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August 7, 2012

Book Notes - Joshua Cohen "Four New Messages"

Four New Messages

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.

Joshua Cohen's Four New Messages is a collection of four short stories that explore modern life in the digital age.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A quartet of short stories addressing the plight of the failed writer in a number of bizarre scenarios that effectively highlight contemporary concerns regarding authenticity and artifice. . . . [Cohen has] crafted a series of innovative literary romps."

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 Joshua Cohen's Book Notes music playlist for his short fiction collection, Four New Messages:

You ask what music informed my new book, Four New Messages, and my inclination is to answer either "no music at all"—because it's impossible for me to write with music playing—or "all music," because that's what I listen to while not writing. Da Vinci once wrote that painting was the highest art because one could listen to music while painting (implying perhaps that while playing music one had to read the music—the sheet music—and so couldn't look at painting). We've come a long way, baby. So long, in fact, that just the other day I read my first ebook with embedded links—providing a soundtrack to what turned out to be such a mediocre detective plot that I gave up on the murderer but kept the noirish synths vamping on.

To the point.

Four New Messages is a book about the internet, which is to say about mimesis: about how the real becomes the fake, how the fake becomes the real. Each accompanies the other. So please hear the following selections as accompanying my messages—not as having inspired them.


This message is all noise, or at least that's how I wrote it to be: background as foreground, static until the plug's tugged, relentless—with a conclusion so foregone there had to be drugs involved. That's why the first sound that comes to mind isn't a song at all but noise—white noise. offers random signal with flat spectral density—an attempt at the impossibility of sounding all frequencies all the time—at three levels of oscillation, plus a sleep timer, all for gratis.

The hero of Emission, a smalltime coke dealer whose life has been ruined online, is of Armenian descent. Which leads me to recommend the folksong "Kilikia," recorded by one of the great voices of last century, Lusine Zakaryan:


This message, about a pharmaceutical copywriter/wannabe fiction writer incapable of writing the word "McDonald's," doesn't need a soundtrack but a jingle.

My favorite McDonald's music, though, is foreign—just Other enough to be aesthetic.

Here's a German ad, Ich liebe es, with a wonderful hook to it:

Here's an Austrian version, ending with alpenhorns and a yodel:

This rap order might be too famous to acknowledge but—genius:

This Taco Bello imitation ain't bad either:

The College Borough

This message, in which a college professor induces his students to build a replica of the Flatiron Building out in the Midwest, might best be read with Ornette Coleman honking at the intersections. "The Jungle is a Skyscraper" also features a snarly drum solo by Ed Blackwell:


This message, about an apprentice journalist who stumbles upon a Slavic settlement inhabited by all the women who've starred in all the internet porn he's ever enjoyed, might be most enjoyably backgrounded by a little "Ron Jeremy"—"Spiderpussy (Slight Return)," from the seminal—sorry—compilation Pornosonic:

Or Snoop Dogg's "Vato," but both in Russian and the original:

Though the soul of Sent lies with Galina Vishnevskaya singing Tchaikovsky's Lullaby:

Joshua Cohen and Four New Messages links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book

Kirkus Reviews review
New York Observer review
New York Times review
Ploughshares review
Publishers Weekly review

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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musician/author interviews
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
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weekly music & DVD release lists