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March 21, 2012

Book Notes - Hari Kunzru - "Gods Without Men"

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.

Hari Kunzru's Gods Without Men may be the year's most ambitious and fully realized novel. Spanning almost 200 years, Kunzru skillfully weaves several narratives into a book that both challenges and rewards the reader.

In the New York Times, Douglas Coupland wrote of the book:

"Reading this book is not unlike watching a TV show that’s simultaneously happening on multiple channels, a story filmed in different eras using differing technologies, but which taken together tell the same single story, echoing and reinfecting itself."

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 Hari Kunzru's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Gods Without Men:

20 tracks that informed, inspired, or were just on heavy rotation while I was writing Gods Without Men.

1. "Poor Wayfaring Stranger" - Almeda Riddle Southern Journey, Vol. 1: Voices From The American South

From Arkansas, recorded by Allan Lomax in 1959. The longing  in her voice – she's already half way to the next world.

2. "Hot Burrito #1" - The Flying Burrito Brothers Gilded Palace of Sin

Gram Parsons spent a lot of time in the Mojave, looking for UFO’s and getting high. He OD'd in room 8 of a modest motel called the Joshua Tree Inn in 1973. When I stayed there, almost forty years later, a guy with dreads who described himself as 'the inn keeper' took me to check the room out. We stood there, looking out at the little shrine in the yard (Jack Daniels, guitar strings), trying to feel the vibes. The Inn Keeper told me he had a personal line of chai mixes, which were for sale in the lobby.

3. "Slip Inside This House" - 13th Floor Elevators Easter Everywhere

There's infinite survival in
The high baptismal flow.
Slip inside this house as you pass by.

4. Lovefingers - "Silver Apples" Silver Apples
The Tronics:. Imagine how insane this would have sounded in 1968. When the oscillators started to rumble, it must have been like the future, like someone had torn open your head and was pumping in the sound of some Berlin warehouse rave circa 1992. The Tronics are, of course, a nod to Mike Moorcock and Michael Butterworth's 'Time of the Hawklords' a postapocalyptic science fiction novel featuring Hawkwind.

5. "Pushin' Too Hard" - The Seeds The Seeds

Well, better listen girl to what I'm tellin' you
You better listen girl, or we are through
You better stop all your foolin' around
Stop your runnin' all over town
'Cause you're pushin' too hard
Pushin' too hard on me (too hard)

6. "A Rainbow In Curved Air" - Terry Riley A Rainbow In Curved Air

I listen to a lot of Terry Riley while I work, particularly this, various recordings of "In C," and the organ trance of "Persian Surgery Dervishes." I could have chosen the Nonesuch recording of Steve Reich’s "Music for 18 Musicians", because I listened to it constantly when I made my first journey through the Mojave desert, in the week after 9/11. There's a whistling overtone to the strings on that record that seems to come from some other place. But "A Rainbow In Curved Air" has the quality of universal communication, information from the stars.

7. "Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels)" - Arcade Fire Funeral

When Laila, the Iraqi emo kid, is slouching around the Marine base, trying to ignore everyone, this is what I imagine she's listening to. 'Then I'd dig a tunnel / from my back yard to yours …'

8. "Sugar Baby" - Dock Boggs His Folkways Years 1963-1968

Boggs was a Virginia coal miner. There’s something cyclical and weird about this song, which becomes more intense until it's almost too painful to listen to.

9. "Teenage Spaceship" - Smog Knock Knock

Another one for Laila. The sound of the suburbs. So large on the horizon / people thought my windows were stars...

10. "Strange" - Wire Pink Flag

There's something strange going on tonight
There's something going on that’s not quite right.

All Nicky's taste, if he only knew it, comes from some combination of Wire and PiL, though he's probably more into this, or this. When he's talking to journalists, he pretends to like Battles and Suicide

11. "On The Road Again" - Canned Heat Boogie With Canned Heat

Because of that sitar drone, and because it's got that line 'we might even leave the USA'. It’s the 'even' that slays me every time. There's a type of music that makes no sense when you're stationary, but becomes sublime in motion. AC/DC's "Back in Black", Rainbow's "Since You've Been Gone", and "Tin Soldier" by The Small Faces work twice as well at speed. I once passed a cop on a particularly lonely (and straight) stretch of highway near Tuba City, AZ, while nodding my head 'ironically' to ZZ Top's "La Grange". Realized to my horror I was going 110mph. Thankfully, he was asleep, or something. Canned Heat is, of course, good still or moving.

12. "Saro" - Sam Amidon All Is Well

There are any number of versions of "Pretty Saro", but I'm fond of Sam Amidon's gentle voice and Nico Muhly's orchestration on this song about what it might have felt like to be an emigrant in 1849 – leaving the old country and going West.

13. "Spike Driver Blues" - Mississippi John Hurt Avalon Blues: The Complete 1928 OKeh Recordings

This is the hammer that killed John Henry, but it won’t kill me. 

14. "Blinded By The Light" - Manfred Mann's Earth Band

Dawn's music. When she was one of the kids hanging out on the Strip outside Rodney Bingenheimer's English Disco, she would have done anything to get backstage at Led Zep or Bowie.  She has bad memories of The Doobie Brothers. Her tune could also have been "Carry On Wayward Son" by Kansas, "The Joker" by Steve Miller or pretty much anything by the Eagles. But Manfred Mann understand the most important thing about the desert – the thing about the light.

15. "Spoon" - Can Box Music (Live 1971-77)

This is 15mins worth of what they're up to out by the rocks. Actually they probably sound more like some inept Amon Duul 1 primitive squat jam. Or like the Taj Mahal Travellers playing at the same time as Les Rallizes. But in their heads ...

16. "High Life"  - Pharaoh Sanders Wisdom Through Music

This is also what they're up to out by the rocks.

17. "21 VIII 76 NYC" Raga Malkauns - Pandit Pran Nath Midnight

This is one of the most extraordinary vocal performances ever committed to tape. It sounds like the earth itself is singing. It soundschthonian. Writing music. It is absolutely what they're up to out by the rocks.

18. "Thursday Afternoon (61 - Minute Version)" - Brian Eno

My iTunes tells me I played the 1 hr version of this at least 38 times while I wrote Gods Without Men. Plus partial plays... I also wrote quite a lot of My Revolutions listening to it.

19. "1969" - The Stooges The Stooges

The obvious track would have been "Helter Skelter" but this ….Another year for me and you / another year with nothing to do'. I caught precisely two weeks of the sixties and it felt exactly like this.

20. "Lost Highway" - Hank Williams

This one, at least, should be obvious.

Hari Kunzru and Gods Without Men links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Daily Californian review
Entertainment Weekly review
Guardian review
Harvard Crimson review
Independent review
Los Angeles Times review
The Millions review
National Post review
New York Observer review
New York Times review (by Douglas Coupland)
Newsday review
Philadelphia Inquirer review
Slate review
Telegraph review
Toronto Star review
Washington Post review

The Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
The Millions interview with the author
New Yorker profile of the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlists

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