July 12, 2013
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Rosecrans Baldwin's Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down: is an exquisitely written comedy of manners about his life as an expat in Paris.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Baldwin proves that with the right attitude, everything in this perhaps most magically remembered of all cities is either beautiful, hilarious, or both, and his friendly voice and approachable style will grab those who want to be there and those who have never been."
I'd heard of the station Radio Nova before I moved to France, but I'd never heard it live. Then I went to a party in Paris, it was three a.m. in someone's kitchen, the music was brilliant. What is this, I asked someone, and I've been a Nova groupie ever since.
Back in the United States now, I listen to Nova's internet stream. It helps me keep up with my French. But the music's the thing—Afro pop, new disco, old soul, French hip-hop, some techno. Between Radio Nova and Mark Ronson's "Authentic Shit" show on East Village Radio, those are pretty much my main sources for discovering new pop music.
So, for a playlist for Paris, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down, I thought I'd highlight some favorite discoveries from Radio Nova over the past couple years.
"Synchronize," Discodeine, guest vocals Jarvis Cocker
I don't remember when I heard this song first, but I know it was on Nova. It's a wonderful, almost too-easy dance track. But it's still catchy after a hundred listens. I saw Jarvis Cocker a few times around Paris—on the street, and once at a fashion magazine party full of sleezeballs. Up close, Jarvis Cocker actually looks a lot like what you'd expect of an editor of a French fashion magazine. I bet he has to deal with a lot of sleezeballs.
"You Make Me So Very Happy," Alton Ellis
It's a pity American radio has no room for reggae. Nova programs a lot of reggae, soul, old funk. I knew Alton Ellis somewhat already, but this cover of the Blood, Sweat & Tears hit was a happy surprise. I think I was in a friend's tiny car at the time I heard it. Which isn't saying much, most cars in Paris being the size of countertop appliances.
"The Oldest of Sisters," Balthazar
One shitty aspect of listening to foreign radio, you hear songs you can't buy in America. Balthazar is a Belgian band. Sort of Last Shadow Puppets-ish.
Rock isn't really a Parisian thing to do. It's hard, I think, for French rock to not sound like pastiche. You go back to Johnny Hallyday and "Le Pénitencier," it's practically three minutes of a marketing plan to sneak rock through customs.
"Dans Ta Ressoi," 1995 (Nekfeu & Alpha Wann)
There's lots of good French rap. It probably helps if you can decipher the lyrics, but I like tons of it. Typically, French rappers are more genuinely combative than most American rappers, who mostly talk about shopping. But since the French language already rhymes so well—and rhyming is part of a very long tradition in French culture of playful speech, idioms, slang—the verbal flexibility can be remarkable. Though I admit, the song I chose is pretty stupid, albeit fun.
Early on in my stint working in Paris, I asked a colleague if he knew of any good hip-hop clubs in Paris, and he laughed at me. He was the kind of guy who wore sunglasses in the office. He told me he had no idea, really, because hip-hop was "kids music," and adults who knew better listened to techno.
"Concrete Waves," Kendra Morris
Love this song. Love Kendra Morris. I imagine she's big in France, because she's on heavy rotation on Nova, though I've never heard any of her songs played over here.
"Why Did You Do It," Stretch
I wish I'd known about this song ages ago. Or that I'd paid attention during Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (it was on the soundtrack). Anyway, it's fantastic, and Nova gave it to me. I also highly recommend the video, for the lead singer's hair, the drummer's hair, the bass player from Lawrence of Arabia, and a set that's made from money and body parts. Outstanding.
Rosecrans Baldwin and Paris, I Love You but You're Bringing Me Down links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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