February 21, 2017

Shorties (Books by Women of Color To Read This Year, Stream the New Xiu Xiu Album, and more)

Electric Literature recommended books by women of color to read this year.


Noisey is streaming the new Xiu Xiu album Forget.


The Rumpus interviewed author Angela Palm.


Stream a new Maryn Jones song.


Hazlitt and the OTHERPPL podcast interviewed author Sarah Manguso.


The Quietus interviewed Tinariwen bassist Eyadou Ag Leche.


The Rumpus interviewed author George Saunders.


Stream a new Will Johnson song.


The Guardian explored the literary legacy of Carson McCullers.


Stream a new Passion Pit song.


Slate interviewed author Daphne Merkin.


Stream two new songs by Siamese.


Mariana Enriquez discussed her short story collection Things We Lost in the Fire with Weekend Edition.


Stream a new Speedy Ortiz song.


Sebastian Barry talked to Fresh Air about his novel Days Without End.


Japandroids and Craig Finn covered the Saints "(I’m) Stranded."


Weekend Edition interviewed Elan Mastai about his novel All Our Wrong Todays.


Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols discussed his new memoir Lonely Boy with World Cafe.


The Guardian profiled cartoonist Emil Ferris.


Stream Dolly Parton's cover of Brandi Carlile's "The Story."


Damion Searls talked to All Things Considered about his new book The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach, His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing.


Baeble Music listed the top songs about American presidents.


The Daily Beast recommended the best books about American presidents.


Strand of Oaks' Tim Showalter dicussed the band's new album Hard Love with SPIN.


This Podcast Will Change Your Life interviewed author Wendy C. Ortiz.


The Globe and Mail profiled singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett.


Joyland features new fiction by Diana Wagman.


PopMatters interviewed Glenn Mercer of the Feelies.


Lenny shared excerpts from Morgan Parker's poetry collection There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyonce.


Kurt Cobain would have turned fifty this week.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons
In Gratitude by Jenny Diski
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass
Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

The Master by Colm Toibin
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists
Essential and Interesting Year-End 2016 Music Lists

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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February 20, 2017

Atomic Books Comics Preview - February 20, 2017

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.


Complete Little Nemo 1905-1909

Complete Little Nemo 1905-1909
by Winsor McCay

The only way to really encounter Winsor McCay's hugely influential Little Nemo strips is in an oversized format. This new edition from Taschen comes broadsheet-sized and also includes accompanying biographical and historical information.


Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie

Haddon Hall: When David Invented Bowie
by Nejib

Of the many recent deaths of beloved artists, few have engendered as many publications as David Bowie. And Haddon Hall is unlike them all. In this graphic novel, Nejib focuses on a very specific era in the life of Bowie - his transformative time at the Haddon Hall commune where a number of his early hits were written.


My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters
by Emil Ferris

It is a rare graphic novel where the artwork alone compels you to read it. I mean, actually read it, not just flip through and gaze at the pages. It's even rarer that the story matches up to that artwork. Emil Ferris' debut graphic novel is the best of both worlds - absolutely riveting artwork and a captivating, '60s-era murder mystery set in the form of the diary of a young girl. The best comics debut of the year so far.


Seven to Eternity Volume 1

Seven to Eternity Volume 1
by Rick Remender / Matteo Scalera

The first story arc of Image's new hit epic fantasy series is collected here. A hopeless band of magic users team up to free their world of an evil god.


Why I March: Images from The Women’s March Around the World

Why I March: Images from The Women’s March Around the World

In response to the election of Donald Trump as U.S. president, on January 21, 2017, five million people (from 82 different countries and on every 7 continents - yes INCLUDING Antarctica) stood up to protest. This book collects images from all around the US and the world, commemorating that historic moment - with publisher Abrams donating proceeds from the book to Women's March affiliated non-profits.


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:


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)

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

February 19, 2017

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week - February 19, 2017

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.


Spaniel Rage

Spaniel Rage
by Vanessa Davis

New D+Q! Spaniel Rage was first published over a decade ago; it collects diary comics and drawings made between 2003/04 by multidisciplinary artist Vanessa Davis. Chock full of frankness and mirth, Davis’s observations are casual but cutting, showcasing some of the best chops in autobiographical comics. These pencil drawn anecdotes offer wry wisdom and gentle self-deprecation, a delight from a talented storyteller!


Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo
by George Saunders

Lincoln in the Bardo is the long anticipated first novel from a master of short fiction. George Saunders brings his dark satire to the story of Willie Lincoln, the president’s son who died at age eleven. Saunders anchors Willie in a bizarre, polyphonic purgatory where ghosts mingle and bicker. Formally innovative and endlessly imaginative, this is a crowning achievement from a seasoned dazzler!


Angel Catbird Volume 2: To Castle Catula

Angel Catbird Volume 2: To Castle Catula
by Margaret Atwood, Johnnie Christmas, Tamra Bonvillain

Legendary Canadian novelist, essayist, thinker Margaret Atwood continues her foray into the world of comics with Angel Catbird Volume 2. Dabbling with hybridity, Atwood’s series is at once a good ol’ fashioned superhero comic and a divergent to its conventions, combining pulp adventure with environmental treatise.


The Refugees

The Refugees
by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Nguyen’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Sympathizer propelled the Vietnamese born American author into the literary-limelight. Nguyen has followed up with a collection of short stories set in both Vietnam and America; The Refugees is a geography of displacement, tracing the lives of those torn between adoptive homelands and countries of birth.


My Favourite Thing is Monsters

My Favourite Thing is Monsters
by Emil Ferris

My Favourite Thing is Monsters is a sweeping phantasmagoria set against the turbulent political backdrop of 1960s Chicago. The book is narrated by a precocious ten-year-old who attempts to unravel the murder of her neighbour, a beautiful and mysterious holocaust survivor. Emil Ferris’s debut graphic novel is a B-movie-monster-filled opus, a psychological thriller with a stunningly virtuosic visual style.


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

February 17, 2017

Book Notes - Bren McClain "One Good Mama Bone"

One Good Mama Bone

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.

Bren McClain's novel One Good Mama Bone is a poignant and heartrending debut.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"McClain’s first novel resists predictability and instead weaves together questions about poverty, class, violence, and religion. . . . A thought-provoking story about families and the animals who sustain them."


In her own words, here is Bren McClain's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel One Good Mama Bone:



My novel, One Good Mama Bone, chronicles Sarah Creamer's quest to find her "mama bone," after being left to care for her husband's illegitimate son. It's what became of a failed other novel I wrote, a book I think of now as "on the nose." And therein lies the reason for its failure. I heard writer Randall Kenan say one time that when you write a story based on something that really happened, "you have to get the journalism out of the way."

The something that really happened was a secret a former neighbor of mine told me one hot June afternoon in Atlanta, GA about a night when he was six years old and his mother woke him and summoned him to the kitchen where their next-door neighbor lay on their table. She was having a baby, and he was made to watch his own mother do something horrible. He told me he was telling me, knowing I was a writer. When I began to write it, I did so, just as had told it to me, "on the nose." In fact, I kicked off the book with the scene, named the mother Sarah Creamer, and wrote it all the way through. Nobody liked it. Sarah was a monster, most said. But I loved her. It wasn't until a brilliant editor told me, "We don't see that love you have. Show us Sarah's magnificence" that I realized I had to change what happened that night, have Sarah deliver a baby who would become this six-year-old boy and cast Sarah as the hero she did not yet know herself to be.

Music always accompanied me as I wrote and always with large headphones and CDs in a Walkman. Nothing digital – I am old school! And when I found a song I liked – that is, provided the right emotional escort -- I put it on repeat, many times listening to the same song for a full day.

"Why" - Annie Lenox
This was my "go to" song early in the writing. It carries a mournful undergirding, full of regret, which is exactly how I originally cast Sarah. The lyrics also played into the overall feeling, beginning with how the song kicks off – "How many times do I have to try to tell you, That I'm sorry for the things I've done" and the chorus continually asking "why?"

The Piano Soundtrack – Michael Nyman
When I began my rewrite, I didn't want any more lyrics, I wanted only instrumentals, letting the music carry it all. I listened only to soundtracks, and this was the first one. I was attracted to the story the music was telling, a story of bondage and being freed from it. That's exactly what Sarah faced, the emotional bondage her mother loaded her with when her mother told Sarah at age six, "You ain't got you one good mama bone in you, girl." Sarah had to find a way to free herself, to tell herself a brand new narrative. That was the whole impetus for the writing the story, the moment when Sarah freed herself to claim her "mama bone."

"Deep in Thought" from Million Dollar Baby soundtrack - Clint Eastwood
The simple, stark piano keys in the beginning put me in a contemplative mood. How was Sarah going to feed her child with no money and the farm about to be foreclosed on? I could see Sarah sitting in the dark at the kitchen table, the woodstove in front of her with no food being cooked, the flour bin behind her empty, her boy in bed asleep with nothing in his belly but a half a pear. This, in my mind, was where Sarah prepared for the journey ahead.

"Soldiers' Burial" from Merry Christmas soundtrack – Philippe Rombi
Hearing this particular song on the soundtrack is when I knew for sure that Sarah would find a way to claim her "mama bone." The song begins with a bagpipe solo, and, since I was never a big fan of that instrument, I almost skipped ahead, but then the song brings in a piano and strings, and there is there is this triumphant feeling, and all I can say is I could see light and joy. I knew then that Sarah would find her way. I didn't know how yet, but I let myself feel that release of happiness.

"Gracie's Theme" – Paul Cardall
Once I heard Paul Cardall's music, I bought every CD he'd made and soaked up every song. I found them to carry, like my characters, a real yearning at their base. This song in particular, "Gracie's Theme," reminded me of goodness in this world, reminded me of grace. Sarah faces many hardships over the course of the novel, but I like to think I leavened that with moments of goodness, kindness. I think of her friendship with Mildred and with Ike.

"A Broken Heart" - Paul Cardall
With it rich orchestra of strings, this song evokes a real mourning in me. It made me think of all that was broken in my characters – Sarah in not believing she would be a good mother, Luther in not believing he was good enough in general, Ike that he was not masculine enough, Little LC that his daddy didn't love him. I cried many times when listening to this. I ached just thinking about their heartache. It made me want to do everything I could to save them.

"Water Shows the Hidden Heart" - Enya
I had tried to listen to the CD, Amarantine several times when I bought it in 2005. It contains both songs with lyrics and instrumentals. But I did not connect with one song on it and never played it again, until one day, nearing the end of my writing One Good Mama Bone, I picked up the CD and put it in my Walkman. For some reason, the last song played first and contained lyrics but not in English. It was in a language I had never heard. It sounded like an invocation, a prayer, and drew me in. I would learn that this was the "loxiam" language, which Enya herself created when she could not find any words in English to express her feelings. I felt my soul rise up. And I knew then why I had turned away from lyrics in English. They were "on the nose."


Bren McClain and One Good Mama Bone links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Historical Novel Society review
Kirkus Reviews review

Deborah Kalb interview with the author
Deep South Magazine interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

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

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This Week's Interesting Music Releases - February 17, 2017

Ryan Adams

Ryan Adams' Prisoner is his strongest album in years.

Other releases I can recommend include Jens Lekman's Life Will See You Now, Mind Over Mirrors' Undying Color, Nikki Lane's Highway Queen, and Strand of Oaks' Hard Love.

Vinyl reissues include Spiritualized's Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space and a 6-disc 7" box set of the Wu-Tang Clan's Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers).

What new music are you looking forward to or enjoying this week?


This week's interesting music releases:

Alison Kraus: Windy City
The Courtneys: The Courtneys II
Danny Worsnop: The Long Road Home
Dutch Uncles: Big Balloon
Eisley: I'm Only Dreaming
Electric Guest: Plural
Frontier Ruckus: Enter The Kingdom
Grails: Chalice Hymnal
Hanni El Khatib: Savage Times
Jens Lekman: Life Will See You Now
Lorna Shore: Flesh Coffin
Maggie Rogers: Now That The Light Is Fading
Mind Over Mirrors: Undying Color
Molly Burch: Please Be Mine
Mozart's Sister: Field Of Love
Mystery Weekend: Surprise!
Nikki Lane: Highway Queen
Novella: Change of State
Orwells: Terrible Human Beings [vinyl]
Parallels: Metropolis
Parquet Courts: Captive of the Sun [vinyl]
Pegi Young & The Survivors: Raw
Ryan Adams: Prisoner
Sam Patch: Yeah You, And I
Son Volt: Notes Of Blue
Spiritualized: Ladies And Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space (reissue) [vinyl]
The Steeldrivers: The Steeldrivers (reissue) [vinyl]
Strand of Oaks: Hard Love
Super Furry Animals: Radiator (reissue)
Tall Tall Trees: Freedays
Tim Darcy: Saturday Night
Twin Peaks: Down in Heaven [vinyl]
Various Artists: The Man Who Fell To Earth (soundtrack) (reissue) [vinyl]
Various Artists: New Order Presents Be Music
The Verve Pipe: Live & Acoustic
The Verve Pipe: Parachute
Wu-Tang Clan: Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) 7" Box Set (6-disc box set) [vinyl]


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

Essential and Interesting "Best of 2016" Music Lists

weekly music release lists

100 online sources for free and legal music downloads
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)

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

Shorties (Record Shopping with Michael Chabon, Weezer's Blue Album Reconsidered, and more)

Michael Chabon went record shopping with Financial Times.


Drowned in Sound reconsidered Weezer's Blue Album.


Prospect reconsidered the fiction of Anthony Burgess on his 100th birthday.


The Chills covered David Bowie's "Conversation Piece."


The Rumpus interviewed author Kris D'Agostino.


Stream a new Sondre Lerche song.


Tin House interviewed author Claire Fuller.


Stream a new Superchunk song.


The Literary Hub podcast interviewed author and illustrator Maira Kalman.


Stream a new Shins song.


Beaks & Geeks interviewed author Garrard Conley.


Nikki Lane visited World Cafe for a live performance and interview.


The Guardian recommended alternative history novels.


Stream two new Animal Collective songs.


The Rumpus interviewed author Ben Tanzer.


God Is in the TV interviewed Craig Finn of the Hold Steady.


The Guardian examined the cultural legacy of author Angela Carter.


Stream a new Sera Cahoone song.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Gregor Hens' book Nicotine.


The Shaggs will reunite for Wilco's Solid Sound festival.


Catapult launched a new advice column by authors Alissa Nutting and Dean Bakopoulos.


Hamilton Leithauser visited The Current studio for an interview and live performance.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons
In Gratitude by Jenny Diski
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass
Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

The Master by Colm Toibin
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists
Essential and Interesting Year-End 2016 Music Lists

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

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

February 16, 2017

Book Notes - Rachel Aspden "Generation Revolution: On the Front Line Between Tradition and Change in the Middle East"

Generation Revolution: On the Front Line Between Tradition and Change in the Middle East

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.

Rachel Aspden's book Generation Revolution collects fascinating first-person accounts of regular people who participated in the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"Generation Revolution is an excellent social history of Egypt's persistent pathologies, as well as a universal story about the difficulties of changing deeply ingrained societal attitudes"


In her own words, here is Rachel Aspden's Book Notes music playlist for her book Generation Revolution: On the Front Line Between Tradition and Change in the Middle East:



In Generation Revolution, I follow a group of young Egyptians through the stormy years before and after the 2011 uprising that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak. Music is interwoven with their individual dreams and disappointments and with the fate of the country itself.

Egyptians love melody and rhythm, dancing and singing. Everywhere you go in Cairo, day or night, music follows you: from the Quranic recitation shopkeepers and taxi drivers play in the early morning to the distorted blare of shaabi music at a working-class street wedding, raucous mahraganat spilling from a teenage driver’s swerving tuk-tuk, and the nostalgic sounds of mid-20th-century stars such as Oum Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez that conjure up a lost age of elegance and sophistication.

Over the period I write about, music is used as a political tool (protesters recycle old resistance songs and devise new ones; the state employs ageing stars to record its own propaganda theme tunes) and a religious football (moderate Muslims try to “clean up” secular pop music by giving it an Islamic twist; hardliners shun it altogether in favour of austere male-voice chants).

It was also central to my own experience of getting to know Egypt from the moment I arrived, confused and disoriented, aged 23. I lived in Cairo on and off for the next 12 years and very few of those moments were silent. Arabic music, with its quarter-tones and intricate rhythms, sounded discordant and alien to me at first, but I grew to love it as I did the country and the people. Here's a brief introduction to the sounds of the heart of the Arab world.

Boshrat Kheir - Hussein al-Jasmi

This infuriatingly, irresistibly catchy track, whose title means Good Omen, was Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s unofficial campaign song in the presidential election of 2014. Compared to previous clunky, unfashionable pro-regime songs, it’s slick and glossily produced: the expensive video, showing cheerful dancing Egyptians from all corners of the country, is based on Pharrell Williams's Happy. It swept a nation that after more than two years of bloody upheaval was desperate for optimism -- I describe in Generation Revolution how you could hear it being played from cellphones everywhere you went. The bright future it promised, however, has yet to materialise.

Ana Aslan Gamed - Oka & Ortega

This is a swaggering, bad-mannered anthem of the mahraganat scene, which emerged from the underground around the time of the revolution. It’s the sound of Cairo’s working-class youth -- slangy, crass, witty and guaranteed to provoke horror in politer enclaves. You could translate the title as “I’m hardcore”, and the song narrates the misadventures of a young man on the mean streets of a rough area -- navigating dope smokers, suspicious neighbours and knife-wielding enemies in his quest for money and good times. Of course mahraganat soon became fashionable on the upper-class bohemian scene, and its biggest stars ended up doing TV adverts for soft drinks and dairy companies.

Irhal - Ramy Essam

Before the 2011 revolution, Essam was just another guitar-slinging student from Mansoura in the Nile delta. But during the protests against Hosni Mubarak, he took to a makeshift stage and came up with a song that encapsulated the spirit of Tahrir Square - Irhal (Leave!). Its protest chant-like lyrics (“We’re all united/ And we have one demand:/ Leave! Leave!”) with acoustic backing became an anthem of the “18 days” - the period in which young protesters occupied Tahrir, defending it against repeated attacks by the police, security services and hired thugs -- including, during the “Battle of the Camel”, armed men on horses and camels from the tourist stables at the Giza pyramids. Essam’s visibility did not endear him to the police – at a protest later in 2011, he was arrested, dragged to the Egyptian Museum nearby and tortured for four hours.

Take me back to Cairo - Karim Shukry

This kitschy 60s confection of western and eastern music, English and Arabic lyrics presses every Orientalist button going -- and manages to be totally charming while doing it. It evokes what for most Egyptians was always an illusion: the multicultural, cosmopolitan city of the mid 20th century where wealthy couples sipped cocktails on Nile-side terraces and watched bellydancers at elegant cabarets. Karim Shukry (real name Jean Zaloum) was among the Francophone elite who emigrated as Egypt became ever more monocultural -- in his case to Montreal. His love song to the city he left behind has become a theme tune for generations of nostalgic Egyptian expats.

Oum Kalthoum - Alf Leila w leila

The ultimate diva of the age when Egypt led the Arab world. Though she died in 1975 (when four million people attended her funeral procession), she is still revered by all Egyptians and her image, complete with trademark beehive hairdo and cat’s-eye sunglasses, can be seen everywhere. Her stately music, which blends classical Arabic elements with more modern orchestral and guitar parts, became the soundtrack for an era from the 1940s to the 1970s -- the building of the modern nation. To hear it now pouring from a streetside teahouse where the last few customers are lingering or from the radio in a battered taxi late at night is, for Egyptians, instant nostalgia.

Rango - Ahlan Be el Talat Asyad

These musicians come from Egypt’s Sudanese community, established by slaves brought to work the cotton fields and serve in the army in the 1820s. They play songs from the zar -- a healing trance ceremony with African roots that in Egypt has taken on Islamic overtones. In this song, they greet the “three spirits”: Yawra Bey, a westernised dandy in a frock coat, the Red Djinn, lord of the spirits, and Lady Racosha, a mischievous child spirit. These days zar is dying out, attacked by Islamic fundamentalists and edged out by commercial pop, but in a male-dominated society it provides a rare space for women to come together, dance, sing and share their problems.

Metallica - One

In the depressing, stagnant years of the late 1990s, western metal music became a way for Egypt’s urban teenagers to express their rage and frustration in a language their parents couldn’t understand. I describe Amr, one of the characters, sitting in his bedroom in Alexandria blasting out Metallica to the bemusement of his bureaucrat father. Unfortunately, the metal fans fell foul of one of the regime’s periodic witch-hunts, in which some unpopular minority or other would be scapegoated to distract the public from economic stagnation at home and dubious policies abroad (in particular, the Mubarak regime’s close ties and corrupt oil and gas deals with Israel). In 1997 80 middle-class teenagers were seized from their beds in dawn raids as tabloids screamed that they were devil worshippers in league with Zionists. The public prosecutor later released them, commenting that though they may not be actually in league with Satan, they were trying to “follow him by having sex, drugs and other evil things”.

Nancy Ajram - Ah w nos

Pure bubblegum pop: artificial, saccharine and totally irresistible. This was a massive hit in Egypt (and across the rest of the Arab world) in the mid-2000s, the era of the president’s neoliberalising son Gamal Mubarak, the spread of the internet, and the lures of globalisation. Though Nancy Ajram is actually Lebanese, in this video she is dressed as an Egyptian country girl temptress, teasingly hanging up washing, scrubbing pots and wrangling chickens in a robe that’s always on the verge of falling off. It was on heavy rotation on the huge TV screens in the coffeeshops where Egyptians meet after work for years.

Meen el ma2soud - Asfalt & Zap Tharwat

After the revolution by a new breed of “clean” production houses that avoided the scantily clad excesses of female stars like Nancy Ajram. Some were funded by Gulf investors with religious motives, and some had an overtly religious message; others were simply rooted in “Egyptian values”. This is a moody, slick anti-western protest song by a rapper who became a hero for young girls (and their male peers). “Who is the target - me, my religion, or my country?” he asks, describing the plight of Gaza, Iraq, Kashmir and Afghanistan and the need for the Muslim world to rise up against American hegemony. These sentiments are far from welcome in Sisi’s Egypt -- especially as he attempts to ingratiate himself with President Trump -- but they’re a window on the true feelings of young Egyptians.


Rachel Aspden and Generation Revolution: On the Front Line Between Tradition and Change in the Middle East links:

excerpt from the book

Guardian review
Kirkus Reviews review
London Evening Standard review
New York Times review

World Policy interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

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

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

Shorties (An Excerpt from George Saunders' Debut Novel, A Profile of Ryan Adams, and more)

BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from George Saunders' debut novel Lincoln in the Bardo.


VICE profiled Ryan Adams.


Stream a new song from Her's.


My Poetic Side shared an infographic of U.S. Poet Laureates.


Stream a new song by A Place To Bury Strangers.


Stream Japandroids' cover of Talking Heads' "Love Goes To Building on Fire."


Bad Citizen Corporation interviewed author Steph Post.


Aquarium Drunkard interviewed Jaime Fennelly of Mind Over Mirrors.

The Quietus reviewed the band's new album Undying Color.


Noisey examined the musical legacy of Fela Kuti.


Katie Kitamura talked to Jezebel about her new novel A Separation.


Stream Wolf Eyes' new EP Undertow.


Literary Hub recommended books about Watergate.


Stream a new Colin Stetson song.


Granta shared an excerpt from Victor Lodato's forthcoming novel Edgar and Lucy.


NPR Music is streaming Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's new album The Tourist.


Signature recommended books featuring investigative journalism.


Animal Collective covered Martha and the Vandellas' "Jimmie Mack."


George Saunders discussed books and reading with the New York Times.


Alternative Press listed the best songs that feature banjos.


Bookworm interviewed author Steve Erickson.


Stream a new Minus the Bear song.


George Saunders on Anton Chekhov at the Atlantic.


Alt.Latino shared a mix of Afro-Brazilian music.


Literary Hub recommended novels on freedom of expression that aren't 1984.


Paste and Stereogum interviewed David Longstreth of Dirty Projectors.


Philip Pullman talked to Morning Edition about his forthcoming follow-up trilogy to His Dark Materials.


Craig Finn visited The Current studio for an interview and live performance.


CBC Radio interviewed author and editor Isaac Fitzgerald.


Drowned in Sound interviewed singer-songwriter Jens Lekman.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons
In Gratitude by Jenny Diski
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass
Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

The Master by Colm Toibin
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists
Essential and Interesting Year-End 2016 Music Lists

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

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

February 15, 2017

Book Notes - Raoul Martinez "Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future"

Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future

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.

Raoul Martinez's book Creating Freedom is an insightful and challenging manifesto for our times.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"An impassioned social and political critique with glimmers of hope for change. British artist and documentarian Martinez makes his literary debut writing on a theme taken up recently by writers such as economists Thomas Piketty and Joseph Stiglitz, journalist Bob Herbert, and activist Ralph Nader: inequality, injustice, greed, and entrenched power have undermined democracy and threaten the common good and the future of our planet….An intelligent, rigorous manifesto."


In his own words, here is Raoul Martinez's Book Notes music playlist for his book Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future:



Free markets, free elections, free media, free thought, free speech, free will — the language of freedom pervades our lives, framing the most urgent issues of our time and the deepest questions about who we are and who we want to be. It is a foundational concept at the heart of our civilization, but it has long been distorted to justify its opposite: soaring inequality, the erosion of democracy, an irrational criminal justice system, and a dehumanizing foreign policy. In Creating Freedom I argue that the more we understand the limits on our freedom, the better placed we are to transcend them. Drawing together findings and ideas from neuroscience, criminology, psychology, politics, climate science, economics, and philosophy, it's a wide-ranging analysis of power, control, and freedom, which asks us to question our inherited identity, question our society, and turn the power to choose into the freedom to create.

In the struggle for freedom, music has always played a powerful role, both as a unifying, inspiring force and as a means of creative expression. In the struggle to write about freedom, music proved to be a trusted ally, accompanying me through an often arduous process.

Here are the ten pieces that in various ways connect with Creating Freedom.


'I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free' by Nina Simone
One of the greatest obstacles to freedom comes from internalising the myths which lie at the heart of our culture — myths surrounding everything from free markets to free will. Rejecting these myths can be disorienting, but in doing so we create the space to imagine what it means to be truly free. To create freedom, we must yearn for it, and to yearn for it we must confront how little of it we have. This song is all about that yearning, and it works on a number of levels. Lyrics such as 'I wish I could break all the chains holding me' have a clear literal interpretation but, to varying degrees, whether we are aware of them or not, we all have metaphorical chains inhibiting our liberty. Perceiving these chains is often a challenge. As Rosa Luxembourg is reported to have said: 'Those who do not move, do not notice their chains.'

'A Change Is Gonna Come' by Sam Cooke
For me this a song about hope: the remarkable capacity of human beings to imagine and fight for a reality which has long been denied them. There are those we call 'realists' because their vision of the future deviates little from their understanding of the present. History teaches us that it has always taken 'dreamers' to change society for the better, whether by abolishing slavery, expanding democracy, or winning rights for women, people of colour, and other oppressed groups. Hope creates the possibility of change, whereas cynicism guarantees failure. Whenever I think of hope, I'm reminded of Howard Zinn's lines about holding on to hope in dark times: 'to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory'.

'Way Down in the Hole' by Tom Waits
I first heard this song watching the television series The Wire. I grew to love the song and the show. In particular, I admired how it exposed the double standards, brutality and injustice of our police, courts and prisons. In my research for Creating Freedom, I found that the modern criminal justice system is, on the whole, cruel, ineffective and irrational: a cause of injustice rather than an antidote to it. As decades of criminological research demonstrates, the punitive norms of our culture do not necessarily make us safer – there is evidence to suggest that they have a brutalising effect on the wider society, increasing rather than reducing societal violence. To understand that we make choices with a brain that we didn't choose, one shaped and reshaped from the moment of our birth by countless forces beyond our control, is to understand the need to reassess how we think about punishment and reward.

'Cello Suites' by Johann Sebastian Bach
I can't write while listening to music with lyrics, but I will often listen to classical music or jazz as I edit my work. Again and again I return to Bach's cello suites, which I find timelessly beautiful. There's a fluidity, an openness, a depth to the music which I feel mirrors the unifying ideal of freedom that runs through my book.

'Hermanos' by Atahualpa Yupanqui
A friend recently recommended this song to me. It's incredibly soulful, and the lyrics speak to some of the central ideals of Creating Freedom: solidarity, empathy and liberty. In a world riddled with division — division which too often cuts through the very movements intended to change it — the language of brotherhood, sisterhood, and the human family is extremely valuable.

'What Did You Learn In School Today?' by Pete Seeger
I wanted to include this song in the first Creating Freedom documentary 'The Lottery of Birth', but obtaining the rights proved too expensive. I still enjoy hearing its lyrics exposing how, much of the time, schooling aims not to educate, but socialise, not to liberate, but control. Formal education has always been, and remains today, a powerful mechanism of social control — a means of cultivating beliefs and dispositions that prepare the majority of us for lives of conformity, obedience and conditions of subordination.

'So What?' by Miles Davis
This is the opening track on perhaps the most famous jazz album of all time, Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. The evolution of jazz as an art form exemplifies a clear pattern in human creativity. Composers, musicians, poets, novelists, and painters have, throughout history, sought to escape the fetters of convention, push back boundaries and break (and then create new) rules. In the arts, jazz musicians turned improvisation into an art form, challenging centuries of musical tradition. Analogously, in the moral worlds we inhabit, to stay true to our deepest values we must always be prepared to question, challenge and reinvent the rules our parents, teachers, prophets and governments expect us to follow.

'Sodade' by Cesaria Evora
Not only does Cesaria Evora have an incredibly beautiful voice, but the concept of sodade (or 'saudade') is, in my view, bound up with the pursuit of freedom. 'Sodade' refers to a profound sense of loss and longing mixed up with feelings of nostalgia. The concept resonates because the inescapable truth is that the path to freedom has always demanded sacrifice and loss. All the liberties we enjoy today, under attack as they may be, were won on the back of struggle, courage and sacrifice. The fight for freedom requires opening up to the suffering and injustice that scars the world, and not turning away from the beauty, innocence and life which every day is destroyed by the broken systems that dominate our lives.

'The Rape of the World' by Tracy Chapman
Humanity's destruction of the conditions for life on earth is, as Tracy Chapman sings, 'the beginning of the end... the most heinous of crimes... the deadliest of sins... the greatest violation of all time'. In fact, it's misleading to place the blame on all of 'humanity'. Looking at emissions, for instance, the richest nations, comprising about 20 percent of the global population, are responsible for releasing about 70 percent of the greenhouse gases currently in the atmosphere. An economic system with a growth imperative at its heart, bound up with a value system that worships consumption and greed, is incompatible with the long-term survival of our species. In our highly indoctrinated society, it seems that people are more ready to accept the end of the world than question capitalism. I'm not religious, but if anything is sacred, worthy of our worship and protection, it is the soil and forests, the oceans and the air that sustain us all — the source of all our freedom.

'Gracias a La Vida' by Violeta Parra
With all its imperfections, injustices, and struggles, it's essential to remain connected to the beauty of life. To lose touch with the beauty in ourselves, each other and the natural world is to succumb to life's oppressive forces and risk cultivating cynicism and bitterness where once we nurtured dreams and hope. Sung in the haunting voice of Violete Parra, the lyrics of this song articulate a deep appreciation of being alive, of experiencing, feeling, and creating. The last lines of the song express the sense of interconnectedness I try to explore in the book: a sense that emerges when we see our identities as products of forces beyond our control and understand that who we are depends on who everyone else is. 'Thanks to life, which has given me so much. It gave me laughter and it gave me longing. With them I distinguish happiness and pain—The two materials from which my songs are formed, And your song, as well, which is the same song. And everyone's song, which is my very song.'


Raoul Martinez and Creating Freedom: The Lottery of Birth, the Illusion of Consent, and the Fight for Our Future links:

the book's website

Kirkus Reviews review

Guardian profile of the author
Little Atoms interview with the author
TEDx talk by the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

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

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

Shorties (Books To Help You Fight the Power, Ranking Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs, and more)

Orlando Weekly recommended books to help you "fight the power."


Paste ranked every song on Magnetic Fields' 69 Love Songs album.


NYLON interviewed poet Morgan Parker.


Stream a new song by Hoops.


The New Republic on Norman Mailer's friendship with convicted murderer Jack Henry Abbott.


Stream a new Molly Nilsson song.


The Los Angeles Review of Books interviewed poet Chris Santiago.


Yumi Zouma covered "She's Electric" by Oasis.


Book Riot recommended February's best small press books.


Stream a new Arbouretum song.


Literary Hub featured a conversation between authors Emma Donoghue and Laird Hunt.


Rubblebucket visited World Cafe for an interview and live performance.


Signature recommended books that imagine the United States at war with itself.


Stream a new Passion Pit song.


The Rumpus interviewed author Mila Jaroniec.


The Guardian listed 10 of the best Britpop songs.


Book Riot recommended horror story collections written by women.


PopMatters interviewed Jamie Stewart of Xiu Xiu.


The Los Angeles Times profiled the new literary magazine Sublevel.


Philly Voice interviewed singer-songwriter Craig Finn.


Elan Mastai talked to Paste about his debut novel All Our Wrong Todays.


Ryan Adams talked to Drowned in Sound about his new album Prisoner.

Adams also played DJ at All Songs Considered.


Electric Literature and Literary Hub interviewed author George Saunders.


Stream a new Los Campesinos! song.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

I'm Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen by Sylvie Simmons
In Gratitude by Jenny Diski
Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton
Nashville Chrome by Rick Bass
Our Noise: The Story of Merge Records, the Indie Label That Got Big and Stayed Small
A Replacement Life by Boris Fishman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

The Master by Colm Toibin
Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists
Essential and Interesting Year-End 2016 Music Lists

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

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

February 14, 2017

Book Notes - Shanthi Sekaran "Lucky Boy"

Lucky Boy

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.

Shanthi Sekaran's novel Lucky Boy is both engrossing and timely.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book:

"With wit, empathy and a page-turning plot, the novel stirs ethical questions in the reader that the author rightly refuses to answer. Shanthi Sekaran has written a tender, artful story of the bravery of loving in the face of certain grief."


In her own words, here is Shanthi Sekaran's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Lucky Boy:



Music helps me understand what I'm feeling and seeing. It deepens my connection to the places I go. Sometimes, it allows me to shape my surroundings into what I want them to be. When I walk through San Francisco's financial district, for instance, I put my headphones in and listen to Rufus Wainwright sing "Hallelujah" and the people around me turn from techies and traders and vagrants into a species of urban angel, each a bearer of love and sorrow and memory. I've been thinking of Lucky Boy's soundtrack for years now. I started designing it long before I finished the book. So I thought I had it all figured out. But putting this list together for Largehearted Boy, I started to understand even more about the novel I'd written. I started to see emotional layers I hadn't named before. There's a lot of melancholy in this soundtrack, a lot of longing and some regret. There's also joy and ferocity and the rhythm of trains.

"Bright Whites" by Kishi Bashi

In the first chapter of Lucky Boy, Kavya and Rishi Reddy find themselves at their friend Preeti's wedding. "Bright Whites" opens with a chorus in Japanese, which might seem incongruous with an Indian wedding, but we're in California, where cultures and languages couple and uncouple without a second thought. Since I don't know Japanese, what I hear in these opening bars are a joyous bird call. I see the opening chorus playing over an ultra-bright suburban expanse of lawn, the faces and bodies of wedding guests blurred in the sunlight, sun spots staining the camera lens. I see a heavy gold choker over an elegant neck, a head thrown back with laughter, a glass of champagne held aloft. Translated into English (on Reddit), these opening lines say "It's after all/ it's useless after all/ I can't stop, I can't stop although it's useless after all/ I can't bear, I can't bear/ I can't bear although it's useless after all." The verses then move into English, braiding melancholy with melodic joy. When I was deciding on a title for my novel, I very nearly used a phrase from this song. Lucky Boy was almost called You and Me at the Edge of the World.

"Mundian To Bach Ke" by Panjabi MC

I've chosen this for a post-ceremony scene at Preeti and Vikram's wedding, because this song plays at every. single. Indian. wedding. During the wedding reception, Kavya sits apart from the dancing, feeling like an outsider among people she's known all her life. She can hear and feel the dance floor, but she can't bring herself to join it. The lyrics themselves I find a little problematic; the song's title translates to "Beware of the Boys" and its first lines warn:

Keep your face down and hide it with a scarf
Don't just give your love to anyone, beware of the boys
You've only just grown up, beware of the boys.

But like I said: every Indian wedding. Ever.

"Boom Skit" by M.I.A.

This song starts off with a soft, rhythmic intro, the "Jum jum jum" borrowed from popular Hindi music. I hear these opening bars and see Kavya cycling up a Berkeley hill, the percussive push of her feet on pedals, the steady thrust of her calves. The vocals kick off with a virtual reply to "Mundian To Bach Ke". Then they move on to address a wider audience, specifically those who'd prefer that M.I.A. "keep her face down":

Brown gal, brown gal, turn your shit down

You know America don't wanna hear your sound

Boom boom jungle music, go back to India

With your crazy shit, you're bumming up the area

Immigrants often find themselves apologizing for their noise, for their difference, for the space they occupy. M.I.A. is not one to apologize. Neither is Kavya. She is not one to turn her shit down.

"Diablo Rojo" by Rodrigo y Gabriela

This song starts out with a breathless thrum—not from drums, but from the guitarists' hands. Rodrigo and Gabriela do all their own percussion by slapping the wood of their guitars. It's fascinating to watch. The song's percussion dominates its melody. Its percussion is its pulse, and the melody that rises above it is a sort of story. I hear this song and I see La Bestia, the largest and most dangerous freight train in Mexico, snaking up the countryside. "Diablo Rojo" finds Soli and Checo and their gang on top of La Bestia, moving up through the Mexican countryside, the wind incessant, the tracks grinding beneath them. I hear this song and I feel what Soli felt: "the demonic rumble of the train below, the rush of the valley speeding northward." But I also feel the song's joy, its sense of freedom. Soli was in terrible danger on this journey, but she was also on an adventure.

"Palmitos Park" by El Guincho

This song is all about fun. I see it playing the first night that Soli spends with Checo. The track was recorded live, and you can hear the audience's whoops and whistles. These make me think of the trackside little town where the group finds itself that first night, with outdoor restaurants where their littlest member, Pepe, begs for leftovers. I see it playing, also, when Soli and Checo steal a jug of wine and run with it back to their encampment. This night was, perhaps, the highlight of Soli's journey north. It was a night that enabled her to finally feel young and free and safe.


"This Will Be Our Year" by The Zombies

This is a song of love, of promise, of a couple who have come a long way to find hope on the horizon. I see this as Rishi and Kavya's song, and as Soli and Ignacio's song. It could play when Ignacio is born, and again when Kavya and Rishi await his arrival, gazing out the kitchen window, wholly unaware of how their lives are about to change.

"Heaven" by Beyonce

When I hear this song, I see an overhead shot of Kavya, Rishi and Ignacio curled up in bed together, and I think of this passage from Lucky Boy:

Sometimes Kavya caught herself watching her husband and her son as if they were a film, a fleeting series of rapidly flipping stills that one day would flip into silence and darkness. She tried to catch these moments before they flipped away. Remember this, she'd tell herself, when she and Rishi and Iggy lay in bed together on a weekday morning, all of them a little too warm, a little too lazy to get up and start their day.

The final refrain, "Heaven couldn't wait for you, so go on, go home", speaks of the idea that love does not equate to ownership, an idea that Rishi and Kavya continually push away. The outro to the song is the "Our Father" prayer recited in Spanish, an echo of the scene when (I won't give away why) Soli whispers the prayer, "La Salve".

"These Hands" by Hhymn

It took me a long time to figure out how Rishi felt about his foster son, Ignacio. When I decided that Rishi would come to love him, I had to figure how that love would grow, what would propel it forward. The great thing about a song is that it can leap over all that writerly agonizing and explain an emotion in the space of three minutes and eighteen seconds. Rishi becomes a father in a very physical way—carrying Ignacio on his shoulders down a Berkeley sidewalk, worrying about the rasp in the boy's chest, fitting him for a gas mask. It's fitting, then, that "These Hands" is about attachment and memory as expressed through the body. It's a song filled with longing. It's also by my friend Simon's band. The last time I saw it played live was in a bar in Nottingham. I've loved this song for years. It moves me to tears sometimes.

"Bird on a Wire" by Leonard Cohen

I see this song playing during Rishi's trip to Mexico. I've specifically chosen the version with Leonard Cohen himself on vocals, and not a cover. In this section of the book, Rishi tries to reconcile desire with morality, ambition with probability. The characters in Lucky Boy are forever wrangling with want—wanting too much or too little, wanting what they can't have. I think specifically of this moment in the song:

I saw a beggar leaning on his wooden crutch

He said to me, "you must not ask for so much"

And a pretty woman leaning in her darkened door

She cried to me, "hey, why not ask for more?"

This is a song of regret, of love and apology. Cohen's voice is nasal and crackly, and the rendition is painfully slow, the words virtually leaking from his mouth. He sounds like he hasn't slept in a very long time. By the time he gets to Mexico, Rishi feels a lot like Cohen sounds.

"At the Bottom of Everything" by Bright Eyes

In my imagination, this song begins playing over the final few seconds of my movie. I'd skip the spoken intro and start at 1:37 with "1-2-1-2-3-4". The credits roll, and we zoom out from the bustle of Mexico City, panning over mountains, over deserts, and settling on a yellow train, churning up through the countryside. This is the first song I decided would be on my Lucky Boy soundtrack. This was five years ago, before I'd even finished my first draft. I tried to choose the verse from this song that most aptly evokes Lucky Boy's themes, but every verse is the best verse. They all say something to or about my book. I settled on the one below, because it speaks to idealism, to blind love, to plunging into the unknown. But really, just listen to the whole song:

We must hang up in the belfry

Where the bats and moonlight laugh

We must stare into a crystal ball

And only see the past

And into the caverns of tomorrow

With just our flashlights and our love

We must plunge, we must plunge, we must plunge

This movie would begin with a train and end with a train. Its middle would be composed of forward motion, plunging and pushing into the unknown and into foolish desire. I can't listen to this song and not see a train, Soli and Checo on top of a train, Rishi charging up a hillside, manic with ambition, or Kavya pushing Iggy on a swing, drunk with hope. Finally, I see myself in a dark movie theater, listening to the final bars of this song and clasping someone's hand. My film ends and the credits roll and I'm left with the comforting dark.


Shanthi Sekaran and Lucky Boy links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus Reviews review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review

All Things Considered interview wit the author
Berkeleyside profile of the author
Capital Public Radio interview with the author
DIY MFA interview with the author
Expat Parent interview with the author
Get Lit interview with the author
The Grotto interview with the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

List of Online "Best Books of 2016" Lists

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

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

Book Notes - David A. Ensminger "Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, IL, 1973-2005"

Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, IL, 1973-2005

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.

David A. Ensminger's Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, IL, 1973-2005 melds musical and personal history in this fascinating book.

Third Coast Review wrote of the book:

". . . .while his story may mostly take place in this distant exurb of Chicago, its communal tales and universal sound will resonate with everyone."


In his own words, here is David A. Ensminger's Book Notes music playlist for his book Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, IL, 1973-2005:



Writing Out of the Basement partly stemmed from my need to eulogize those I have lost on the punk path over the years -- the local kids in the black hole. Punk icons like Green Day bask in the limelight of crammed stadiums, but many people have been relegated to the dustbins. Also, I feel people in the Midwest have a different, all-encompassing relationship to music, likely due to prolonged, battering winters that sweep across the flatlands and sideswipe well-worn homes. When one has nothing but hours on end, playing LPs, making homemade cassettes, and smashing a drum kit are not just distracting pastimes, they are a lifeline – a coping mechanism and way of enduring the world.

I don't think a single day slips by me without some kind of soundtrack. Music remains so essential. Think about it. One's heart and circulatory system have rhythm, one's gait and manner of walking have rhythm, one's speech and modes of talking have rhythm, hopefully one's sexual adventures have rhythm (imagine sex without rhythm, how inconvenient and weird), and typing on this very keyboard has rhythm. Hence, when I sketched out the book in my mind, it flowed with music, right from the get-go, forming a hidden sonic territory that fit like a glove atop the narrative. Here are some samples below.


"1969" by the Stooges
When I first began to play music at home, I practiced a sense of "making do" with material on-hand -- now known more popularly as the backbone of Do-It-Yourself culture. I bought one cheap snare drum down the street from a wiry-haired, weed-inhaling, Dungeons and Dragons playing teenager, then rigged up pots and pans alongside it with some empty plastic gallon drums from the local potato chip factory. This was my … drum set. Eventually, my father drove me north to the verdant southern rim of Wisconsin where he took me to a farmhouse with a small wooden jazz kit from the 1940s sitting in an idle room. He bought it, and I returned home, brimming with confidence. First, I attempted "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" by Iron Butterfly, but I soon felt more in sync with "1969" by the Stooges, which me sister routinely played. That wild-ass, distorted-beyond-belief, chanting and clattering psych-punk song became the first tune I could play beginning-to-end in front of my bewildered mother.

"He's a Whore" by Cheap Trick
When I was a boy, these boys were local heroes -- the band name was embossed on the back of black jackets everywhere, their music always blasting from jukeboxes blinking in otherwise damp basements. They released a million songs, it seemed like, that highlighted Bun E. Carlos as the human metronome – so firm and fierce on drums; Tom Petersson as the handsome, swashbuckling bassist; Robin Zander as the crystalline-voiced commodore; and Rick Nielsen as the chameleon. He wore myriad gauche sweaters, exulted in facial contortions beyond belief, and swooped his arms in a windmill, like Pete Townshend of the Who. Punks loved them aplenty, including the singers of Negative Approach, Adolescents, and more. Cheap Trick were the hidden link between power-pop's effusive musicality and bold punk gumption, as evidenced in this dark tune that Big Black lethally covered.

"Home of the Brave" by Naked Raygun
Naked Raygun were tribal elders from Chicago that finally garnered some belated attention in 2015 by opening for Foo Fighters at humongous Soldier's Field. They began as wonky, off-kilter, experimental punkers welcomed by the students at the Art Institute of Chicago, attended by my brother, but quickly morphed into a powder keg of tuneful, anthemic, chainsaw-guitar punk along the lines of the Buzzcocks, Chelsea, and Stiff Little Fingers, bands they deeply admired. I once traveled to see them in Dekalb, IL (separated from Rockford by fields where German POWs used to harvest produce for canneries during the summers of late World War II). Though 300 people teemed into the rented hall to see the band, I snuck behind one of the PA stacks, where I stood alone and watched the band demonstrate their uncanny, prolific knack for catchy, spirited music. Soon, in my vain attempt to look like the singer Jeff Pezzati, I began wearing sweaters and combat boots. Punker-than-thou kids from rougher neighborhoods threw soda cans at me in the high school halls. I learned punk is not one big happy family, yet soon I was in a cover band, drumming on Misfits cover songs with the same lads. "Home of the Brave" is a powerful, succinct tale of young people leaving for better places and time – the kind of choice I made when leaving Rockford to venture to New Mexico in 1993. Musically, it embodies their classic guitar chops, Pezzati's whooping yowls, and Eric Spicer's pummeling drums effortlessly syncopated in brief bursts. It still leaves me breathless.

"Takin' a Ride" by the Replacements
For anybody remotely Midwestern, the Replacements are one of the uber-punk bands of the 1980s. They stuck one foot in trammeled, garage rock detritus, the other in a kind of powerful roots music that would not fully raise its head until the middle of their botched "career." Their 1981 album Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash is a loud volley of brash teenage snot-smeared punk ("I'm A Customer" "I Hate Music" "Rattlesnake") mixed with indelibly earnest adult visions ("Johnny's Gonna Die" "Kick Your Door Down" ‘"Raised in the City") that act as mini-cinemas of life in the crowded solitudes of the north. I was not able to see them life until they played a vintage, ornate theatre in Rockford during the late 1980s, when their career had begun to plateau and energy wane. I desperately wanted to hear some of their freshman fare, so I kept yelling "Otto" to their puzzled bass player Tommy. Of course, they ignored my pleas. So, after a handful of exhausting minutes, I screamed "Alex Chilton." One song later, bassist Tommy winked at me, and they burst out with that tune, about a renegade rocker from Memphis. But this opening salvo from their first album still makes me feel déjà vu for the Midwest.

"Rock the Casbah" The Clash
I was a HUGE fan of the Clash, a young boy who stayed up beyond curfew to watch them on the Concert for Kampuchea and then wept slightly, because the fluid reggae of "Armagideon Time" was not the slice of punk rancor I expected. For years, I sat in my sister's pink bedroom, whose walls were adorned with posters of David Bowie and Rachel Sweet, with my headphones plugged into her stereo, belting out Psychedelic Furs, 999, Iggy Pop, and the Clash. Later, circa 1989/90, when the Clash had become, um, passé, I rediscovered the Combat Rock album's mystique when fleshing out this tune with my pals Erik and Weasel (who went on to form the free-jazz punk wonkers The Flying Luttenbachers), which we cut live to tape in my parent's basement while forging some of our own weird ska-punk ventures ala the Offs. This song seems timely as ever, even more potent, given repercussions of the Arab Spring. I still believe that rock'n'roll can be the backbone of revolution, and the shareef still won't like it.

"Name In Mind" by Soulside
The Washington D.C. scene, the likes of Government Issue, Dag Nasty, Kingface, Shudder to Think, and Soulside, all of whom gigged in Rockford, made a huge impact on sections of the underground music scene. A few of Rockford's most notable kids actually zoomed out to the East Coast to experience the Dischord Records phenomena first-hand, as if on a pilgrimage. Before the Soulside gig, the band landed at the house of my band's (Insight) singer, Chris Furney. We promptly let them take over the back garage, our practice space, where they churned through some new material destined to blossom on their Soon Come Happy album. I sat on the floor for almost an entire hour watching each of them tentatively tackle grooves until they grew restless and jumped over to the half pipe sitting in the adjacent neighbor's backyard for some skateboard kicks. Just last year, I sat on a panel with Soulside singer Bobby Sullivan at the Woody Guthrie Center; later that night, a coterie of us ended up a local dive bar, where a young punk DJ tossed this tune on his spinning record player. Though Sullivan had sequestered himself on the back patio, I excitedly grabbed him, and yanked him to the dance floor, where he lip-synced the whole song, never missing a portion, smiling like Buddha, just a block away from where the Sex Pistols played in 1978. It was a surreal and sublime moment.

"Power to the Amplifier" by Trenchmouth
The band would have remained terribly obscure had not their nimble, explosive drummer Fred Armisen gone on to become a millennial superstar whose exploits on Saturday Night Live! and on the hipster program Portlandia have become memes ("Put a bird on it!"). Plus, singer Damon Locks, a pioneer of black punk in the heartland, is also an infectiously talented artist who made the album art for Relationship of Command by At the Drive-In. Nothing really compares to the tumult unleashed by the crew—dollops of Third World rhythms, jazz slanted akimbo, punk ferocity, and tailor-made abstract poesy. They became part of the regular borderline circuit, gigging in the Rockford/Beloit area for years when not spreading themselves nationally. Like Fishbone and Mars Volta, they attracted diverse listeners, not just the usual craven and carved-up punks. Though I saw them in New Mexico and other locales, nothing can replace those moments caught freeze frame in time, when they shredded the Rockford night with their unique, tumultuous tunes that landed somewhere between the Contortions and Beefeater, forcing everyone to re-think the parameters of punk.

"Mannequin" by Wire
Wire had a profound impact on punk that criss-crosses the coasts: in D.C., Minor Threat and Dag Nasty vehemently covered "12XU" (a tune that that became a template for hardcore punk by accident) and Second Wind covered "Mr. Suit," while on the West Coast bands like the Minutemen re-purposed Wire's sense of urgency, no frills (no solos, no bullshit) truncated tunes, and added L.A. punk trauma, roots rock fervor, and jazzy spiels. In fIREHOSE, former Minuteman bass player Mike Watt paid homage by covering "Mannequin." I choose it here because I played in a band called Pink Flag (the name of Wire's debut LP in 1977), which did not survive long, but covered the entire album, tune by tune. Singing for the unit was Paul Kissick of PineWood Box, one of my idols. The first "audience" experience I ever played was a basement gig by the river, where I stepped behind the drumset to play "Nervous Breakdown" by Black Flag with some of the band. Even though I was no more than 14 or so, they welcomed me to the fray, and I have been on the path ever since. Kissick was brutally killed in a bizarre incident, but his kindness, humor, poetics, and gusto stay with me. I can still hear his faux British accent as he blurted out this tune when we opened up for a heavy metal band that stared at us as if we were foreign objects.

"Skate" by PineWood Box
Kissick led previous bands like the Zero-Types, Near Mrs., and Juicy Fiancé, but for me PineWood remains his crowning achievement. At the helm, he exuded intoxicating flair and became a legend because he rejected defeatism, avoided rock clichés (he was never a cranky asshole), and was always restless. Their early tunes combined Southern California-slanted surf punk with trembling first stage Cure as well as the shattering guitar tones of 1970's Dead Boys. Later, though, they channeled Bauhaus, 45 Grave, and Sisters of Mercy. However, the nervy, agitated "Skate" narrates the skateboard death-trip of Tommy by eventually unfurling Cramps-like rockabilly romp. Like bands soaking up the heady, mishmash, fluid years of 1974-1978, PineWood Box pulled from a variety of antecedents, bolted together different aesthetics and sounds, and squashed the borders of genres. They seemed to change their music whenever the mood, impetus, or desire felt right. This puts them in the vein of the Clash, Buzzcocks, Wire, Siouxsie and the Banshees, and more. Plus, the band's modus operandi -- campy B movie, monster matinee movie aesthetics – was unforgettable, including publicity photos atop graves or flyers awash in images of menacing ghouls in top hats or cobwebbed nocturnal cityscapes. They were rogue rockers.

"Groupthink" by War on the Saints
By and large, War on the Saints were local heroes too that stepped aside from the usual punk performance templates and boxed-in categories. At first, they were known as We Hate Cake and led by the cantankerous street poet Chris "Buzzsaw" Gaffney (RIP), who was as much Charles Bukowski as he was a rock'n'roll form of decontrol shaped by the history of Detroit rock city. Then Vince Jumapao took over, and the band mutated from straight-ahead garage rockers to War on the Saints, well, ahead of its time and difficult to stamp. They mixed masterly drums, exotic guitars, tough bass, challenging tempos, and vocals reminiscent of Die Kreuzen and Kingface into a unique amalgam. Later on, people might have said, hmm, this doesn't seem far removed from Squirrel Bait or the first album by Soundgarden, but at the time it definitely felt powerful, evocative, and otherworldy. Even stranger, their first EP was released on Positive Force Records, known for its output of 7 Seconds, Verbal Assault, and Youth of Today material. Needless to say, the band continued to find appreciation in Germany and elsewhere, but locally had trouble staying afloat. Still, their resilience, spirit, and approach made a terrific impression on me, even today.


David A. Ensminger and Out of the Basement: From Cheap Trick to DIY Punk in Rockford, IL, 1973-2005 links:

Dagger Zine review
Razorcake review
Third Coast Review review

Indie Guides interview with the author


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