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February 12, 2020

Andrew Krivak's Playlist for His Novel "The Bear"

The Bear

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 Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Andrew Krivak's novel a href="">The Bear is a brilliantly written post-apocalyptic fable of nature's strength and endurance.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Krivak’s...spare, lyrical latest is a meditative fable set in a near-future, post-civilization world ... The sentences are polished stones of wonder and the setting deliberately vague, likely several generations since humans were earth’s dominant species. Nature has reclaimed its dominance. The elegiac tone reflects what is lost and what will be lost, an enchantment as if Wendell Berry had reimagined Cormac McCarthy’s The Road."

In his own words, here is Andrew Krivak's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Bear:

Songs to Accompany The Bear

The Bear is a novel about the last two humans left on earth at a time when nature has reclaimed much of its vastness, beauty, and grandeur, just as it was imagined in the myths and legends of old. The playlist I’ve presented here, though, is a collection that mirrors the story in character or setting only in serendipitous ways. Songs about the end of the world are either too gloomy, too playful, or too political, and The Bear is not any of these. Rather, what I’ve tried to do is present a range of new music I came across while I was writing The Bear, music that came to me in a kind of obliquity, which is to say, when I least expected it and really needed it.

There is a public radio station out of UMass Boston — WUMB — that plays the kind of music I would search the dial for hungrily in any city I might drive through in America. You no doubt know of one, or listen to one, usually coming out of a college town or university basement (like WFUV out of Fordham in the Bronx). They play folk, indie rock, old blues, new blues, crossover, Americana, alternative, but best of all the music you would never find on stations driven by commercial revenue. And what it seems WUMB excels at, and what their DJs enjoy most, is giving new artists a shot at air time, and old artists a venue to present ever-changing new sounds. It’s these artists and this music I wait for when I’m driving kids to school in the morning, or when I sit stuck in traffic coming home in the evening. Music that is as melodic and soulful as it is experimental and innovative. I confess that I mostly (not always) lean toward traditional melodies played on traditional instruments. To my ear, that’s when I hear music written by musicians who write songs as though they cannot not write them. So, in a sense, for me, the new I love always seems to echo with the sound of the old.

I hit the double nickel a few years back and found myself not coincidentally giving up on listening to the news. It wasn’t because I wanted to put my head in the sand. It was because it felt like there was a lack of creativity — melody — in the world that had robbed me of something I could feel but could not name. But I didn’t give up on listening to the radio. In fact, I realized I had found my salvation as a kid growing up in Dallas, Pennsylvania, listening to music on the radio. The stations that came out of Wilkes-Barre and Scranton in the ‘70s gave my brother and me a glimpse of the world outside of our town, and at the same time a glimpse of a room inside ourselves that was shaped by and filled with music. Driving around Boston, I locked onto WUMB and began listening hard to everything they sent out, this right at the same time I had begun writing The Bear. It was then I began a playlist called “Songs to Accompany The Bear” on my iPhone, a playlist that was a constant work in progress of artists and bands I’d hear each day, a playlist I would work on when I got home and the writing wasn’t going so well. And from 2017 to 2019, I had found enough new music to listen to for hours on end, always adding more when I heard something I loved, or couldn’t listen to just once.

That’s where the songs I’ve presented here come from. I’ve culled a list that stretches from Aimee Mann and Alejandro Escovedo to The War on Drugs and Wilco down to twelve for largehearted boy, and it occurred to me as I did so, that what you’ve got in front of you is new music that struggles with the old journey of love to loss and the space between. I think that’s what I’ve found in them, these songs to accompany The Bear. A kind of unbroken circle that unites the old and the new, as though music always has and always will be played somewhere, somehow, whether we’re one among many on a highway in New England, or all alone at the end of the line.

Songs to Accompany The Bear

1) “January Hymn,” The Decemberists, The King Is Dead
2) “Too Far Away,” Gregory Alan Isakov, Evening Machines
3) “Diamond Icaro,” Susto, & I’m Fine Today
4) “Ladybug,” Sera Cahoone, From Where I Started
5) “Dying Star,” Ruston Kelly, Dying Star
6) “Las Cruces,” Martha Scanlon, The River and the Light
7) “LOVE. (Feat. Zacari.),” Kendrick Lamar, DAMN
8) “You Can Never Hold Back Spring,” Kat Edmonson, Come On Up To The House: Women Sing Waits
9) “Years to Burn,” Calexico / Iron & Wine, Years To Burn
10) “Coming Down Again,” Pieta Brown, Freeway
11) “Blazing Highway Home,” Josh Ritter, Fever Breaks
12) “Fall From Grace,” Kenny Werner, The Space

Andrew Krivak and The Bear links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

America Magazine review
Booklist review
Foreword review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
WBUR review

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