October 22, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Mike DeCapite's novel Jacket Weather is an inventively told and unforgettable portrayal of middle age.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Spare and lyrical . . . DeCapite has a poet’s eye for the city’s majestic details, and illustrates how his characters come to see the same things differently over the years . . . A worthwhile meditation."
Here’s a playlist of some songs that informed my novel Jacket Weather but that aren’t mentioned in it.
“Sweet Jane,” The Velvet Underground (Loaded version)
I always felt this song was better than any version I’d heard of it, including this one. But Jacket Weather opens with “standing on the corner,” and among the dozens of songs that contain that line, “Sweet Jane” is the obvious reference for a New York book. And the way it starts, the curtain is opening. Or we’re coming down to street level, sharpening focus. And now I realize this is the ideal version, after all. Sometimes you can’t hear how good something is because it’s perfect.
“Bang Bang,” The Joe Cuba Sextet
This introduces us to Philly, one of the guys Mike knows from the gym, who represents a seam of living history running through the book. Philly’s always talking about the old days in New York, like when he used to go dancing at the Village Gate. Boogaloo (like No Wave) is a sound that immediately means New York to me. It’s one of the flavors that make the city what it is. In this case, literally: the singer (Jimmy Sabater?) is so swept away by Nuyorican culture he’s shouting “Lechón! Lechón!”
“Let Me Have It All,” Sly and the Family Stone
Within days of reconnecting with June, Mike is thinking about her continuously. He can’t sleep and can’t eat, and jokes that he’s “leaving all that behind anyway, the physical realm. Transmuting to pure awareness.” Sly’s line “You have turned into a prayer” reminds me of The Way of the Pilgrim, an account of a Russian monk who aspired to constant prayer.
“Real Good Looking Boy,” The Who
Tormented and catatonic with separation anxiety on a trip back home to Cleveland, Mike goes for a drive one evening. He gets to the top of a freeway ramp and sees a big pink cloud, and he knows everything’s going to be okay. Pete Townshend’s crashing chords on this song are that big pink cloud. An early epigraph for Jacket Weather was “And I felt then / that I moved / with all those lucky fucks and angels / high in the theatre in the sky.”
“High in the City,” Lou Reed
This is the glow I was hoping to capture in Jacket Weather, this orange, late-in-the-day light. And the song is about walking around New York, “seeing what we could see,” as June would say. It moves at a walking pace. “I’ve got the time / I’ve got my feet / Let’s go hit the street.” Feels like after work, when your time is your own again and you’ve earned it. You’re walking a line between self-awareness and knowing you’re part of the fabric of things. The mood is rosy but it’s realistic. Yeah, you’re seeing things in a certain light, but you’re seeing what’s there. And like any high, you’re aware it’s going to end. It’s “Perfect Day” without that song’s moment of self-hatred. And there’s a steel drum.
“A Boat of Courage,” Michio Kurihara
There’s a passage in which Mike is walking up Seventh Avenue at the end of July, end of the week, “at the day’s exact climax, the moment when it meant something bigger than itself, something more than here, like God, or something more than now, like history.” I played this while writing that passage at my green Formica table in Brooklyn. It must have been playing when I started, and it seemed to get at what I was trying to get at, so I played it over and over and over. And over.
“There She Goes,” Sixpence None the Richer / ”There She Goes Again,” The Velvet Underground
Until it turned out to be too expensive to use them, there were lyrics throughout Jacket Weather. I couldn’t resist a segue from the sunny, sweet longing of this song to the dark, angry jealousy of one with nearly the same title, as a little joke about the complexity of Mike’s feelings toward June at the start of their relationship. I hated to strip out the lyrics, but once I did, I was glad to be rid of them.
“Have Love, Will Travel,” The Sonics
What is there to say? This song should be on every playlist. This sort of thing is an instant turn-on for June.
“Here Comes the Whistleman,” Rahsaan Roland Kirk
In the locker room, Philly’s talking about seeing Roland Kirk at the Vanguard. Kirk came off the stage in the middle of a solo and made his way through the crowd, up the stairs, and out of the club to Seventh Avenue, still playing.
Marquee Moon, Television’s first record, is New York at night. That’s actually the least of what it is, as I’m still finding out after listening to it for more than forty years. For me, it’s the sound of a living consciousness in those moments it’s most aware it’s alive. Put more simply, it’s the sound of life. And because you can’t put a whole record on a playlist, I chose one song, “Venus,” to correspond with a passage about walking around the city at night (even though that passage starts out back on the corner, this time with Mick and Keith: “Standin’ on the corner of West Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue . . .”). Has anyone ever written a better line about the experience of beauty than “And I fell / right into the arms / of Venus de Milo”?
“You Said Something,” P.J. Harvey
Here’s a moment of perspective, like when you look out the window of a car at night and see your face reflected back, or a breeze blows through where you’re sitting and rattles the bags that the food or the beer came in. For a moment, you’re in touch with the deeper currents of your life: you’re cinematized. I took a couple of lines from this for a paragraph about June and Mike on the roof of her building at night. One of those moments that feels like it’s part of a montage, when you’re alive, and you know it, and you feel time on your face.
“Mother of Pearl,” Roxy Music
I was at a party on East 11th once when the host kneeled beside the couch where I was sitting. She put a tab of acid on my tongue and left me there while, gradually, the room came into stark focus and started to wink at me, like this song does. I chose it to cover a scene where June and Mike are smoking hash and listening to his iPod on shuffle.
“Yancey Limited,” Jimmy Yancey
June and Mike are high when a Jimmy Yancey song comes on. Mike says “There’s 35 songs on here, all identical. ‘Yancey Special,’ ‘Yancey Limited,’ ‘Yancey Stomp.’ All the same.” He says it doesn’t matter, because if you could do this at a piano, why do anything else? This bit of dialogue didn’t make it into the final draft, but I still hear it there.
“By the Time It Gets Dark,” Sandy Denny
June comes home after a long day at work with a bunch of sunflowers. As a guy, it’s hard not to hear this song and feel ashamed. Because guys are grouchy and self-pitying and petty and selfish and morose, and here’s this person innocently trying to cheer you up——you know, risking your anger or resistance to get you to some simple gratitude for being alive. Not for her sake, though her days are numbered too, but for yours. Snap out of it, man: why spoil even one of her nights? You know how some artists bypass thought and act directly on your nervous system and before you know it, your face is wet? Sandy Denny does that to me. I look down there’s an arrow sticking out of me, I’m already bleeding.
“Manhattan,” Cat Power
There are moments in spring and autumn when time stands still. When this world feels like the reflection of a realm where nothing changes. It’s something you feel only in moments, but those moments feel like a glimpse of the truth. This whole record puts me in October. Cat Power’s in touch with something else, something beyond the here and now, it’s in her voice. I hear this and I see rooftop ventilator pipes against a soft blue sky in the afternoon, or icy clouds behind the Empire State Building at night.
“Breakin’ in My Heart,” Tom Verlaine
“Breakin’ in My Heart” gives the book one of its epigraphs: “I saw the color that sent the geese south.” I’ve waited decades to use that line. This is just one of my favorite things ever, this song. Those two guitar breaks describe the workings of the universe, for me. Here, Mike is crossing Tompkins Square Park when a flock of geese flies overhead. But this song represents the whole book, really.
“Blow, Daddy-O,” Pere Ubu
This sounds like November to me. A wind blowing through the year. With winter at the back end of it. The wind that takes down the last of the leaves. The words are actually online at a karaoke site, next time you’re out with the girls from the office.
“Coney Island Baby,” The Excellents / “Coney Island Baby,” Lou Reed
Again here, before I took all the lyrics out, I’d shuffled two songs of the same name together: the old doo-wop song “Coney Island Baby” and an alternate version of the Lou Reed song, one of those songs in which he touched the infinite. He’s at the shore, looking out. Maybe the ghost of these songs is still Jacket Weather’s December chapter. I hope so.
“In Your Mind,” Bryan Ferry
I see this playing over the closing credits, over a shot of 14th Street. It’s December, and the song begins with bells, and the words “Hark the herald chimes of winter.” Maybe some people think Bryan Ferry is simply a romantic, but in this I hear a romanticism that transcends realism. As there’s the innocence of the inexperienced, and then again there’s an innocence on the other side of experience. That’s how I see this book.
Mike DeCapite has published the novel Through the Windshield, the chapbook Creamsicle Blue, and the short-prose collection Radiant Fog under the banner of Sparkle Street Books. Cuz Editions published his story Sitting Pretty, later anthologized in The Italian American Reader. DeCapite grew up in Cleveland and has lived in London and San Francisco, but has spent most of his time in New York City, where he now resides.