With Thank You, Goodnight Andy Abramowitz has written a witty, excellent debut novel.
The book is about the lead singer of a band, a one-hit wonder, who has decided it's time to record new music and go back on the road. But first he has to convince the band, including a member he slept with, that after a long break it's time to go out and try again. It's funny but engaging, relateable yet entertaining.
I interviewed Andy by email.
How did this story develop? How would you summarize it for readers?
THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT is about a one-hit-wonder who, as I expect is the case for most one-hit-wonders, isn’t terribly happy about having been a one-hit-wonder. Teddy Tremble had his moment back in the ‘90s with his band Tremble, and he’s now a lawyer sporting some low-grade bitterness about his premature exit from the music industry. While traveling in London, he comes face-to-face with a photography exhibit in which he and some other has-beens are unflatteringly portrayed. (Teddy has been snapped unawares as he messily consumes nachos.) Way leads on to way, and soon he’s contemplating rounding up his old band mates, all of whom have moved on with their lives, and talking them into making one more album in the name of reclaiming their legacy.
The story actually arose from a visit I made to a museum in London. I saw a photography exhibit featuring people who didn’t seem to know that their picture was being taken. I began to imagine what it would be like to happen upon an awful photo of myself hanging in one of the world’s most heavily trafficked museums. It might force me to consider whether this is how the world perceives me – and whether there’s anything I can do about it. That’s exactly the reaction Teddy has. And the consequences are steep.
2) I liked the idea that there was a pocket of fans in another nation. It reminded me of the documentary Rodriguez, where he's considered unpopular in the USA but has a huge fan base in South Africa. Have you seen it?
I absolutely love the Rodriguez movie, Searching for Sugar Man! Not only did it tell a truly remarkable story – which has to be one of the greatest stories in rock – but it introduced me to a fantastic artist. After hearing Rodriguez’s music, I was angry with the people in my life. Why hadn’t I been told about this guy? Who dropped the ball? But yes, instead of the fan base in South Africa, Tremble’s lunatic fringe is cloistered away in the hills of Switzerland. And that’s a shorter flight than Johannesburg in case anyone wants to do a THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT walking tour.
3) Were any of the characters based on real people? Maybe it's just me but when you talked about eccentric acclaimed producer Sonny I thought of Rick Rubin.
I tried not to base these characters on real people. I had a pretty strong idea about each of Teddy’s band mates, so I didn’t feel compelled to borrow from the personalities of the musicians I know personally. I also didn’t want to base them on famous people in the music industry because I thought that would lead me down the path of rock cliché, which I desperately sought to resist.
That said, Rick Rubin is one of my all-time favorite producers. (He gave us Petty’s Wildflowers!, Cash’s Unchained!) So when I was conjuring up the character of Sonny Rivers, one of the most respected record producers across so many genres, I’m positive that in my head I had the following conversation: “Like a Rick Rubin type of guy, right?” “Exactly. Just like him.”
4) What was it like getting musician Rick Springfield to blurb your book? Springfield wrote, "Thank You, Goodnight is a hilarious send-up of the music industry, late-onset adulthood, and where the two often uncomfortably meet. It's also a sage novel for anyone who believes that our talents don't fade away as we get older, they only get better."
Let’s put it this way: in addition to the generous blurb, Rick Springfield was also kind enough to promote the release of THANK YOU, GOODNIGHT on his Facebook page and Twitter feed. He wrote “I really dug this first novel from fellow musician-turned-writer Andy Abramowitz.” So, in the eyes of Rick Springfield, he and I are fellows. The rest of my life is filling in the blanks.
5) How did you go about picking names of bands and songs? I dont know about you but my roommates and I spent more time choosing band names than, say, writing songs or learning instruments.
You’ve clearly got your priorities in line. Song titles and band names are far more important than craftsmanship. I had fun picking song titles. (I even klepto’ed some from my ancient songwriting days.) I also tried to work in the occasional reference to the book – for instance, there’s a song called “Make it Right, Lucy” on one of the Tremble albums, and Lucy is Teddy Tremble’s ex-wife. Mostly though, as with you and your roommates, I just had fun with it. The most fun was picking song titles for Teddy’s failed solo album, a pompous, pretentious, overblown concept album. “He Asked Whose Sheep They Were, and I Said I Watched Them for Lord Wren” should’ve been a Jethro Tull song. Or Sufjan Stevens. You’re welcome, Sufjan!
6) I understand you had a difficult time stopping editing. What happened there?
It’s really hard to know when you’re finished, and with every read of the manuscript, I felt this powerful urge to rewrite dialogue to make it sound snappier or more authentic. Or slash descriptive passages that felt killer at 3 a.m. but sounded bloated and showy come sunrise. I can honestly say – and I admit I’d probably say this even if it weren’t true – that I’m enormously happy with the way it came out.
7) You were in bands. What type of music did you guys play?
We played dad rock long before we were dads. Our originals weren’t particularly inspired – I shoulder most of the blame for that – and they were cheap imitations of quality classic rock. But I played with some excellent musicians and great friends. I don’t think there was a single Tom Petty song we didn’t play. Then obviously all the other staples: Beatles, Dylan, Steve Miller Band, Jesus Jones.
8) What are you working on next?
I’m finishing up my second novel. It’s about a brother and sister, both in their early- to mid-30s, whose lives are separately falling apart. One is a journalist, the other is an engineer who builds roller coasters. Nobody plays in a band.