Season 4, Episode 9
Jonathan Franzen + Wussy

Jonathan Franzen

Photo by Janet Fine

Occasional provocateur and bestselling author Jonathan Franzen can’t imagine listening to music while he writes, but not because he dislikes music.

“I can’t do anything else when I’m listening to music,” Jonathan says. “I think it’s because I’m actually very susceptible to it. And because it affects me so much it finds its way into the work.”

Crossroads, Jonathan’s newest novel, takes place in the 1970s. The characters are deeply involved not just in the music of the time, but the politics and the drugs as well. Jonathan was never a big fan of marijuana, but — in the interest of research — he decided he should give it another try, even after a disastrous foray in the 90s.

“It had gotten literally ten times stronger, so six tokes and I was psychotic, I was blacking out,” Jonathan says. “I went back to my apartment and I was, like, ‘Please, please let this be over!”


Photo by Ian Thirkill

For the new episode of SongWriter, Jonathan chose Midwest-based indie band Wussy. Jonathan was thrilled when the band agreed to write a song in response to Crossroads.

“To have a band that I have this intense relationship with even notice me, even know of my existence, is just, like…I didn’t know what to do with that,” Jonathan Franzen says. “The shittiest garage band down on the corner is cooler than a well-published author. It’s just a simple fact: music is cool. And fiction is not cool in that same way.”

For their part, Lisa and Chuck from Wussy were shocked to find out that Jonathan was such a big fan.

“When you come from where we come from, you don’t really expect anything,” Chuck says. “I was in a band called The Ass Ponys. Why would you ever think you would go anywhere with a fucking name like that? And then Wussy. I’m batting zero for band names.”

The song they wrote, “All My Life,” is an aching and tender duet. They recorded the song at home, which was a new process for Chuck and Lisa. The band recently lost guitarist and pedal steel player John Erhardt, who died in May of 2020, and are still struggling to reorient themselves.

“John was sort of our ballast, emotionally and musically,” Lisa says. “He was one of my dearest friends that I’ll ever have. And what he did for us in friendship, he also did musically. He elevated our sound.”