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March 19, 2013

Book Notes - Owen King "Double Feature"

Double Feature

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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Strikingly original and perceptive, Owen King's debut novel Double Feature is filled with unforgettable characters. King cleverly explores both the connections of fathers to sons and art and the artist in a book epic in scale and grand in accomplishment.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Set in a world of B-movie actors and enthusiasts, King’s first novel, about facing reality and failed aspirations, is irreverent and ambitious. Its sweeping scope covers several generations in a humorous and cynical narrative that bounces between decades. Entertaining and thought-provoking, this captivating look at the ongoing process of becoming an adult will especially appeal to fans of the indie film industry."

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 Owen King's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Double Feature:

Double Feature is a fairly long novel, one that moves back and forth in time over the course of several decades, and probably a dozen or so characters play significant roles. Among the notables are an ex-Yankees catcher named, Johannes "Jo-Jo" Knecht (also known as the "Good German" on the back pages of the NYC tabloids), a controversial blogger/consumer advocate, the producer of a true crime show, a couple of people who are actively crazy, and an immensely-endowed mythological being. There's lot about the movies in the book, about B-movies and modern indie movies (or modern "art" movies, depending on your definition), and about filmmaking itself. But the center of the story is pretty traditional; it's about a family, and how hard families can be, from every side, and how they break us and make us. So, here are some tunes I like that can be applied to the book in one way or another.

"Something Left to Say" by Roman Candle (from The Wee Hours Revue) – The first section of Double Feature is about a movie that the main character, Sam Dolan, makes about college, and this song puts me back in college like almost nothing else. It makes me think about how young we were, how much fun we had, and how smart and grown up we all felt, and at the same time, you know, we had no fucking clue what lay in store. I didn't anyway.

"Cheapest Key" by Kathleen Edwards (from Asking for Flowers) – The guy on the receiving end of this song has a million excuses, and Kathleen Edwards has finally had enough of his shit. It can be great fun to write a scene where someone snaps.

"Runaway" by Kanye West (from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy) – It's hard to overstate what a titanic track this is: the different phases, the ingenious blend of sonic elements, the collision between ego and self-loathing. I hate one-dimensional characterizations – saintly goodness, pure evil, etc. I don't believe them. Kanye West's persona is so odd and multi-faceted and compelling and aggravating, and it's all there in the music.

"Lost Weekend" by Lloyd Cole & the Commotions (from Easy Pieces) – Here is a wonderfully cheerful number about what must have been the worst weekend ever. Chosen as a gesture toward the structure of Double Feature – most of the second half of the novel takes places over a long weekend.

"The Whip" by Locksley (from Be in Love) – I love the organized chaos of this one, the call and response parts, the repeated whoa-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-ohs, the guitar chop, the mighty chorus. There's one big action set piece in the book – not, like, Transformers "big" but, you know, big by semi-realistic novel standards – and this is a fun song to match up with that scene.

"Poor Poor Pitiful Me" by Warren Zevon (from Warren Zevon) – Through most of the second half of the novel, Sam is the very saddest of bastards. If he had a theme song, this would be it. And, by the way, how much do we miss Warren Zevon? Was there ever a funnier songwriter who could also cut closer to the bone?

She really worked me over good
She was just like Jesse James
She really worked me over good
She was a credit to her gender

"Fuck Was I" by Jenny Owen Youngs (from Batten Down The Hatches) – The bluntness of this song is extraordinarily appealing to me. There are some painfully blunt female characters in Double Feature. There are also some in my life, come to think of it.

"Poison Oak" by James Jackson Toth (from Waiting in Vain) – The albums of James Jackson Toth – who typically records as Wooden Wand – are my great musical discovery of the last couple of years and were a mainstay throughout the rewriting of Double Feature. Along with possessing a splendid sense of humor and a whole set of wonderful bluesy tones, James has a truly poetic touch, and yet he never seems to overreach, which is pretty rare in a literate songwriter. I never hear a line in one of his songs and wince. It's inspiring, the control he evinces. I like to believe that during the editing process, when I was listening to his music pretty constantly, that he influenced me to be a bit more careful with my language.

I chose this song because of the opening verse, which I feel like could be about the relationship between Sam and his father Booth.

Poison Oak, darling, I know where you've been:
marking off boxes on your checklist of sins.
Your father ought to have his old head busted in
for raising you up how he did.

"Our Life Is Not A Movie Or Maybe" by Okkervil River (from The Stage Names) –The key line:

It's just a life story,
so there's no climax

Besides the production values, this is obviously the essential difference between our existences and our movies. Very few of us get to blow up a Soviet tank, or to save a magic dolphin from poachers. Which isn't to say that life is dull – though it sometimes is – but just that if you don't recognize and accept the ebbs and flows, you are going to be in for a tough haul.

"More Than Faintly Absurd" by The Paranoid Style (from The Purposes of Music in General) – I'm exceedingly proud to have contributed a couple of lines to this song. Love is the longest and most dangerous operation ever performed, and the surgeon is Jerry Lewis wearing big pink mittens.

"The Easy Winners" by Dick Hyman (from Scott Joplin's Greatest Hits) – My favorite Scott Joplin rag. Play this one over the credits and send everyone home feeling good.

Owen King and Double Feature links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

exlibrislarsen interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for We're All in This Together
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
USA Today profile of 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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