A Visit from the Goon Squad

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Themes and Colors
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Visit from the Goon Squad, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon

A Visit from the Goon Squad offers a strong critique of popular culture. Egan accomplishes this criticism primarily through her exploration of the music industry, but film, photography, and journalism are also investigated in her novel. Egan draws attention to the way in which trends come and go, and the effects of these cultural shifts. What is popular in one moment—for example, punk rock—is replaced by another trend soon after—such as overproduced pop music or music for preverbal infants. These shifts in culture often leave individuals who were once successful and famous in the dust. This is true in the experience of several of the novel’s characters. Bosco, for example—the guitarist from the hugely successful band, The Conduits—finds himself fat, alcoholic, and forgotten. Having fallen from fame, he desires so much to be remembered he decides to promote his new album with a “suicide tour” in which he plans to die at some point while on stage.

Egan often writes with intense irony about the ways we respond culturally to popular trends and famous individuals. She recognizes the power that fame holds in our culture. In the story “Selling the General,” Dolly uses actress Kitty Jackson’s fame in an attempt to redeem the image of a brutal dictator. In another story, Jules expounds on the way in which people respond to Kitty, showing the immense power she possesses as an actress. The absurdity of these depictions of fame points the reader to the true power popular culture and fame hold in modern society. “Selling the General,” in particular, depicts the way in which fame can be used to manipulate individuals toward unethical ends.

The novel does, however, have a respect for art aside from the fame and popularity of artists. While fame and popular culture are critiqued in the novel, several characters are depicted in a positive light because of their true love and appreciation for art and music. Though Benny and Scotty both have difficult moments in their careers, they do have comebacks that leave them more authentically connected to their art forms. Sasha also ends up establishing a good life, putting the fast rock-and-roll lifestyle she lived as a younger woman behind her. She begins making art out of found objects, which is a new and healthier outlet that replaces her obsession with stealing. While the novel critiques popular culture and fame, showing the negative power of fame and the sad outcomes of individuals who chase it, Egan maintains a respectful appreciation of art and artistry, and those characters that put aside the pursuit of money and fame often end up much better for it.

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Fame, Art, and Popular Culture ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Fame, Art, and Popular Culture appears in each Chapter of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad

Below you will find the important quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad related to the theme of Fame, Art, and Popular Culture.
Chapter 2 Quotes

Then the sisters began to sing. Oh, the raw, almost threadbare sound of their voices mixed with the clash of instruments—these sensations met with a faculty deeper in Bennie than judgment or even pleasure; they communed directly with his body…And here was his first erection in months…He seized the cowbell and stick and began whacking at it with zealous blows. He felt the music in his mouth, his ears, his ribs—or was that his own pulse? He was on fire!

Related Characters: Bennie Salazar (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Body and Appearance
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene Bennie has gone to visit a sister duo called “Stop/Go,” which he long ago signed to his record label. In the past, Bennie has maintained his identity as a powerful record executive by signing successful bands, but “Stop/Go” has failed to produce a record since he signed them, causing doubt in his identity and ruin in his career. Bennie, however, remains a purist when it comes to music, and as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that he cares more about the quality of the music than the amount of records sold.

In this scene, Bennie connects authentically with the music, which creates a sense of connection to himself (his body) and those around him. This connection is shown through his collaboration in the music making, and also through his erection. Because his sexual impotency is connected to his impotency in his life and career, this moment of connection with the art of music making is momentarily redemptive for Bennie.

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Chapter 3 Quotes

I can't tell if [Alice’s] actually real, or if she's stopped caring if she's real or not. Or is not caring what makes a person real.

Related Characters: Rhea (speaker), Alice
Page Number: 58
Explanation and Analysis:

This story takes place in the late 1970s at the height of the punk rock scene in San Francisco. Rhea, an aspiring punk rocker, struggles throughout this chapter to establish her identity in an authentic way. She believes that identity can be created through external markers, so in attempt to be a true punk, she dons the appearance of a punk rocker.

Rhea also judges Alice throughout the chapter because Alice has blond hair and does not possess the external markers of a punk rocker. By the end of the chapter, however, after struggling with her own identity, Rhea begins to realize that her own attempts at establishing an authentic persona through her outward appearance have left her feeling empty. Alice, on the other hand, possesses as realness (or authenticity) that Rhea herself lacks. In this moment, she realizes that authenticity is rooted in not worrying about what others think, but acting in a way that is true to your own feelings.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"I want interviews, features, you name it," Bosco went on. "Fill up my life with that shit. Let's document every fucking humiliation. This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?"

Related Characters: Bosco (speaker), Stephanie
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephanie, who is a PR woman, goes to visit Bosco (the former guitarist of the Conduits) to talk about promoting his new album. At one time, Bosco was a very famous rock star, but he has aged, become alcoholic, and is dying of cancer. He has now decided that he wants to die on stage during his tour.

Bosco’s comment about time being a “goon” both gives the novel its title and speaks to the devastating effects of time and aging on these characters’ lives and bodies. The novel shows the way in which popular culture ignores the truth of aging, and remains obsessed with youth and vitality, but Bosco wants to counteract this. He is willing to go to great lengths to regain his fame (dying on stage), but also desires to show himself authentically, and provide an authentic view of aging and ruin.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Mom makes sculptures in the desert out of trash and our old toys. Eventually her sculptures fall apart, which is “part of the process.”

Related Characters: Alison Blake (speaker), Sasha Blake
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

Alison describes her mother’s (Sasha’s) sculptures in this moment. Sasha makes art out of found objects, which is also the title of the novel’s first chapter, “Found Objects.” Sasha has channeled her addiction to stealing into an art form, which has allowed her to find a new sense of meaning, pointing to the potentially redemptive quality of art. The fact that Sasha builds the sculptures knowing that they will fall apart also suggests an acceptance of time and the unavoidability of decay and ruin. In light of this new understanding, it is clear that Sasha has better come to terms with time’s effects as well as with her own identity, and has finally discovered a way to live her life more authentically.

Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide, by Jules Jones. Mom bought the book, but she never mentions it. It’s about a fat rock star who wants to die onstage, but ends up recovering and owning a dairy farm. There’s a picture of Mom on page 128…Mom’s mouth is smiling, but her eyes are sad. She looks like someone I want to know, or maybe even be.

Related Characters: Alison Blake (speaker), Sasha Blake, Bosco, Jules Jones
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

The book Alison mentions here provides a glimpse into her mother’s past. The book calls back to the chapter “A to B”, which highlights Bosco’s decision to go on his “suicide tour” and Jules’ desire to document it. In “A to B” these characters seem completely ruined—Jules by his mental illness and Bosco by his alcoholism and cancer—but the presence of the book here suggests that both of these characters have found some kind of redemption.

Sasha’s lack of interest in the book suggests that she wants to put the troubles of her past behind her. Alison, however, wonders who her mother was in the past. The picture of Sasha smiling with sad eyes speaks to the conflict she lived with for so many years, and her struggle to find herself authentically. This is no longer the woman Sasha is as Alison’s mother, and Alison wants to connect with her mother in a deeper way by understanding who her mother was in the past (while also perhaps just wishing her mother were as “cool” as she once was). Though Alison generally identifies more strongly with her father, she senses a connection with her mother as she looks at this image.