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April 25, 2016

Book Notes - Justin Tussing "Vexation Lullaby"

Vexation Lullaby

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Justin Tussing's Vexation Lullaby is a beautifully written rock novel, filled with poignancy and wit.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Justin Tussing's second novel is a clever, satisfying story about the struggle to find meaning in the lives we've made for ourselves. . . . Tussing uses startling and memorable details to punctuate scenes with a cinematic flourish, and he is particularly adept at using dialogue to reveal how much we actually aren't saying to each other. And the ending is dazzling."

In his own words, here is Justin Tussing's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Vexation Lullaby:

"Visions of Johanna"—Bob Dylan
I have no music talent, no musical intelligence. Some blame has to be placed on my parents, who brought me up listening to the Eagles and, well, the Eagles. You might expect that a person with my musical shortcomings would disqualify himself from writing a novel that revolves around a singer. Following a similar argument, some critics have argued that Bob Dylan has no business singing. Fuck those people in the eye.

"No Money Down" (1955)—Chuck Berry
Vexation Lullaby is a road novel, following a musician as he makes tour stops between Rochester, New York and Louisville, Kentucky. "No Money Down" is a song about the American Dream of hitting the road…and staying on the road. Berry sings, "I want a full Murphy Bed in my backseat"—my protagonist, Arthur Pennymen, has been known to inflate an air mattress in his Corolla Wagon.

"Between Two Trees"—Lady Lamb the Beekeeper
My book is set in the fall of 2010. By that time Aly Spaltro (Lady Lamb the Beekeeper) had been playing shows in Portland for a few years. People kept telling me I had to see her before she moved to Brooklyn. Everyone knew she was leaving town. I never saw her play.

"Feet Up, Pat-Em on the Po-Po"—Peter Pan Records
When I was five or six someone gave me a Fischer-Price turntable and a copy of Monster. I don't remember "Feet Up…" but I must have listened to it hundreds of times. It's a song about redemption, about a gambler, drinker, and womanizer, who is reformed by love and fatherhood. And what use is redemption without a little dissipation?

"It's All About the Pentiums"—"Weird Al" Yankovic
My book is composed of alternating chapters. Half of the chapters belong to Pennyman and the others belong to a young doctor. Peter Silver is a homebody. He's analytical and, like me, music sometimes slips past him, but he can intellectualize parody songs—and appreciates a well-placed allusion: "Hey fella, I bet you're still living in your parents' cellar/ downloading pictures of Sarah Michelle Gellar/ I should do the world a favor and cap you like Old Yeller."

"Fortunate Son"—Creedence Clearwater Revival
Say I were driving across town to get in a fistfight, and say I only had two-minutes and twenty-one seconds to feel righteous, indignant, and angry, then I'd probably have this cranked. The irony, I suppose, is that it's an anti-war song.

"Rabbit Fur Coat"—Jenny Lewis with the Watson Twins
I thought about including Lewis's "Run, Devil, Run" because her voice does this harmonic thing in that song that makes me think I'm about to cry. What is it about the word "run"? It triggers something like an emotional onomatopoeia. But if you're only going to listen to one song, listen to the twisted beauty of "Rabbit Fur Coat."

"Broken Arrow"—Neil Young
One of Neil's fans taunts Pennyman throughout my book. "Broken Arrow" is operatic, an over-stuffed madeleine. It's a shame if you never listened to this when you were seventeen and a little bit buzzed.

"Twist Barbie"—Shonen Knife
The road, my friends, is long and lonely. Occasionally you need to listen to a Japanese trio rock a punk song about Barbie.

Justin Tussing and Vexation Lullaby links:

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

Kirkus review
Portland Press Herald review
Publishers Weekly review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)