Literary Mixtape: Alexander Portnoy


If you’ve ever wondered what your favorite literary characters might be listening to while they save the world/contemplate existence/get into trouble, or hallucinated a soundtrack to go along with your favorite novels, well, us too. But wonder no more! Here, we sneak a look at the hypothetical iPods of some of literature’s most interesting characters. What would be on the personal playlists of Holden Caulfield or Elizabeth Bennett, Huck Finn or Harry Potter, Tintin or Humbert Humbert? Something revealing, we bet. Or at least something danceable. Read on for a cozy reading soundtrack, character study, or yet another way to emulate your favorite literary hero. This week: Philip Roth’s lusty bachelor, Alexander Portnoy.

Philip Roth begins Portnoy’s Complaint by defining its title: “A disorder in which strongly-felt ethical and altruistic impulses are perpetually warring with extreme sexual longings, often of a perverse nature. Spielvogel says: ‘Acts of exhibitionism, voyeurism, fetishism, auto-eroticism and oral coitus are plentiful; as a consequence of the patient’s “morality,” however, neither fantasy nor act issues in genuine sexual gratification, but rather overriding feelings of shame and the dread of retribution, particularly in the form of castration’… It is believed by Spielvogel that many of the symptoms can be traced to the bonds obtaining in the mother-child relationship.” Well, that about sums it up. Here’s what we think Alex Portnoy would suffer — suffer! — and get spoiled and, um, borrow the liver to.

Click here to stream the full mixtape.

“Tired of Sex” — Weezer

Just like Alex Portnoy, Rivers Cuomo is tired of all the sex without any true emotional connection. And let’s not forget the whole shame angle, as Cuomo sings, “I’m beat, beet red / ashamed of what I said / I’m sorry, here I go / I know I’m a sinner / but I can’t say no…”

“Orgasm Addict” — The Buzzcocks

With all of his, ahem, creative self-love techniques, of course Portnoy would listen to a band named after a vibrator. There’s even a semi-convincing orgasm tucked in the middle of the song, which probably would have titillated Portnoy enough that he could feel guilty about it later. There’s even a Sophie shout-out: “Well you tried it just for once found it all right for kicks / but now you found out that it’s a habit that sticks / and you’re an orgasm addict, you’re an orgasm addict / sneaking in the back door with dirty magazines / now your mother wants to know what all those stains on your jeans…”

“Modern Guilt” — Beck

Deserved or not, that’s what it’s all about.

“Pump it Up” — Elvis Costello

“Pump it up until you can feel it / pump it up when you don’t really need it?” Are we reading into the lyrics too much? Regardless, in our experience, all nice nerdy mama’s boys listen to Elvis Costello.

“Short People” — Randy Newman

Maybe it’s just us, but we’ve always imagined Portnoy as being, well, kind of short. And even though we know Newman is being ironic, and isn’t actually poking fun at the vertically challenged, we imagine young Alex pouncing on this track as yet another avenue for self-loathing. Ah, to be young. Plus, as one Noah Puckerman taught us, all good Jewish boys should listen to songs by Jewish singers.

“Baby” — Prince


“Mother” — David Bowie (John Lennon cover)

This song was probably written for Portnoy. “Mother, you had me but I never had you / I wanted you but you didn’t want me / so I got to tell you / goodbye, goodbye.” It’s a song about a man who loves his parents desperately and also wants to leave them, something every young man must experience at some time in his life. It all depends on how much you let it mess with you. And by ‘it all’ we mean ‘your sanity’.

“Not a Crime” — Gogol Bordello

We think a modern Alexander Portnoy would have to listen to the frantic gypsy rock that is Gogol Bordello. And which track better than this protesting, ecstatically jumpy number? Hey man, it’s not a crime! Someone’s gotta tell him…

“Mrs. Robinson” — Simon & Garfunkel

That Mrs. Robinson, man. She’s just like your mother, only she wants to sleep with you.

“Coming to America” — Neil Diamond

“What I’m saying, Doctor, is that I don’t seem to stick my dick up these girls, as much as I stick it up their backgrounds – as though through fucking I will discover America.” Good luck with that.