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October 11, 2013

Book Notes - Sergio De La Pava "Personae"


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.

Sergio De La Pava's novel Personae is as challenging as it is rewarding, one of the year's most inventive books.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Personae is an artful, ambitious—albeit enigmatic—sampling of slice-and-dice fiction blending mystery, musical theory, existential drama, aphorisms, and numbered lists. . . . Inventive and unconventional, De La Pava's second novel is chock-full of surprises."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes.

In his own words, here is Sergio De La Pava's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Personae:

Note: proper creation of the Personae soundtrack requires purchase of the full relevant album followed by extraction of the identified track.

Bach: Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould (1955)

To best create the desired, and necessarily recursive, musical through-line, we're going to treat the variations in their entirety the way they treat the opening/concluding aria, with one significant difference explained below.

I. Little Shadow by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Karen O invests so much of herself in every syllable she sings, and the great ambiguity of that self — she manages an aggressiveness so wild it mutates into vulnerability — is so compelling that at least you feel well-accompanied if you have to go into that final night.

II. Lloraras by Oscar De Leon

Maybe the highest exemplar of the form. De Leon essentially subverts music primarily intended to move bodies with a brilliantly constructed revenge fantasy against a woman who, on the basis of the evidence presented here, wasn't the strictest adherent to monogamy. De Leon's lyrical gifts are impressive, the initial wordplay is like something out of goddamn Twelfth Night, but it's the pained disillusion of his timbre that most resonates as the song gracefully builds into what I guess is supposed to constitute cathartic defiance but which really just feels like the kind of things we robotically mouth to try and comfort ourselves.

III. Atoms for Peace by Thom Yorke

The way these bulbous atoms (G#, D#, C, A#) form a hypnotic cloud that instead of dissipating seems to grow in force to form mostly awed gratitude for the love coming off our many allies.

IV. Cryin' by Joe Satriani

Starting in 1987, Joe Satriani released three consecutive masterpieces in just five years. Restrained work is always more powerful when you know the artist is capable of the highest virtuosity and Satriani exemplifies this too often to count. Here, listen in particular to the vital sequence culminating around 5:10 that sounds like the forceful expulsion of a human soul.

V. Automatic Stop by The Strokes

Sometimes you just want to hear a place and if that place is fairly recent Manhattan this is what you should feed your ears.

VI. Caballo Viejo by Roberto Torres

If it houses life, it will devolve into extinction. True of human bodies and horses but maybe less so of Love, which seems to have sent a compelling emissary in the form of the plaintive horn riff that drives this Venezuelan's touching testament to its power.

VII. Maria by Rage Against the Machine

Of all the things humans are illogically and pathetically proud of, being proud of the accident that is the geographic location of one's birth may be the most inane. Worse, maintenance of such a grand illusion requires either unfeeling exclusion or opportunistic exploitation. In that context, the underrated RATM rhythm section seeks to propel a defiant bullet into American smugness.

VIII. There Ain't No Grave by Johnny Cash

Has any voice ever been better-suited to staring down death? Almost makes you wish you could see the confrontation, but I guess you'll just have to settle for your own one day.

IX. Sweet Nuthin' by Velvet Underground

A novelistic account of those cursed with nothing that somehow transforms into a profound musical argument for a worldwide inversion that would find the destitute ascending into greatness.

X. Wings for Marie (Parts 1 & 2) by Tool

If you spent ten thousand days shackled to an inert body then found yourself liberated as if possessed of wings, it might sound like this.

Bach: Goldberg Variations by Glenn Gould (1981)

Repeating the 1955 variations here would be inapposite. Use the 1981 ones instead to replace manic possibility with a dwindling terminus.

Bonus Track from future soundtrack

Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire by Joni Mitchell

The premier North American artist of any kind of the past fifty years and minutes like these four are why.

The minutes feature a luminously intuitive singer who can sound alternately angelic or diabolical as needed, a guitar player so innovative she basically stripped the instrument bare then recreated it in her image, a consummate record producer unconcerned with fashion where it conflicts with truth, an enthralling melodist, a lyricist who'll make you feel as if Emily Dickinson had returned and been coaxed into public proclamations of her profound wisdom, and they all answer to the same magical name.

Also … never mind, this is not a person I can speak rationally about.

Sergio De La Pava and Personae links:

excerpt from the book

Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review
With Hidden Noise review

New York Daily News 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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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