June 24, 2022
Electric Literature interviewed author Chelsea T. Hicks.
Half Waif released a surprise EP.
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The A's covered Harry Nilsson's "Popeye."
Kathryn Harlan recommended retellings of myths, folklore, and fairytales at Electric Literature.
The A.V. Club previewed July's most anticipated albums.
Shondaland recommended unexpected beach reads.
Pomplamoose covered the Postal Service's "Such Great Heights."
The Creative Independent interviewed author Clare Sestanovich.
Radio Free Brooklyn has released a compilation album.
Debutiful recommended the best debut books of 2022's second half.
Stream a new Sylvan Esso song.
Stream a new song by Lawn.
Debutiful interviewed author Jules Ohman.
Stream a new song by Katie Bejsiuk.
The shortlist for the 2022 Miles Franklin Prize has been announced.
Stream a previously unreleased Voxtrot song.
Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Ottessa Moshfegh's new novel.
June 23, 2022
The Guardian recommended entry points into the works of WG Sebald.
NPR Music shared a seven-hour roséwave playlist for smmer.
The New York Times Magazine profiled Pantheon publisher Lisa Lucas.
Stream a new song by Thor Harris.
Public Books interviewed Lynell George, author of A Handful of Earth, A Handful of Sky: The World of Octavia Butler.
Alicia Keys covered the Smiths' "This Charming Man."
The New York Times T Magazine listed the 100 most significant New York City novels from the past 50 years.
Stream a new song by Living Hour.
Entertainment Weekly recommended June's best books.
Pitchfork examined the rise in disassociation music.
Stream a new song by Ondara.
Ottessa Moshfegh discussed her new novel with Shondaland.
BBC Radio interviewed Kate Bush.
The OTHERPPL podcast interviewed author Marcy Dermansky.
Fotocrime covered Leonard Chen's "Avalanche."
Caroline Leavitt interviewed author Edie Meidav.
Aquarium Drunkard held a post-punk roundtable discussion with Mark Stewart (The Pop Group), Stephen Mallinder (Cabaret Voltaire), and Eric Random (The Buzzcocks).
James Jacob Hatfield interviewed author Rebecca van Laer.
Stream a new song by Rat Tally.
The Brooklyn Public Library shared a list of 125 essential Brooklyn books.
Stream a new Mt. Joy song.
Stream a new First Aid Kit song.
June 22, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Daniel Paisner's novel Balloon Dog is as surprising as it is deeply moving and funny.
Tobias Carroll wrote of the book:
"When you think of art heists, it's often centuries-old paintings or sculptures that come to mind. Daniel Paisner's Balloon Dog demonstrates just how thrilling it can be to put a contemporary work of art into a narrative—and a massive maximalist sculpture, at that. And that's without touching on Paisner's incisive riffs on suburban ennui throughout the book. Imagine a literary mash-up of The Hot Rock and A Serious Man and you have a sense of where this novel is coming from—but not of the surprises it has in store."
The idea for my latest novel, "Balloon Dog," came to me in waves. All at once. On the beach. Kinda, sorta.
I was weekending at a fabulous oceanfront home belonging to the brother of one of my lifelong friends. There was a lot of drinking and merry-making, as I recall—also, music. The house had a killer sound system, and at one point a live version of the Stones' "Satisfaction" filled the air. At around the same time, there was a knock on the front door. It was a Saturday morning, early fall. Most of us were well and truly hung over, looking ahead to our next round of drinking and merry-making. At the door was a crew of burly men, who'd just stepped from the cabs of the trucks parked in the driveway. The foreman said he was there for the sculpture on the front lawn, and we stupidly thanked him and left him and his crew to do their thing.
About an hour later, after we'd watched and photographed the bits and pieces of this iconic sculpture as it was being carefully disassembled and lifted from its seaside perch ahead of the winter season, it finally occurred to our host that we should probably check to make sure these art haulers were legit. Happily, they were. The piece was kinetic, and somewhat fragile, insofar as a massive, industrial-size sculpture could be fragile, and our pal knew in a back-of-his-mind way that his brother had it carted away and stored for the winter each year.
So that was that... but not really. You see, on the back of this odd, almost surreal encounter, I had an idea: what if a group of burly men posing as high-end art storage movers arrived at a fabulous vacation home unannounced, in the height of shoulder season, and made off with an impossibly big, unimaginably valuable work of art... in broad daylight? A brazen art heist in plain sight—it felt to me like the jumping-off point for a pretty great story.
Somehow, the idea attached itself to that Stones' song that had been playing when these guys pulled up to the house, and I got to thinking of how a weekend visit in such a spectacular setting might leave a working-stiff writer, say, looking on at the successes and accomplishments of others and considering the many ways he keeps missing out—you know, wondering how white his shirts could be if he could only grab at the same prizes as everyone else.
I hit on a snatch of lyric from the song as a title—"The Same Cigarettes as Me”—and filed the whole business away for another bolt of inspiration.
Cut to a couple years later, mid-pandemic, the world on pause. I started writing. And now, a year or so after that, the novel now known as Balloon Dog is out from Koehler Books. For the longest time, I held onto that line from "Satisfaction" as a title. A lot of writers will tell you the title is the last thing they think about when they set out to write a book, but in this case the novel was conceived, written and sold with that title in mind. Trouble was, the folks who control the Rolling Stones’ publishing were in the way. Or so I thought. For months, I chased down the appropriate rights and permissions people—in New York, in London, in Los Angeles. Finally, as cover art and supporting materials were being finalized, I heard back that approval would be another few months in coming and that I could expect to pay as much as $3,500 to secure the rights to use these five words from the middle bars of a 50-year-old song.
So that was that, on The Same Cigarettes as Me front. However, by this point, I'd written a novel that was guided and largely told through the experiences of my protagonist, who just so happened to be a working-stiff writer, stuck in a going-nowhere career, and grooved into the lifelong habit of associating all-too-familiar lines and snatches of lyrics from classic rock songs to the many moods and moments of his life and times. Each chapter in the book carried a choice phrase or line from a classic rock song as its title, and it felt to me like this connection was essential to my character's character, so I let this one part of the conceit ride.
Turns out this was a great decision, as far as this blog post is concerned, because I now have a book with twenty-one chapters, already punctuated in a meaningful way by a memorable line from a memorable song. The playlist has already written itself, but for this once-removed playlist I’ve decided to reach for a more obscure version of each song, because the originals are such touchstones. Why? Well, a lot of times, when I've heard a song into the ground, my mind tends to race over it in such a way that I can never really listen to it with a full-on focus, and so an alternate take is very often the best way for me to hear an old song as if for the first time.
1. There is a Mountain - Kenny Loggins
This Donovan ditty, built on an old Zen proverb, is playful and tuneful and joyful. In this version, pulled from an album of songs for children, it is all these things and more. “First There is a Mountain,” the opening chapter declares, as the reader is asked to consider what he/she knows alongside what he/she can only imagine.
2. For What It's Worth - The Staples Singers
This take, from 1967, was committed to vinyl just a couple months after the release of Buffalo Springfield’s original, and it’s a gospel-infused gem.
3. Come Together – Ike & Tina Turner
There’s no getting away from the feel of a Beatles song, but Ike & Tina light a fire underneath this one, and set it aloft. The lyric underlines the idea that things don’t always add up in predictable ways. “One and One and One is Three”… but only sometimes.
4. I Heard it Through the Grapevine – Joe Cocker
Cocker’s “With a Little Help From My Friends” is perhaps the most listened-to cover in rock history, but he rearranged/re-imagined the hell out of this one too. Bet you’re wonderin’ how it all ties in.
5. My Back Pages – Ramones
This hard-driving, punk-ish version of the Dylan classic, off the “Acid Eaters” album, brings a kind of relentless frenzy to one of the great rock/folk anthems.
6. You Really Got Me – Sly and the Family Stone
A little funk, a little soul, a little what-the-hell-was-that takes this Kinks’ cut in a whole other direction.
7. Maggie May – Susanna Hoffs and Matthew Sweet
A fresh take on Rod Stewart’s all-time classic, from a terrific album of covers put out by the former Bangles front-woman and the roots-rock singer-songwriter. The line I pull from the song for the book, “The morning sun when it’s in your face really shows your age,” helps to set the tone for what it means to live in the harsh light of our emerging days.
8. Can’t Find My Way Home – Bonnie Raitt
Are you kidding me? Bonnie plays Stevie Winwood like nobody’s business, beneath a lyric that asks readers to consider who holds the key to their futures.
9. Baby O’Riley – Pearl Jam
This live version captures the teenage angst of the original and lifts it to a whole new place with an audience that makes you want to stand up and shout. No, sir – you don’t need to be forgiven.
10. Truckin’ – Marijuana Deathsquads
Alas, there aren’t a whole lot of covers to choose from here, and this one, from the 2016 Grateful Dead tribute album Day of the Dead, is a little too trippy/spacey to play on repeat, but how can we pass up an opportunity to shine a light on one of the best band names on the planet?
11. Long Train Runnin’ – Richie Havens
Without Havens’s voice/vision, where would we be now?
12. All Apologies – Sinead O’Connor
This haunting, plaintive take from the incandescent Irish singer-songwriter takes your breath away… anyway, it does mine. And here it echoes the confusion many of us face as we struggle to define ourselves and build a legacy: “All in all is all we are…” Listen for the way she never quite lets the song take flight. It builds and it builds and it builds and then it just falls away. Lovely.
13. Bohemian Rhapsody – Pink
It’s tough to cover a magnum opus of a song that has been etched into the culture, but Pink sings the hell out of this one on her live album “All I Know So Far” – a version that’s shot through with theatricality and originality.
14. All Right Now - Puddle of Mudd
An elemental rock anthem given a fairly straightforward, hard-charging hearing by these Kansas City rockers.
15. Me & Bobbie McGee – Grateful Dead
I figured since I had to shoehorn-in a cover version of a Dead song a bit earlier, I should give the boys the stage before I complete the set. “Nothing left to lose” and all that. This live version from the classic Skull and Roses album gives this Kris Kristofferson masterpiece a fresh coat of paint. The cut comes from a 1971 show at The Fillmore East in NY, and I played the hell out of this back in high school.
16. Kashmir – Dixie Dregs
The line that finds its way from this Zeppelin tune into the book is “all will be revealed,” which can pretty much set the scene for the climax of any good story. Here the Dregs find a way to put their own spin on a song that has been drilled into memory.
17. Smoke on the Water – Pat Boone
The first song I ever learned on the guitar. (And, the second-to-last.) This kitsch-y version from the timeless crooner Pat Boone, from a 1997 collection called “In a Metal Mood: No More Mr. Nice Guy” has a little too much going on to rate a second listen, but oh that first listen… big fun.
18. Peaceful Easy Feeling – Kate Wolf
So great to be able to highlight the gifts of this American folksinger – gone too soon, but her voice lives on in this sweet, wistful live version of one of the Eagles’ first breakthrough hits.
19. (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction – Cat Power
The source material/inspiration for this book, “the same cigarettes as me” are lit in a stripped-down version from Cat Power that’s haunting and thrilling.
20. Changes – Butterfly Boucher (with David Bowie)
This one comes from the soundtrack to Shrek 2, of all places, and it’s cheerful and jaunty in a way that belies the original. Bowie’s on hand to duet with the Australian singer-songwriter to give this take an air of authenticity. The perfect song to accompany the book’s penultimate chapter—“Turn and Face the Strange”—which asks readers to consider the surprising turns that can’t help but find us as we make our way through this world.
21. Who Knows Where the Time Goes? – Nina Simone
There’s actually some discussion in this closing chapter (“I Do Not Count the Time”) on the weight of the original Sandy Denny version of the song, which she re-recorded to modest success as a member of the British folk group The Strawbs, and the Judy Collins cover that appeared as the b-side to “Both Sides Now” the following year. Denny dusted off the song again, as part of Fairport Convention, but here we hand the mic to the great singer and activist Nina Simone, who offers a fine coda to the book, as we step back from an art heist gone all kinds of wrong, and consider a career that’s gone all kinds of nowhere, and a life that may or may not have fallen short.
That about covers it. For those of us of a certain age, it’s a playlist shot-through with some surprising takes on the soundtrack of our lives, meant to echo the themes of a book that asks us to consider the transformative power of art. For everyone else, it’s an alternate take on a bunch of songs that have spoken into the culture in an indelible, enduring way. Might as well give a listen.
Daniel Paisner is the author or co-author of more than seventy books. As a ghostwriter, he has written more than fifty books in collaboration with athletes, actors, politicians, business leaders, and ordinary individuals with extraordinary stories to tell. Seventeen of his collaborations have reached The New York Times best-seller list. The author of three previous novels-A Single Happened Thing, Mourning Wood, and Obit-he is also the host of the popular podcast As Told To: The Ghostwriting Podcast. A graduate of Tufts University, with a master's degree in journalism from Boston University, he lives on Long Island and in Park City, Utah, where he enjoys skiing, hiking, kayaking, grandparenting, and aging gracefully.
The Paris Review interviewed author Sigrid Nunez.
NPR Music profiled Zola Jesus.
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Public Books examined why the world still needs to read the fiction of Octavia Butler.
Guards and Cults’ Madeline Follin covered Billie Eilish’s “Everything I Wanted.”
Kaitlyn Tiffany talked to It's Been a Minute about her book Everything I Need, I Get From You: How Fangirls Created the Internet as We Know It.
The Creative Independent interviewed singer-songwriter Regina Spektor.
Broadway Direct recommended summer's best theater books.
Stream a new song by Amanda Shires.
Electric Literature recommended literary newsletters.
SPIN profiled the Kills.
Efterklang released a surprise EP.
Stream a new song by Stella Donnelly.
Electric Literature interviewed author Lillian Fishman.
Atwood Magazine profiled singer-songwriter Imogen Clark.
Gulch covered the Pixies' “Monkey Gone To Heaven.”
Vol. 1 Brooklyn shared an excerpt from An Excerpt From Jackson Bliss’s memoir Dream Pop Origami.
Brooklyn Magazine examined the state of the borough's live indie music scene.
Granta shared an excerpt from Yoko Tawada's novel Scattered All Over the Earth.
Stream a new song by Built to Spill.
Stephanie Burt explored Imogen Binnie’s novel Nevada at the New Yorker.
Heart's Ann Wilson talked songwriting and women in music with American Songwriter.
Book Riot recommended influential queer books.
Full Stop interviewed poets Lisa Olstein and Julie Carr.
Chapter 16 interviewed author Brandon Taylor.
June 21, 2022
Bustle interviewed author Ottessa Moshfegh.
Stereogum profiled the band MUNA.
Paste reconsidered Fiona Apple's album, The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do, on its 10th anniversary.
The Creative independent interviewed author and record label head Nabil Ayers.
Patterson Hood discussed the new Drive-By Truckers album with Wide Open Country.
Electric Literature recommended essays by Black writers about race and identity.
Aquarium Drunkard shared video of a 1972 live performance by Alice Coltrane.
Geraldine Brooks recommended books for those who love horses at The Week.
David Byrne shared a "Psychedelia Lives" playlist.
Stream a new song by Tony Molina.
Literary Hub shared a Juneteenth reading list.
June 20, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kelly Krumrie's Math Class is wholly inventive and absorbing, a book that amazes as much as it moves you.
Danielle Dutton wrote of the book:
"Kelly Krumrie's MATH CLASS makes mathematical thinking tender, charming, full of longing, and strange. This book reminded me of things I love--Georges Perec's writing, Amina Cain's, Guillevic's Geometries--but reading it was also something fresh and new."
In my mind, Math Class is “about” teenage girls trapped in math class even when they aren’t, even when they’re outside or at home—the ideas and the language envelop them in their boredom and in mundane, everyday moments. Further, this math class takes place in an all-girls Catholic school, so there are saints, nuns, and uniforms. This creates a second layer—on top of the mathematical—of thinking about bodies, time, and control. Math, boredom, and Catholicism, as well as my particular literary aesthetic and artistic interests, also have a lot to do with repetition. The songs here include references to things like math, science, religion, but also repetitious loops and layers, bored-sounding women (and one man), and in many a kind of sadness that goes well with adolescence, particularly the one I hope I rendered in the book.
I don’t listen to music when I write. I prefer silence, and when I can’t get it, I use a white noise machine or will listen to quiet, ambient music to drown another sound out. I do create sonic atmospheres for myself that stimulate my thinking about a specific project when I’m not writing: playlists for cooking, cleaning, driving—an indirect influence. The songs here are some of those.
Marienbad by Julia Holter
This title (I’m assuming) refers to the 1961 film L’Année dernière à Marienbad directed by Alain Resnais and written by Alain Robbe-Grillet. I love this film, and I love Robbe-Grillet’s novels, especially Jealousy. His “geometric” precision and repetitious scenes (as in the film) create—like the work of his contemporary Nathalie Saurrate—a sense of timelessness, an eternal present, but a tense one. Holter captures this in her voice made choral, the cinematic movement of the song, counting, and descriptions of statues moving (which makes me think of Fleur Jaeggy’s The Water Statues). This is a good song to launch into Math Class where girls huddle in hallways, saints hovering over them.
Engineers by The Luyas
In the opening section of the book, the protagonist, Jo, gets a school counselor off her back by saying she’d like to become an engineer (which isn’t true). This song includes lines like “we didn’t know shit,” “I thought I’d be something enduring / hell no!” and “I’m a creator and also I don’t believe in god / but engineers have my respect”—I don’t think any of the characters believe in god. This song has some beepy, machine noises, too.
I think about this song all the time. I love how sad it is, how it says the same thing over and over, and how the repetitions glitch. And it lands on counting six, six, six, seven.
Fuck With Your Friends by Lala Lala
Of all of these, this is the most Math Class. The book features a constellation of girls helping and hurting each other, touching each other, lying around all the time, probably lying all the time—and this song does all those things for me in few words, in short bursts. The line “there is no way to figure it out” breaks my heart every time. It’s bored and funny and perfect.
Let’s Get Out by Life Without Buildings
If I had a band (which I don’t/won’t), and I decided to write a song about Henry James’ novella In the Cage (which I read and wrote an article about in the early stages of writing Math Class), it would be exactly like this.
Fear O the Light by Katie Dey
I’ve been listening to Katie Dey a lot over the last year. Weird, messy dissonance and surprising screeching, bright and hazy. This one has souls and sadness, and I mostly can’t make out what she’s saying (though I could look it up) and I like that.
I Tell Myself Everything by The Blow
A friend once told me that if I were a band, as in, if a band were to manifest itself from me or if I morphed myself into one, I think, it would be The Blow. I’m not sure I agree, but it’s a compliment for sure. This is the only song here that I associate with specific characters in the book: Ana and Kat, who are kind of mean, thin, erotic, and into measurement—they’d sing this song.
Every Single Night by Fiona Apple
Teen Kelly would kill me if I didn’t include Fiona Apple. Everyone in Math Class is fighting with their brain. And so am I, right?
Our Hell by Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton
This one has big feelings! I love the breathing, the piano. I should say that I found this song and “Engineers” in a playlist by Land of Talk, who should be in this playlist, but I just couldn’t find the right one. Same goes for The Breeders.
Metal Heart by Cat Power
Teen Kelly would also ask for Cat Power. Every line in this is good for Math Class.
MATH by QUIN
Obviously! This one is a little spacey—the theme of QUIN’s album—and sexy, which is not a prominent part of the book, but not not there… And since I like loops, this loops back nicely to “Marienbad.”
Kelly Krumrie is a writer and teacher based in Colorado. Her first book, Math Class, will be published by Calamari Archive June 2022. Other creative and critical writing appears in journals such as DIAGRAM, La Vague, Black Warrior Review, Full Stop, and The Explicator. She also writes a column for Tarpaulin Sky Magazine called figuring on math and science in art and literature. She holds a PhD in English & Literary Arts: Creative Writing from the University of Denver.
Marcy Dermansky shared an essay about revision at Literary Hub.
Stream a new Nils Frahm song.
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Electric Literature interviewed author Imani Perry.
Foals’ Yannis Philippakis broke down every song on the band's new album at SPIN.
Shondaland recommended the best anthologies of the year so far.
Jens Lekman discussed his discography with Bandcamp Daily.
Ashley Hutson recommended books about the heights of delusion at Electric Literature.
Rolling Stone examined Nigeria's rock resurgence.
Vulture shared a Juneteenth reading list.
Elvis Costello covered the Beatles' "Here, There And Everywhere."
Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed author Lindsay Temple.
Stream a new Sports Team song.
The Guardian interviewed author Sarah Hall.
Stream a new SBTRKT song.
The Guardian interviewed author Ruth Ozeki.
The Millions interviewed author Edie Meidav.
June 17, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Alex Poppe's Duende is a mesmerizing and surprising coming-of-age story with flamenco at its heart.
Rachel Swearingen wrote of the book:
"Duende is no ordinary coming-of-age tale, although the longing that pulses at its center is as timeless as the Flamenco music that weaves through the book. Alex Poppe performs a narrative dance with these pages, weaving together Sevilla, Spain and Detroit, Michigan. Her rhythmic sentences and sensory details will leave you hungering for streetside cafes, Flamenco halls, and carnivals. Poppe is a rare storyteller, gifted with both precision and heart."
For a coming-of-age novella crafted to flamenco dance, you might expect flamenco palos to pepper my playlist. However, listening to a flamenco dancer instead of watching the intricacies of his or her movements sells the artform short. Instead, I’ve crafted my playlist from songs evoking mood or character.
1. Metallica and the San Francisco Symphony, “Nothing Else Matters”
Beyond flamenco stages, orange trees weep on Mudéjar palaces, perfuming Seville’s air with fresh citrus. The lone, plucked, electric guitar chords opening Metallica and the San
Francisco Symphony’s “Nothing Else Matters” evoke Seville’s majesty. The symphony orchestra joins the electric guitar, building to crescendo; this is dawn breaking over the city’s church steeples, setting little copper fires in the windows of the ancient buildings lining the cobblestone streets.
2. Ani DiFranco, “Overlap”
The main character, Lava, has been shunted off to Seville to live with her mother’s cousin, Lola, the collateral damage of family upheaval. She meets a cad-in-the-making bartender named Daniel, to whom she loses her virginity. This is not love; rather, their interlude is the betterment of a hookup, in which Lava engages, eyes wide open. The frankness, agency, and appetite of Ani Di Franco’s “Overlap” embodies that attitude while maintaining a shy seductiveness. The petal-soft guitar notes of Ani’s acoustic guitar remind me of the flamenco guitar music cursiving through Seville’s parks and plazas, wending its way throughout the city.
3. Iggy Pop, “The Passenger”
Astrid, the ringleader of the ex-pat students gives Lava access to an exclusive, high school clique when they become friends and partners-in-crime. Iggy Pop’s “The Passenger” has a springy beat reminiscent of adolescent girls’ machinations. The lyrics, “I am the passenger, I stay under glass,” are Lava as she deciphers her new twin worlds of elite high school drama, and through Lola, flamenco.
4. Adele, “Someone Like You”
Astrid and Lava wander Seville’s weekly flea market, a detritus of pre-internet life while Adele’s “Someone Like You” plays in the background. During “Someone Like You,” Astrid and Lava improvise a sevillanas dance. I listened to “Someone Like You” repeatedly, matching dance movements to song measures, intertwining elements of the sevillanas and the forward story.
The long piano introduction at the beginning of “Someone Like You” sounds like longing, which ribbons through the novella. Lava’s longing for family connection, a place to belong, to become. Because I write beat by beat, story and character reveal themselves to me as I go. The lyrics “I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited,” sparked the beat where Lava and Astrid leave the flea market to spy on Daniel.
5. Jeff Buckley, “Hallelujah”
Cody, the PTSD-suffering, Iraqi-war vet who boards with Lava and Lola, would be played by Adam Driver in my fantasy casting of the novella. Cody is broken. His fragile beauty is personified in Jeff Buckley’s Hallelujah.” The opening chords sound meditative, contemplative, slowly gaining in strength, the essence of repair.
Cody is also in love with Lola, who momentarily reciprocates to body-batter loneliness while her husband, Jesse, serves his prison term. The lyrics, “Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya. She tied you to her kitchen chair. She broke your throne and she cut your hair. And from your lips she drew the Hallelujah.” capture Cody’s tortured heart when Jesse returns.
6. Hole, “Violet”
The prose poem halfway through the novella is Lava’s exorcism of betrayal through dance. Dancing in a rehearsal room allows her to reflect, process, and release the toxicity from all that has come before. Hole’s “Violet” has that same raw, roiling, ramping energy powering Lava’s movement. “You should learn how to say no. Go on. Take everything. Take everything. I want you to.” conjures turbulent self-recrimination and teen angst. Lava dances until she is cleansed, her body acid-raining on the rehearsal room floor.
7. PJ Harvey, “A Place Called Home”
If Lava could give a truth serum to Lila right before she asked one question, that question would be, “Who are you?” Lila keeps herself from Lava while Lava is desperate for Lila’s love. PJ Harvey’s “A Place Called Home” captures Lava’s unrequited longing to be part of Lila’s tribe.
Lady Gaga’s dark rendition of 4 Non-Blondes’ “What’s Up” has the vociferous pathos of what Lava feels when Lila gives her the envelope with a passport and a one-way ticket to Seville. A cocktail of confusion, disbelief, betrayal, fear, and abandonment surges through Lava. “Tryin’ to get up that great big hill of hope. For a destination.”
9. PJ Harvey, “Down by the Water”
Lola stops existing in an idealized form as Lava realizes with both pride and sadness how alike they are. PJ Harvey’s “Down by the Water” elicits an ambivalent mother-daughter dynamic fueled by competition, jealousy, and abandonment without self-delusion. Lola and Lava are PJ Harvey’s “Little fish, big fish swimming in the water.” Lola’s choice to center flamenco in her life is her unapologetic commitment to living authentically.
10. Nouvelle Vague, “In a Manner of Speaking"
Estrella, an older flamenco singer who would have been played by the late Olympia Dukakis, pushes Lava to puzzle through the labyrinth of her family lore even though Estrella has the answers. Nouvelle Vague’s “In a Manner of Speaking” is Lava’s exasperation at not getting straight answers, of never really knowing: “Oh, give me the words. Give me the words. That tell me nothing. Oh, give me the words. Give me the words. That tell me everything.”
The song works on a secondary level: the final clue to who is disappearing girls in Seville is revealed in this chapter, but not every reader will catch it. I crafted this ambiguity deliberately as a comment on how society gives up on its disappeared girls and women, leaving predators to re-offend.
11. Janis Joplin’s performance of “Summertime” (written by George Gershwin)
The long instrumental introduction of Janis Joplin’s “Summertime” makes my heart feel as though it were running through a field. There’s a dissonance in the instrumentals, which echoes the chaos Lava has survived. Then, the dissonance quiets to something akin to hope: “One of these mornings, you’re gonna rise up singing. Then you’ll spread your wings, and you’ll take to the sky.”
Alex Poppe is also the author of Jinwar and Other Stories (March 2022), Moxie, a novel (2019), and Girl World, Stories (2017), which was named a 35 over 35 Debut Book Award winner, First Horizon Award finalist, Montaigne Medal finalist, shortlisted for the Eric Hoffer Awards Grand Prize and received an Honorable Mention in General Fiction. In 2021, she was an artist-in-residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, where she began writing a memoir about her time working in Iraq. Poppe served as an academic writing lecturer at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani, and as a teacher trainer for Iraq’s Ministry of Higher Education. She now lives in Chicago and is a staff writer for the Preemptive Love Coalition, a non-governmental organization devoted to stopping the spread of violence. www.alexpoppe.com.
Shorties (Jonathan Vatner on the Inspiration Behind His New Novel, The Best Books About Women in Music, and more)
Jonathan Vatner shared the inspiration behind his new novel at Electric Literature.
Danyel Smith, author of Shine Bright: A Very Personal History of Black Women in Pop, recommended the best books about women in music at Publishers Weekly.
Perfume Genius's Mike Hadreas talked books with SPIN.
Stream a new Lambchop song.
BU Today profiled AGNI on the literary magazine's 50th birthday.
Kelly Lee Owens shared some of her favorite albums at Bandcamp Daily.
Granta shared a conversation between authors Leslie Jamison and Margo Jefferson.
Kurt Vile visited The Current for a live performance and interview.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn recommended Philip K. Dick novels for summer reading.
Stream a new song by Sound of Ceres.
Pitchfork interviewed singer-songwriter Grace Ives.
Phoebe Bridgers covered Bruce Springsteen's "Stolen Car."
Stream a new song by Marisa Anderson.
Wilco's Jeff Tweedy discussed the band's new album with Aquarium Drunkard.
Stream two new songs by Why Bonnie.
June 16, 2022
Lindsay Lerman's novel is beautifully complex and inventive.
Alex DiFrancesco wrote of the book:
"Lindsay Lerman gives a sense that the author and the reader are on the run together, foraging a path of discovery as they flee. With prose both beautiful and relentlessly shifting with experiment, this book meets the reader at not-knowing and carries them forward, scouting the territory just one step ahead."
In a recent interview, I confessed that although What Are You is experimental in some senses and although it’s been a hell of a challenge to describe it in market-friendly terms, I don’t think it’s really that experimental, and I think of it more like an album than a book. That is, I think it behaves more like a long piece of music than a book—which should make putting together a playlist very easy, but paradoxically, it’s not!
The book has six sections (or movements), so I focused on the mood of each section. What I have here is a playlist that I hope can feel like an album, which I hope can feel like spending time inside my new book, which I hope is a meaningful experience for anyone who picks it up.
Prologue: ars poetica
This song is quoted early in the book (with permission), and it functions as kind of an ars poetica. “Like the church, like a cop, like a mother, you want me to be truthful / but then you turn it on me like a weapon and I need your approval.” Joni saw every trap—personally, professionally—and even if she could not avoid them, she was going to let you know she saw them, and she was not going to let any of it stop her from traveling, expanding, going, doing. She’s on another level. She always has been.
Part 1: the mood for this section is angular and angry, defiant, confused, heartbroken, and a little sad
2. Teenage Whore by Hole
3. I Am Here by Savages
4. In the Night by Bauhaus
5. Smells Like Teen Spirit by Tori Amos
Part 2: in this section, a new kind of darkness emerges for the narrator
6. Tabula Rasa: I. Ludus by Arvo Pärt
7. O Frondens Virga by Hildegard von Bingen (the Karen R. Clark performance)
8. God Gave Me No Name by Lingua Ignota
Part 3: new dimensions of the darkness appear, and the narrator begins to understand their allure, their undeniable pull
9. Ugly and Vengeful by Anna von Hausswolff
10. Sri Rama Ohnedaruth by Alice Coltrane
Part 4: the darkness begins to recede as the narrator’s knowledge of what the darkness can and cannot make possible emerges
11. Inayaat by Arooj Aftab
12. I Live Now as a Singer by Julie Byrne
13. White Ferrari by Frank Ocean
Part 5: in this section, the narrator begins to understand her power and her complicity with the darkness, so the mood is resigned but hopeful and a little wild—awareness sharpening
14. Blood on Me by Sampha
15. Two Weeks by FKA Twigs
16. Hanoi 7 by Unknown Mortal Orchestra
17. Rome (Always in the Dark) by Low
Part 6: opening onto a new horizon, this section finds the narrator at home in the unknown
18. The Dancer by PJ Harvey
19. Memory Gongs by Cocteau Twins and Harold Budd
20. Turn the Light On by Julia Holter
indsay Lerman's first book I'm From Nowhere was published in 2019. Her essays, short stories, and poetry have been published in The Los Angeles Review of Books, Entropy, Hobart, Southwest Review, and elsewhere. She is currently adapting her short story Real Love--which first appeared in NY Tyrant Magazine--for the screen. She is represented by Abby Walters at CAA.
Jonathan Papernick's novel I Am My Beloveds is compelling and poignant story of relationships and love.
Sara Nović wrote of the book:
"I Am My Beloveds is a compulsive read, at turns heart-wrenching, angry, funny, and sweet, but always smart and vivid. Papernick is a master of growing empathy from the smallest detail, in doing so has crafted a winning protagonist in Ben Seidel, who I was eager to follow, warts and all, wherever his misadventures in open marriage might lead.'
Jonathan Papernick, born and raised in Toronto Canada, is the author of two short story collections and three novels, the most recent being I Am My Beloveds. He serves as Senior Writer-in-Residence in the Writing, Literature and Publishing department at Emerson College in Boston where he has taught since 2007. He lives on Boston's South Shore with his wife, step-daughters, and sons.
Electric Literature interviewed author Pankaj Mishra.
NPR Music shared a Juneteenth playlist.
The Current profiled singer-songwriter Siri Undlin (who performs as Humbird).
Jules Ohman recommended books about coming into queer selfhood at Electric Literature.
NPR Music interviewed Priests' Katie Alice Greer.
The Creative Independent interviewed poet Shayla Lawz.
BrooklynVegan shared a collection of covers of Vashti Bunyan songs.
Cover Me shared a collection of covers performed by Toyah Willcox & Robert Fripp.
Kirkus profiled author Lydia Conklin.
Shalom shared two new songs.
Geraldine Brooks talked books and reading with the New York Times.
Paste interviewed Perfume Genius's Mike Hadreas.
Leïla Slimani recommended books to read in Paris at the New York Times.
Stream a new song by Twen.
Ruth Ozeki's novel The Book of Form and Emptiness has been awarded the Women's prize for fiction.
Stream a new song by beabadoobee.
The OTHERPPL podcast interviewed author Sloane Crosley.
Stream a new song by 070 Shake.
The New York Times profiled author Brontez Purnell.
Stream a new Pet Shimmers song.
Litro interviewed author David Collard.
Stream a new song by Santigold.
Stream a new song by Sam Prekop.
Stream a new Drugdealer song.
Stream a new Jennifer Vanilla song.
Stream a new song by pinkpirate.
Andrew Bird shared two cover songs at Aquarium Drunkard.