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The Voice Of That Time And Place

Jeff Rosen Author Interview

The Nothing Brothers follows a teenager from the 1970s who is on a journey of self-discovery through his passion for music. What was the inspiration for the setup to your story?

I first began this novel in 1982, when I felt that my teenage years were long past (by several months).  I grew up in a world where music and irreverence were equal parts of everything.  As we entered the Reagan years, we experienced a sharp recoil back to something old and absurd.  As reactionary as we were to the adult messages we refused to hear, this reaction to our world surprised, scared and inspired me.

Beyond dismissing the ‘fear and consume’ message our irreverence targeted, the first draft of the novel centered on the erratic nature of memory and the correlation between memory and the voices that filled our heads.  The draft, completed in 1985, explored the way heavy metal voices filled a silence and spread like mercury into the furrows of my mind.  In the time vacuum of the 1970s bands carved out slices of meaning and their sounds merged to create individualized, sedimentary representations of reality.

I came back to the novel in 2019, inspired first by a haphazard reading of Tom Perrotta’s The Van, a novel that allowed me to identify my time and place as something historical.  Late 1970s suburban NY generated an irreverent voice, a latticework of mockery. The Van allowed me to identify the voice of that time and place, which was, of course, the voice of the original version of the novel.  At the same time, the return of mean-spirited self-importance, embodied by the Trump message, made me long for the time when we imagined a world governed by a less self-absorbed structure.  Those two forces brought me back to my original novel draft.

Working from within the first draft, I had the good fortune to be able to combine first-person authenticity with decades of life experience.  From that vantage, the story retold itself as something more complete, where self-discovery was contained in the past, and the present offered reflection on that contained experience.  As I state in the prologue, even a dumbass can learn a thing or two over 40 years. 

Did you plan the tone and direction of the novel before writing or did it come out organically as you were writing?

The first draft of the novel had no singular arc.  This time through, the arc wrote itself.  Though the novel is still told through story fragments, time and history revealed a throughline for our generation that resurfaced as a narrative in the book.  Distance permitted me the vantage I needed to consolidate the arc of our time, a search for meaning that fell short.

The recent writing experience also provided the luxury of first-person time travel.  I went back to the 1970s, filling my earbuds with the soundtrack of the time, transported in a nearly physical event back to the decade.  Like a weather anchorman reporting from a hurricane, I was able to simply report back on what I witnessed.  Characters uttered wiseass comments, events unfolded with the dull zaniness with which we lived, and music filled every overstuffed, rattling car we drove around in. 

The novel has a lightly mystical undercurrent, with the main character sensing that there is a magical connection to all things in the universe, a connection that can be discovered through heavy metal music.  Ironically, the organic reveal of the novel felt exactly like that in this version.  The decade came back to life, spoke its truths through the characters, and I simply reported on what I saw and heard.

What were some themes that were important for you to explore in this book?

On an individual level, this is a novel of humility, and the conflict ambition creates for us and those around us.  It is also a novel about how hard it is to find direction in the absence of ambition.  All of the characters experience this tension point between striving and acceptance.  Our parents fell prey to a consumerism that (briefly?) struck us as absurd and themes in the book explore the struggle against a norm that took permanent hold during that time.

On a societal level, this is a novel about a transition between a past that still held connection to all of history and a present that had no interest in any history before the 1960s and a music-centered way of being.  Stories from the Depression and the Holocaust leave no impressions on the Nothing Brothers.  The past is something adults try to jam down their throats to no effect.  The characters feel strongly that lessons from that past no longer apply and seek to make their own, applicable lessons for navigating life.

On a generational level, this is the story of a decade that fragmented into musical tribes, dissociated from the meaningless past and set off in pursuit of new ways to live.  It is the story of a generation that fell short.  That shortfall leads to the predicaments that plague us today, rooted in a return to blind consumerism, cruel racism and endless competition.  In the 1970s we knew better, we saw this future, and yet we did nothing to forestall it.  That failure has always troubled me, and the writing of this novel afforded me the opportunity to explore the root causes.

What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?

I recently completed a novella about a futuristic, corporate-driven utopia, where a handheld device doubles as your all-powerful PDA and home/vehicle-charging station, revolutionizing our ability to meet basic human needs in a world less governed by scarcity.  The main protagonist is an expert in calculating ecological footprint and drives around in a converted 1970s self-driving bus. 

The novel needs a rewrite, but I confidently calculate that it will take less than 40 years to complete.

Author Links: GoodReads | Twitter | Instagram | Website

Land with the solid thud of a body dropped onto a beanbag chair, back in the 1970s where everything and nothing happened all at once.

Wedged between the aspirations of the 1960s and the cynicism of the 1980s, Jensen Coaxials pounding until they blow, Leo Kraft and his fellow Nothing Brothers stagger around suburban NY in search of something. Simultaneously over-parented and invisible, Leo finds inspiration first in heavy metal, then in his Grandfather’s Bronx-fleeing generation and a former hippy sleepover camp, where he feels seen for the first time. We experience the 1970s through the bleary eyes of teens who wait for album releases, attend stadium shows, sit in gas lines, fight with tribal ferocity over music loyalty and generally ridicule and mock everything around them, until they are left with only one thing to mock: themselves.

In The Nothing Brothers, Jeff Rosen recreates a gripping real-time depiction of growing up and through the 1970s, transcending the bell-bottom centered nostalgic treatment of this lost decade. Rosen’s return to the 70s gives the reader a glimpse into the connection between that generational failure and the world we live in today.

The Nothing Brothers

Leo Kraft is a teenager growing up in East Coast suburbia in the 1970s, resisting the cookie-cutter life that his parents live. Fueled by his intense love for music and desire to find meaning in life, he and his band of friends (who have named themselves The Nothing Brothers) coast through the drudgery of high school. Leo pushes the limits to establish himself in the cool crowd and, after several misadventures, is sent by his parents to a summer camp for a few weeks to serve as a counselor. Instead of rigor and rules there, Leo meets some kindred souls who make him feel more like himself than ever before.

The Nothing Brothers by Jeff Rosen pulls readers into a wistful state of nostalgia for the seventies, even if they never experienced those years firsthand. The writing was easy to follow, and the story flowed nicely. Though the story is told in the third person, the main character’s voice comes through with strength and gives the reader a deep understanding of Leo’s personality and thoughts in life. In reading this story, I did not feel like there was a strong plot arc. Leo heads to camp in the first few chapters, and after his return, the story starts back in time by three years. I wasn’t sure exactly when the storyline returned to the present day. Rather than being defined by a significant event, the plot of this story seems to be driven by Leo’s path to discovering the importance of life. In the end, the ambiguous plot enhances the protagonist’s emotional journey.

I thought The Nothing Brothers was a fascinating read; I especially enjoyed learning about the music and culture of the seventies. I realized that the journey of self-discovery and finding your place in the world is similar for all young people, regardless of the time period.

Pages: 350 | ASIN : B0BNCGYMGJ

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