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Playlist for Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph

By Ari Rosenschein

I began writing Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph in the dank, dark depths of November 2020 in Seattle, when the pandemic was in full swing, and no one knew what our collective future would hold. The thought of creating a book set anywhere near the current moment was abhorrent. Masks, temperature checks, Zoom meetings, distanced gatherings—I wanted as far from that dismal reality as possible. So, I placed the book in the late ’90s in Berkeley, California, close to my hometown and the era of my youth but far enough away to allow my imagination and nostalgia to frolic in freedom. 

Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph isn’t entirely about music, of course, but, as a lifelong rock fanatic, music is never far from my mind. A complete playlist of all the tunes featured in Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph exists, but this is not that. Instead, these ten tracks represent the rocket fuel that pushed me through NaNoWriMo to emerge with the first 50,000 words of the book. These choices don’t reflect my current taste, might not be precisely period correct, and won’t perfectly correspond to the storyline. Yet they somehow represent the novel’s interior and my frenzy as I raced toward the first of many finish lines. 


My Life Story by MXPX

Slightly less-heralded heroes of pop-punk, Mike Herrera and MXPX create stirring examples of the genre’s ability to affect listeners using the simplest elements. In barely over two and a half minutes, “My Life Story” somehow constructs an entire teen movie. “I was on my to feeling good today” sums up the adolescent experience more than anything fancy I can churn out. Turn this up and defy its charms at your peril. 

Disconnected by Face To Face

Angst, ache, and disenfranchisement—“Disconnected” hits like falling off a dirt bike or a skateboard in one of the millions of sessions it has likely soundtracked. “You don’t know a thing about me,” says Trever Keith on the KROQ favorite. I mean, what sophomore hadn’t deeply felt that notion?

Hard to Explain by The Strokes

While entirely anachronistic to Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph, I like to think Zack would have listened to The Strokes in college. This tune’s jaunty melancholia evokes the confusion of trying to let people know who you are while getting misunderstood at every turn. 

Memory by Sugarcult

I don’t know how much more Southern California music gets than Sugarcult, a power pop band wrapped in a radio punk wrapper. I had the chance to get to know the singer, Tim Pagnotta, back in the mid-aughts, and he’s gone on to become a chart-topping songwriting force in the years since. “Can I be your memory?” succinctly describes the idea that all high school love is doomed from the start. But “Memory” makes that torture seem like a great time.

Telegraph Avenue by Rancid

Tim Armstrong is the punk poet laureate of Telegraph Avenue, so how funny is it that I didn’t discover this song until after I’d finished writing my book? The track became my unofficial theme song for the novel when I started sharing about the book on social media. Armstrong captures the scrappy East Bay bohemia in perfect couplets, beginning with teen self-discovery and leading to tear gas and riot police.

Semi-Charmed Life by Third Eye Blind

Zack loves this song, and so do I—no shame in my game. “Semi-Charmed Life” arrives like a sunny San Francisco day, almost disguising the decadent underbelly of the lyrics. Almost. In the book, this tune inspires a kind of giddy happiness in Zack; its refrain conveys that things can be sad at this moment and still turn out all right in the end, like life.

Father of Mine by Everclear

Art Alexakis milked his painful personal history for this quintessentially ’90s rocker about his deadbeat dad. The singer’s rage is palpable, and Zack connects to Alexakis’s frustration with his unknowable parent. The Everclear singer and my character are looking for answers about their respective paternal figures, but maybe there are no simple explanations—just clues and slow understanding.

Sunday Morning by No Doubt

Both Zaylee and Matthias come in with the breeze to upend Zack’s life. The herky-jerky rhythms and playful ska bounce of “Sunday Morning” create an audio funhouse where secrets get revealed and friendships morph. “I thought I knew you,” Gwen Stefani sings, which is how Zack feels about his confusing companion, Matthias.

Da Funk by Daft Punk

The relentless robotic pulse of “Da Funk” makes me picture Matthias and his gang of skaters walking through the halls of Berkeley High, parting the sea of students with their swag. This banger hits like a march; its chattering hi-hats and shapeshifting squelches could provide the background music to everything from a skate session to a water polo game to a high school kegger. And “Da Funk” probably did all the above and more.

Disappearing Boy by Green Day 

39/Smooth by Green Day was the first pop-punk music I heard that defined itself as such. (Ramones predated the term, if not the sound.) “I turn around and then I’m gone,” Billy Joe Armstrong sings. He could be voicing the inner thoughts of Matthias as he experiences setbacks due to his mental health. The song features all the catchiness that would later catapult Green Day into superstardom, but it also possesses an innocence utterly unlike the arena act they would become.

Author Bio

Ari Rosenschein is a Seattle-based author who grew up in the Bay Area. Books and records were a source of childhood solace, leading Ari to a teaching career and decades of writing, recording, and performing music. Along the way, he earned a Grammy shortlist spot, landed film and TV placements, and co-wrote the 2006 John Lennon Songwriting Contest Song of the Year.

In his writing, Ari combines these twin passions. Coasting, his debut short story collection, was praised by Newfound Journal as “introducing us to new West Coast archetypes who follow the tradition of California Dreaming into the 21st century.” Award-winning author Jeff Zentner calls Rosenschein’s young adult novel Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph “a keenly and compassionately observed coming-of-age story that glows with truth and yearning.”

Ari holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch Los Angeles, and his work appears in Short Beasts, Drunk Monkeys, Noisey, Observer, PopMatters, The Big Takeover, KEXP, and elsewhere. Ari lives with his wife and dogs and enjoys the woods, rain, and coffee of his region.

About Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph

It’s the late ’90s—the final days before smartphones and the internet changed the teenage landscape forever. Zack and his mother have moved from Tempe to Berkeley for a fresh start, leaving behind Zack’s father after a painful divorce. A natural athlete, Zack makes the water polo team which equals social acceptance at his new school. Yet he’s more drawn to Matthias, a rebellious skater on the fringes, who introduces him to punk rock, record stores, and the legendary Telegraph Avenue.

As their friendship intensifies, Matthias’s behavior reminds Zack of his absent dad, driving a wedge between him and his mother. Complicating matters is Zaylee, a senior who boosts Zack’s confidence but makes him question his new buddy, Matthias. Faced with all these changes, Zack learns that when life gets messy, he might have to become his own best friend.

Dr. Z and Matty Take Telegraph is about how a friendship can challenge who we are, how we fit in, and where we’re going.



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