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May 18, 2016

Book Notes - Matthew Binder "High in the Streets"

High in the Streets

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.

Matthew Binder's novel High in the Streets is an impressive debut engagingly set in the city of Los Angeles.

Heavy Feather Review wrote of the book:

"Matthew Binder could have easily made High in the Streets a series of interconnected stories about each of the side characters that Lou encounters on his journey. But by telling these tales through Lou’s biased gaze, we are witnesses to an eccentric, tragic, ugly, and uplifting portrait of pursuit and attainment of the Los Angeles dream. High in the Streets is a complicated romp about those who have chased that dream and, more importantly, those who live in its shadow."

In his own words, here is Matthew Binder's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel High in the Streets:

I spent the bulk of my twenties playing in bands, recording records, crisscrossing the country in a van, drinking nightly in an endless succession of unremarkable clubs, waking up on strange couches and in strangers' beds. At thirty, I hit a "wall" and quit. But it wasn't enough for me to just stop playing in bands. No, I quit music altogether. For roughly two years, I didn't actively listen to anything. In the car, it was podcasts. At home, I regaled myself listening to the absurdity that is conservative talk radio. It was during this self-imposed musical exile that I started writing fiction.

My first stab at a novel was about an oversexed/underemployed musician, who finds himself on the backside of his twenties having failed to achieve any of the grandeur he foresaw for himself during his youth. He ends up seeking salvation through the love of a chaste, young woman. Things go terribly awry, however, when his neglect sends her spiraling into the world of drugs and partying he'd sought to leave behind. The book was never published, but the experience taught me enough to write High in the Streets, whose soundtrack I'm writing about today.

I didn't realize it until I started thinking about writing this piece for Largehearted Boy, but Lou, High in the Streets' "hero," always has something to listen to. Not only that, but I gave him a good amount of my own tastes. This list comprises the music that soundtracks the week in Lou's life my new novel covers.

"A Salty Salute": Guided by Voices' terrifically messy, perfectly melodic, lo-fi sound coupled with Bob Pollard's everyday-man-high-on-acid-and-cheap beer poetry probably influenced my early music-making more than anything else. These guys were my Beatles. I had to pay homage to them in the book.

One morning, Lou finds that his fiancée, Frannie, who's younger than him by many years, has halved his twenty year old GBV t-shirt, in order to expose her toned abs. She doesn't even like the band, so he's furious with how she co-opted the t-shirt to create a cheap and tawdry, retro fashion statement.

"Cut Your Hair," by Pavement: Lou's slightly older than I am, which makes him very much a product of the nineties. This is reflected in his musical tastes. Lou, stumbling into great success and taking up with Frannie, buys a very expensive home in order to please her. Charged with the responsibility for the housewarming party's music, Lou books Stephen Malkmus to play some old favorites on acoustic guitar. Frannie banishes Malkmus to the garage, however, because she doesn't think his music will mix well with the more sophisticated and chic atmosphere she's worked so hard to cultivate in the main house.

"Marquee Moon," by Television: Marquee Moon is one of my all-time favorite albums. My friend Andrew and I used to obsess over what we thought was Tom Verlaine's guitar playing. Last year, I saw Television play a reunion show in LA. Tom didn't play a lot of the guitar parts I'd always attributed to him. That sort of shook up my world, but it doesn't take anything away from the music.

There's a scene in High in the Streets where Lou is completely humiliated after a failed attempt at sex with Frannie. Afterward, he drives out to Malibu to go hiking, and listens to this record in the car.

"Free Fallin'," by Tom Petty: Lou's first act of defiance is to spend a night out gambling with his best pal, Cliff, a former pro baseball star who's now nearly destitute. The scene finds them returning from the casino at dawn. Cliff has lost the money he's supposed to use to pay his child support. They pass a Dodgers Baseball billboard, a painful reminder of Cliff's past glory. Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" comes on the radio, but Cliff turns it off after the first chorus.

Sander Van Doorn: One sure way to highlight generational differences is through music. As I've mentioned, Lou is significantly older than Frannie. After some particularly bad behavior on Lou's part, Frannie punishes him by forcing him to go see Sander Van Doorn spin at a club called Create. Of course, this goes very badly, and heavy drug use and violence follow, and, consequently, so do legal ramifications.

"Easy Easy," by King Krule: There's a scene in the book where Cliff's going through a particularly bad stretch, and Lou says to him: "If you're going through hell, just keep going." When I wrote it, I was quite proud of myself, thinking, my god, I'm clever! However, a couple months later I was listening to King Krule and realized I'd simply lifted the line from him, a line my pal John informs me King Krule lifted from Winston Churchill.

Exile on Main Street, by the Rolling Stones: Years ago, my friend Andrew and I were at band practice and had taken mushrooms and decided it would be brilliant if we took a late night drive out to Joshua Tree. Halfway there, at about two a.m., Andrew's truck got a flat tire. He didn't have a spare, and neither of us had Triple-A. Eventually, we got ahold of Andrew's brother, and he gave us his Triple-A number. It took the tow-truck driver two hours to find us. Waiting—what choice did we have?—we alternately explored the desert and listened to Exile. When the driver finally arrived, he was furious because neither of us was the Triple-A member we claimed to be on the phone. We finally managed to calm him down with a few tokes of weed. Afterward, he towed us all the way to Joshua Tree, free of charge. Along the way, he told us how he used to be a Pentecostal preacher, but had been run out of the church for various indiscretions. As we neared Joshua Tree, the tow company's dispatcher came over the radio and asked what our driver was doing. An argument ensued and our driver quit right then and there. When we got to Joshua Tree, we took him out to breakfast, and then he went on his way.

All that backstory leads to this: When Lou takes his own trip out to Joshua Tree, he listens to Exile.

"So Long, Marianne," by Leonard Cohen: Somehow, Leonard Cohen didn't hit my radar until I was older, but his influence has informed every artistic decision I've made since.

"Crap Folk Music," by Hippies: After attending a Catholic Mass, Lou finds himself wandering the streets, finally ending up at a farmer's market. Describing the scene, I write: "Bands of heavily bearded musicians, in tattered clothing, armed with acoustic guitars and banjos, sing inane folk songs about love and hope." It's fair to say I don't have much interest in this brand of music, and I passed this sensibility onto Lou.

"Bandz a Maker Her Dance," by Juicy J: At one point in the book, Lou suffers the type of charitable impulse he's never had before, and he's totally skeptical about the prospect. However, inspired by the spirit of his dead dog, the recipient of his most selfless act on record, he volunteers to work with "throw-away kids" (the little shits nobody wants, the boys destined for prison, and the girls who will make all the babies).

Lou ends up working as a substitute teacher for a day, and his classroom devolves into chaos, the kids, as I originally wrote the scene, chanting the lyrics to this Juicy J song. However, my publisher informed me I can't use song lyrics without permission. I took to Twitter to try to get Juicy J's attention but to no avail. Eventually, I removed the Juicy J lyrics and made up a fictional rapper named Thirsty James, and had the kids sing his song, instead.

Matthew Binder and High in the Streets links:

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

Arcadia Magazine review
Cultured Vultures review
Heavy Feather Review review

Cultured Vultures interview with the author
Necessary Fiction essay by the author
San Diego CityBeat profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Largehearted Boy's 2016 Fundraiser

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)