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July 6, 2012

Book Notes - Nathan Larson "The Nervous System"

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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

The Nervous System is Nathan Larson's second installment in his clever post-apocalyptic detective noir series.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Larson’s vividly imagined world and his quirky narrator are likely to win him a cadre of loyal fans."

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 Nathan Larson's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Nervous System:

The Nervous System is the second installment in a series of books that began last year with The Dewey Decimal System. Please see this previous article here on this site, there's a fair bit of crossover, out of necessity...this being a series, the vibe is the same, the world is the same, and therefore my relationship with music with respect to the books is quite similar. A new element in this book is that I explicitly quote songs, which I discuss below. Otherwise here is a fractured list of stuff that got me through writing The Nervous System...

So in this case we have two categories:

Cat. A) functional music for my process, consumed while I'm writing, and

Cat. B) songs that serve a purpose either as a plot thing or an emotional thing for me, consumed whilst I am NOT writing but doing the next most important thing which is walking/ riding around New York City with my head wrapped up in an iPod.

Cat A)

Sly Stone - "Thank You for Talkin' to Me Africa"

Spaced OUT funky, Sly deconstructing his own composition ("Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)) and making a soupy dub of the whole thing. It felt like a landscape I needed to get lost in. Feels destroyed somehow.

Angelo Badalamenti - Score for David Lynch's Fire Walk with Me - "Moving Through Time" and "The Pink Room"

noir as fuck. beautiful as hell. one of my favorite soundtracks from on of my favorite filmmakers, and one of our best living composers. "Moving Through Time" could just go on forever (and it does). "The Pink Room" is pure sleaze, love it.

Gorecki - Symphony # 3: Lento e largo

Well it's gorgeous and incredibly depressing, perfect stuff to write to if you have energy. Otherwise I'd go with the Steve Reich business.

Lakme - "Dome Epias (Flower Duet)"

Somehow this book is about the intertwined lives of two women, Rose Hee and the murdered Song. The Flower Duet helped me illustrate that. Also (deep cut here) it recalls the love scene from the film The Hunger, between Susan Sarandon and Catherine Denuve, and this is not a bad thing at all.

Steve Reich - "Music for 18 Musicians"

By far the most effective music I've found to write to it's this piece and his "Mallet Instruments," I put these guys on and can just go. It's like magic, makes me a highly functioning writer. Pushes me into the next chapter.

Cat. B)

Wu Tang Clan - "Shame on a N*gga"

Plot point. There's a sequence in which my protagonist uses this track as a weapon, really, against a character who I very transparently based on a mashup of Bachmann and Palin. It was fun to write and I never get tired of picturing this scene.

This Mortal Coil - "Song for the Siren"

If there's a more heartbreakingly beautiful pop song ever I've not heard it. Of course originally written by Tim Buckley, I have so many different angles on this track...listened to it in high school...later on was to become very close to the author's son, who was then to die's weird cos it's one of these covers that is uncover-able, if you see what I mean. The cover version eclipsed the original and cannot be topped. This track is so ingrained in my spine and in the minds of folks I'm close to, my old band Shudder To Think does a lengthy "interpretation" of it at the end of our album 50,000 B.C., recorded during a period when the vocalist and my bro Craig Wedren was battling cancer. That "with death my bride" lyric gives me goosebumps every time. Death or near-death orbits this track in my mind.

In The Nervous System I've made it a plot point...I tried to reimagine it as a Korean pop ballad, sung by the doomed hostess-bar siren Song a number of times throughout the book. I even went to far as to try to record a version of the song in this style...that I realized was gonna hurt too much to do so I quickly abandoned it.

Outkast - "Knowing"

Now I don't usually concern myself too much with lyrical content of the music I consume whilst working on a book, but in the case of this particular song, it so completely nails the vibe of The Nervous System (and the whole series for that matter) that I just have to include it here. I listened to this record incessantly when moving to and fro, mostly on the subway, specifically the 2/3 from 125th street to 14th street, and it just was so right. Cos the thing is, in this fictitious world I'm working in, things are only getting worse, and the question is how you deal with that knowledge, on a practical and spiritual level. Worth quoting the chorus (with Andre 3000 doing his awesome Curtis Mayfield falsetto) in its whole:

"Brothers on the block knowing - from this point on it only gets rougher - Sisters at the crib knowing - from this point on it only gets rougher - Preachers at the church knowing, we're still getting by - Teachers at the school knowing - from this point on it only gets rougher - Ladies on the block knowing - from this point on it only gets rougher - Junkies on the corner knowing, but still gettin high -from this point on it only gets rougher."

The Bad Brains - "I"

This still gives me a huge rush, and I remember (record geek alert) buying a 12inch EP with this track as well as 3 songs off the ROIR cassette in like '85?? Damn I wish I still had that EP cos I have a feeling it'd be worth some cash.

Whenever I felt I was getting too sensitive I would put this on, and I found I could kill again. On paper.

Nathan Larson and The Nervous System links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Capital New York review
Criminal Complex review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

Cabin Godess interview with the author
FrontRow Lit interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Dewey Decimal System
She Writes interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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