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April 29, 2010

Book Notes - Kevin Sampsell ("A Common Pornography")

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

Kevin Sampsell's short story collection Creamy Bullets impressed me, but his memoir A Common Pornography blew me away with the unflinching and often heartbreaking honest portrayal of his life.

The Faster Times wrote of the book:

"His memories of growing up in the late 70’s into the 80’s are written with such an astute emotional clarity that they translate seamlessly into our current era. The stories he tells are sometimes shocking, sometimes sad, and at other times celebratory, pointing out the little bright spots that we tend to forget about as life beats us down. Throughout each of the 256 pages of this book, you find that Sampsell has the subtle stroke of a master storyteller who doesn’t need to bother with authorly tricks; he is just that good."

In his own words, here is Kevin Sampsell's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, A Common Pornography:

I started reading I Remember by Joe Brainard around the time I was finishing up my memoir, A Common Pornography. In many ways, Brainard's 1970 book reminded me of my own approach to memoir. I was trying to write short, simple chapters that read like snapshots while Brainard went an even more minimalist route, opting to make his book a long list of things he remembers from his life. It ranges from the odd (a memory about a "cat lady") to the mundane ("I remember cold turkey sandwiches.") and I liked how those combined to paint a complete portrait.

I remember going through my manuscript right after that, making sure I didn't use the phrase "I remember" too much in it, fearing that I might sound like Brainard's too much. (Unintentional example: I just started that paragraph with "I remember")

A couple of months ago, I went and spoke to a writing class about memoir and I asked each student to make a list of their own I Remembers. I've found this to be an easy and effective way to get people's ideas, thoughts, and memories on paper. Stuff in their heads that they think may be uninteresting to others. Of course, some people might think making such a list is shamelessly nostalgic, or worse, it may show the writer's age. You could also argue that an I Remember is only interesting after a certain age (I'm 43).

There are several mentions of music in my book. I don't think you could write a personal memoir without mentions of music—songs, albums, and singers just automatically latch on to memories by default. From secretly watching a Kiss concert on HBO to recording rap songs in high school, I had a lot of fun writing about music from my life. But there's so much more. What follows are some other music-based memories ala Joe Brainard style…

I remember when "Sire Duke" by Stevie Wonder was the #1 song for an impressive seven weeks in a row.

I remember the Jackson 5 cartoon on Saturday mornings.

I remember The Bay City Rollers on the Mike Douglas show and the way the girls screamed like they were the Beatles.

I remember KC and the Sunshine Band on the Merv Griffin show.

I remember getting excited when "Undercover Angel" would come on the radio when my mom was in the car because she liked that song too.

I remember listening to "King Tut" by Steve Martin and doing the dance in my friend's basement.

I remember listening to Supertramp's Breakfast in America on 8-Track tape in my brother's car.

I remember when 8-Track tapes would sometimes break songs into two parts because it had to fit everything on four segments.

I remember seeing Adam and the Ants on American Bandstand and having my mind a little blown that there were two drummers.

I remember being really conflicted about Adam Ant's makeup and thinking it was over the top.

I remember that Marie Osmond was "a little bit country" and Donny was "a little bit rock and roll."

I remember playing basketball and listening to rap cassettes on boom boxes.

I remember being fascinated and scared by "Satanic" bands.

I remember watching Blue Oyster Cult's video "Burning For You" and thinking it was cool.

I remember I decided that the J. Geils Band was "my 3rd favorite band" when Freeze Frame came out.

I remember Aldo Nova and his guitar shooting a laser through a wall.

I remember having a crush on a girl in 10th grade who loved Duran Duran. She drove a pink Carmengia, had braces, and danced really cute.

I remember we had dances in middle school and they were still called sock hops.

I remember a cover band playing a free concert during an assembly at my middle school and then giving out advertisements for their concert that night at the fairground.

I remember they played Chic's "Le Freak" and the girls actually sang along.

I remember the first Prince video I saw was for "Controversy" on Night Flight.

I remember staying up late to watch Night Flight on the USA network.

I remember watching Peter Ivers host New Wave Theater.

I remember buying twelve-inch singles by Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow and Ice-T and The Fat Boys.

I remember my mom listening to Nat King Cole and Louis Armstrong.

I remember really liking that Four Seasons song, "December 1963 (Oh, What a Night)."

I remember laying on the ground and putting the stereo speakers by my ears and listening to The Cars' Candy-O album.

I remember sitting by myself and listening to all the love songs by The Commodores and Peabo Bryson and James Ingram and the idyllic ballad "Perfect Combination" by Johnny Gill and Stacy Lattisaw.

I remember thinking that Lee Greenwood's "God Bless the USA" was pretty schmaltzy and gross in some way.

I remember the song "Pac-Man Fever" about the video game.

I remember that serious episode of WKRP in Cincinnati when a bunch of people were killed in a stampede at a Who concert.

I remember wearing a homemade Devo shirt to school.

I remember taking guitar lessons and trying to learn the song, "The Joker" by the Steve Miller Band. I quit after a month.

I remember playing the "Fly Like An Eagle" 45 over and over.

I remember when 45s were 99 cents and albums were $5.99.

I remember the first album I bought with my own money was Little Queen by Heart.

I remember the first album I felt disappointment in was The Cars' Heartbeat City.

I remember my best friend liking The Smiths and thinking that was weird because no one else liked them.

I remember when I was on the bus with the high school basketball team (I was the equipment manager) and someone on the team, the coach's son, said he thought the Dead Kennedys sucked because the name was offensive.

I remember UB40 and Level 42.

I remember staying up late to see the show 120 Minutes on MTV.

I remember having a secret crush on VJ Martha Quinn just like everyone else.

I remember when VH-1 mostly played boring "adult contemporary" videos. It was like MTV for your parents.

I remember the dance show, Club MTV (later The Grind), which was like a slightly less wholesome version of American Bandstand.

I remember thinking that The Thompson Twins were the best band in the world for a while.

I remember having two different DJ names for when I was on the Top 40 station (Kevin Anderson) and the country classic station (Kevin Patrick).

I remember when Madonna's "Justify My Love" video came out and I took a VHS promo of it from the station manager.

I remember recording and watching (and pausing) a lot of Madonna videos.

I remember playing Patty Loveless songs on the radio and liking it.

I remember becoming good friends with a headbanger in Spokane who secretly loved The Cure.

I remember going out with a girl because she liked Big Black.

I remember first liking ‘Til Tuesday because I had a crush on Aimee Mann.

I remember feeling like Welcome Home by ‘Til Tuesday was the saddest album ever.

I remember thinking Idlewild by Everything But the Girl was the saddest album ever.

I remember thinking "Superstar" by Luther Vandross was the saddest song ever.

I remember going out with a girl who loved Queen and even had a Queen poster in her room. She claimed to not like any other band.

I remember when someone said you shouldn't put the song "We Will Rock You" on a workout mix tape because the beat is not fast enough to inspire energy.

I remember when people talked about backward messages on albums. If you played "Another One Bites the Dust" backwards it said "It's fun to smoke marijuana."

I remember making mix tapes with liner notes, for all my friends.

I remember seeing Purple Rain several times.

I remember buying everything released by Prince's Paisley Park record label, my favorites being The Family and Jill Jones.

I remember my first gay friend and how much he loved Missing Persons.

I remember going to see Fugazi at a show in Seattle and between bands my friend and I were riding on my scooter and we hit a pedestrian in a crosswalk. I heard my friend shout my name right before we collided with the guy, but luckily no one was hurt.

I remember seeing Beat Happening that same night and feeling like I had discovered something that would change my life.

I remember slam dancing, maybe three or four times in my life. Once at a Black Flag show in Walla Walla.

I remember my friend Andy having dance parties in his house and playing Scritti Politti, Depeche Mode, Tears For Fears, and King.

I remember seeing The Beastie Boys with Run DMC in Seattle. I remember being a Beastie Boy wannabe.

I remember Madonna wannabes.

I remember setting up a show for Nation of Ulysses in Kennewick (at The Hoedown Center) right after their singer was named "Sassiest Boy in America." I remember he had a cast on his hand and he punched the ceiling light out.

I remember buying Pavement's Slanted and Enchanted cassette at a record store in New York during a long road trip.

I remember the fuzzy guitar sound filling my car as I drove by Trump Tower.

I remember hearing PJ Harvey on the radio for the first time. I was driving through Maryland somewhere. "Sheela Na Gig."

I remember seeing The Pixies in Seattle once and then spotting Joey Santiago walking to the hotel after. My friends and I pulled our car over and gave him a ride. When we got there, we saw Black Francis and talked to him a little. Across the street, outside of a nicer hotel, I remember we saw Donny Osmond by his giant tour bus and we yelled over to him. He waved at us and we waved back.

Kevin Sampsell and A Common Pornography links:

the author's website
the authors Wikipedia entry
the author's book tour events
video trailer for the book

Bermudaonion's Weblog review
The Book Lady's Blog review
Bookforum review
Daily Trojan review
Dennis Cooper review
Fanzine review
The Faster Times review
The L Magazine review
Laura Reviews Books review
Minnesota Reads review
The Pacific Northwest Inlander review
PopMatters review
Publishers Weekly review
The Rumpus review
Time Out New York review

Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
Identity Theory profile of the author
jmww interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes music playlist by the author for his short story collection Creamy Bullets
Oregonian profile of the author
Pacific Northwest Inlander profile of the author
Reading Local: Portland interview with the author
Time Out Chicago profile of the author
TNBBC's The Next Best Book Blog interview with the author
Willamette Week profile of the author
Word Riot interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists