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Bangles cofounder Susanna Hoffs infused her debut novel with her love of music

ANDREW LIMBONG, HOST:

There are certain indignities that you have to endure on the road to music stardom. Sometimes you just have to play a crappy show for an annoying audience because that's the job. That's the situation Jane Start finds herself in in the new romance book, "This Bird Has Flown." And who better to write a book about finding love while enduring the music industry than Susanna Hoffs, co-founder of The Bangles.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN YOUR ROOM")

THE BANGLES: (Singing) I love it in your room at night. You're the only one who gets through to me.

LIMBONG: Susanna Hoffs, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

SUSANNA HOFFS: It's such a pleasure to be here with you.

LIMBONG: All right, so let's start with your main character, Jane Start. She's 33. She's got one big hit under her belt, and it happens to be a cover. Has she been bubbling in the back of your head for a bit?

HOFFS: Well, the whole journey of writing the book was so unexpected and unexpectedly delicious, actually. It occurred to me that I had this opportunity from my own experience as a musician and in the music business that I could bring a lot to the story, just knowing that world specifically. And so I began to design the character as - not only as a musician, but someone who was considered a, in quotes, "one-hit wonder" and then never able to, you know, get back to that moment of glory with that one big hit, and we find her 10 years past the song being a hit.

LIMBONG: So about midway through the book, Jane gets an opportunity to go on tour. I was wondering if you could read a specific section I have. It's chapter 22 - Dead Things.

HOFFS: Oh, yes. OK. (Reading) There are musicians who do truly love the road - the fun, the camaraderie, the partying, the booze, the God knows what else. But what about having to pee into Dixie cups, crouched behind some RV with a stopped-up toilet in Canada in a freezing [expletive] field mere moments before you're meant to be on stage?

LIMBONG: OK. OK, there's, like, a specificity to this passage that - I just have to imagine it comes from personal experience.

HOFFS: Yes?

(LAUGHTER)

HOFFS: I think that I'm not alone. I believe it was Juliana Hatfield. I read her memoir, and I think she recounted the old, you know, being, for some situation or another, on a road where, you know, there's literally no place to go pee, and you're left to your own devices - like, is there a plastic cup here in the dressing room that might come in handy?

LIMBONG: A romance book is nothing without love interests, and I want to ask you about Tom...

HOFFS: Yeah.

LIMBONG: ...The main guy here. I find his charm in this book unique. He's not, like, the rich, arrogant type, right?

HOFFS: Right.

LIMBONG: He's not a bad boy. He's not, like, a lovable screw-up. I was having trouble actually trying to think of who'd play him in a movie because he doesn't quite fit into any archetypes. He's just, like, a nice, kind man.

HOFFS: Yeah.

LIMBONG: And the central conflict, instead, comes from just, like, a trust between them. Can you talk a little bit about writing him?

HOFFS: Yeah, I mean, I just loved that he was, you know, the things that she had missed in relationships before meeting him. He had just an overt feeling of integrity about him as a human being - a kindness. It was somewhat difficult to figure out what words to stick in his mouth - you know? - as the god of this universe.

LIMBONG: I said, like, I had trouble picturing who could play him.

HOFFS: Yeah.

LIMBONG: Do you have any people in your mind?

HOFFS: Wow, this is going to be funny. Well, I made a mood board, and I had - just every once in a while, I would look at it as I was describing the shape of a face, the eyes, and I had a photo of Michael Fassbender.

LIMBONG: Oh.

HOFFS: I know - from, like, a slightly earlier picture. But he was - his face was very useful for putting in the description of Tom. There was something in the shape of the face - just - I had that...

LIMBONG: Oh, wow.

HOFFS: ...In my mood board.

LIMBONG: Wow. That's a completely different direction than what I was thinking. OK. Yeah.

HOFFS: What were you thinking?

LIMBONG: I was, like - my best guess would have been, like, an English Chris Pine. He's got, like, a sort of, like, a boyish kind - you know what I mean?

HOFFS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, I saw kind of a, like - kind of a slightly more austere - yeah, I don't know.

LIMBONG: Oh, interesting.

HOFFS: That's so interesting.

LIMBONG: Yeah.

HOFFS: Well, isn't that the wonderful thing about fiction?

LIMBONG: Yeah. We can cast it on our own in our heads, yeah (laughter).

HOFFS: Exactly. Precisely.

LIMBONG: Obviously, music plays a big part in this book. The title comes from a Beatles song. Jane uses music to connect with, like, everyone close to her - you know, not just with Tom, but to her brother and her friends, too. What are the songs that remind you of the important relationships in your life?

HOFFS: Oh, so many. I feel like there's a song for everything you need - for what ails you. They're like medicine. So there's this beautiful song, "The Waters Of March."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "AGUAS DE MARCO")

ANTONIO CARLOS JOBIM: (Singing) A spear, a spike, a point, a nail, a drip, a drop, the end of the tale.

HOFFS: To me, this is a song for, like, when you're really anxious and you just need a reset. Or, for me, I listen to "Let's Go Crazy" by Prince often first thing in the morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S GO CRAZY")

PRINCE: (Singing) If you don't like the world you're living in...

HOFFS: Often I - it brings tears to my eyes. Just - it's like a sermon. There's such a story within that song. There's stories in all songs, but that one I need in the morning, often, just for courage. "Spirit In The Sky" is another one that I've shared with people who are, like, facing a big exam, or they're headed to a job interview.

(SOUNDBITE OF NORMAN GREENBAUM SONG, "SPIRIT IN THE SKY")

HOFFS: I don't know what it is about that song - just that opening - that groove coming in.

LIMBONG: What song would Jane listen to in the morning?

HOFFS: You know what? I think Jane might listen to Dionne Warwick singing one of the great Burt Bacharach/Hal David songs, like "I'll Never Fall In Love Again"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I’LL NEVER FALL IN LOVE AGAIN")

DIONNE WARWICK: (Singing) What do you get when you fall in love? A guy with a pin to burst your bubble.

HOFFS: ..."Anyone Who Had A Heart"...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ANYONE WHO HAD A HEART")

WARWICK: (Singing) Anyone who had a heart would take me in his arms and love me, too.

HOFFS: ..."Walk On By."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK ON BY")

WARWICK: (Singing) I break down and cry and walk on by.

LIMBONG: This book is due for a movie adaptation, right?

HOFFS: Yeah.

LIMBONG: And you're done with the screenplay?

HOFFS: I have turned it in. Yeah.

LIMBONG: How does it feel to have this new artistic career path as a writer?

HOFFS: It feels - can I swear?

LIMBONG: Sure.

HOFFS: No, I probably can't.

LIMBONG: Oh, sure, you can give it a shot. We can bleep it out.

HOFFS: It feels [expletive] great. It feels amazing. I don't know. I just - everyone has characterized writing as this painful experience. And yet, for me, though it took a lot of concentration and a lot of hours and a lot of dedication, I found it so transporting and permission to live in my fantasy world with my fantasy characters.

LIMBONG: Well, Susanna Hoffs, thank you so much for joining us. This has been great.

HOFFS: Oh, my God, such a pleasure.

LIMBONG: Her new book is called "This Bird Has Flown," and her new album is "The Deep End."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WOULD YOU BE SO KIND")

HOFFS: (Singing) Oh, would you be so kind as to fall in love with me? You see; I'm trying. I know that you know I like you. That's not enough. So if you will, please fall in love... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Elena Burnett
[Copyright 2024 NPR]
Courtney Dorning
Courtney Dorning has been a Senior Editor for NPR's All Things Considered since November 2018. In that role, she's the lead editor for the daily show. Dorning is responsible for newsmaker interviews, lead news segments and the small, quirky features that are a hallmark of the network's flagship afternoon magazine program.
Andrew Limbong is a reporter for NPR's Arts Desk, where he does pieces on anything remotely related to arts or culture, from streamers looking for mental health on Twitch to Britney Spears' fight over her conservatorship. He's also covered the near collapse of the live music industry during the coronavirus pandemic. He's the host of NPR's Book of the Day podcast and a frequent host on Life Kit.