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March 24, 2014

Book Notes - Kenneth Calhoun "Black Moon"

Black Moon

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.

Brilliantly conceived and thoughtfully executed, Kenneth Calhoun's Black Moon is one of the year's finest debut novels.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Calhoun’s literary dystopia, which features beautiful writing, arresting imagery, and powerful metaphors, will appeal to fans of Karen Thompson Walker’s The Age of Miracles. . . . A deeply lyrical exploration of humanity at the extremes."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Kenneth Calhoun's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Black Moon:

Beatles, "I'm So Tired"

I guess the Beatles knew something about exhaustion. What's especially great here is that the Lennon's drowsy delivery sometimes boils over into an outburst of desperation. At the end of each chorus, he practically grabs you by the lapels begs for peace of mind.


"You know I can't sleep,
I can't stop my brain,
You know it's three weeks,
I'm going insane."

The Joy Formidable, "Whirring"

This song, especially live versions, features a prolonged, chaotic roar in the middle of it. It's beautiful violence with the fury of a fever dream. And yet, in this version, there is a flash of sweetness at 4:48.

Lyric: "You make me sleep so badly, invisible friend."

John Harrelson, "Mojave"

My dear friend, the late great John Harrelson, struggled with sleep. He wrote a lot of songs at night, then slept far into the day. This song puts you in his head as he tosses and turns in sweltering sheets, imagining another man's life over the mountains.


"It's gonna be an hour before it cools down
That's the trouble with living in a desert town
It's a quarter til midnight ‘fore you roll down your sleeves
It's three AM ‘fore you feel the breeze."

Dum Dum Girls, "Trees and Flowers"

This is a pre-dawn song with Dee Dee Penny's voice soaring over a bed of guitar drone like the rising sun. But she emerges from the night with fears—of tall buildings and trees. This is a song that I associate with the character Lila, whose insulates herself from her fears by wearing an owl mask through most of the book.


"Dawn cracks the dark,
And it breaks the silence,
Of my waking hours,
And my heart's license."

The Police, "Bed's Too Big Without You"

Like "I'm so Tired," this is a song about missing someone so much you can't sleep. It's a fitting song for the book's central character, Biggs, who wanders the chapters looking for Carolyn. The early live versions feature a dreamy jam that is a good sonic portrait of love-induced insomnia.


"Bed's too big without you,
Cold wind blows right thru my open door,
I can't sleep with your memory,
Dreaming dreams of what used to be."

The Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows"

A song about consciousness and trying to step outside yourself. It's an invitation into a mirage that seems menacing from a distance, but gets increasingly comforting as it draws you in. Sleep deprivation can get you there, too.


"But listen to the color of your dreams,
It is not leaving, it is not leaving."

The Smiths, "Asleep"

This is Moz being an even bigger bummer than usual. The song comes complete with a dystopian wind sound effect, and a plea to be left alone to die. A music box playing "Auld Land Syne" fades away at the end, adding a crowning touch to this exquisite diorama of dreariness.


"Sing me to sleep, sing me to sleep,
I don't want to wake up on my own anymore."

Nat King Cole, "I Wanna Turn Out My Light"

A song told from the moon's perspective. The poor planetoid wants to go to bed, but some couple below is taking too long to get to the lights-out phase of their evening. Yes, nighttime is the portal into other states, by way of sleep and sex. All under the moon's watchful eye.


"Said the moon to the stars nearby,
Look down on that gal and guy,
They're keeping me up too late tonight,
I want to turn out my light."

Wilco, "Black Moon"

If you were to eyedropper—in the Photoshop sense—some colors out of this song, it would result in the same indigo-tinted palette found in the book. It gave me the title for the novel after a two-year search. And Tweedy's late night voice is a great vessel for weariness.


"And I'm waiting, waiting forever.
Are you awake now too?"

U2, "Exit"

This is the character Chase's song. A few times in high school and college, I took his journey up the I-15, through Nevada, Utah, into Idaho and beyond. U2's Joshua Tree was necessary driving music at the time. This song, which was inspired by Mailer's Executioner's Song, is a mood board for Chase's interior state on the trip back from the mountains with his sheep.


"He went deeper into black,
Deeper into white.
He could see the stars shine,
Like nails in the night."

Yann Tiersen, "Fuck Me"

Even in the face of irreversible disaster, certain human needs persist—you know, tendencies of the flesh and heart.


"I know you know we're all falling into a deep oblivion,
I know you know we're all falling into a never-ending mess."

Radiohead, "Nude"

This song is a soundtrack for apocalypse, even though it doesn't really address it lyrically. It just sounds like the sad, sci-fi collapse of everything we know. The words suggest some kind of indescribable dream task or unreachable memory that keeps slipping just out of the corner of your mind's eye—like the shadow people glimpsed by the sleepless.


"Now that you've found it, it's gone
Now that you feel it, you don't."

M. Ward (covering Bowie), "Let's Dance"

The super sleepy cover of the David Bowie classic finds new colors in the song. It feels like a song remembered after the end of the world. Or maybe just the morning after a really wild party.


"If you say run, I'll run with you,
If you say hide, we'll hide."

The Clash – "Rebel Waltz"

This odd waltz enlists dreamy arpeggios, thick currents of reverb and delicate chimes to place it somewhere under the surface of wakefulness. Joe Strummer rhapsodically relates his vision like the author of Revelations. This is novel-sized grandeur from my favorite punk prophet.


"I dreamed as I slept, I could see the campfires,
A song of the battle, that was born in the flames,
and the rebels were waltzing on air."

K.D. Lang, "In Perfect Dreams"

Something about pedal steel guitar and KD Lang's flawless voice makes this the ultimate soundtrack for the happiest of Hollywood dreams or a Ziegfeld Follies routine starring Ester Williams. It's a manufactured dream place that is unsettling for its total absence of weirdness. This is what we mean when we wish each other, "Sweet dreams."


"In perfect dreams,
Life is quite serene.
You and I can be happily,
In perfect dreams."

Kenneth Calhoun and Black Moon links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

The A.V. Club review
BookMunch review
BookPage review
LitReactor review
Publishers Weekly review
NPR Books review

Bark interview with the author
Barnes and Noble interview with the author
My Bookish Ways interview with the author
Qwillery 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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists