Life (and Music) after Death


Is listening to music a religious experience?

The autobiographical book Automatic: Girls, Death, and R.E.M., by Matthue Roth–who you might also know as the founder of Jewniverse–is about music, but it’s also about friendship.

Growing up Jewish in working-class Philadelphia, Matthue became friends with Patrick, a Catholic kid. Both were social outcasts, bad dressers, and targets for bullies. Patrick had neurofibromatosis, a degenerative skin disease. Matthue was a nerd, hanging out in libraries and at his synagogue, praying with men 80 years older than him. But both boys found solace in R.E.M., a band of misfits and “geek rockers.”

The two are on wildly different paths in life–Patrick plays guitar for a band that gets minorly famous; Roth becomes an Orthodox Jew. But the two share an unlikely friendship that perseveres until Patrick’s sudden death.

The short book (it’s about 50 pages) takes its title from the R.E.M. album Automatic for the People. The structure of the book is also based on this album, with 12 chapters, one for each track. But you don’t need to like R.E.M., or even to know who they are, to appreciate this tribute. The book is available as an Amazon download, or you can click here to order a hand-bound edition that Roth designed himself.

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