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July 24, 2009

Book Notes - Alex Burrett ("My Goat Ate Its Own Legs")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

My Goat Ate Its Own Legs collects 31 delightfully absurd and comicly dark stories by Alex Burrett. These fairy tales for adults are as entertaining a short story collection as I have read all year.

The Independent wrote of the book:

"Burrett's imagination is as fertile as that of Jorge Luis Borges's, and he's more readable, and funnier."

In his own words, here is Alex Burrett's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults:

Tales and Tunes

My Goat Ate Its Own Legs is a collection of tales (for adults). Tales take many forms; folk tales, fairy tales, fables, parables and others. It wasn't until I was invited to write this piece that I realised many songs are tales too.

My journey into the world of storytelling began with a few children's picture books and a thick collection of folk and fairy tales, all placed at the bottom of our rural Welsh family home's bookshelves. In addition to our books, my brother, sister and I had a few kids' records; The Danny Kaye Album and dramatised readings of stories like "The Pied Piper of Hamelin". My tale "The Stone" is a retelling of The Ugly Duckling, but in reverse and without the feathers.

Danny Kaye, The Ugly Duckling

Jumping forwards a few years to my early teens, I find myself at that time with very little interest in music. We had one record player and an old radio in the kitchen that was permanently tuned to speech radio. Eventually teenage music-centric rebellion kicked-in (albeit a lite version) and I bought my first record – Jeff Wayne's "The War of the Worlds." Being completely objective, I can confidently say that Richard Burton has the best storytelling voice in the history of recording (with Orson Welles running a close second).

In My Goat Ate Its Own Legs you'll see that I'm fascinated by humanity. And what better way to see us than through Martian eyes. In "The War of the Worlds," Burton narrates; “Human affairs were being watched from the timeless worlds of space… scrutinized as someone with a microscope studies creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water”. Phil Lynott undoubtedly delivers the best apocalyptic vocals on the album. But the tune that most strongly resonated with my fascination of human endeavour and our failure to manifest our ideals, is sung by David Essex's Artilleryman:

Wayne/Osbourne, "Brave New World"

At the end of "Brave New World" Burton's narrator puts the Artilleryman's vision into perspective, “In the cellar was a tunnel scarcely ten yards long that had taken him a week to dig. I could have dug that much in a day”. Although I'm not a science fiction writer, I've always enjoyed the ability of science fiction to dissect society. In my later teens and early twenties, I was reading Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four alongside sci-fi and superhero comics. Since I'm not a big Bowie fan and "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" is one of my least favourite Carpenter's songs, this is the closest I can get to suggesting a cherished piece of science-fiction related music:

Alien Ant Farm, "Smooth Criminal"

The trouble with pure sci-fi is that it has a geeky image and appeals less to women. So although my "UBP©" and "Anger Management" have sci-fi flavours, tales like "The Burners" and "The Beast of Bethgelart" are set in the chronological flipside of the future. If The Beast in the latter tale emerged from a Welsh mountain forest dragging a downed stag by its broken bloody neck, to a theme tune, it would be this:

Meat Loaf, "Bat out of Hell"

Harper Perennial has subtitled my work "Tales for Adults." Hopefully this will act like an "Adult Content" sticker on a CD. I deal with adult themes, for example obsessive sexual attraction in "What a Fix!." While some authors steer clear of adult themes, songwriters unashamedly explore these motifs – and we wouldn't forgive them if they didn't. Since the list of songwriters who've dealt with desire and attraction in narrative form is endless, here's a favourite:

Prince, "Raspberry Beret"

Having detailed a few of the themes in my work (love, horror, sci-fi, fairy tales), it is fair to say that My Goat Ate Its Own Legs is the literary version of a musical mash-up. I worked for a few years as a post-production sound engineer and consequently have developed huge admiration for a well-executed mash-up. This is my favourite, heavily influenced by the fact that I saw Kylie perform it live on stage at the Brit Awards in 2002 (you really need to watch this on YouTube):

Kylie Minogue, "Can't Get Blue Monday Out Of My Head"

I enjoy mixing styles and genres in my writing, putting modern similes into period tales and using historic iconography in contemporary ones. Of course, music fans have been enjoying this cross-fertilization of the old and the new for decades. My favourite tune at the moment featuring another artist is DJ Ironik's "Tiny Dancer." I love the way the two styles are blended into mellifluous audio lusciousness:

DJ Ironik, "Tiny Dancer (Hold Me Closer) (Feat. Elton John)"

My early disinterest in music has been reversed as I've meandered through life. This last piece of music is one of the latest impactful tunes – a recent release from a band called Animal Kingdom. The lead singer is a friend of mine, but what I love about this piece (in addition to the haunting vocals) is the metaphor of the Tin Man. It brings me full circle back to my thick book of children's tales. Songs, like tales, are condensed narrative forms. And what better focus for a tale than an iconic fairytale character?

Animal Kingdom, "Tin Man"

P.S. Bonus question – what's the additional fairy tale character alluded to in the above song?

Alex Burrett and My Goat Ate Its Own Legs: Tales for Adults links:

excerpt from the book ("The Burners")
video trailer for the book

Beautiful Books review of the UK cover
Flavorwire review
I Read a Short Story Today review
The Independent review
Sunset Over Slawit review
Three Guys One Book review

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks