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November 23, 2011

Book Notes - Stephen Beachy "boneyard"

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, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Stephen Beachy's novel boneyard centers on a young Amish boy who writes troubling yet beautiful stories. Beachy's innovative storytelling technique (he inserts both himself and an editor into the book) dazzles in this complex tale.

SF Weekly wrote of the book:

"With its hypnagogic obsessiveness and perceivable narrative gearwork, plus pubescent homoeroticism, it's as if the movie Inception had been written as a novel by Gus Van Sant."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Stephen Beachy's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, boneyard:

Because I present boneyard as a kind of collaboration with Jake Yoder, the disturbed Amish boy, and Judith Owsley Brown, the editor, I thought its playlist should encompass their tastes and obsessions as much as mine, even if Jake and Judith don't really exist, as some people insist. Even imaginary people have real tastes and obsessions. Especially Jake -- the novel is in large part a documentation of his own fantasies of rock stardom and includes footnotes about his musical influences. It's also a song of mourning - for his mother, who drove herself into a lake, and for the Amish girls who were killed and wounded at Nickel Mines. It's a psychedelic Amish elegy. Really, yes. I wanted the playlist to include all of the songs that have an explicit presence in the book, as well as to map a kind of emotional journey that matches the somewhat traumatized and hallucinatory journey of the book. Rage, despair, sadness and euphoric flight being primary pieces of that puzzle - but with an ironic sense of humor laid over the whole thing.

Notorious B.I.G., "You're Nobody (Til Somebody Kills You)" is quoted in the epigraph. Both Jake and I were raised by Anabaptists and come from a tradition that exalts martyrdom - there are illustrations of people being tortured throughout the novel, taken from the huge Anabaptist text Martyrs Mirror. Biggie's nihilistic vision of the fame that accrues through death, with the subtextual ironies of his own impending doom, are a perfect introduction to the hellish psychic landscape of Amish culture and the horrors that form the backbone of Jake's psyche. And it opens with the 23rd Psalm recited by Puff Daddy, of all people.

Throwing Muses, "Hate My Way," the climactic song from an album that formed a consistent part of my own mental landscape in the late 80's and that nicely encapsulates that wretched shift in Jake's own mind, in which rage and potential rage turn inward in a frenzy of self-disgust and annihilation. And yet it's so sad and so beautiful and its erratic shifts match the erratic stylistic shifts of Jake's stories.

Dinosaur Jr., "Poledo," continues the mood with a little acoustic number that I remember hearing was written in a kind of trance. I don't know if that's true, but it certainly has this air of some kind of possession.

Nico, "These Days," is one of three songs sung by Nico that Jake and I played for each other over the phone, as we took turns breaking down into tears, as discussed in one of the novel's footnotes. Nico reminded Jake of his mother. This is the saddest of her songs and sums up Jake's mid-winter Iowa depressions beautifully, with that cigarette scorched voice of glass and smoke.

Bill Withers, "Ain't No Sunshine," another song that pops up in one of Jake's fairy tales, echoing both his preoccupation with the death of his mother and perhaps his sense of loss at the mutilation of his own inner femme. Jake has never been one to read or listen literally - filtered through his perception this song evokes the perpetual winter darkness of a crushed and enchanted landscape more than a lover pining for his sweetheart.

Kristin Hersh, "Your Ghost," marks her movement in the 90s away from the schizophrenic rage and despair of the early Throwing Muses years toward a more simplified music of loss. This is a sad song about grief and haunting. Forming relationships with ghosts is the beginning of the playlist's movement out of despair and into dreams.

Nico, "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," makes this most explicit. The cold Nordic nihilisim that forms the context for this dark little ditty about death crouching at our doors is hilarious and horrifying and poignant, and makes such excellent use of Nico's accent.

Spiritualized, "Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space," places us exactly where we are and itself offers what the song craves, just a little bit of love to take the pain away, as we drift through time and the outer edges of the Milky Way.

Yusef Lateef, "Love Theme From Spartacus," is for the editor, Judith Owsley Brown, who has more refined tastes than me and Jake and who began a long-distance love affair with a Midwestern police officer during the course of editing and investigating the book.

Britney Spears, "Toxic," if only to acknowledge that Jake, born in the 90's, isn't as stuck in the 80's and early 90's as I am, musically speaking. I sometimes wonder if Britney reminds him of his mother as well, he's so fond of her. I love the song's embrace of toxic love and the surreal airplane music video for the song that makes no sense and yet all the sense in the world - airplanes are these kind of liminal zones where sense breaks down and the distinction between human and atmosphere gets lost in daydreams, I'm pretty sure.

His Name is Alive, "If July" - "Some and I" - "Fossil" - "E-Nicolle" -- "Caroline's Supposed Demon" - "Fossil" - "Reincarnation"" create a seamless chunk of metaphysically preoccupied psychedelia with borders as blurry between songs as between some of Jake's stories, and the sort of layering of silly but lovely druidy vocals with spooky aural footprints. The coded hieroglyphics pointing toward an eternally toxic love affair build on Britney's message beforehand.

Funkadelic, "Maggotbrain," takes us even deeper into outer space after tasting the maggots in the mind of the universe - "and I was not offended…"

Pharoah Sanders, "Hum-Allah," drops into the pain and suggests the depths of sorrow from which our desires for unattainable peace arise.

Comets on Fire, "Lucifer's Memory". I'm not that familiar with this band and would have included their instrumental "Sour Smoke," but Jake insisted I include this one instead. I think he just wanted to include something with the devil's name in it, to balance out the Jesus references in the preceding song.

The Velvet Underground and Nico, "I'll Be Your Mirror" is the last and most appropriate Nico song, describing the sort of relationship that I developed with Jake and even Judith through the process of working on the book. Are we the same person, or what? Or maybe just a kind of mind-meld in which our psyches remained distinct enough to serve as mirrors for each other, to create a picture of something, I think, larger than any of us.

Richie Havens, "Freedom," to definitively mark Jake's turn from grief and despair toward the resigned activism of a pacifist revolutionary - and it's mentioned in one of the footnotes. "Sometimes I feel like a motherless child" sums up poor Jake's permanent state, a state he has increasingly come to understand in a cosmic way as all of biological life on the planet is further and further degraded. Jake has become a supporter of the Occupy movement, although I'm not sure if he's occupying anything more than his Amish barn, where he supposedly likes to sit and read Borges.

Meat Puppets, "Aurora Borealis," a band that sang the soundtrack to my life when I was wandering the highways of America in the 80's, and this song especially makes me think today of the optimistic nomad philosophy of the French theorists Deleuze and Guattari - "to see the world as a cauldron of becoming rather than a repository of Being," as it says on the back of my copy of A Thousand Plateaus. The wonderful poet Mei-mei Berssenbrugge recently described Deleuze and Guattari to me as New Agey philosophers, which all makes sense to me in the way that New Mexico, where she writes from, resembles the topography of their "collective experiment in thought and action" and sits next to that other plateau-filled state, Arizona, which engendered the Meat Puppets. The title for my first novel came from a Meat Puppets song and Chris Kirkwood painted the cover art, so it feels a little nostalgic to include them here, but appropriate in the sense that all of the seeds of my later books can be found in my earlier books and all of the books seem to haunt each other in another dimension.

Lungfish, "Nothing Is Easy," is another song that often makes me cry, sung by the man who gave me my only tattoo, Daniel Higgs. It's the perfect ending, for anything.

Stephen Beachy and boneyard links:

the author's website

East Bay Express review
Reviews by Amos Lassen review
SF Weekly review

My Book, The Movie guest post by the author
The Page 69 Test guest post by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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