August 19, 2016

Book Notes - Patrick Ryan "The Dream Life of Astronauts"

The Dream Life of Astronauts

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Patrick Ryan's short story collection The Dream Life of Astronauts impressively shares the fascinating stories of everyday lives against momentous occasions in American history.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"The author illuminates [his] characters with pitch-perfect dialogue and period references that capture the various decades in which the stories take place. In the end, he uses a symbol of mankind's greatest achievement as an ironic yardstick for the more earthbound interactions of his sorrowful characters"


In his own words, here is Patrick Ryan's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection The Dream Life of Astronauts:


I know a lot authors who listen to music while they write. I only do this if I'm writing in a public space and if noise-canceling headphones aren't enough to drown out the background noise. And even then, I only listen to music without lyrics, music that won't jab me or tickle me or make me swoon. Brian Eno is good for this. So is Philip Glass (though there's a lot of Philip Glass that makes me swoon). Also good for this, it turns out, is a lot of incidental music from film soundtracks—even films I've haven't seen or didn't especially like.

That said, songs with lyrics fuel my writing. I listen to the influential ones over and over again—never during but before I write, and after. Listening to them after, in fact, is like getting a scalp rub from my imaginary life coach.

The Dream Life of Astronauts is comprised of nine short stories. Here are the songs that took had significance for me while I was working on the collection:



"The Morning After" by Maureen McGovern

It's the song from The Poseidon Adventure, of course, performed not long before the ship turns upside-down. It's a very hopeful sounding song, brimming with promise. And because it's forever associated with that brief, pre-capsize period of the film, it doesn't sound hopeful to us at all. I thought it was the perfect song for the parents to dance to early on in the first story, "The Way She Handles." The parents both drink too much, and the family is on its way to a slow capsizing. Even as I got deep into the nitty-gritty of the story, when I listened to this song I felt nothing but sad for those parents and for the son who is narrating their arc.


"Secret Agent Man" by P.F. Sloan and Steve Barri (sung by Johnny Rivers)

This is a stretch, because it was written for a pretty obscure British TV series called Danger Man, shown in the U.S. as Secret Agent. But it's the song I began to associate with my character Frankie when, at 16, he becomes infatuated with an ex-astronaut. He lends this guy all sorts of hipness and mystery—none of which the guy has earned. Likewise, Carly Simon's excellent James Bond theme, "Nobody Does It Better."


"Bandstand Boogie" by Joe Porter

Historically, what I was reaching for was Mike Curb's original theme to American Bandstand, because that's what the narrator of the book's third story, "Summer of '69," would have heard on TV. But the Joe Porter song is so engrained and associated with that show, it was inspiring for me to listen to when trying to imagine what the show meant to a young woman living on an isolated orange grove in 1969.


"The Year of the Cat" by Al Stewart

I have a story set in 1976. There's no music mentioned in it, but the song from that year I kept listening to was Al Stewart's "The Year of the Cat." With lines like "you go strolling through the crowd like Peter Lorre" and "she comes out of the sun in a silk dress running like a watercolor in the rain," who couldn't help but be seduced? I kept imaging this was the song playing on the car radio that would have either annoyed or secretly delighted the grouchy scoutmaster in the story. He's 50, has suffered a stroke, and feels his control slipping away, so I imagined he would very much like to go strolling through a crowd like Peter Lorre, a conniving and slippery figure in American film history.


"At Seventeen" by Janis Ian

I've always thought of this song as one of the best young adult novels ever written. In the book, I have a long story that takes place over a single afternoon, wherein a pregnant 16-year-old tries to figure out what to do with herself and her future. I was in an audience once when Janis Ian walked onstage with just an acoustic guitar and performed this song. She was fantastic and the song was devastating; it was as if I'd never heard it before. So I tried to hear it for the first time every time I listened to it (which I'm always trying to do with my favorite songs).


"Ain't That a Kick in the Head" by J. Van Heusen and S. Cahn

This was one of Dean Martin's signature songs, and the narrator of one of my stories, "Fountain of Youth," is a man living in The Witness Protection Program, in a retirement village in Florida, flirting with the head of his condo board (who's playing hard to get). This seemed like a song he would have appreciated, and so I listened to it as a way of tapping into his character. Any of those Rat-Packers would have done the trick, but I can only stomach so much of them. They all sound like the fathers of the guys who used to beat me up.


"Theme from Mission: Impossible" by Lalo Schifrin

There's a moment in one of the stories when a 60-year-old grandmother is awaiting the arrival of a would-be suitor (her driving instructor, a real creep), and as she fiddles with the radio dial, this song comes on. But it's not the original; it's the vamped-up remix for the first franchise film. Still, it fuels her excitement for her date, and it's playing as he arrives. So I would listen to this very short song over and over again as I tried to put myself into her head. She knows she's being overly hopeful about the prospects of her date, and yet here's this song filling the inside of her car. Who couldn't be titillated?


"The Way You Look Tonight" by Jerome Kern and Dorothy Fields

The last story in the book is about the last argument that will ever occur between a 70-year-old man and his 92-year-old mother. She used to be music teacher. I thought this was a song she might have played on the piano for her son, way back when. And I thought the lyrics were so sad, in that context. "Lovely…never, never change, keep that breathless charm." If she'd sung that to her boy, she would have meant it, and if he remembered it in his early adulthood, he might have cherished it, and yet here they are scrapping it out in their twilight years, with this song (maybe) echoing in the farthest reaches of their collective memory. During the months I spent writing the story, when I would start feeling like it was too mean and devoid of tenderness, I would listen to this song—especially Fred Astaire singing it to Ginger Rogers in Swing Time—and feel like I was in touch with the sweetness that once had existed between those two characters, mother and son.


Patrick Ryan and The Dream Life of Astronauts links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Chapter 16 review
Kirkus review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review

Electric Literature interview with the author
Interview magazine interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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August 19, 2016

Atomic Books Comics Preview - August 19, 2016

In the weekly Atomic Books Comics Preview, Benn Ray highlights notable new comics, graphic novels, and books.

Benn Ray is the owner of Atomic Books, an independent bookstore in Baltimore. He also runs the Mutant Funnies Tumblr.

Atomic Books has been named one of BuzzFeed's Great American Bookstores, as well as one of Flavorwire's 10 greatest comic and graphic novel stores in America.


Bacchus Omnibus Volume 2

Bacchus Omnibus Volume 2
by Eddie Campbell

Bacchus is by far one of my most favorite comic epics, and it also just happens to be one of the more obscure and underrated series in comics. Hopefully this second omnibus collection will help change that. It's the story of ancient Greek gods, suffering through modern existence, and it's something you really need to read if you claim to like comics.


Cometbus #57

Cometbus #57
by Aaron Cometbus

Really, the release of a new issue of Cometbus should be seen as a national holiday. Everyone should get off work and we can all meet up at cafes and bars, read the issue cover to cover, have a few drinks and discuss. This new issue focuses on the vibrant comics scene of New York city, with interviews with Adrian Tomine, Julia Wertz, Gary Panter, Gabrielle Bell, and many more.


Crinoline: Fashion's Most Magnificent Disaster

Crinoline: Fashion's Most Magnificent Disaster
by Denis Pellerin / Brian May

This new book from Brian May (of Queen fame) is another gorgeous collection of stereoscopic images and history - this time focusing on fashion from nearly a century ago.


Dokkiri! Japanese Indies Music 1976-1989 A History and Guide

Dokkiri! Japanese Indies Music 1976-1989 A History and Guide
by Kato David Hopkins

A fascinating survey of the rich and varied underground music worlds of Japan from experimental rock to punk to psychedelic to Noise. It's a thorough and revealing guide to a familiar yet alien world of rock music.


Neat Stuff

Neat Stuff
by Peter Bagge

This deluxe, 2 book, slipcase collection of Peter Bagge's 1980s comic series can best be described in one word: "Masterpiece."


Questions, concerns, comments or gripes – e-mail benn@atomicbooks.com. If there’s a comic I should know about, send it my way at Atomic, c/o Atomic Books 3620 Falls Rd., Baltimore, MD 21211.


Atomic Books & Benn Ray links:

Atomic Books website
Atomic Books on Twitter
Atomic Books on Facebook
Benn Ray's blog (The Mobtown Shank)
Benn Ray's comic, Mutant Funnies


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

other Atomic Books Comics Preview lists (weekly new comics & graphic novel highlights)

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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August 18, 2016

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week - August 18, 2016

In the weekly Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week, the Montreal bookstore recommends several new works of fiction, art books, periodicals, and comics.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly is one of Montreal's premiere independent bookstores.


The Exform

The Exform
by Nicolas Bourriaud

Bringing once again a new idea, from what he calls “the exform” Nicolas Bourriaud looks to the future of art to tackle the disposable and the nature of waste. A leading theorist and art curator Bourriaud examines how ideology conditions political discourses, radical and economic practices of exclusion.


Little People, Big Dreams Maya Angelou

Little People, Big Dreams Maya Angelou
by Lisabeth Kaiser

From the same series that brought you Frida Kahlo, Coco Chanel and, Amelia Earhart - Little People, Big Dreams brings the illustrated picture book; Maya Angelou. Before she became the famous writer, teacher and beloved speaker we all know, Maya’s young life wasn’t without hardships. Growing up in the South, Maya overcame many adversities. All of these women had a dream, and all started out as little people who achieved greatness. The illustrations of Leire Salaberria bring inspiration to this informative biography.


The! Greatest! of! Marlys!

The! Greatest! of! Marlys!
by Lynda Barry

Today, Drawn & Quarterly publishes the expanded and updated version of the giant collection: The Greatest of Marlys! 16 years ago Lynda Berry illustrated and wrote, Marlys Mullen; a smart but unpopular preteen returns her most beloved character. Social traumas and growing up as a prepubescent teen, Barry offers raw, ugly, hilarious, and poignant stories in an incredibly clear voice. This book collects more than 200 of her syndicated black and white four-panel strips. No one captures humility in such a poetic way as Lynda Barry has.


The Selfishness of Others

The Selfishness of Others
by Kristin Dombek

Kristin Dombek is an essayist and cultural journalist. Written with skepticism and compassion, Dombek tackles a whole book on narcissism! The Selfishness of Others finds narcissism in our deepest fears about love, gender, the Internet, and egotism.


The Boy Who Never Was

Moonstone: The Boy Who Never Was
by Sjon

Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was Moonstone is the eighth novel of Icelandic author Sjón (Sigurjón Birgir Sigurðsson), and the fourth to be translated into English. Máni Steinn Karlsson, a 16 year old who has sex with men for money in Reykjavík. An orphan who is being raised by his great-grandmother’s sister, Máni's reality is unstable, a gay loner in an illiberal society. In Sjón’s telling, this story is neither a fairy tale, nor a study of abjection.


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly links:

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's blog
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Facebook page
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Tumblr
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on Twitter


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

other Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly new comics and graphic novel highlights)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

Posted by david | permalink | post to del.icio.us

August 17, 2016

Book Notes - Jen Michalski "The Summer She Was Under Water"

The Summer She Was Under Water

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jen Michalski's novel The Summer She Was Under Water is an enthralling and poignant family drama.

Laura van den Berg wrote of the book:

"Jen Michalski has an extraordinary gift for revealing all the crooked tributaries that come together to form the ocean of the self. The Summer She Was Under Water brims with heat and longing and secrets, and yet again Michalski has delivered a story that dazzles and devastates."


In her own words, here is Jen Michalski's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Summer She Was Under Water:


My second novel, The Summer She Was Under Water, is actually two books: one I started years ago and put away because the themes of family dysfunction (specifically, parents and their adult children spending a weekend at their lake cabin to relax but instead creating a powder keg of built-up grievances) seemed so overdone, and the other a magical realistic novella, called Water Moon, I wrote about a man who discovers he is pregnant. Although completely different in tone and subject matter, they seemed to be speaking to each other, and it was only when I wove them together did I discover the terrible secret hidden in an already broken, blue-collar Baltimore family. (I don't recommend you always plan novels this way, but it seems to work for me.)

I don't remember exactly what I was listening to years ago when I wrote The Summer She Was Under Water or Water Moon, and they were separated by years of other projects, but when I was going over the edits of the final book with Erin McKnight at Queens Ferry Press and seeing the novel fresh again, I viewed it like a movie, and since I love music scores, I wondered how someone would score it, scene by scene. Shane Carruth and Clint Mansell are two of my favorite dreamy, minimalist composers, and they seemed perfect to me to represent the magical realist subplot (these sections are noted in the list below by lowercase roman numbers, same as the book). The rest of the songs here seemed to compliment, whether by mood or their lyrics, each section of the book.

This playlist is meant to be listened to while you're reading the book, so I've separated the songs by section or subchapter in which they should be played:



FRIDAY

The Bad in Each Other – Feist

i

Stirring Them Up as the Keeper of a Menagerie His Wild Beasts – Shane Carruth

SATURDAY

Marquee Moon – Television

ii

It's Like It Sings – Shane Carruth

WHEN MICHAEL AND SAM MET

Fairytale Lullaby – Bombay Motorcycle Club

THE PROPOSAL

This Must be the Place – Talking Heads

Pick Up If You're There – Mercury Rev

SUNDAY

You Make My Dreams Come True – Hall & Oates

iv

Dangerous Territory – Clint Mansell

WHEN SAM WAS FIFTEEN, STEVEN SEVENTEEN

Burnin' for You – Blue Oyster Cult

Thirteen – Big Star

vi

La Mer – Nine Inch Nails

Chapter 8.

How to Disappear Completely – Radiohead

MONDAY

Trouble – Cat Stevens

The River – Bruce Springsteen


Jen Michalski and The Summer She Was Under Water links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Bmore Art interview with the author
Grab the Lapels interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Tide King
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Could You Be with Her
Writer's Digest essay by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

Posted by david | permalink | post to del.icio.us

August 16, 2016

Book Notes - Forrest Leo "The Gentleman"

The Gentleman

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Forrest Leo's debut novel The Gentleman may be the most fun book I will read all year.

Electric Literature wrote of the book:

"Leo has a whimsical gift…His characters are rich with personality and eccentricity…Leo brings [them] to life with charm, wit, and pomp, and he builds a fully realized — if not a little wacky — Victorian London teeming with adventure and mystery…And yet, so much of the novel's great appeal comes from the hilariously realistic way in which it depicts the quirkiness of writers, the idiosyncratic relationships between them, and the painstaking work of their editors."


In his own words, here is Forrest Leo's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Gentleman:


After several dreadful false starts (thematic groupings! Victorian music hall favorites! one track from each of the playlists I listened to while I wrote!) I broke down The Gentleman by character and paired each of the ten key players with a piece of music. I basically gave them theme songs, Peter and the Wolf style. At first I did so with trepidation, because musical associations are hard to shake — but then calmed myself with the realization that if you started to whistle Boccherini every time you thought of Lizzie Savage I actually wouldn’t be sorry at all.



Savage — Vivaldi — Farnace: Sinfonia, Andante

Listen to the way this begins — the ambivalence, the uncertainty. The fitful fiddles. There’s a moment of pause, things have almost been resolved, but then the ambivalence begins again. The ambivalence grows, comes to a moment of epiphany, halts at the brink of a cliff — and then plunges off into exuberance. The whole piece opens up. The ambivalence returns — can never fully be broken free of — but there’s been a change. The exuberance is there now, inextricably. There’s a romance, a sense of adventure, that wasn’t there before, and that is now woven through the piece. Nothing could suit my poor muddled poet better.

Vivien — Mozart, Violin Concerto No. 3, Movement III

Like Vivien, Mozart is unassailable. He is always a step ahead, and usually several. He is elegance itself, without sacrificing a jot of feeling. He is all that is wholly admirable. He is funny and wise and knowing. And when, halfway through this piece, the plucking begins and the single fiddle tells its tale, I defy you not to smile.

Lizzie — Boccherini — Musica Notturna

This is my favorite piece of music ever written. It’s sprightly, deep, at once glitteringly easy and somehow profound. It begins and you think you know where it’s going, but you don’t at all. By the time it breaks into pizzicato and the central melody begins, all you can do is be swept along by its charm, wit, and goodwill. Savage was built in pieces, slowly, with refinement here and false starts there. But Lizzie sprang like Athena fully formed into this world, with a twinkle in her eye and a rejoinder on her lips. This piece belongs to her.

Lancaster — Beethoven — 9th Symphony, Movement IV

Forget how often you’ve heard the Ode to Joy, forget the bad commercials that try to cheapen it, forget the unfortunate ditties you sang to its tune in elementary school. Lie down, close your eyes, listen to it from start to finish, and marvel. It’s an exquisite piece, filled with bombast, life, and (to avoid at all costs the word “joy”) delight. It’s overbearing, but even as you’re overborne you cannot help but welcome it. Like the big adventurer, it is what it is because it cannot contain its sheer joy at being alive. (Damn.)

Tompkins — Kronos Quartet, Vladimir Martynov — The Beatitudes

To me, this piece signifies all that is beautiful in the world. (I fittingly first heard it playing over the end credits of my favorite movie, The Great Beauty — which end credits, incidentally, are the most perfect in the history of film.) Tompkins has the soul of a poet with none of the ego. He is a fountain of wisdom for wisdom’s sake, a lover of books and beauty and art. There is no music more fitting for him.

Simmons — Juan Arañés — Chacona: A La Vida Bona

There’s something of the gypsy in Simmons. Beneath the exterior of the parfit gentil butler, there’s something unruly and resolute. He is, after all, the man responsible for the rearing of the eccentric and occasionally scandalous Savage siblings. It was only after I’d chosen this song for him that I learned it was written as musical accompaniment for a rendition of Don Quixote.

Will Kensington — Dvorak — New World Symphony, Movement III

Will Kensington is polite to a fault, easygoing, indecisive, and idolizes his older siblings. But there’s a lust for life and sense of adventure that flares in his demure breast and belies his surface diffidence. It was, for him, an even tossup between Dvorak and Copland’s Appalachian Spring. Dvorak won out for his vigor, and for his easy swing between swashbuckling gusto and idyllic lyricism.

Hubert — Handel — Water Music, Movement X

Like Hubert, this piece is uninteresting, pompous, and somehow at the same time hugely likeable and possessed of the deepest nobility.

The Gentleman — Beethoven — String Quartet 13, Movement IV

This piece is exquisitely coy. It hints at depths it never quite reveals, and does so with all the ingenuous goodwill in the world. It seems reluctant to impose upon you, but being present resolves to pass the time drolly and in just such a way that you will not be too much put out. It’s mercurial and wiser than it lets on, and surely if it invited you to Hell it would do so without the least thought of your eternal damnation.

Pocklington Place — Corelli — Christmas Concerto, Movement II

Pocklington Place, the Savages’ townhouse, gets its own piece because despite having not a single line of dialogue and being in the strictest sense of the word inanimate, it is every bit as much of a player in this story as any of the abovementioned men and women. Its stout walls and winding stairways hold the family together, and expand the very definition of the term. I’ve chosen Corelli’s Christmas Concerto, rather than something livelier, because a house is not lively: its inhabitants are. Pocklington Place, and this concerto, is gentle, beautiful, kind, and wise. It will cradle you when you fall down and then raise you back up again.


Forrest Leo and The Gentleman links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Electric Literature review
Kirkus review
Locus Online review
Publishers Weekly review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

Posted by david | permalink | post to del.icio.us

Book Notes - Angela Palm "Riverine"

Riverine

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Angela Palm's Riverine is lyrical, surprising, and evocative, and one of the year's most powerful memoirs.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Densely symbolic, unsentimental, and eloquent, Palm's book explores the connections between yearning, desire, and homecoming with subtlety and lucidity. The result is a narrative that maps the complex relationships that exist between individual identity and place. An intelligent, evocative, and richly textured memoir."


In her own words, here is Angela Palm's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Riverine:


I listen to music before and after writing, but not during. It helps to recreate the mood of a piece, to bring me backwards in time, to bring me through a flickering access point to a now-distant place. Music pulls our lived lives, even the forgotten segments, to the surface. In writing Riverine, music shook loose many memories that became reconstructed scenes, or sentiments stitched beneath facts. Below are some particularly influential songs.



"Soldier, Soldier, Won't You Marry Me?" by John Langstaff and Mary Woodbridge

The book opens in a map. Specifically, in swampy, rural Indiana, southeast of Chicago. I grew up in a small riverside community, in a bog that wasn't really part of any town, and I had a hard time understanding what that meant. Obfuscating that further, our neighbors were Revolutionary War reenactors—representing Native American involvement in the war. We lived on old Potawatomi land which had been taken by new Americans at the turn of the eighteenth century and drained to be made into today's farmland. I was acutely aware, even as a child, of a confused history of land and people, of our living on abused and stolen land. These neighbors taught us to make jewelry and artifacts from animal hides, how to forge metal into knives, how to shoot a bow, how to identify useful and poisonous foliage, and so forth. We would gather together around a fire and sing old war songs accompanied by fiddles, banjos, and washboards, but they were the songs of British soldiers and Irish seamen.

An excerpt from the song "Soldier, Soldier, Won't You Marry Me?" appears in the opening essay and to my mind is a soundtrack to the beginnings of a female identity that would take me twenty years to shed and reconstruct. I would sing it as I re-blazed trails in the swamp of our back yard, collecting old Potawatomi arrowheads and river clam shells.

"Standin' on the Porch" by Joe Firstman

"Standin' on the Porch" describes a man perched on his stoop "with a gun in his hand just because he can" and is underscored by a stalking guitar melody that sounds like a burgeoning threat. This was a familiar scene, a familiar mood in my neighborhood, that is evoked in at least three essays in the first half of Riverine. Men with guns in bars, men with guns on their porches as the river floods, men near to bursting with violence. Thinking back to how many firearms and other weaponry existed on our dead-end street frightens me now. But guns are no match for nature. Water will rise, tornadoes will flatten.

"I'm Only Sleeping" by The Beatles

The essay, "This Movable State," describes my mental escape from home through meditation. It's the first way I am able to leave, while sitting still and watching my real world go by outside my window. The Indian influence of the sitar makes its subtle introduction into mainstream Western music via several songs on the Revolver album, most notably in "Love to You." The process of meditation feels a lot like this song and its sitar notes. It's a kind of sleeping wakefulness. In "I'm Only Sleeping," which includes a backwards guitar duet between Harrison and Lennon, the sleepy, dreamlike feeling completes itself in lyric and tune. I'd like to bottle that song, make tea of it.

"Down to the River to Pray" by Allison Krauss

I spent years trying to be religious. I earnestly, if skeptically, prayed. I witnessed baptisms and communions and prayer circles. I waited near riverbanks for miracles that never came. You can't grow up in the Midwest and not have spent some time absorbing this culture, passing it through you to see if it fits. The essay "DIY for the Faithless" documents my tour of Christianity and Catholicism, and ultimately, my rejection of formal religion. This song is one of my favorites of Allison Krauss's gospel-influenced music and evokes the corporeality of religion: bodies in the water waiting for a god.

"Beautiful Child" by Fleetwood Mac

Much of Riverine centers on my attachment to the boy next door, who I grow up with, fall silently in love with, and have my first sexual experience with. All the while, he is spinning away from me into a life of crime and drugs. "Beautiful Child" captures this loss of innocence even as it mourns our childhood bond. It reflects our fraught relationship as it shape-shifts over time.

"Disarm" by The Smashing Pumpkins

When the boy next door commits a crime that sends him to prison for life, my disbelief settles in and stays for a very long time. At the time, I was listening to a lot of Smashing Pumpkins, and the song "Disarm" became an anthem of confusion, anger, and despair. Though the song purportedly represents some trauma in Billy Corgan's past, it also captures perfectly my friend's inexplicable transformation from boy to killer. There's a drama in the orchestra accompaniment that swells up over the refrain, sweeping everything under it like an oceanic tide. Like murder does.

"Gone Till November" by Wyclef Jean

This song is specifically about men running drugs and leaving their loved ones behind—with the implied possibility that they may not come back at all. In Midwestern slang, some of the phrases in this song—"going down south," for example—can also refer to doing a prison stint. In Riverine, I write about three people I visit in prison—my uncle, Mike Tyson, and my neighbor. This song reminds me of them and of my visits to prisons.

"Suburban Song" by The Massacoustics

In the last third of the book, I attempt to assimilate into suburban life with my husband and two children but immediately register the experience as something like agony and feel the need to flee—there's a caginess about it for me. This song by The Massacoustics describes a person who doesn't fit into suburban life, doesn't want a 401k, two-car garage, or nine-to-five job. I listened to this song on repeat in preparation to finally leave Indiana and move to Vermont.

"Closer to Fine" by The Indigo Girls

This song is somehow everything. It's a call from the dark for the light. It's a relentless pursuit of something better that is willing to try all paths. It's a seeking, roving commitment to letting go and giving over one's need to know. I'm for that. My move from the flatlands of Midwest to the mountains of Vermont was that. Is that.

"Slouching Towards Bethlehem" by Joni Mitchell

This song, of course, is an allusion to an allusion to an allusion. Joni Mitchell, back to Joan Didion, back to Chinua Achebe, back to W. B. Yeats. There's a wonderful Paris Review article that analyzes the "widening gyre of heavy-handed allusions to Yeats's [poem] ‘The Second Coming.'" Like Joni and Joan, I've also pillaged and appropriated a few measures of the poem, namely the line "the falcon cannot hear the falconer" and the poem's ominous falling darkness in the essay, "On Robert Frost's Lawn," in which I become unsteadied by my immersion into a mountainside gathering of artists and untrusting of nature and of a mere topical reading of Frost's poetry. This essay leads up to my reunion with the neighbor boy, which is a "second coming" of sorts.

"Nebraska" by Bruce Springsteen

The essay "Map of Our Hands" describes an intense prison visit with my friend, in which I confront him about our past and his crimes nearly two decades later. As I wrote this essay, I watched the Terrence Malick film Badlands over and over, which opened up some interesting parallels in my telling of the experience. Badlands and the song "Nebraska" are based on the relationship between Charles Starkweather and Caril Ann Fugate, teenage lovers who embarked on a killing spree in Nebraska in 1958.

"For No One" by the Beatles

In the book's final essay, "Life on the Installment Plan," I openly consider my marriage and how this past love who has reemerged affects my life now. Parts of this song explicitly mirror my experience—rote routine, loss, the way that relationships can stagnate as years pass—though there is a coldness in the song's subject that I hope does not mirror me and mine. The final scene of the book is rather ambiguous and suggests that I've cut them both away from me, in order to exist on my own. For no one else, so to speak.


Angela Palm and Riverine links:

the author's website

Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus review
Newsday review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

The Common interview with the author
Deborah Kalb interview with the author
SmokeLong Quarterly interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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Shorties (Garry Trudeau's Favorite Books, Kathleen Hanna's Favorite Albums, and more)

Cartoonist Garry Trudeau discussed his favorite books at The Week.


Kathleen Hanna discussed her favorite albums at The Quietus.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson
The Year She Left Us by Kathryn Ma

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

The River and Enoch O'Reilly by Peter Murphy
The Welsh Girl by Peter Ho Davies


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Gonzalo Torné's novel Divorce Is in the Air.


Stream Katy Goodman & Greta Morgan's covers album Take It, It’s Yours at Noisey.


Author Aaron Burch interviewed himself at The Nervous Breakdown.


Baeble profiled the band Savoir Adore.


Entropy interviewed author J.J. Anselmi.


Stream a new Grandaddy song.


Author and playwright Diane Warren discussed writing with Signature.


Stream a new Sun Kil Moon song.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Ottessa Moshfegh's novel Eileen.


Stream a new Crystal Castles song.


Signature interviewed Nadja Spiegelman about her new memoir I'm Supposed to Protect You from All This.


Lens examined the power of jazz photographs.


Salon features new nonfiction by Zoe Zolbrod.


SPIN interviewed Jay Som, frontwoman of the band Japanese Breakfast.


Business Insider interviewed author William Gibson.


PopMatters profiled Ryan Graveface of the band the Casket Girls and Graveface Records.


The Barnes and Noble Review interviewed author Nicole Dennis-Benn.


Slug Magazine profiled singer-songwriter Kurt Vile.


Lenny interviewed author Lidia Yuknavitch.


Musicians discussed their favorite Herbie Hancock recordings at A Blog Supreme.


Tobias Carroll on surreal office novels at Literary Hub.


Paste interviewed singer-songwriter Regina Spektor.


Vulture interviewed Colson Whitehead about his new novel The Underground Railroad.


Pitchfork reconsidered PJ Harvey's debut album Dry.


Literary Hub recommended books about the partition of India.



also at Largehearted Boy:

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists

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August 15, 2016

Book Notes - Teju Cole "Known and Strange Things"

Known and Strange Things

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Teju Cole's essay collection Known and Strange Things is thoughtful and lyrical over a variety of subjects, yet another outstanding book from one of the finest writers working today.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"On every level of engagement and critique, Known and Strange Things is an essential and scintillating journey."


In his own words, here is Teju Cole's Book Notes music playlist for his essay collection Known and Strange Things:


Known and Strange Things ranges widely. The essays unfolded over many years. Looking at the book now, I see how essential music was to my experience of the places I went to, and my interpretation of the things I thought about.



1
In Leukerbad, a remote town in Switzerland where I'd gone to research a story about James Baldwin ("Black Body," the essay that opens the book), I listened to some of the music Baldwin had brought with him in the fifties. I began with Bessie Smith singing "I'm Wild About That Thing," which I describe in the book as "a filthy blues number and a masterpiece of plausible deniability: ‘Don't hold it, baby, when I cry / Give me every bit of it, else I'll die.'"

2
Fats Waller is very funny. Here he's singing "Your Feet's Too Big." Another from Baldwin's playlist.

3
In Leukerbad, I was very conscious of the continuities in the African American musical tradition, and the beautiful variety in it. Bettye Swann, one of the under-recognized voices from the generation of Aretha Franklin, is stupendous in "Now You Can Tell Me Goodbye." I discovered the song through my friend Leah. I often play this track for other friends who don't know Swann, and they never fail to be moved by it.

4–5
That first essay mentions quite a bit of music, because music served as a bridge for my thoughts to Baldwin and his time in this village that had never seen a black man. On my playlist that summer was "Play It Off" by the Seattle hip hop trio "The Physics." I love Pacific Northwest rap. Childish Gambino's "3005" was on the playlist too. Big hit, that one.

6
I was surprised to walk into a fusty old Swiss restaurant and hear them playing Whitney's "I Wanna Dance With Somebody." Black America is everywhere. This song always makes me think of my friend Suzie.

7
"I Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl": another sweetly NSFW selection from Bessie Smith.

8–9
"I cannot rate the blues below Bach," I wrote in my Baldwin essay, which is fair both to the Blues and to Bach. I love what Bach can do with speed, as in the fast movements of the Cello Suites. This courante, from the fifth suite, is performed by Anner Bylsma, whose set is definitely a desert island disc for me. Rephrasing the same argument, I also wrote that there's no world in which I'd prefer "chamber orchestras playing Baroque music to the koras of Mali." Perhaps the greatest of the many great kora albums was Toumani Diabate's collaboration with Ballake Sissoko, "New Ancient Strings," from which this is the first track. The inner logic really is Bach-like, intricate but with a celestial edge to it. A real revelation for anyone who hasn't heard it before.

10
But enough of Leukerbad, and on to other essays. Even though I don't mention it in my review of her book "Wave," Sonali Deraniyagala played "There Is A Light" a great deal after she lost her family in the 2006 tsunami. I loved the song before, but now strongly associate it with her.

11
Arvo Pärt's patient and oneiric music always seems to me to be full of submerged energy. The sense his music gives you of being pulled along by something invisible and irresistible makes me compare him to Tomas Tranströmer in my essay on that great poet. "Pari Intervallo" always gives me an out of body experience.



12
The strangest essay in "Known and Strange Things" is called "Unnamed Lake." It's an account of insomnia. In March 1942, in Berlin, Wilhelm Furtwangler conducted Beethoven's 9th Symphony for the Nazi leaders. The same month, in a camp in Belzec, Poland, the gassing phase of the Holocaust began. You can hear, in this recording, the audience coughing. But the music, the twenty minutes of this sublime Adagio: I've never heard so much life and death compressed into one stretch before.

13–14
My essay on Michael Haneke's "Amour" is one of my favorite pieces in the book. The protagonists of the film are piano teachers, and they love Schubert's Impromptus and Beethoven's Bagatelles. The unfolding horror of their decline (they are an old couple) is set against the limpid perfection of this music, which Haneke very judiciously deploys in the film.




15–17
I wrote an appreciation of the Australian composer Peter Sculthorpe for the New Yorker. Here are three tracks by him, all rather melodious, though I'd encourage listeners to also seek out his longer, thornier works. I love the way Sculthorpe sounds, to my ear, like what I saw of Australia's landscape.

18–19
My favorite film of all is Krzysztof Kieslowski's "Red," and I wrote an essay to try to understand why. The film's musical theme is a haunting and repeated "Bolero" by Zbigniew Preisner. I've put two versions here.

20
Eartha Kitt is one of the genre-breaking wonder women that the artist Wangechi Mutu's "nguva" project reminded me of. Kitt, like Josephine Baker and Grace Jones, is feral, feline, and fantastic.

21
My essay "The Reprint" is about November 4, 2008, the complicated and confusing day Barack Obama was first elected president of these United States. That day, I mostly listened to "Aaj Bazar Mein," a ghazal by Faiz Ahmad Faiz, sung by Nayyara Noor. "Let us go to the bazaar today in chains / let's go with hands waving / intoxicated and dancing / let's go with dust on our heads and blood on our sleeves."

22
On the day of the election, I ran into a crowd singing "We Shall Overcome." But years later, I was to visit Selma, and the performance here is by workers in Selma at a mass for Jimmie Lee Jackson, a man of God beaten and then murdered by police for participating in a peaceful protest in 1965.

23
"The keening saxophone line, built over rolling piano chords (like a congregation's murmuring), was a paraphrase of the eulogy Martin Luther King, Jr., gave after a bomb exploded at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham in 1963, killing four girls." One of the ways I've tried to think about Black Lives Matter is by visiting the places of the Civil Rights Movement. In this book, that essay is called "In Alabama." I went to Birmingham, and listened to Coltrane's "Alabama" while I was there, and I've listened to it countless times since.


Teju Cole and Known and Strange Things links:

the author's website

Guardian review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Guardian interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Open City
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
New York Times column by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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Book Notes - Rion Amilcar Scott "Insurrections"

Insurrections

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rion Amilcar Scott's short story collection Insurrections is an auspicious debut.

The Millions wrote of the book:

"By turns heartbreaking, darkly funny, and overall compelling, Insurrections delivers a panorama of modern life within a close-knit community, and the way the present day can be influenced by past histories, past generations. Scott, a lecturer at Bowie State, is a writer you should be reading, and this book serves as a nice entry point for first-timers."


In his own words, here is Rion Amilcar Scott's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Insurrections:


Cross River, MD, my fictional homeland, is awash in music. It even invented its own, Riverbeat—a music rich with drums, scatting and notes played backwards. And here is where we face a limitation of fiction. Riverbeat as I present it in "Razor Bumps," and other stories in my collection, Insurrections (as well as in stories not in the collection), must always remain imaginary since I am not a musician and don't know the first thing about playing a note. There will be as many different versions of Riverbeat as there are readers of my stories which, come to think of it, is not a bad thing at all.

Music has been, and will likely remain, incredibly important to my fiction. There is always a lyric floating through my head and on my lips and when I sit to write I'm trying to find a rhythm within and between my sentences. It's not worth writing without that rhythm. Here's one song for each story in Insurrections that either inspired the story or captures the rhythm.



"Illusions" by Cypress Hill

"Illusions" is a moody hallucinatory song that begins with Cypress Hill's lead rapper, B-Real, rapping, "Some people tell me that I need help/Some people can fuck off and go to hell." It's a sentiment that I imagine, Rashid, the protagonist in my story, "Good Times" has felt more than once and when we meet him he is at his most desperate point, attempting to end his own life. The song, while dark and moody, ultimately ends on a somewhat hopeful note. B-Real's last lines: "I'm trying to find ways to cope/But I ain't fucking around with a gauge or a rope." The song's protagonist has made a decision to keep living.

"Home is Where the Hatred Is" by Gil Scott-Heron

This song is the tale of a drug addict estranged from his family and everything he knows. The only thing that gives him comfort is the thing that is destroying him. "You keep saying kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it/But, god have you ever tried," Scott-Heron sings with an excess of pain and authority. For most of his adult life, Scott-Heron battled an addiction that eventually destroyed him. Of all his incredible songs, this is the one I return to most often. It's a masterclass in making art out of the thing that pains you most.

The narrator in, "Everyone Lives in a Flood Zone, the second story in Insurrections, is searching through a flood for his drug addicted brother. The story is told from the perspective of the estranged "responsible" older brother, but if it were told from the perspective of Stephen, the addicted younger brother, it would be "Home is Where the Hatred Is."

"Rainy Day Women #12 & #25" by Bob Dylan

The boys in "A Friendly Game" one up one another by tossing stones at a vulnerable woman. Before I settled on an appropriate title for the story, in a fit of pretentiousness, I named it "Rainy Day Women #12 & #25." The story alludes to a rain storm that keeps the characters from their daily routine of basketball and trash talk and there are two women at the center of the story. While I was in graduate school, I took the piece into workshop with the Dylan title to see if anyone would get it. No one did. I refused to tell them where the title came from. Dylan also won't let on what the title means. I think my classmates were more annoyed than intrigued. Probably not my most pretentious moment, but it's up there.

"Shaka Shaka" by Bally

"Boxing Day" is told from the perspective of a young boy as he watches his father become consumed by depression. When I think of my boyhood I think of one of my most treasured memories: beach trips with my family. We listened to my parents' favorite calypso tunes and whatever was popular in Trinidad that year. Sometime before Nelson Mandela found his release from prison, Calypsonian, Bally, released "Shaka Shaka" a stirring tribute to a hero of apartheid resistance, a call for him to be freed from prison, a call for black unity, a call for unity in the wider human family, and a jamming tune all in one. I had my parents play the song over and over on trips until my family grew tired of it.

The hard slap of the drums in the song also reminds me of the father in "Boxing Day" and the hard slaps of his gloves against the boxing dummy.

"Proud Mary" by Ike and Tina Turner

It's hard to imagine a story and song that so aptly dance with one another as "Proud Mary" and "The Slapsmith" do. Both song and story concern themselves with a woman wandering from a hinted turbulent existence. Tina Turner is famously known for walking away from an abusive relationship with collaborator, Ike. Nicolette, the main character in "The Slapsmith," thinks back to a time when, "a man's hands flew toward her face. Slaps and punches." The other parallel is the tone of both song and story. Tina says: "We gonna take the beginning of this song and do it easy and then we gonna take the end and do it rough." That's Nicolette's journey all over.

"Walking Through the Darkness" by Tekitha

"202 Checkmates" is a story of a daughter and her father bonding through chess. My interest in chess comes directly from my love of the Wu-Tang Clan. The group references chess moves in their lyrics nearly as frequently as they mention kung-fu movies. When I realized I'd never be any good at chess I wrote, "202 Checkmates." In "Walking Through the Darkness" Wu-Tang affiliate, Tekitha, sings about a man who maintains his dignity in the midst of life's difficulties. "202 Checkmates" could be thought of as a song sung by a little girl who loves her father even as he struggles to maintain his dignity.

"Nutmeg" by Ghost Face Killah featuring the RZA

Every time Ghost Face raps, particularly when he is doing his abstract style, can be considered a celebration of language. I imagined the story, "Juba" as a similar celebration of language, particularly African-American Vernacular English. Wu-Tang is animated by the lyrical clash between rappers who rap chaotically and abstractly and rappers who rap in a more straightforward and orderly manner. At the end of the song, "Nutmeg," Wu-Tang leader RZA enters to display a straightforward verse that matches the intensity of Ghost's abstract rhymes. The tension between the verses reminds me of the clash between the protagonist in "Juba" and his doppelganger, whom he searches Cross River for.

"Rump Shaker" by Wreckx-N-Effect

The video for "Rump Shaker" was popular amongst my friends when I was a pre-teen, mostly (or wholly) because of the shots of the scantily clad dancers. The rap lyrics in this story were inspired partly by this song and the story, "The Legend of Ezekiel Marcus," itself draws from the days in which my friends and I would flip from video channel to video channel in search of videos like "Rump Shaker."

"Jesus Can Work it Out" by Dr. Charles G. Hayes & the Cosmopolitan Church of Prayer

Once upon a time, "Jesus Can Work it Out" played every morning when my alarm went off. I never wanted to go to school as a teenager—I'm not a morning person—but I dare you to listen to this song and not come sharply to life. It doesn't matter your religious or cultural affiliation, the joy and devotion expressed by this choir is infectious. "Confirmation" deals with a teenager's crisis of faith on the verge of his confirmation ceremony. I like to think the main character, Bobby, heard this song daily and it confused him, but it also gave him an inexplicable joy.

"Get Low" by Lil Jon and the Eastside Boyz featuring the Ying Yang Twins

"Get Low" is pure ignorance. If I believed in "guilty pleasures," this would be one. Louis Smith, the main character in "Party Animal: The Strange and Savage Case of a Once Eloquent and Erudite Young Man," devolves into a creature animated only by his baser instincts. If there is a song for that "Get Low"—with its emphasis on sexual hijinks and screamed vocals rather than technical skill—would be it.

"They School" by dead prez

"Klan" is one of the few flash fiction pieces in Insurrections. I think of it as brief and incendiary. The story concerns a strange incident at a historically black college called Freedman's University. Much of dead prez's first album, Let's Get Free, can be described as brief and incendiary. I discovered it when I was a failing college student. The song allowed me to rationalize my poor showing as a student as some sort of political statement. Now that I teach college students I listen to the song as a reminder to work hard at challenging my students to confront any white supremacist/homophobic/misogynist ideas they may have to picked up along the way. This means confronting those ideas in myself and not feeding them to my students in either the content or the structure of my classes. It's often a losing battle.

"Run Joe (Live)" by Chuck Brown

Riverbeat, Cross River's indigenous music, is inspired by go-go, the sound of my birthplace, Washington, D.C. The late Chuck Brown is known as the Godfather of Go-Go, he invented it to keep the groove going at shows. In "Razor Bumps," a Riverbeat artist is trying (and failing) to make a name for himself. In the background of the story there is a fugitive on the run, just like Chuck's song. I've always loved this particular song for its drums, its chanting and its raw energy. Since coming up with Riverbeat, I've renewed my love for this song. It's the closest thing to a Riverbeat tune in the real world. Though Riverbeat would likely sound nothing like this.

"Nah Leaving," by Denyse Plummer

In the winter of 1979 there was a blizzard. My grandmother and brothers dealt with the piling snow and its melt, which leaked water into the basement, while my parents celebrated carnival in the warmth of their tropical motherland, Trinidad & Tobago. Granny used to often say to me, "They went away to carnival and came back with you." Whenever I hear Denyse Plummer's, "Nah Leaving," her beautiful ode to Trinidad, I think of the wonderful island I haven't visited in so long, but I also think of my fictional homeland of Cross River. Plummer sings about Trinidad: "There where conceive me and there I go' dead." Cross River is with me wherever I go, I am always there. It's as real to me as the places in D.C., Maryland and upstate New York, in which I've lived. I'll write about Cross River as long as I believe in and love words. When I hear Plummer powerfully declare her love for Trinidad from conception to death, I imagine myself an old man with a full head and beard of gray, sitting in the house in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad where my mother and grandmother were raised. There are stacks of paper around me and I'm putting a period on this life and the last words that will ever be written about the land in my heart.


Rion Amilcar Scott and Insurrections links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
The Millions review
The Root review

Electric Literature interview with the author
ReadMore interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

Posted by david | permalink | post to del.icio.us

August 14, 2016

Largehearted Boy Weekly Wrap-Up - August 14, 2016

A list of the past week's Largehearted Boy features:


Book Notes: (authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates to their book)

Annie DeWitt for her novel White Nights in Split Town City
Brad Watson for his novel Miss Jane
Keegan Jennings Goodman for his novel The Tennessee Highway Death Chant
Laura McHugh for her novel Arrowood
Magnus Mills for his novel The Field of the Cloth of Gold
R.J. Fox for his memoir Love & Vodka
Rae Meadows for her novel I Will Send Rain
Scott Stambach for his novel The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko


Weekly New Book Recommendations:

Atomic Books Comics Preview (recommended new comics and graphic novels)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)


New Music Recommendations:

The Week's Interesting Music Releases


And of course, the daily literature and music news and link posts:

Shorties (news & links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Antiheroines
Atomic Books Comics Preview
Book Notes
Cover Song Collections
Lists
weekly music release lists
musician/author Interviews
Note Books
Soundtracked
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week

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August 12, 2016

Book Notes - Keegan Jennings Goodman "The Tennessee Highway Death Chant"

The Tennessee Highway Death Chant

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Keegan Jennings Goodman's novel The Tennessee Highway Death Chant is as compelling as it is inventive.

Blake Butler wrote of the book:

"Keegan Jennings Goodman's Tennessee Highway Death Chant melds the limitless, pensive texture of a Tarkovsky film with the logic of Nabokov, prying the lid off of the edges of our continuously repeating, and yet never fully catalyzable, experience of death. A singular work that bends to no trend and bats no eye while treading head on into the fundament."


In his own words, here is Keegan Jennings Goodman's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Tennessee Highway Death Chant:



"Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down," Merle Haggard

In the Tennessee Highway Death Chant, there is a chorus that comments on the action of the main narrative, speaking in various public modes—letters, obituaries, and essays, the sort of stuff you would find in a local newspaper, but expanded and exaggerated. The choral speaker is a local man named Nathaniel Jarod, who has an inflated vocabulary and a keen eye for adolescent drama. My model for the choral interludes was taken from Greek tragedy, with the strophe and antistrophe, stage directions that indicate turns and counter-turns to focus the attention on various aspects of the story. But it also was conceived as a chorus in the sense understood by popular music, which contrasts with the verse of a song. One of the choral interludes is an essay about Merle Haggard's old country tune "The Bottle Let Me Down."

In that essay, the speaker tries to decode the dream imagery of the sleeping country singer to find out what the song is really about. The curious thing about the song is that the person whose memory haunts the singer is never really identified. The expectation is that this person is an old lover, but it is never made explicit. The chorus uses this elision as a way of interpreting the significance of the bottle: prompted by the etymological associations of the last line of the verse, which says "I'm hurting in an old familiar way," the dream analysis suggests that the bottle here is a reference to the mother's breast.


"You're Still on My Mind," Gram Parsons

While the kids in the novel never make it inside the bar, they are able to secure some booze through an illicit exchange made in the parking lot of the local honky tonk. The atmosphere of the bar, which is called The Matinee, stands in their imagination as a vague indication of what lies ahead of them had they survived into adulthood. It is an absence that gives a structure to their undeveloped desires. In one scene, for instance, they climb atop the Matinee to view the whole valley that holds them in limbo between life and death. But it is also familiar to them through the country songs they hear.

This song by Gram Parsons, recorded for the Byrds' The Sweetheart of the Rodeo, is one of those songs that gives us a glimpse into the familiar honky tonk setting so essential to country music, with the accompanying jangly piano and the nimble pedal steel of JayDee Maness. In the song, the heartbroken drinker sits before an empty bottle, listening to the juke box, thinking to himself about having just one more before heading home. This is all familiar, and Gram Parsons does an excellent job of recreating a rough and essential song whose merit is how closely he sticks to the established pattern and expectations. As a result of his adherence to the traditional tropes, however, we do not really get a sense of the surroundings. One way to explain this is that the honky tonk has been described in so many country songs already, and Gram Parsons can take it for granted. In any case, what I like about this song is that its familiarity makes it invisible. It is only implied, again as an experience that lies beyond the reach of the teenage protagonists.

When writing about the Matinee, I had in mind an old honky tonk that was off the highway near this trailer park where I spent a lot of time as a kid. A childhood friend of mine, my brother and I used to fish for largemouth bass and catfish in this pond that was located on the outskirts of the trailer park, and the bar there had a strange presence in our imaginations. On summer nights we would tote our flashlights and trident spears to go gigging for bullfrogs, and, while quiet during the day, the honky tonk was a wild place at night, full of strange characters and drunks who had wandered off to relieve themselves in the bushes. There was never any booze around my house, and seeing adults drinking was a rare and fascinating spectacle to me and my friends.



"Ramble on Rose," The Grateful Dead

The Death Chant does not really have characters in the traditional sense. The people who appear in it and who have names are not meant to be round in the workshop sense, and their story is not meant to elicit from the reader any sort of sympathy. I envisioned them more as just voices speaking from an American void.

I of course didn't start out with that idea, but this is how the book ended up fuelling itself. And "Ramble on Rose" resembles this formal aspiration of the novel. Like so many Grateful Dead songs, the lyrics were written by the psychedelic visionary Robert Hunter, and he has suggested in interviews that he just whimsically strung phrases and names together, in a sort of lyrical pastiche style that fit perfectly with the strange rhythm of the song. When I hear that song, I think of how a phrase, a name or an image expressed linguistically can take on a force of its own, a way of outrunning the normal uses of communication. And a rose, I'm told, can either ramble on the ground or climb the trellis. I feel like the phrases themselves ramble horizontally rather than vertically—in the sense that they are strung along without adding up to anything except the song itself.

I don't really know what people talk about in songs these days, but my guess is that this sort of whimsical non sequitur lyrical style was something that was relatively novel and alive back in seventy-two. (The recording I know is from the Europe '72 triple album, but I'm sure there are others.) A comparison is initiated, but we're never told what the antecedent is: "Just like Jack the Ripper, just like Mojo hand, just like Billy Sunday," but we are not expected to make a connection with a single referent in the comparison. It's like the phrases, names and the panoply of these historical times and places are building their own momentum.

In a traditional novel, the characters are known by what they say and what is said about them. We are expected to believe in a unity that holds all these vocalizations in place. But in the Death Chant there's not really any stability to what is said. One of the destabilizing forces is the very words that they utter, not even to each other, but out into the ether.



"Over the Hills and Far Away," Led Zeppelin

Like a lot of teenagers, my life was forever changed when I learned how to play "Stairway to Heaven," but the Zeppelin song that I liked the most was "Over the Hills and Far Away," maybe because of the acoustic guitar (I had an old twelve string that I'd use for the worship band at my country church), and the country licks Jimmy Page plays here. To my untrained ear, these chords that open up the song were more familiar to me than anything else on Houses of the Holy, which I used to listen to countless times while driving my little four-cylinder pickup truck down the back roads that first summer after I got my license.

While writing the Death Chant I had to reach back in my memory to those hot summer nights when everybody would drive their vehicles out to some farm road and set up an impromptu party, drinking Miller Lite in the headlights and blasting the radio—usually the classic rock station rather than the contemporary country station, since, in the absurd stratifications of even a rural high school of less than a hundred kids, there was still what Freud calls the "narcissism of minor differences," and we considered ourselves worlds apart from the farmers' sons and daughters who liked Garth Brooks.



"EZ Rider," Taj Mahal

People say that the slide guitar work of Ry Cooder was partly responsible for what came to be known as southern rock, via Duane Allman, who, after falling off a horse, was given a glass bottle of the pain-killing Coricidin and the self-titled Taj Mahal for his birthday, quickly picking up the style, and eventually taking it to Muscle Shoals. The song is a traditional blues song about a good-time woman, with variations on the name, Easy Rider, and C.C. Rider, a version of which was playing on Alan Ginsberg's record player when he died. I think you could also include "Easy Wind" among variations of it—because Pigpen has a couple of lines that suggest that (he also sings about a midnight rider in "Operator" on American Beauty ). Taj Mahal's version references this in the title and, more loosely, in the lyrical content, though it's not really considered a cover version of the traditional song, for instance, the one that Lead Belly sang.

Taj Mahal is considered a blues scholar, and this is reflected in his music. 'Scholar' can mean many things of course, but we're often encouraged to maintain the distinction between those that make art and those who interpret it, however broadly that might be understood. I remember reading an interview by a well-known writer of fiction who also studied philosophy, for instance, and who said that, as a principle, he did not mix the two. It's a dogmatic position, one encouraged by workshop mentality of production and consumption. Tracing an influence in a musician is like separating out some individual object—like a river or tree or mountain—that is not really separable from its surroundings except in thought, and there is always something arbitrary about this.

In the country compositions of John Stone, it's hard to identify any single vein of influence, and one of the choral interludes in the Death Chant discusses how the tradition of country and western music, as well as English poetry, is handled by the ill-fated Stone.



"Waymore's Blues," Waylon Jennings

One of the more evident features of John Stone's music is an attraction to obscenity. Blues music is more sophisticated in this sense than country music: for instance, continuing the tradition of erotic invitation, the Mick Jagger sings on Beggars Banquet, "Parachute woman, won't you land on me tonight." The finesse of a "heavy throbber itching just to lay a solid rhythm down," or of a "crawling king snake in the room of love," should not be overlooked. But in the country song, the dirty lyric is often just told straightaway. There's maybe no better example of this than what we find Waylon Jennings singing here, "Every woman I see looks like a place I came in." This part of the country music tradition has been taken up by John Stone, as discussed by the choral interlude I mentioned above, and it's hard to say what the overall effects are, except maybe that sublty is not the only way to a woman's heart.
"You Can't Catch Me," Chuck Berry

Besides everything on Chuck Berry '75, this song is probably my favorite by the great pioneer of rock and roll. The Rolling Stones' version on Now! is the one I've listened to the most, and with Bill Wyman's bass line really coming through to carry the rhythm, it's a great cover. In my novel, the teenagers roll down the highway, and this drag racing song is perfectly suited, with its fast beat and choppy guitars, to express the feeling of rapture when thundering down the two-lane blacktop. The feeling is one of wind rushing through the open window, and headlights opening up the darkness that makes a driver feel so alone while driving through the night.

The encounter on the road, where the "flattops" come up next to the car and challenge it to a race, is an image that was a great inspiration to some of the scenes in which the protagonists in their mystical Firebird are racing along in a convoy of pickups and coupes driven by these other kids, these hellions, lost teenage souls—some of whom probably had short hair, buzz cuts, or flattops. My idea for this menacing group of kids partly came from Medieval dramatic and visual representations of souls being punished in hell, devoured by Satan, who lack the ability to communicate. (Jeffrey Burton Russell is my favorite writer on the topic of Satan, demons and such.) In the Death Chant, these kids are referred to as the congregation, an audience to John's ecclesiastic tendencies, since all they cal do is listen—their words come out garbled and unintelligible, but they are still able to indulge and exert themselves in erotic embraces and drinking binges.


"Big River," Johnny Cash

As an aspiring country and western singer, John Stone, the main speaker in the book along with the narrator, Jenny, has a sharp ear and strong taste for all the great country music of his day, including of course the songs of Johnny Cash. In an unpublished interview, he has said the following about "Big River":

"…Country music from its inception is in inauthentic form: it started as an urban phenomenon, where country folks who had moved to the city soaked up any nostalgic expression of the hometown, the green pastures. Think about all the reliable tropes of country music at its best. David Allan Coe—written, as we're told, by Steve Goodman—sang about them in his song "You Never Even Called Me By My Name." The prison scenario so ubiquitous in country music is a reflection of the walls of the city, in which we feel imprisoned. The train signifies escape from that prison, and mobility from the exigencies of the economic situation that has chained us to city life. The myth of country music is that what we're hearing is the same thing you'd be hearing if you were out at the farm, or raising hell out on the back roads. Some people are confounded by the way country music so easily integrates pop sounds, especially the way it did in the nineties—but that's not at all surprising when you consider that there's not really an authentic soul to country music, some privileged content that isn't already borrowed from elsewhere. In any case, the country song is not all that different from the general history of the personal lyric that has come to dominate popular forms like soul, rock and roll, blues and whatever else there is. The dominance of the subjective forms—and by subjective form I mean it in the grammatical sense, or let's say grammatological sense, where the subject, the ‘I' is at the center of the experience or emotion the song attempts to communicate—the dominance of this approach makes those instances that diverge from it all the more powerful. Let me give you an obvious example of what I mean. The song "Big River" by Johnny Cash is not really about a guy whose girlfriend left him. It's about the river itself, the river as an expression of the passage of time, and also about the expansiveness of the the American midwest. The river does what the singer can't: it carries his lover, fulfilling her desire to roam, to travel the land and see new places better than he ever could. So in some sense, it's inaccurate, or incomplete, to say that "she loves you, big river, more than me." If she loved the river, she could also stay put. The river is there too, in St. Paul, Minnesota. What she loves is not so much the river, but its expansiveness, its changeability, and the perpetual novelty that it can deliver. So even this song, which seems to be about the needs and desires of this particular woman is still just about a familiar feeling expressed by the singer. This is what I mean when I say that the subjective content, even if buried beneath the lyrical surface, remains in the final analysis the fate of the song as a whole. The strength of that song is that the singer does not have to tell us how he feels—everyone knows this as a general rule—and instead has found an image that can suggest how he feels. When you hear the song, you think, my god, yes the mighty Mississippi—who can compete with something so big, so exciting, so wise, something so balanced, who has seen so many cities (Davenport, Memphis, etc.) and remained unchanged? and you feel for the guy. For a country person, the city is a place of anxiety—it threatens to disrupt, or cast into question, the very heart of who you think you are, where you come from and so forth. The river is enviable because it knows those cities—but it just keeps on rolling by, its course altered but its soul unchanged. It presents an ideal for the country person whose straits have forced him to go into the city and still maintain some sense of his core. But the conceit of the country song is that there is a core that precedes the encounter with this urban threat. The literary people talk about pathetic fallacy in poetry. It is when nature reflects the inner mood of the speaking subject. The clouds grow heavy from my despair, the sun shines right now because of my joy, and so on. But "Big River" has an interesting and instructive approach to pathetic fallacy: the speaker has "taught the weeping willow how to cry," and has "showed the clouds how to cover up a clear blue sky," and his tears are going to flood the Mississippi. Traditional pathetic fallacy is an aggrandizement of a certain order: my emotional condition is verified and validated by its being reflected in nature. But here something different is occurring. It's almost mythical in character: it purports to tell us why the weeping willow weeps, why the clouds cover the sky, and it even purports to tell us why there are occasional floods. And this is where the distinction falls apart: myth in one sense is a practice of anthropomorphizing nature, making it spirit, or showing it as subject; but in another sense, that subject, or spirit, is not fully individuated…"



"You Gotta Move," The Rolling Stones

This old spiritual song tells about a force indifferent to status or station in life: "When the Lord gets ready, you've got to move." Whether you're rich, poor, high, low, whether you're a policeman or prostitute, you're bound to laws of change unfamiliar in equal measures with authority and vice. And this peremptory call is reflected in the unison of the slide guitar and the vocal arrangement that repeats throughout the song, where the voice is no longer an instrument to communicate spiritual or linguistic meaning and instead only cries out, as a sort of pure expression like that of a trapped animal.

Even the gods are subject to fate, and in John's strange cosmological theories, in which the parts and habits of the Firebird are mingled with the great and formative cycles of cosmic destruction and creation, there is an attempt to identify without naming the ultimate source of motion. Whatever it is that makes the stars move is the same force that sets our frail bodies on a path of motion that is individuated for only a brief span of time, while the transformations of the body, for instance in the various cycles of natural being (i.e. the nitrogen and carbon cycles), are eternal.



"Drifting Blues," John Lee Hooker

The version of this song that I know is from a very cool EP called Talk About Your Baby, released in 1963 by Atlantic Records in France, re-released as an LP in 1967 with additional songs. Hooker plays an electric guitar (I think he most often played at Gibson 335), keeping the beat with his thumb on the lower strings, with very few chord changes, while sort of rambling without too much concern for staying on the traditional paths that dictate the movement of the melody. The whole thing is very sparse and perfect for a late night when everybody's fallen asleep and you find yourself alone trying to finish off the last of the booze. I always got a sense from John Stone that he regretted not ever mastering the blues guitar. But like the singer in the song, he's still "drifting and drifting," and there's no end to time, no end to money, and so no reason why he can't sit down and learn the stark beauty of these hill country blues.



"I'll Never Get Out of This World Alive," Hank Williams

There aren't really any villains in the Death Chant, with the possible exception of the police and paramedics, who have only a fleeting presence on the fringes of the purgatorial reality of the valley in which the story is set. But there is a mythical monster, the coppermouth snake. At one point in the book, John encounters the serpent and they wrestle together in a sort of cosmic and onanistic dance. The fight ends in a draw, and the serpent makes the following proposal: each will answer a question from the other.

John had just been gazing at the stars in wonder, and so he asks the serpent about the origins of the world. The coppermouth gives a cosmogonical account that has strong associations with how snakes themselves are born, involving eggs and serpentine spheres of fire. My source for the account was the Milesian philosopher Anaximander, the Presocratic who is considered by scholars to be the first philosopher to write an exhaustive treatise on the origins of the world.

Once the serpent's rather long and slippery speech is over, it is his turn to ask the question. Echoing the old Hank Williams song, he asks John: "Though you drive and drive, did you ever really think you'd get out of this world alive?"



"Spirit in the Dark," Aretha Franklin

There's not much dancing in the book, but if John's congregants dance, it would be to this classic and very groovy gospel song. I always thought of this song as a sort of American counterpart to the strange and illicit activities of Georges Bataille's religious cult Acéphale. Taken theologically, Aretha Franklin is giving directions, like a preacher, about how to do a dance that participates in and summons darkness, the traditional opposition of the light that stands as a metaphor for the presence of god and of knowledge.

In the Death Chant I wanted the darkness of the valley to have a positive ontological character. It was conceived not as absence of light, but as substance, and there are mythical accounts in the novel of the origins of blindness, dreams and gasoline that are based on this conception of darkness.



"I Shall Be Released," Joe Cocker

I don't really care for Bob Dylan's music, and so it's unlikely that the kids in the book would be interested in listening to his songs, except maybe those songs that are covered by other musicians. But Joe Cocker's version of "I Shall Be Released" (the only one I've heard) is a great tune, with the choral backing vocals, and Jimmy Page playing that great guitar that interweaves with the vocal phrasing.

I once saw a video of Joe Cocker singing "With a Little Help from My Friends," and there is this huge crowd on stage singing the chorus. Leon Russell is there all wild-eyed, with a huge, sequined blue top hat on, playing a Les Paul. Those massive choral arrangements are a vital part of the feel of the main narrative arc of the story that's told in The Tennessee Highway Death Chant, an intermingling of voices that has, throughout the book, coalesced into a force that will come apart with a sweep of the hand, an easy and maybe bittersweet release.


Keegan Jennings Goodman and The Tennessee Highway Death Chant links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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Book Notes - R.J. Fox "Love & Vodka"

Love & Vodka

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

R.J. Fox's Love & Vodka is an entertaining ex-pat memoir.

Jeff Kass wrote of the book:

"Welcome to Ukraine (never The Ukraine) where, from the violent rugby scrum at the airport baggage carousel to inoperable midnight plumbing and a potential grandmother-in-law who doubles as the queen of serial vodka shots, R.J. Fox stumbles through one misadventure after another, all in the name of love. The reader is along for the ride and will walk away shaky-legged, enlightened, and undoubtedly able to correctly pronounce Dnipropetrovsk."


In his own words, here is R.J. Fox's Book Notes music playlist for his book Love & Vodka:



"Back in the USSR" by The Beatles
Maybe an obvious choice (but a moot point since we could never afford to use a Beatles song!) but with the line "The Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the west behind," how could I not include it here?! The fact that this song opens once of the best albums ever recorded is also a good enough reason for inclusion—although given the surrealism and confusion I would experience upon arrival in Ukraine, maybe the fourth song on the Beatles "White Album"—Glass Onion—would provide a better choice!

"The Passenger" by Iggy Pop
A fellow Michigander. While I would hardly describe myself as a wondering nomad (Iggy has stated that the song embodies the nomadic spirit of the punk outcast), the importance of simply venturing out and seeing what’s out there in the world is definitely embraced in Love & Vodka.

"Fell In Love With A Girl" by The White Stripes
Another song from a fellow Detroiter; perfectly describes my situation after returning from LA to Detroit and being in love, along with all of the confusion and uncertainty. The line "she’s in love with the world" describes Katya as she ventures from Ukraine to the U.S. It even contains the line "Bobby says it's fine he don't consider it cheating."

"I Miss You" by Bjork
After returning to Michigan and wondering if/when we would meet again. "I miss you, but I haven't met you yet. I know your habits, but wouldn’t recognize you yet." Sorrowful yearning mixed with joyful samba beat and brass. And accompanied by a delightfully bizarre video directed by John Kricfalusi (of Ren & Stimpy fame).

"Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order
A favorite of mine since high school, this song captures the exuberance and complexity of young love like so few others. This was one of the songs from the mixtapes I had sent to Katya in the months leading up to my trip.

"Coconut" by Fever Ray
This atmospheric song would fit perfectly for the drive in my future father-in-law’s car from the airport in Dnepropetrovsk after I first arrive in Ukraine. Soviet-era apartment blocks, billboards in Cyrillic. A different world.

"18" Moby
I bought this album in Ukraine on my return trip following nine months of separation. It came to represent both the longing during our time apart, the aftermath of 9/11, and the reality that a whole new chapter of our lives was about to begin – at the expense of taking Katya away from the only life she had ever known. Now, it represents the pain and regret that it all came to an end, like most great things in life. I also wrote most of my book listening to Moby’s entire catalog.

"Born Slippy" by Underworld
No song captures the pure, mad adrenalin rush of my entire Ukrainian adventure more than this signature Trainspotting tune.

"Gulyanka" Verka Serduchka
If any song captures the spirit of how Ukrainians celebrate life (combined with the effects of vodka), it is this song by this popular Ukrainian cross-dresser. This song was played at our engagement party on my return trip to Ukraine, days before Katya came to the U.S. with me to start a new life.

"Nas Ne Degonia" (They’re Not Gonna Stop Us) by t.A.T.u
This song became our theme song from the moment I heard it on my first full day at an outdoor market. An English version hit the charts in the U.S. shortly after Katya’s arrival in the U.S.

"Ordinary World" by Duran Duran
After a life-altering experience like my trip to Ukraine, combined with impending marriage and 9/11, seeking an ordinary world was easier said than done.

"American Wedding" by Gogol Bordello
Eugene Hütz would be perfect as the vodka-pushing Uncle Vladimir in a movie version of Love & Vodka! How to pick one song by Gogol Bordello (the best live band out there)? "American Wedding" is the perfect juxtaposition to the pre-wedding celebration that took place in Dnepropetrovsk. "Where is the vodka, where's marinated herring?" asks Eugene. Well, they were there in Dnepropetrovsk!

"Sharmanka" by Nikolay Baskov
My future father-in-law’s theme song. He loved singing this song any chance he had. And it’s used to great effect in the book during an outdoor meal at the family’s summer cottage. It was also used as the father-daughter dance at our wedding.

"Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
A Hawaiian confection medley of two classics. Filled with a juxtaposition of both hope and melancholy. This is what following your dreams sounds like.

"Fly Me to the Moon" by Frank Sinatra
Another one of the songs from "our soundtrack". The Italian in me can’t resist Frank. I always pictured this song playing as the end credits role in my movie as we flew away to a new life together in the U.S. Another song that captures the magic of raw love.


R.J. Fox and Love & Vodka links:

the author's website
excerpts from the book
video trailer for the book

Foreword Reviews review

Dearborn Press and Guide profile of the author
Lansing City Pulse profile of the author
Living with Writers interview with the author
Michigan Radio interview with the author
WGVU interview with the author
WKAR interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

Posted by david | permalink | post to del.icio.us

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