Thunder Road Bruce Springsteen We recently hosted Bruce at the bookstore I own, Tattered Cover.
Brick House Commodores This is a fixture on a lot of my playlists. I think it means I’m really old.
Big Yellow Taxi Counting Crows & Vanessa Carlton I like this version way better than the original.
45 South Reprise Craig Smith Craig is a Kiwi writer of Children’s books, and maker of great music. This is the final instrumental piece from his album 45 South. Since Fishbowl is being sold in New Zealand, I thought I should include it.
Life Is Long David Byrne & Brian Eno I was never really a Talking Heads fan, and Eno is a better producer than a song writer. But I love this song.
The Long Way Around Dixie Chicks I rarely make a mix tape without including the Dixie Chicks.
The Last Resort The Eagles This is a long, monotonous song, but I find it very, very soothing.
Desperado The Eagles This song played a central role in the Scar Girl launch party, and makes me think of my wife and partner in all crimes and misdemeanors, Krissy. She’s super awesome and especially cute in the video link in this paragraph.
Long Black Road Electric Light Orchestra I had forgotten about this song until I saw American Hustle. I love movie soundtracks.
I Still Have That Other Girl Elvis Costello With Burt Bacharach Elvis has one of the best voices…ever. And it’s still great.
New Life Everclear Another song that I haven’t included on lists in a very long time.
That Old Pair of Jeans Fatboy Slim If you see me with headphones, dancing down the aisle of an airplane, there’s a good chance I’m listening to this song.
Hey Julie Fountains Of Wayne Happy little song.
The Message Grandmaster Flash This song reminds me of my teenage years, going to dance clubs in NYC. (So does Billy Idol’s Dancing by Myself, mostly because I was almost always dancing by myself. I would never include the Billy Idol song on a mix because, well, it’s annoying.)
A Quick One-While He’s Away Green Day Green Day, as a band, is the natural heir to The Who.
Some Nights Fun. The song is indeed fun.
I’m Yours Jason Mraz Some of my friends from back in my punk days — Chad, Rob, Jon, Steve, Joe — might scratch their heads at this one, but again, there are no guilty pleasures. It’s a goood song.
Barking At the Moon Jenny Lewis Okay, so yes, this is the theme song from the movie Bolt. Doesn’t matter. I love it, and love to play it on guitar. (And it’s even better with my friend Stephanie singing).
I’m the man Joe Jackson This song is perfect for 2017. It’s about cyniscism and corporate manipulation. (I could have also chosen Sunday Papers.)
With A Little Help From My Friends Joe Cocker One of the all-time great covers and great live performances, captured in a single track.
Ring of Fire Johnny Cash I’ve never made a mix without Johnny Cash. I never will. My kids and I love to sing Ring of Fire.
Picture Kid Rock and Sheryl Crow Great duet, fun to play on the guitar.
Can I Get a Witness Marvin Gaye The list was lacking a little soul…
So Far So Good Michael Bruce This was an old song I had somehow missed. This guy was Alice Cooper’s guitar player, but I like this better than anything Alice Cooper ever did.
This Year The Mountain Goats One of my favorite musical discoveries over the last few years. I love this guy.
Express Yourself NWA This used to go on a lot of mixes, then it fell off. I watched Straight Outta Compton (film) recently, and was reminded how much I like these guys. This is my favorite song from that incredible record. (Hey film and TV friends, check out how well this trailer for the movie was cut together…incredible.
Pretty Persuasion R.E.M. I owe a lot to Peter Buck, so I always like to include something of his. This is my favorite R.E.M. guitar riff.
Just Radiohead The Bends is a top five all-time record for me.
Old 8 x 10 Randy Travis I want this man’s voice. I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I had it, but I want it.
Seven Spanish Angels Ray Charles & Willie Nelson The only song to make the 2014 and 2017 lists, and one of only two songs – I think it’s only two – mentioned in Fishbowl.
For the Summer Ray LaMontagne I had this on a mix when I commuted to NYC, and associate it, along with a few other songs, with reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. Go figure.
Basement Apartment Sarah Harmer Great song introduced to me by my friend Eileen from Cape Cod.
C’mon C’mon Sheryl Crow This song and album got me through the worst break-up of my life.
Detours Sheryl Crow Title track from an underrated album.
Mississippi Sheryl Crow Dylan wrote this. Sheryl sings it better.
First Cut Is the Deepest Sheryl Crow I told you I was a fanboy.
Waterproof Mascara Sheryl Crow I’m such a fanboy, I even like her contemporary country record.
We Will Become Silhouettes The Shins I need to listen to more Shins.
Jacksonville Sufjan Stevens Corey Whaley turned me on to Sufjan, and my friend Pete Stitcher told me it’s not pronounced Suf-Jan. Thank you both!
To Old Friends and New Titus Andronicus Sister of the singer in this band is a bookseller in NYC and a soon-to-be-published YA writer. Hey Stickles, I want to see your playlist when the book pubs.
New Year’s Day [live] U2 Krissy’s favorite band, and I like them a lot, too. This is the best live album start to finish I’ve ever heard, and that includes BB King, Johnny Cash, and Cheap Trick (all of which are great).
Out of Control U2 My favorite cut on this great live album (see above).
Oh! Sweet Nuthin Velvet Underground As noted above, I finally watched the CBGB movie last night and this was in the film, though, oddly, not on the soundtrack.
Leave the Pieces The Wreckers Good country pop that I sometimes use as an alarm tone.

Scar Girl Book Birthday and Song

After a wait of two years, Scar Girl, sequel to The Scar Boys, arrives in bookstores everywhere and online Tuesday, March 1. To celebrate, I’m making one of the songs from the book available as a free download.

Scar Girl features six different songs. All but one of the six are songs I had written years ago. (The lyrics to one of the songs — “That’s Not My Leg” — were written specifically for Scar Girl. I have yet to write any music for those lyrics. Hey…maybe I should have a contest to see who can write the best music. Hmmm…)

KrisCharlieOceanAnyway, regarding the song I’m making available here… In 2008, when I found out my wife, Kristen (pictured on the right), was pregnant with our first son, Charlie (also pictured on the right), I didn’t have any overt, outward reaction. I’m not now and have never been the kind of guy to jump up and down with excitement. (They would never pick me for The Price Is Right.) While I was really and truly ecstatic, I didn’t know how to show it.

So I grabbed my guitar, went into another room, and wrote this song. It pretty much explains how I felt. It’s been adapted here for Cheyenne’s character, and yes, you can consider this something of a spoiler. (But no worries, this happens very early in the book.) I’ll say no more.

StephanieThe track, Lullaby, features the vocal talents of my friend Stephanie Coleman. (Stephanie, pictured on the left, is going to sing this live with me at the Scar Girl launch party at Tattered Cover in Littleton, CO on March 8.) The song was recorded in my living room using Garage Band and some cheap mics.

Right click this link to download the song: Lullaby

Post a note here to let me know what you think, and enjoy!

You Make Me Woof My Cookies

Houston TeenCon

As has been chronicled on this blog, and has been discussed at every book event I’ve done, the musical backdrop for The Scar Boys comes from my time playing guitar and singing background vocals in the 80s punk pop band, Woofing Cookies. We were weren’t even a pixel on a blip on the radar of 1980s music, but who cares, we had fun.

Natalie, a reader I met at the Houston TeenCon — which was an awesome event — asked me this: “How did Woofing Cookies get its name?”

“It came from this movie called Times Square,” I answered. “It’s a long-forgotten film about two girls who run away to New York to start a punk band. At one point in the movie, one of the girls says ‘you make me woof my cookies.’ For some reason, my friends and I thought this was really, really funny.”

I didn’t remember the context in the movie in which the line was uttered, and wasn’t even sure I’d correctly conveyed the basics of the plot. Memory gets fuzzy as you get older.

So imagine my surprise and delight when Natalie sent me a clip of the song “Your Daughter Is One” from Times Square. It’s in the middle of this very irreverent song (a song that might be offensive to some, but that really brilliantly skewers hypocritical older establishmentites) that the line in question is delivered (by actress Robin Johnson — or at least I think that’s actress Robin Johnson).

Thank you Natalie for unearthing this rare 1980 clip. You rock!

Guitars Are Won and Money Is Donated

The Scar Boys “Win an Electric Guitar Contest” is a wrap. For those of you who entered but did not receive an email from me saying that you won, well, thank you for taking the time to enter, but sorry, you didn’t win. For the two of you who did receive that email from me, congrats! (More on our winners below.)

I was thrilled that dozens of you knew the mystery song was actually the tune from the classic movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind.

Close Encounter Notes 

That tune has been stuck in my head for decades.

Two winners were chosen at random from among all the correct entries. I’m thrilled to introduce you to:


Ben from San Lorenzo Valley High School in Northern California.

"People always say that working hard for something makes it more dear, and it’s probably true, but so does serendipity. The electric guitar is gorgeous. As soon as I got home I took the case onto my bed, unzipped it from neck to base, and lay the guitar on my lap. Sixty years of design has made the shape of an electric guitar not only practical and comfortable, but remarkably sensual."

Ben’s guitar came from Sylvan Music in Santa Cruz, California, and he picked it up at Bookshop Santa Cruz.


Jessica wins a guitar.

Jessica from North Kitsap High School in Washington state picked up her guitar at Liberty Bay Books in Poulsbo, and the guitar was provided by Kennelly Keys Music in Seattle.

I’m so excited for Ben and Jessica, and am happy that The Scar Boys gave me an opportunity to help spread the gift of music a little further. (Farther? I’m a writer, I should probably know that. I also probably shouldn’t end my sentences with the word "that." But I digress.)

The contest also helped raise $400 for Library for All, a wonderful nonprofit building digital libraries in communities where people have no access to books. It’s not a huge sum of money, but every little bit helps. This is me delivering the check to Nicole, Isabel and Jessica at LFA.

Donation to Library for All

I encourage you to get involved. Visit their website to find out how.

Thanks again to everyone who entered, and congrats again Ben and Jessica!

Lightning Bolt


I received the following email yesterday:

I’m Ella. You probably remember me, but I met you at Hicklebee’s and introduced you for the event.

I wanted to share with you a song by one of my favorite artists that has been my musical and emotional inspiration lately.

Also, the song’s title has something to do with The Scar Boys. 🙂

I love this email. It was short, sweet, and so thoughtful of Ella to send. (She also did a kick-butt introduction at the Hicklebee’s event, which was one of my favorite events on the book tour.) But best of all was the song, Lightning Bolt by Jake Bugg. To paraphrase one of the YouTube comments, I don’t know how I haven’t heard of this guy. (The video and lyrics are below.)

In so many ways, this is the perfect song for Harbinger Jones. I kind of wish he’d written it!

Thank you Ella!!!

Lightning Bolt, written by Iain Archer and Jake Bugg

Morning, its another pure grey morning
Dont know what the day is holding
When I get uptight
And I walk right into the path of a lightning bolt

Sirens of an ambulance comes howling
Right through the centre of town and
No one blinks an eye
And I look up to the sky in the path of a lighting bolt

Met her as the angels parted for her
But she only brought me touture
But thats what happens
When its you whos standing in the path of a ligthning bolt

Everyone I see just wants to walk with gritted teeth
But I just stand by and I wait my time
They say you gotta toe the line they want the water not the wine
But when I see the signs I jump on that lightning bolt

Chances, people tell you not to take chances
When they tell you there arent any answers
And I was starting to agree
But I awoke suddenly in the path of a lightning bolt

Fortune, people talking all about fortune
Do you make it or does it just call you.
In the blinking of an eye
Just another passerby in the path of a lightning bolt

Everyone I see just wants to walk with gritted teeth
But I just stand by and I wait my time
They say you gotta toe the line they want the water not the wine
But when I see the signs I jump on that lightning bolt

It was silent, I was lying back gazing skyward
When the moment got shattered
I remembered what she said
And then she fled in the path of a lightning

The Book Tour Playlist

I’m writing this from 34,000 feet above the Great Lakes, strapped tightly to my seat but still jostled by turbulence so intense that the flight attendants have suspended servcie. I’m en route to Denver for the longest single leg of The Scar Boys Book Tour. Five separate flights, three hotels (plus my brothers’ couch), three states, and fifteen events over nine days (and ten nights).

I. Am. Stoked!

While I will see many friends along the way, I’ll also have a lot of alone time. And what do I fill alone time with? Books and music, of course.

The only books I’m bringing with me — I tried e-books and they didn’t really take, so I’m still lugging print — are Dave Egger’s The Circle, and Joelle Charbonneau’s The Testing. I am, however, bringing a lot of music.

My laptop has a sizeable library of my favorite tunes. While it’s fun to put that library on shuffle and let it play, it’s more fun to construct an actual playlist, which is basically this generation’s version of the mix tape. Those of you old enough to remember mix tapes, also remember how many painstaking hours you spent trying to get the tape just right. While it’s much easier with a playlist — each song on a mix tape was an irrevocable commitment, the invisible magnetic filaments on the tape having a feeling of permanence once a song was recorded — the construction of a playlist is done with no less care and attention. And of course, there are rules:

  1. Only one song per artist.
  2. Each song has to mean something to me.
  3. No Journey. (I don’t actually have any Journey in my library, but I have a whole lot of other stuff that could be labeled as “guilty pleasure” by me, or “Len, really?” by you.)
  4. Thirty songs total. No more, no less.

I should note that there is a Spotify playlist of all The Scar Boys’ chapter heads, and while that’s fun, it’s not really what I want to listen to. Those chapter heads were chosen for literal relevance to the action about to unfold in the story. They don’t necessarily make for a cohesive listening experience. No, I need something to draw me in, “to pick me up and undress me, lay me down and caress me,” as Joe Jackson sings in song # 30.

So here, then, is my first book tour playlist. What do you think? What would you change? What’s on your playlist?

Song Artist Notes
A.M. Radio Everclear One of a few songs on this list about or connected to music, it’s a kickass groove that is a great way to get us started. Everclear is a seriously under rated band.
Pulling Teeth Green Day One of my all-time favorite bands, with one of my all-time favorite songs, off one of my all-time favorite albums. Keeps the list caffeinated through the second song.
Birth of Serpents Mountain Goats Toning it down with this quirky and fun recent Pandora discovery.
Long Black Veil Johnny Cash Not necessarily my favorite Johnny Cash song, but the one I’m listening to (and playing) right now.
Worst Day Since Yesterday Flogging Molly A nice mix from JC to Flogging Molly. Worst Day is great romp from this LA-based Celtic punk band. It’s a pick me up for when you’re feeling down. (Or maybe brings you down when you’re up? I don’t know.)
Growin’ Up Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band My sister is coming off just about the worst year a person can have. As this is her favorite song, I recently learned it to cheer her up. It’s now become one of my favorites, too. (And check out this awesome video of Bruce playing it when he was just a kid.)
A Whole Lot Better Brandon Benson A recent Shazam acquisition with an infectious groove to get us amped back up.
Everyday I Write the Book Elvis Costello Let’s keep the tempo upbeat. (And seriously, I’m on a book tour. Did you think I would leave this one out?)
Lua Bright Eyes A super talented tenth grader sang this song at a high school event I did outside of Chicago and it completely floored me. I downloaded the original and immediately learned it on the guitar. (For the record, I like the high schooler’s version best. A portion of her performance can be viewed here.)
Landslide Dixie Chicks Keeping it mellow for a bit. I love this song and this is my favorite version.
Something to Hold Onto Parachute Another Pandora discovery. This was on a playlist I was listening to while reading Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. The song and the book are now permanently intertwined. Music’ll do that to you.
Ball and Chain Social Distortion We play a lot of Pandora where I work, and one band that seems to be on everyone’s Pandora channel is Social Distortion. We’ve started to refer to them as the BISG house band. This will help me remember my colleagues, remind me to check work email as often as I can, and also remind me that I still very much need a day job!
Sorry Mr. Harris Tom Robinson When I was 13, older friends took me to see a band called Sector 27 at Irving Plaza in New York. Sector 27 was fronted by Tom Robinson, who was better known for his own ensemble, the Tom Robinson Band. I ran out and bought a copy of TRB II and have loved it ever since.
Midnight Radio Hedwig & the Angry Inch Another great song about music, this from the soundtrack to the film Hedwig & the Angry Inch. The film is a brilliant exploration of gender, sexuality, and connectedness with incredible music throughout. (Parents and kids, the film is rated R.)
Pleasant Sounds Me with my friend Jess Yes, yes, I included one of my own songs. Sue me. This is something I wrote a long time ago and got my friend Jess to sing. I love Jess’s voice, and love the way it brings this song to life. (If you come to a book tour event, you’ll understand why I’m a guitar player and not a singer.)
Seven Spanish Angels Ray Charles with Willie Nelson I sang Seven Spanish Angels to my older son, Charlie, every day for the first two years of his life. It’s the only song I can almost sort of not completely mangle a cappella. (Okay not really. I suck. Still love the song though.)
Pretty Persuasion R.E.M. One of my all-time favorite Perer Buck guitar riffs. And hey, his name is on the cover of The Scar Boys, too.
CBGB’s Syd Straw Another song with a musical connection. As CBGB’s figured prominently in the book, I thought I should include it.
100 Years Blues Traveler Kristen, my wife, gave me this song years ago and it still makes me think of her and smile today. It’ll be a visceral reminder of why I love her so much while I’m on the road.
Ripple Grateful Dead I’m couch surfing at my brother’s in San Francisco’s East Bay on this trip. My brother is (was?) a Dead Head. ‘Nuff said.
Half Acre Hem Three mellow songs in a row? Yeah, well, I’m getting older and need some extra chillax time. Anyway, a friend made me a mix tape before she moved out of the area — a mix tape is a great way to say goodbye to someone, as it helps keep them in your memory — and this song was on it. I’d never heard it before, but now it winds up on a lot of my playlists.
Queen Bitch David Bowie Let’s counter the three mellow songs with three songs with a killer groove. I love old Bowie, and this is one of my favorites. (Heroes was the other choice for this list. The “Bitch” won out.)
Brimful of Asher Cornershop (w/Fatboy Slim) Who better to keep a groove going than Fatboy Slim?
Hot Wax Beck Beck, that’s who! When Odelay, Beck’s seminal album, first came out, I have to admit, I didn’t get it. But as time wore on, the groove got into my bones. This is my favorite track.
I Will Follow You Into the Dark Death Cab for Cutie Let’s hit the brakes and bring it all the way back down. This is one of two “death” songs on the list. (See “Kite” below.) There’s been entirely too much of that going around lately. This is one of my favorite songs to sing and play.
Tears of a Clown Smokey Robinson & the Miracles Simply put, one of the best pop songs ever written, and a nice antidote to the darkness of the previous track.
Hey Soul Sister Train A song with great personal meaning that helps keep it happy, until…
Kite (live) U2 The other “death” song on the list, and my favorite U2 song. This version is incredible. (This whole recording — U2 Live at Slane Castle — is a must
Bangers, Beans, and Mash Infant Sorrow I guess this song is supposed to be a joke, but I don’t care. I love it. I first watched “Get Him to the Greek” on a night when I was feeling really low, and it was like a magic elixir. The tune always makes me smile.
A Slow Song Joe Jackson This song has been on my mix tapes since it came out in 1982. It closes out Joe’s Night and Day album, and is perfect for ending any playlist (or mix tape!)