Drinks with Teddy Wayne, Author of "The Love Song of Jonny Valentine"
A new interview series in which Amazon Editors meet authors at their favorite bars
The bar Angel's Share is hard to find. But hidden behind an unmarked door on the second floor of an unassuming sushi restaurant in the East Village is an elegant bar with a few cozy, dark-wood booths and a long menu of delicious specialty cocktails.
This was the bar that Teddy Wayne picked. He's the author of the novels Kapitoil and, most recently, The Love Song of Jonny Valentine, which is a fictionalized take on the life of a pop star who closely resembles teen heartthrob Justin Bieber.
Over cocktails, I spoke with Wayne about the bar, Jonny Valentine, and the future of Justin Bieber.
Why did you pick this bar?
I've come here a lot over the years, sporadically. It has a really beautiful interior, the environment is carefully controlled and cultivated, and as I get older, I like loud places less and less and appreciate quiet atmospheres where you can actually talk. And there's no obnoxious noises or behavior around you. It appeals to me as I age, which is a good or bad sign.
Also the drinks are incredible--creative confections that are mixtures of strange and unique ingredients that are always delicious.
So what are you drinking?
It's called the Old Folks. It's a whiskey with a dusting of some kind of dry molasses, something on the rim, and some other stuff that's very tasty.
What inspired The Love Song of Jonny Valentine?
There's a direct inspiration: I used to tutor kids after school once a week, and in the fall of 2010, I saw a girl I was tutoring reading Miley Cyrus's book, Miles To Go, which is sold by Amazon. It's mostly pictures with a couple sentences per page. A friend a week later asked me, "Do you have an idea for a humor book we could collaborate on together?" And I suggested parodying Miles To Go or a similar a pop-star biography. Soon after I said that, I realized that this might make an interesting novel.
So, I started writing it as a novel. [My friend and I] abandoned the parody idea, but I kept on writing. And six months later, I was finishing the first draft.
So, why did you decide to do Justin Bieber instead of Miley Cyrus or Taylor Swift or Lady Gaga. Is Justin Bieber special?
I think he is special. I think he embodies the era of social media entrepreneurialism like no one else. Many of them have rags-to-riches stories, that's not new--even though Miley Cyrus was herself the product of a famous musician--but Bieber is this digital age marvel who rose from nowhere to become the most powerful single person on the internet, at least as a public figure. Alongside Mark Zuckerberg, I'd say he is the model of the Millennial entrepreneur.
You wrote a song for the book and performed it for The Morning News. Do you write a lot of music? And how far along were you in writing the book when you wrote the song?
In the middle of it; I didn't finish the song until after the book was finished. Then, I had all the verses lined up and could view it as a complete entity. As the book was coming out, I set it to some simple chords.
Is there sheet music available? Wouldn't that be fun, if people on YouTube were posting their own renditions of it?
It's not so complicated as to require sheet music. I had Alina Simone, who is a singer/songwriter and novelist, record her own version for The Morning News. Hers is much nicer and prettier to hear [than mine], but I'd be ecstatic if other people decided to take it and go somewhere else with it. If you hear [my version]… well, I shouldn't quit my day job, as the old saying goes.
Have you heard anything from Justin Bieber?
No. When he was hosting Saturday Night Live, we sent him some copies but nothing came of it. There's so much swirling around him that I doubt he's able to pay attention to every single thing that comes his way. I'm sure he's shielded from a lot of it, that he doesn't care about a lot of it, and something like this might not really register on his radar.
If he has read it, what do you hope he would say to you?
I hope he would tweet the Amazon link to all his followers.
I'd be interested to hear what he thought about the portrayal of the tensions between celebrity and his public and the difficulties of that.
James Franco has been tweeting photos of himself reading [the book]. I just read a Details magazine interview with [Franco] in which he says some things that are very similar to the things Jonny Valentine says or thinks. So, I think that's what he's identifying with.
I'd be curious to know if Bieber would as well. He's now letting loose more, rebelling a little more than he used to. He's expressing his true feelings in a way he's probably had to sublimate for years to maintain this bubble gum pop image. He's becoming an adult now. I wonder if he would endorse or ratify the sentiments in the book.
Where do you see Justin Bieber going as he grows up?
That's a tough question. I think he's managed well enough and he's ambitious enough and disciplined enough that--despite the recent mini-breakdown that's in the press--I think he'll be fine. He seems very directed--self-directed, not just forced into it by someone else. Something else: it might also be easier for a male celebrity at that age than a female celebrity, as well.
I think he'll do something similar to what Justin Timberlake has done, which is slowly shift away from performing into a producer role or acting--something that's not putting yourself in the center. At the same time, I think he's more musically inclined than Timberlake is. Music is in his blood. Timberlake is a performer; Bieber seems like he is a musician through and through. Maybe he will stay in it forever, for as long as he can, and do what he can with it.
So what's up next for Teddy Wayne?
I'm working on a lot of nonfiction. We're looking at film possibilities for [Jonny Valentine]. And [the screenplay is] something I'd like to adapt myself. And I'm thinking about a new novel, but it's a ways off from taking shape.