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August 3, 2011

Book Notes - Francis Levy ("Seven Days in Rio")

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

Francis Levy's Seven Days in Rio is an impressive satirical comedy that tackles themes of sex and psychoanalysis and had me laughing aloud from the first page to the last. After reading this novel, I can see why the Village Voice has previously called the author "Nicholson Baker and Mary Gaitskill's French-kissing cousin."

The New York Journal of Books wrote of the book:

"This ironic and absurdist highbrow little sex novel is a hoot. . . . Mr. Levy’s humor is dryer than Monty Python’s but no less funny, and he combines high and low culture in a particularly appealing way."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes (minus Al Stewart's I Do Love You" and Tom Waits' "Missing You"). If you don't have Spotify yet, request an invitation.

In his own words, here is Francis Levy's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Seven Days in Rio:

Seven Days in Rio is the story of a sex tourist named Kenny Cantor who gets waylaid at a psychoanalytic convention. So naturally great romantic works involving whores (who Kenny nicknames “Tiffany's") and human aspiration come to mind such as Verdi's Otello and Wagner's whole Ring Cycle. Albums like Miles Davis's Round Midnight, Dave Brubeck's Take Five and Charlie Mingus's Pithecanthropus Erectus, which were big during the psychosexual development of my character, are the Muzak playing in Kenny's metaphorical Food Emporium. Kenny also listens to The Swinging Years on Long Island's public radio station, WLIU, when he drives out to The Hamptons looking for whores. He loves hearing about Artie Shaw and Captain Glenn Miller against a background of battles against axis powers. “It was June 6, 1944, D Day and Artie Shaw's blahblahblah was number one on the hit parade in the swinging years…" The announcer's voice is always grainy and urgent and the sound of Kenny's windshield wipers accompany the bandstand beat.

Here is my playlist for Seven Days in Rio.

"Love is Strange," Mickey and Sylvia

With Seven Days in Rio's self-proclaimed themes of sex tourism and psychoanalysis, "Love is Strange" is the theme song for the novel.

"I Do Love You," Al Stewart

Al Stewart negotiates his falsetto to a piano accompaniment. It's almost a recitative between the singer and the piano. Kenny liked going to the Apollo when he was growing up and beginning to question his identity and Al Stewart, who had the heft of Fats Domino, was a performer there. The song with its striving romance is almost a computer printout for the musical taste of a blooming john.

"Cry Baby," Garnett Mimms

Janis Joplin would also record this song, but Mimms' has the heft and originality that Joplin lacks. "Cry Baby" is what girls do when they get involved with Kenny. His father always said that Kenny “kissed all the girls and made them cry."

"I've Been Loving You Too Long," Otis Redding

In his search for the perfect “Tiffany" Kenny can never can allow his emotions to get the best of him and that's where the first words of Otis's great song come into play.

"Try a Little Tenderness," Otis Redding

Kenny meets some of the world's greatest prostitutes in Rio, an aristocrat who comes from a long line of distinguished Tiffany's, but he is always disappointed to discover that paying for sex and unconditional love are mutually exclusive. When frustration and anger threaten to overwhelm him, the words of Otis's great ballad are a source of solace.

"Freddie's Dead," Curtis Mayfield

Say no more. Lots of white guys wanted to be street and Kenny was one of them. When Super Fly first came out in the early 70's whole theaters were turned into marijuana steam baths and humanity rocked to the tale of a coke dealer.

"Sex Machine," James Brown

“Take it to the bridge" James cries out in this song (the listening to which is now classified as a sex act in the DSM IV, which is the bible of psychiatric symptomotology).

"Cool Jerk," The Capitols

This was a big 45 during the Viet Nam war. The refrain of the song is simply “cool jerk," but the two words came to have iconic significance for a man whose post adolescence was so clouded by the social and political turbulence of the Viet Nam War era.

"Band of Gold," Freyda Payne

This is a classic of the disco era song that haunted a character who didn't have a Chinaman's chance of getting into an exclusive disco like Studio 54. The performance artist Jack Smith also used it as the musical accompaniment to a piece called “Midnight at the Plaster Foundation," which Kenny might have gone to see in Smith's loft if he hadn't gotten sidetracked by the all nude dancers at Diamond Lil's on Canal Street.

"Push Push In the Bush," Musique

Disco era song whose lyric is mana to a sex tourist with a hatred for Brazilian hot waxing.

"Rapper's Delight," The Sugarhill Gang

Sylvia of Mickey and Sylvia who appears earlier on my playlist had something to do with the founding of The Sugarhill Gang in 1979. This watershed tune, with its sampling of Chic's "Good Times," ushered in rap.

"Love's in Need of Love Today," Steven Wonder

One of the great songs of all time that could easily be the score for any work of art from Shakespeare's Coriolanus to Samuel Beckett's Watt.

"Fool To Cry," The Stones

"Baby, you're a fool to cry/ and it makes me wonder why/ Woohoo." This is Kenny's favorite Stones song.

"So Many Men, So Little Time" Miguel Brown

This great song sees male sexuality from the woman's point of view something my protagonist has little understanding of.

"How Will I Know," Whitney Houston

“How will I know?" It's a great question posed by one of the great divas of the 80's whose cousins were Diane and Dee Warwick and whose mother was Cissy Houston.

"Missing You," Tom Waits

There is a famous dramatization that accompanied the release of this record which is one of the best pop music renderings of “separation anxiety" in the annals of music video.

"The Humpty Dance," Digital Underground

The famous line “I once got busy in a Burger King bathroom," which was redacted by most radio stations, had a similar impact on the youth of our nation as FDR's “This generation of Americans has a rendezvous with destiny." Destiny is the operative word here. It's like Warhol's Campbell's soup can. It was liberating to know that destiny need not involve world historical events.

"Super Freak," Rick James

Rick James was a funk star who went to jail, but he was also the Margaret Mead of his age. "Super Freak" is the musical equivalent of Mead's seminal anthropological word The Coming of Age In Samoa.

"Crush On You," Lil' Kim

Tiny big-titted lady rapper who went to jail for perjury about shooting at Hot 97, first album titled Hard Core, need I say more?

Francis Levy and Seven Days in Rio links:

the author's blog
the author's Wikipedia entry

New York Journal of Books review
Publishers Weekly review

NOISE 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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists