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June 14, 2007

Note Books - Ryan Walsh (Hallelujah the Hills)

The Note Books series features musicians discuss their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.

Hallelujah the Hills released their debut full-length, Collective Psychosis Begone, on June 5th on Misra Records, and the album's lo-fi pop sensibility has given it a permanent spot in my car's CD changer ever since.

Frontman Ryan Walsh is no stranger to Largehearted Boy, having been interviewed by author Jami Attenberg for the site as well as judging a "bands named after songs" contest.

In his own words, here is Ryan Walsh's Note Books entry:

Consider The Lobster - David Foster Wallace. I love a lot of DFW's fiction but when the man lays down the non-fiction in essay format each word is like a tiny little magnet (for the purposes of this simile please assume my eyes/brain are made of metal). The man knows how to unpack an issue/subject/argument like no one else and refuses to spoon feed you any conclusions either. Topics covered in this collection: talk radio, The Maine Lobster Festival, the guaranteed let-down of sports autobiographies, the AVN awards (aka the Oscars of the porn industry), the politics of grammar usage, 9/11, and McCain's 2000 election campaign. Like an all-night conversation with your most well-informed friend you come out of this book feeling like you've considered every angle of a multitude of subjects and you've done so with a sense of humor and dignity. The audio book version of this collection surely saved the band's lives one drive back from a New York show in which no one up front could even think about sleeping as long as Wallace kept on delivering the point-counter-point-slam-dunks. Wallace's commencement address from two years ago can be read here.

Lynch On Lynch - edited by Chris Rodley. I read this every couple of years and it never fails to re-energize me. Rodley has a great rapport with Lynch and the conversation strikes me as open, honest, and covers all the bases. Lynch's ideas about creativity are the most inclusive, encouraging statements you'll find coming out of the mouth of anyone who's ever been nominated for an Oscar. Besides that, here's a little known fact: he's freaking hilarious. Like a completely earnest friend who cracks you up with deadpan delivery of everyday stories Lynch gets the gut chuckles rolling every couple of pages with his matter of fact retelling of the extremely odd stories that populate his past. Consider his retelling of a friend named Judy and her bedroom seclusion after the Kennedy assassination: "And everybody saw Jack Ruby kill Oswald. It was called 'Four Dark Days' and ironically Judy was in her darkened bedroom for those four days, so it was really dark for her!"

All the Names - Jose Saramago - Picture a gigantic warehouse where there's a file for every living and deceased person. Picture a man afraid of heights whose job is to climb tall ladders and retrieve files from the hall of the living and transfer them to the hall of the dead. Picture the man accidentally becoming obsessed with a random woman's file and deciding he has to find her. Saramago's book unfolds from there in the most beautiful, engaging, simple way. Few books have affected me as profoundly as this one. The book boiled down to a simple Zen-like puzzle: "You know the name you were given, but you do not know the name you have."

Banvard's Folly - Paul Collins - You know how there's that one genius you grew up with that spends his whole life being totally amazing but due to some stroke of bad luck or fatal flaw no one outside of a 5 mile radius ever, ever learns about him/her? Banvard's Folly gives you hope that no one's achievements, no matter how small, are ever completely lost. Collins transforms himself into an unstoppable historical detective and unearths "thirteen tales of people who didn't change the world." From an artist who creates a moving painting of the Mississippi River to the village idiot who made convincing Shakespeare forgeries, Collins' coverage is almost unbelievably entertaining and funny. In the end all of these 13 people fail, or are thwarted, and you can almost feel the relief of old ghosts as they're finally given their proper due in this book.

Woody Guthrie : A Life - Ed Klein. Guthrie did a whole lot more than write "This Land Is Your Land" and this book doesn't shy away from any of it. Klein ends the book by refusing to make the observation that Guthrie's life seems to serve as a living metaphor for the development of the United States during the 20th century after spitting out 400 pages of contrary evidence. It's the kind of story that makes you feel bad for the man's art itself as nothing can live up to the actual life that framed its creation! This book also made me realize that Woody was possibly, once, on the street where I grew up, as implied in Klein's description of Woody's Sacco & Vanzetti album research trip to Boston (I grew up a few houses down from the jail in Dedham , MA where they were wrongly imprisoned for all those years). After reading this book I went to the Woody Guthrie archives in Manhattan, slapped on some white gloves, and plowed through his diaries around that time but couldn't find any evidence whether he been there or not. But to hear one of my heroes sing ("we're stuck here in this dark, Dedham jail") about the place I grew up was thrill enough.

Actual Air - David Berman - This book of poetry is the most convincing, believable alternate-Earth world you'll be able to wholly dive into outside of the fantasy novel genre. If you're already resisting the idea of reading this because of the words poetry or fantasy genre above please ignore them because they are not necessarily indicators of what lies between the covers here. I've read the poets which critics have pointed to as orginators of this style of writing but, in my opinion, David's voice separates itself from the pack in a completely original manner. Like the title implies, the book deals with things that simultaneously appear to be abstract and concrete at the same time. From the poem entitled "World: Series" Berman writes, "and I can't remember if I read or dreamed about them-- / a sect on the Mayflower called the Strangers-- / four or five adults who gathered in the hold / and spoke to no one through the three month passage. / When the boats landed on the beach / they walked into the North American forest / and were never seen again." Berman can make you second guess your notions of things as large as the discovery of North America to the smallest things, like what it feels like to reside within the sixty seconds known as 5:30 PM.

I Am Alive And You Are Dead - Emmanuel Carrere - Some people's life story manifests itself out in the physical world (like the never-ending rambling of Woody Guthrie) and some people go on the wildest adventures without ever leaving their apartment. Science fiction author Philip K Dick did it all from his armchair! Dick's favorite topics to ponder (free will, the existence of god, what it means to be human) sound as if they belong in a graduate philosophy class but he did his best to bring it to the masses with piles and piles of science fiction novels. Then, on February 20th 1974, a pharmacy employee delivered some medicine to the Dick household and all hell broke loose. Did the empire ever end? I think PKD would be happy if he knew people were, at least, still asking that question because of his experiences.

Ryan Walsh and Hallelujah the Hills links:

Hallelujah the Hills' website

Jami Attenberg's interview with Ryan Walsh at Largehearted Boy

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)