May 10, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Brad Listi's novel Be Brief and Tell Them Everything is engaging autofiction about art and growing into adulthood.
Chelsea Hodson wrote of the book:
"In Be Brief and Tell Them Everything, Brad Listi uses sharp, crystalline prose to navigate through moments of failure, love, fatherhood, psychedelics, and the unknown. What does it mean to be an artist, a husband, a father? This novel’s reach toward meaning and understanding is truly unforgettable—I loved this book."
Be Brief and Tell Them Everything took me more than a decade to write. It’s a work of autofiction that explores the themes of creation, creative exasperation, grief, loss, fatherhood, marriage, fate, failure, psychedelic reckoning, and more. It’s a book that, over time, became about its own making. A personal story—darkly funny, I hope. The final draft was composed during the pandemic year of 2020 in a concentrated six-month push. Music was a part of the process. Below in no particular order are some songs that stand out from that time.
1.) “Cactus,” by Sam Evian
A good one for the early morning, when you’re just warming up to the day. As I get older, I find myself gravitating to softer sounds. Probably natural. Time of day has something to do with it, too. Who are these people who wake up at dawn and listen to techno? Not okay.
2.) “From Paris with Love,” by Melody Gardot
This sweet song evokes Paris, where I recently got into a bicycle accident and broke my right kneecap. Melody Gardot suffered a more severe bicycle accident in her youth and was bedridden for a year. Her injuries made her sensitive to light and sound, and she ended up gravitating to quieter music in her recovery, learning how to play the guitar while lying on her back. And me? So far I’m just lying here, watching TV.
3.) “Jim Cain,” by Bill Callahan
There’s something great about Callahan’s vocal delivery: casual, calm, stoned-seeming, often with a spoken word quality, as if he’s just sitting there talking to you. Lou Reed has this as well. Feels rare. The song also has great orchestration and a developed sense of melody, and so on. It works. Kinda washes over you. Lovely. That plainspoken poetic quality—I admire it. I was trying for a similar effect in my book. Thanks, Bill.
4.) “Confidence Man,” by Cass McCombs
Here again a song characterized by casual vocal delivery, mellow in its effect. A song with something on its mind. And some wit. The title alone: “Confidence Man.” That’s funny. It’s funny just to say it. All artists are confidence men on some level. I think this is, at least in part, what McCombs is singing about here. But I could be wrong.
5.) “Small Worlds,” by Rayland Baxter
A song that feels like it was written late at night. Swings a little. Cocktail lounge energy. Blue light. Smoke. The first song that I’ve recommended that might cause a person to (languidly?) dance. There’s a looseness to it that I admire. Rayland Baxter seems at ease here. Like he’s having fun. Natural. Who cares what anybody thinks? We could learn from this.
6.) “Depreston,” by Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett is Australian and sings with her Australian accent. I love that. This is also a song about real estate ennui and how depressing it is to be stuck in an overinflated market with no hope of home ownership. Something that millions of people feel, and as far as I know, Courtney Barnett is the only person who thought to make a song about it. Genius move.
7.) “Song for Zula,” by Phosphorescent
I stumbled into Phosphorescent’s music in, like, early 2020 and for a few minutes thought that I’d discovered them. Turns out they’d been around for many years, making great music. I had no idea. Pitiful. You can’t keep up with everything, I guess. This is a band that, if I were in a band, I’d want to be in this kind of band. Matthew Houck’s voice is so unique. He can really sell a song.
8.) “A Couple Things,” by Kate Bollinger
I compare this one to a Swiss watch. Small, controlled, precise. Nothing out of place. And yet at the same time it’s all about fucking up. Good dissonance. I like the idea of an artist experiencing anxiety about making bad decisions, failing, screwing her life up—and then, as a coping mechanism, making a pristine little song in which she carefully shares her concerns.
9.) “Feels Right,” by Biig Piig
Finally something up-tempo. I don’t know how you argue with a song like this. Gives you good energy. Something I might’ve listened to without irony on a day when the writing was going well. Undeniable. I also like the name “Biig Piig.” The kind of name that, when you read it, you automatically say it aloud.
10.) “Bang! Bang!,” by Joe Cuba Sextet
Perfect to listen to if you’re taking yourself too seriously. On the surface, it shouldn’t work. Lyrically, what’s happening here? They just keep shouting “Beep! Beep!” and “Bang! Bang!” But the Cuban instrumentation is superb and the people making the music are so clearly filled with joy that it wins you over in the end and makes you feel bad about yourself for being such a curmudgeon. Plus, everyone on the record seems drunk. There might even be drunk children singing in the background. You can only salute.
11.) “Searchin’,” by Acid Dad
This one is, I think, a bit more recent, but I’m adding it to the list on the strength of the name “Acid Dad.” Acid Dad sings plaintively about being stuck in the ‘70s, but to me this is a song stuck in the ‘90s. Some weird chronology happening here. It’s sorta like that song “1979” by Smashing Pumpkins and how it reminds you of 1996. Me? I’m feeling Pavement vibes. I could deliver pizza to this song. It’s the highest praise I can offer a musician.
12.) “Lightning Bolt,” by Jake Bugg
Fun song. Vintage feel. Alcohol and cigarettes. Bluesy? Folksy? I don’t know music well enough to properly categorize it. Makes you want to stomp your foot. Jake Bugg is an Englishman. Good voice. Seems like he should be a bigger deal here in the States. I think he’s a big deal in the UK. Would make sense. I hope it’s true. I sorta want to introduce him to Acid Dad. I feel like they should be friends.
Brad Listi is the author of the novel Attention. Deficit. Disorder, which was a Los Angeles Times bestseller, and hailed by the late Jim Carroll as "a perfect book about what we and the world are becoming." He is the co-author, with Justin Benton, of Board, an experimental work of nonfiction derived entirely from Internet comment boards. Brad is the founder of The Nervous Breakdown, an online culture magazine and literary community. For the past decade, he has hosted the literary podcast called Otherppl with Brad Listi, which has produced more than 650 episodes, generating more than 11 million unique downloads. Buzzfeed calls it "the perfect way to get the stories behind your stories." Brad lives in Los Angeles with his family.