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April 23, 2019

C. J. Farley's Playlist for His Novel "Around Harvard Square"

Around Harvard Square

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, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

C. J. Farley's Around Harvard Square is a raucously funny and satirical coming-of-age novel.

The National Book Review wrote of the book:

"A smart, satirical novel about surviving the racial and cultural tensions ratcheted up in the elite Harvard hothouse. Farley has created a marvelously engaging and diverse set of characters, at the center of which is a nerdy Jamaican American with a philosophical bent and his cohort of oddballs struggling to win a spot on Harvard's brainy humor magazine, which provides a springboard for Farley to dive into the ethics of comedy, among other subjects."


In his own words, here is C. J. Farley's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Around Harvard Square:



I was the music critic for Time magazine in the 1990s so I have a fondness for the music of that era. I can still hear the echoes of Lilith Fair and Lollapalooza and Latin Pop and Boy Bands. I remember lots of critics were down on the recording artists of the time at the time but as the decade rolled by it became clear that we were in one of the best periods for music not one of the worst. Rap came into its own and alternative and grunge made rock relevant again. After the 90s, music lost its way and its shape and everything started streaming and nobody would ever idolize albums in quite the way they did then because music wasn’t something you could hold in your hand anymore. The last album cover anyone remembers is that baby in that pool swimming after that dollar on the hook. Every chapter in my novel Around Harvard Square is centered around a song from the 1990s. Sometimes the link is obvious, other times you have to dig deep for the connection.

Lauryn Hill, “Lost Ones”: Lauryn once gave me an unmastered copy of The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill before she had finished it. Around the same time, I interviewed Bruce Springsteen and he asked me the best thing I had heard lately. I couldn’t part with Miseducation so I gave him a copy of the new Seal album I had in my car. I think my life would have gone differently if I had given New Jersey’s greatest rocker the debut album of New Jersey’s greatest rapper.

Nas, “Represent”: I wrote about Nas’s first album for Time and interviewed him. I knew it was a classic from the first track. He should be in the Trinity with Tupac and Biggie.

Wu-Tang Clan, “C.R.E.A.M.”: “Cash, Rules, Everything, Around, Me C.R.E.A.M. Get the money Dollar, dollar bill y'all.”

Smashing Pumpkins, “Geek U.S.A.”: Even before that scene in Garden State with the Shins, I was running around with the Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream when it came out and slipping headphones on people and telling them “You gotta hear this one song it’ll change your life.”

Nirvana, “Territorial Pissings”: I remember being invited to see MTV Unplugged in New York and Kurt was standing a foot away from me and I was going to talk to him but I figured there would be plenty of time later. There wasn’t.

Elliott Smith, “Ballad of Big Nothing”: I once told singer-songwriter Alana Davis that she should cover this song. She told me “You realize it’s about drugs, right?” I really shouldn’t tell artists what to do.

2Pac, “If I Die 2Nite”: Tupac brushed by me at a party once and he had an entourage of a couple dozen men holding standards like they were in the Roman freaking Legion.

Radiohead, “Subterranean Homesick Alien”: I interviewed the band once when they were on tour in Scotland and at first Thom Yorke wouldn’t talk to me. Then one night, after midnight, he summoned me to the back of a tour bus for a long chat. I don’t even remember what he said and the article is behind a paywall on the Time magazine site.

Smashing Pumpkins, “1979”: When are people going to realize that the Smashing Pumpkins are one of the greatest rock bands ever?

Nirvana, “Come As You Are”: The movie Captain Marvel featured this same song on its soundtrack. It was more proof to me that the '90s aren’t just nostalgia, they’re forever.

Bjork, “Joga”: Her music from two decades ago still seems futuristic.

Smashing Pumpkins, “Muzzle”: “I fear that I am ordinary just like everyone…” Arrogant or humble? You decide.

Lauryn Hill, “Doo Wop (That Thing)”: Would you rather release one great album or a lifetime of mediocre albums? Lauryn chose the path of greatness.

Lucinda Williams, “Car Wheels On a Gravel Road”: I once got Lucinda to come by the Wall Street Journal to play a couple songs and the first song was so perfect that it made me cry--I mean single tear down the cheek emotional cry, like in movie close-ups. Then my sound guy told me there was something wrong with the tape and we had missed recording it.

Nirvana, “Paper Cuts”: The song was first released in 1989, and re-released in 1992 when the band broke big.

U2, “Mysterious Ways”: Back in college, I once waited in line in the cold in Boston for nine hours for U2 tickets and they sold out in front of me--scalpers pretty much got them all.

Green Day, “Coming Clean”: Before Woodstock '94, the band asked me the best way to hide a stash of marijuana on the concert site the day before so it wouldn’t get confiscated on the way in. I had no answers for them because I don’t even drink.

Fugees, “The Mask”: Frantz Fanon would have liked this song which is maybe why I like it.

Liz Phair, “Divorce Song”: I was considering her song “Fuck and Run,” but my book is YA.

Beck, “Loser”: I still can’t tell if this is a novelty hit or a classic.

Aterciopelados, “Rompecabezas”: This Colombian band should have been as big as Shakira.

Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Michael Brook, “My Heart, My Life”: I love Nusrat, although I could do without Brook.

Girls Against Boys, “Everything I Do Seems to Cost Me $20”: The head of my publishing house was in the band behind this song. I love this track and I couldn’t believe how well it fit the chapter.

Radiohead, “Let Down”: Toots & the Maytals do a great reggae cover of this song which you probably won't believe until you check it out on YouTube.

Radiohead, “Paranoid Android”: Okay, maybe I went a little crazy on the Radiohead.

Radiohead, “Karma Police”: See above comment.

Sade, “Kiss of Life”: Sade doesn’t do a whole lot of press but I talked to her a couple of times. She maintained her mystery in an age of oversharing.

Shakira, “Ciega, Sordomuda”: I spent some time in Miami with Shakira when she was breaking into the English-language market. My favorite album of hers is her Spanish-language classic Dónde Están los Ladrones? This track is from that album.

Radiohead, “Exit Music (For a Film)”: See my previous Radiohead comment.

Nas, “N.Y. State of Mind”: One of the best New York songs.

The Notorious B.I.G., “Kick in the Door”: “Kick in the door, waving the four-four. All you heard was Poppa don't hit me no more.” I was supposed to interview Biggie for Time, but the day we had set for the sit down ended up being the day of his funeral.

Neutral Milk Hotel, “The King of Carrot Flowers, Pts. 2 & 3”: Classic alternative stuff.

Dr. Dre, “Let Me Ride”: I hate gangsta rap and the thing I hate most is that I sometimes love it.

Makaveli, “Me and My Girlfriend”: Like Tupac, characters in my book use a lot of pseudonyms.

Rage Against the Machine, “Killing in the Name”: One of rap-rock's greatest bands. Maybe rap-rock’s only great band.

Dr. Dre and Snoop Doggy Dogg, “Nuthin’ But a G Thang”: I interviewed Snoop at Death Row Records when he dropped his debut album and I was fascinated to find that his speaking voice was as musical as his rapping.

Lauryn Hill, “Ex-Factor”: One of her greatest songs.

The Roots & Erykah Badu, “You Got Me”: I love Questlove’s drumming at the close of this track.

Busta Rhymes, “Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check”: I just thought that this is a great name for a chapter near the end of a book. It would make me want to read until I got to it and then on to the end.

Fugees, “No Woman, No Cry”: I liked the idea of evoking Bob Marley even though it’s another band covering his song.

Public Enemy, “Welcome to the Terrordome”: Political rap is pretty much dead, but the memory of PE helps keep it alive in my head.

Jay Z, “Hard Knock Life”: You almost have to have Jay Z on here somewhere.

R.E.M., “Nightswimming”: One of the band’s most beautiful tunes.

Fela Kuti, “Water No Get Enemy (Edit)”: The song came out in 1975, but was re-released in an edited form in the 1990s.

Lauryn Hill, “Everything Is Everything”: That says it all.

Outtakes:

Aaliyah, “At Your Best (You Are Love)”
Juliana Hatfield, “Simplicity Is Beautiful”
Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour”
Weezer, “Say It Ain’t So”
Liz Phair, “Fuck and Run”
Ice Cube, “It Was a Good Day”
Radiohead, “Black Star”
Hole, “Violet”
Hole, “Celebrity Skin”
Hole, “Northern Star”
The Prodigy, “Firestarter”
Destiny’s Child, “Say My Name”
Pavement, “Spit on a Stranger”


C. J. Farley and Around Harvard Square links:

the author's website

Kirkus review

CBC Radio interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

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

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






April 23, 2019

H. S. Cross's Playlist for Her Novel "Grievous"

Grievous

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, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

H. S. Cross's novel Grievous is a compelling book that takes us back into the world of her debut, Wilberforce, five years later.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Five years after the upheaval depicted in Wilberforce (2015), life at St. Stephen’s Academy has returned to its version of normalcy. That is to say, its public school boys talk a strange slang while enduring bullying, caning, and countless other rituals . . . Cross is a good writer who draws on a Kipling-esque nostalgia in her entertainingly peculiar picture of the public school as crucible for young male Brits."


In her own words, here is H. S. Cross's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Grievous:



Grievous takes place, as my first novel, Wilberforce, did, at St. Stephen’s Academy, a fictional boys’ boarding school in England. Grievous spans nine months in 1931 and focuses on teacher John Grieves (nicknamed Grievous) and his student Gray Riding. Gray begins a secret correspondence with John’s 13-year-old goddaughter, while John is in love with her mother. The action—at the Academy and across England and the Continent—includes love, betrayal, illness, grief, Quakers, morphine, theater, and second chances. It’s also shot through with music, both popular and sacred, so I created a playlist to accompany you as you read the book.

(Incidentally, many of the selections for Wilberforce apply to this novel, too, so I commend those Book Notes to you if you’d like more of this world.)

Bolling Suite for Violin and Piano Jazz Trio: Romance

The novel opens on a wet day during Lent; the characters are bored and stir-crazy, so when the rain lets up, Gray Riding and his friend go on an adventure out-of-bounds, an adventure that turns into a conscious imitation of the opening chapter of Kipling’s The Compete Stalky & Co., a novel with which they are obsessed. This movement of Bolling’s Suite has long been my soundtrack for the novel’s opening, from the piece’s meditative beginning when the characters are languishing in class, to the youthful, exuberant main theme, which always sounds to me like boys running across the wet countryside. The piece has a bright, almost innocent energy to it, like these boys and their hijinks. The novel itself throws readers in at the deep end; you’ve got to sink or swim in the first few chapters as you acclimatize to the school, the many characters, and their crazy slang. In the meantime, this piece conjures the atmosphere to make you feel at home there.

“Moon of Love”

“Moon of Love” comes from the musical Very Good Eddie (1918, music Jerome Kern, lyrics Schuyler Greene), but it became a popular song on its own afterwards. Trevor, one of the schoolboys in the barn, sings it in chapter 2 to mock his friend Gray when Gray displays at bit too much loyalty to their housemaster. It’s a fun, upbeat period song with a nice patter.

“Dear Lord and Father of Mankind”

Back at the Academy later that night, everyone gathers in the chapel for evening prayer and sings the gorgeous “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind,” tune Repton by C. H. H. Parry, words by the Quaker poet John Greenleaf Whittier. We experience the hymn in chapter 6 through John Grieves, housemaster and Quaker, as he wishes for calm amidst the problems that beset him.

Magnificat in G

Charles Villiers Stanford’s setting in G of the Magnificat contains one of the great treble solos in the choral repertoire, and our young soloist at St. Stephen’s, Timothy Halton, gets to sing it. The solo happens “offstage”, but there’s preparation in chapter 14, including by Kardleigh, the school’s physician and choirmaster, as he tries to jury-rig the Academy’s decrepit organ to manage the accompaniment.

“There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy”, “My Song is Love Unknown”

These two pieces are sung in chapter 17 at the end-of-term assembly before everyone leaves for Easter vacation. Some rough things have gone down since the jaunty opening of the novel, and few people are in the mood for these hymns. “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy” is actually an anthem based on the hymn “Souls of Men.” Some of the characters, who are Anglican, consider its sentiment soppy and/or contemptibly Roman Catholic. “My Song is Love Unknown,” words Samuel Crossman (1664), tune John Ireland (1918), is typically sung on Good Friday. It first appeared in the Public School Hymnbook in 1919, the same hymnbook used at St. Stephen’s. When Dr. Sebastian became Headmaster in 1926, he made it the school hymn. It’s a weird choice for school hymn—more typical might be something rousing and martial such as “He Who Would Valiant Be”—but Sebastian is a maverick, and he had a whole dream about this hymn. (You’ll have to read the third book to hear about it.)

“Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams”, “Let’s Do It”, “Let’s Have Another Cup of Coffee”, “Keep Your Sunny Side Up”, “Happy Days Are Here Again”

Leaving the school for the Easter holidays, we travel to London, Kent, and Paris, where the air is freer and the music upbeat. These popular songs are on the tongues of many characters, and though copyright restrictions prevent the novel from quoting much of them (sometimes they’re only described obliquely), you can listen to them anyway and know what the characters are humming. Kardleigh sings a bit of “Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams” in chapter 13, and John’s goddaughter, Cordelia, is au courant with all the best numbers even if John doesn’t follow when she sings “something about rainbows and coffee and pieces of pie.” Read chapters 20 and 23 and see what you hear.

“Dream a Little Dream”

Later in the novel, John visits his best friend, Meg, and her family. He’s been secretly in love with her since he met her and loves her still, even though she’s married. In chapter 37, “Dream a Little Dream” (music Fabian Andre and Wilbur Schwandt, lyrics Gus Kahn) is playing on the gramophone, and it echoes in his mind across the whole brandy-and-morphine-infused evening.

“Try to Learn to Love”, “Ye Holy Angels Bright”, “Fantasia on Christmas Carols”, “Faire is the Heaven”

In chapters 34 and 35, some of the boys decide to put on a play, a whimsical thing they write themselves called Flight. In one of its scenes, Orville and Wilbur Wright sing Noel Coward’s “Try to Learn to Love,” a sweet, hopeful song that our friend Halton, musically gifted but academically a disaster, finds encouraging. Halton is inspired by a dream to set an excerpt from Saint-Exupéry’s Courrier Sud (Southern Mail) to music; creeping down to the choir room in the middle of the night, he takes a monologue (in French, which he doesn’t understand) from the script and sets it to Darwell’s 148th, the traditional tune for the hymn “Ye Holy Angels Bright.” We experience the play itself through the eyes of John Grieves, who finds it bizarre in the extreme but also compelling. He describes it in a letter to Meg and compares it to Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.”

The day after the play is Michaelmas, and Gray Riding (who wrote the play) encounters “Ye Holy Angels Bright” sung in chapel. He feels the hymn is far better than what he had written and falls into despair listening to the other music of the service, including William Harris’s “Faire is the Heaven” (which he mishears as Fairies in Heaven). He believes “the greatest stories had already been told. No concoctions of a schoolboy could be more than a speck on that eternal face.”

“Lead Kindly Light”

Halton has another solo in chapters 43/44 with the haunting “Lead Kindly Light,” tune Alberta. The hymn is based on the poem “The Pillar of the Cloud” by John Henry Newman, a fact that Gray learns in theology lesson when forced to study it. The hymn’s language exactly echoes what he had felt the night before, and he starts to get a little paranoid thinking about the coincidence. When it’s finally sung in chapel, several characters feel broken apart by the beauty of it.

The Litany, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus”

As the school assembles for the start-of-Advent service, the choir sings the Tallis setting of the Litany, John rethinks his approach to discipline, and in a balcony above, John’s goddaughter and his student… I won’t spoil it for you, see chapter 45. They also sing “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus” to the tune Cross of Jesus.

“Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending”, “Adam Lay ybounden”, “Puttin’ on the Ritz”, “People Look East”, “Once in Royal David’s City”, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”

As the story careens towards the end of term and its traditional Carol Service, the choir is rehearsing several pieces, including “Lo He Comes With Clouds Descending” and “Adam Lay ybounden,” pieces that worm through everyone’s minds.

In chapter 50, Cordelia gets Gray to dance with her to “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” which they hear on the wireless. He can’t dance, and it’s too fast, but “she smiled at his missteps and pulled him in a way that made his heart beat in his mouth. His ears drank and his hands held hers and he no longer cared what might happen to the old life.” Meantime, our friend Halton is bitterly disappointed not to get the famous solo at the beginning of “Once in Royal David’s City” because his voice is changing. He gets busy composing again, though, this time a descant for the Advent hymn “People Look East” (words by Eleanor Farjeon), which he teaches to another boy and plots to insert, unannounced, into the Carol Service.

The book closes with the sound of church bells playing a Christmas carol, not specified, but I’ve always imagined “O Little Town of Bethlehem” to the tune Forest Green.


H. S. Cross and Grievous links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Work-in-Progress interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

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

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


Trent Dalton's Playlist for His Novel "Boy Swallows Universe"

Boy Swallows Universe

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, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Trent Dalton's novel Boy Swallows Universe is a smart and surprising debut.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Dalton’s splashy, stellar debut makes the typical coming-of-age novel look bland by comparison…In less adept hands, these antics might descend into whimsy, but Dalton’s broadly observant eye, ability to temper pathos with humor, and thorough understanding of the mechanics of plot prevent the novel from breaking into sparkling pieces…This is an outstanding debut."


In his own words, here is Trent Dalton's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Boy Swallows Universe:



My book is one great big soul cough. In the words of Robert Smith, pull out my heart and feed it to anyone. It is absolutely essential, I believe, that a writer goes as deep as they can into the darkest cobwebbed corridors of their soul and drag up something that is true and meaningful to the reader who is investing all that reading time in your book. My favourite musicians are physically incapable of walking creatively into any other corridors beyond those cobwebbed ones. It was these kind of musicians I went to for my book. These courageous souls who put it all on the line. Put everything up for assessment by the public and say, “Make of it what you will, this is what I had to do”. It was these people playing when I wrote, it was these people who emerged in my pages. And I’m so glad they turned up. They are the sound of Boy Swallows Universe.

Ruby Tuesday, Rolling Stones

A pop-rock masterpiece and an absolute tentpole song for Boy Swallows Universe, threading through the narrative, linking our hero, Eli Bell, to his beloved mum, Frankie. In what many consider the most heart-wrenching moment in the book, Eli draws on the power of love and music and Jagger-Richards to save his mum in her darkest hour. It’s no coincidence my beloved real life mum adores this song and I’ve sung it many times with her in late night drinking sessions listening to Melanie Safka, who does the most sublime cover of this song. I came to the Stones through my dear old man, a tattooed mud crab fisherman bibliophile durry-smoking rock ‘n’ roll superstar bound to a Housing Commission Brisbane kitchen raising four boys in the 1990s on his own. There was one job on this planet that suited him perfectly: lead singer of the Rolling Stones. Sadly, the job was taken.

Help, The Beatles

The first man I ever loved was a dangerously successful heroin dealer who cared a great deal for my three older brothers and I. He went away to prison for quite some time and I wished all through my teens that he might just turn up one day on my doorstep. But things like that only happen in books. Whenever I saw Help-era Lennon I’d think of this guy because I thought this guy looked like John. I have four favourite Beatle members and John’s one of them. The love I had for this ginger-haired man in my real life who looked like John is all through my book and so are The Beatles, my dear Fabs. They make me believe in magic those boys. They are kinda the closest thing that I have to religiosity. I believe in Beatles. What they were shooting for, the optimism, the ambition, the unity they found for us all, sometimes through their own disunity. I’m yet to find a better example of destiny – providence, maybe – than those four boys finding each other. Lennon gives so much of his heart away in this song, masks it in pure pop perfection. But it’s the cry of a desperate man, the same cry Eli Bell is making in my book. Won’t you please – please – help me. I still get angry sometimes when I dwell on the way Lennon was taken from us. He gave us so much of his heart and that generosity was his undoing. That, to me, is the saddest moment in rock ‘n’ roll. Oh, to hear just one more new one. Maybe his take on the 21st century. Maybe his take on Trump, Brexit, American Idol. Just imagine.

Can’t Hardly Wait, The Replacements

I really love my wife, Fiona. This excerpt from my book explains what that feels like…

Details, Slim. She has two creases running from the right corner of her mouth when she smiles. She eats chopped up carrots for lunch on Mondays and Wednesdays and Fridays. On Tuesdays and Thursdays she eats celery sticks.

She wore a band T-shirt for The Replacements to work two days ago and at lunchtime I took the train into the city and bought a Replacements cassette tape. It was called Pleased to Meet Me. I listened to that tape 16 times in one night and then I went to her desk the next morning to tell her that the last song on side two of the tape, Can’t Hardly Wait, was the perfect marriage of lead singer Paul Westerberg’s raw garage punk rock early days with his burgeoning love of celebratory love pop more reminiscent of BJ Thomas’s “Hooked on a Feeling”. I didn’t tell her that the song is, in fact, the perfect marriage of my heart and my mind which can’t stop beating and thinking for her, the sonic embodiment of the urgency in my adoration for her, the embodiment of the impatience she has put in me, how she makes me will time to quicken, hurry up, hurry up, so she can walk through the door, so she can blink like she does, so she can laugh with the other crime writers in her pod, so she can look over here – over here, Caitlyn Spies – some 150 metres all the way over to nobody me and the dead guy in the crossword pod.

“Really?” she said. “I hate that song.”

Then she opened a drawer beneath her desk. She handed me a cassette tape.

The Replacements’ Let it Be

The band’s third album. “Track nine,” she said. “Gary’s Got a Boner”. She said the word ‘boner’ like she might have said the word ‘lavender’. She does that, Slim. She is magic, Slim. Every word she says comes out as the words “lavender” and “luminescence” and “longing” and … and … and what’s that other L-word, Slim? You know the one they’re always talking about. You know that word, Slim?

Alive, Pearl Jam

I once got the chance to sit down and interview Stone Gossard, Pearl Jam guitarist and co-founder, writer of Black, writer of an amazing solo album called Bayleaf, writer of Alive. At the end of the interview, I had this awkward moment where I said to Stone: “Ummm… I wrote you a letter… actually it’s a 15-page handwritten letter addressed to the band … it’s got a title… “Thanks for 15 years of Music (the band was 15 years old at that time).” I stressed to Stone that he was not at all obliged to take the letter but if he was to take it he might read a lot inside it about what the band has meant to me over the years. I mean, seriously, it’s quite embarrassing how much I love this band and don’t get me started on the adventures I’ve had surrounding my worship of them. I was deeply worried Stone might go, “Piss off crazy man”, but he did the complete opposite. He says, “Are you kidding? I’d love to read it.” So I handed it to him and my lasting memory from that extraordinary interaction was the mighty Stone Gossard walking down the aisles of Brisbane’s Boondall Entertainment Centre green rooms (they would take the stage there in a matter of hours) and stopping to talk to members of his support act, The Kings of Leon. As he laughed with Caleb Followill he folded the door-stopping envelope that carried my 15-page letter and placed it carefully in the back pocket of his blue jeans. In the background to all this was the sound of Eddie Vedder doing his sound check. He was singing Love Boat Captain. “Because to the universe, I don’t mean a thing, but there’s just one word I still believe.” Love.

The Power of Love, Huey Lewis and the News

There’s so much unspoken Back to the Future DNA in Boy Swallows Universe. There’s the love of time as a concept, first and foremost, then a hundred hidden other things, but largely the fact that it is imperative upon all humans to live their lives with the enthusiasm of Marty McFly. His unflappable enthusiasm carries him through the whole wild time travel adventure and it’s his enthusiasm that asks more of the loved ones around him who he knows could have had so much more were it not for some decisions they made over the course of time. I used to pretend to be Marty McFly when I was eight years old playing air guitar and singing Johnny B. Goode on top of my grandparents concrete backyard septic tank. I’m 39 years old now and a father of two girls and I’ve never stopped pretending to be Marty McFly. “I’m afraid you’re just too darn loud,” Huey Lewis tells Marty’s band, The Pinheads, in a priceless cameo. That doesn’t stop Marty McFly. Nothing can put his fire out. That’s like Eli Bell in my book.

Heart of Glass, Blondie

Seriously, if you like music, I really reckon you might like my book. It’s filled with music references. A reader in Australia was so chuffed with all the music references that she started her own “Boy Swallows Universe” playlist on Spotify. It was one of the coolest gestures I’ve yet seen as far as feedback goes for that book. There’s Frankie Valli in that playlist, there’s David Cassidy and Buddy Holly and Led Zeppelin and The Carpenters and Australia’s glorious Cold Chisel and so much more. There’s 50 songs she put on that playlist and they all link back to Boy Swallows Universe. Here’s where Heart of Glass links back to the book…

These were Mum’s Debbie Harry Heart of Glass years. People say junk makes you look horrific; that too much heroin tears your hair out, leaves scabs all over your face and your wrists from your anxious fingers and your anxious fingernails that keep filling with blood and rolled skin. People say the gear sucks the calcium out of your teeth and your bones, leaves you couch-bound like a rotting corpse. And I’ve seen all that. But I also thought junk made Mum look beautiful. She was thin and pale white and blonde but not as blonde as Debbie Harry. But just as pretty. I thought junk made Mum look like an angel. She had this fixed 24-7 dazed look on her face, there but not there, like Harry in that Heart of Glass clip, like something from a dream, moving in the space between sleeping and waking, between life and death, but sparkling somehow, like she had a mirror ball permanently spinning in the pupils of her sapphire eyes. And I remember thinking that’s how an angel really would look if they found themselves in suburban Darra, south-east Queensland, down all this way from heaven. Such an angel really would be dazed like that, puzzled, glassy, flapping her wings as she studied all those dishes piling up in the sink, all those cars passing by the house beyond the cracks in the curtains.

There’s a golden orb-weaver spider that builds a web so intricate and perfect outside my bedroom window that it looks like a single snowflake magnified a thousand times. The orb-weaver spider sits in the middle of the web like it’s parachuting sideways, suspended in the quest it keeps wanting to finish without needing to know the reason why, blown but not beaten by wind and rain and afternoon South-east Queensland summer storms so strong they fell power poles. Mum was the orb-weaver spider in those years. And she was the web and she was the butterfly, too, the blue tiger butterfly with sapphire wings being eaten alive by the spider.

End of the Night, The Doors

This is my old man drinking too much booze and lost in a lights-out haze of Morrison melancholy and he’s staring into a TV that’s only playing tuned out white noise static. He’s thinking about my mum and how much he loves her and how he messed it all up and he looks like Martin Sheen at the start of Apocalypse Now and I love him so much. The End was always The Doors’ go to epic of existential crisis but, for me, End of the Night is more spine-chilling and more truthful about the darkness in the night and in us all.

Song to the Siren, This Mortal Coil

Truly transcendental cover of the Tim Buckley tune and a reminder of every person I’ve ever loved and the people I care deeply about who I’ve loved and then lost, namely my dear old man. The greatest guitarist I ever did see, John Frusciante, also does a killer version of this song where he lets his whole wild and dark and glorious life bleed through those perfect words: “Long afloat on shipless oceans, I did all my best to smile”. I love the siren myth and the idea that there are some days on earth where it feels like you wouldn’t mind if they took you down into the deep green sea.

Plainsong, The Cure

There’s so many moments in my book where Eli and his wondrous older brother, Gus, are tapping in to some grand and mystical space beyond what they might consider earth and existence. Eli meets the girl of his dreams and his mind starts exploding with all these visions of distant planets and supernovas and stardust-popping galactic events and that’s what it is to be young and in love. Every time Eli sees this mysterious girl, Caitlin Spies, it’s like he’s walked into a different universe where the only thing he can hear is Plainsong by The Cure. That’s how big he’s going with this girl. I got married to a Peter Gabriel song but I should have been married to this song. The day felt closer to this song. Quite wonderfully, my older brother jagged some tickets in a very tough ballot to see The Cure play Disintegration from start to finish in a one-off series of gigs in the Sydney Opera House. They will likely open with this song, as per track list, and I will likely lose my marbles.


Trent Dalton and Boy Swallows Universe links:

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Sydney Morning Herald review
Washington Post review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

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

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


Shorties (Stream the New Mountain Goats Album, Prince's Forthcoming Memoir, and more)

The Mountain Goats

NPR Music is streaming the new Mountain Goats album, In League With Dragons.


Prince's memoir The Beautiful Ones will be released in October.


April's best eBook deals.


Paste recommended American music festivals.


The Oxford American shared a new essay by Mesha Maren.


The Christian Science Monitor recommended spring's best books.


Stream a new L7 song.


The Columbus Dispatch interviewed author Richard Ford.


NPR Music is streaming the new Starflyer 59 album, Young In My Head.


Rolling Stone recommended books for Game of Thrones fans.


God Is in the TV interviewed singer-songwriter Craig Finn.


The New York Times recommended books that explore Sri Lanka's past.


The New Yorker profiled musician Julianna Barwick.


Book Riot recommended fiction with eco-disasters.


The Paris Review shared an excerpt from Jenny O'Dell's book How To Do Nothing.


Literary Hub recommended books about climate change.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
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)
weekly music release lists


April 22, 2019

Shorties (An Interview with Sally Rooney, Stream Josh Ritter's New Album, and more)

Sally Rooney

Oprah magazine interviewed author Sally Rooney.


NPR Music is streaming Josh Ritter's new album, Fever Breaks.


April's best eBook deals.


Stream a new Frou Frou sog.


BuzzFeed recommended books by queer poets.


Stream a new song by Slow Pulp.


Actor Michael Shannon discussed his favorite books at Vulture.


NPR Music is streaming Sunn O)))'s new album, Life Metal.


Authors recommended books about fictional fandoms at Bustle.


Stream two new SOAK songs


Marie Claire recommended biographies of women.


Peter Bagge talked to NPR Books about his new graphic novel,


Stream a new Josephine Wiggs song.


Authors recommended books on fictional fandoms at Bustle.


Poets recommended poetry collections at Oprah magazine.


Bookworm interviewed author Nathan Englander.


NPR Music is streaming Craig Finn's new album, I Need a New War.


Namwali Serpell discussed her novel The Old Drift with the Daily Californian.


The Straits Times recommended books to help you read millennials.


NPR Music is streaming Rodrigo y Gabriela's new album, Mettavolution.


The Guardian profiled author Robert Caro.


VICE hosted a conversation between authors Hanif Abdurraqib and Morgan Parker.


Electric Literature interviewed Carmen Maria Machado.


Karen Stefano discussed her forthcoming memoir What A Body Remembers at STAND.


Asymptote interviewed author Viet Thanh Nguyen.


The New Yorker features a new poem by Kaveh Akbar.


LIT interviewed author David Leo Rice.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
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)
weekly music release lists


April 19, 2019

Rachel Howard's Playlist for Her Novel "The Risk of Us"

The Risk of Us

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, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Complex and heartbreaking, Rachel Howard's novel The Risk of Us is one of the year's most striking debuts.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book:

"It’s a triumph of a book that captures an essential truth not just about how it feels to foster an already formed human being, but about the fragile, shape-shifting quality of any family. Raising a child is always a leap of faith, motivated by love, which is something this narrator has stores of."


In her own words, here is Rachel Howard's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Risk of Us:



I am thrilled to be asked to make this playlist because The Risk of Us had a soundtrack from the start—one that gave me a vision for the shape of the story and led me to the ending. I want to shout from the mountaintops that this novel owes everything to Sufjan Stevens’ album Carrie & Lowell. Maybe this is true for a lot of art made between 2015 and today, since that album is so miraculous.

My neighbor gave me Carrie & Lowell shortly after its release, in the summer of 2015. I didn’t know the story behind it, that Sufjan’s mother essentially abandoned him when he was a toddler, and died in 2012, and that this music was his way through a complicated grief. I didn’t feel I needed to understand the full narrative behind the lyrics to understand the core of the songs.

I had just moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the Sierra Nevada foothills, far from my home church, Grace Cathedral, and from the San Francisco Ballet—two places where I used to regularly have aesthetic experiences that I felt put me in touch with the holy. I had been looking for music that would put me in touch with the holy again. And from the first notes of the opener, “Death With Dignity,” this album felt holy. For that reason, I didn’t listen to it too many times. I saved it for when I felt dead to mystery and pain and transcendence. I only listened to it when I was alone.

Then, in late fall of 2016, the idea for The Risk of Us came: It would be a short, spare novel about a woman and her husband trying to adopt a young girl out of foster care. It would start when the child moved into their home and end when the adoption either was or wasn’t “finalized”—when they either made it as a family or broke. I didn’t know which way the story’s turning point would go.

I thought of “Carrie & Lowell” immediately. Now that I know the story alluded to within Stevens’ album, this makes sense. Emotionally, within the novel, I wanted to stay attuned to the grief of the little girl in foster care, the pain of how she had lost her birth mother (all the more painful because the birth mother had been affectionate but also abusive); I wanted to keep my finger on the livewire of the simultaneous danger and necessity, for her, of connecting with a new family. There is pain for other characters in this novel, too—for the girl’s new foster mother and her husband, there’s the pain of wanting so badly to help this little girl and being powerless in the face of her outbursts and panic attacks. There’s the pain and guilt and fear of failing her. But the little girl Maresa’s pain was primary in my imagination; hers was the pain I wanted to house and honor on the page. And I think Maresa’s pain was very much like Sufjan’s.

I’ll start with the specific track that helped me see the shape of the novel, and then I’ll go on to some incidental music I think would also be used in a movie version, from other artists.


Sufjan Stevens, “Should Have Known Better”

I don’t want to give away too much of the ending of The Risk of Us, but there is a tremendous tonal shift at the turning point for this family. It shocked me to arrive at it. I knew the tonal shift was right when I got there but still I felt, can the tone of the story really shift that much? The key change at the 2:40 mark in “Should Have Known Better” gave me the guts to carry the tonal shift out. The song moves in an instant from minor to major, but the earlier darkness isn’t forgotten or obliterated. The same melodic refrains recur, with subtle transfigurations. And in the lyrics, hopefulness is found not in denying the past, but seeing glimpses of the future: my brother had a daughter, Stevens sings, the beauty that she brings/illumination. Deep pain still surges after the key change: the breakers in the bar/no reason to live. But the way through is by being with what is: don’t back down/concentrating on seeing, Stevens tells himself. All of that felt true for the ending of the novel.

Maurice Durufle, Requiem

This would be the instrumental music for some of the montages in the story. Durufle’s requiem is one of only 11 works he completed over an 84-year-life, but by many critics’ estimations it is nearly perfect. Personally I love it because it seems to pulsate—and though the “Libera me” (“Deliver me”) section of the mass is tempestuous and fearful, other sections are beautiful like clear-running streams.

Verdi, “La Traviata”

In one of the most tenuous times for the family, when the little girl is having panic attacks and rages often, the foster mother takes a trip to San Francisco to see the opera and hears echoes of Maresa’s seven-year-old operatics in the soprano’s voice. In the novel, the narrator/mother goes to see “Tosca,” but actually in my imagination she’s seeing “La Traviata,” particularly the final scene when all is too late for our heroine, so much love has been wasted.

The Yeah Yeah Yeah’s, “Despair”

This track is here mostly because I love the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and lead singer Karen O. is my hero. But it’s appropriate because Karen’s singing, when she’s not screaming (which she doesn’t on this track), is like a mother delivering a lullaby, but with a kick-ass beat from one of rock’s best drummers, Brian Chase, to pump the blood while you coo. This song captures the connection between the adopting mom and the little girl Maresa, I think—their shared awareness of the comingling of pain and hope: Oh despair, you’re always there. But also: Through the darkness and the light/some sun has got to rise.

The Beatles, “Yellow Submarine” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand”

These appear very briefly in The Risk of Us and in my imaginary movie of the book. The little girl’s teacher uses “Yellow Submarine” as a first grade sing-along, and when the foster dad finds this out he gets the sheet music so he can play it for the girl at home. Then near the end of the novel, the adopting mom walks Maresa to school, surprised that the girl now wants to hold her hand—and singing The Beatles.

The xx, “Dangerous”

This would be the high-energy outro for the movie version of the novel, the dance-y music that comes in right at the last shot of the laughing family and plays over the credits. The story’s over, so now we can be playful and a little winking about the risk these three people took. They say you’re dangerous, but I don’t care/ I’m going to pretend that I’m not scared.


Rachel Howard and The Risk of Us links:

the author's website

Associated Press review
San Francisco Chronicle review

The Debutante Ball interview with the author
KSFR interview with the author
Women Writers, Women Books interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

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

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


This Week's Interesting Music Releases - April 19, 2019

Diane Coffee

Diane Coffee's Internet Arms and
Wand's Laughing Matter are the two new albums I can recommend this week.

Archival releases include two early 1980s performances by the Fall and new greatest hits box sets from Stevie Nicks and the Rolling Stones.


This week's interesting music releases:


Angelique Kidjo: Celia
The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis
Bananarama: Drama (reissue) [vinyl]
Bananarama: Please Yourself (reissue) [vinyl]
Bananarama: Pop Life (reissue) [vinyl]
Bananarama: Viva (reissue) [vinyl]
Bronski Beat: Age of Consent [vinyl]
Cage the Elephant: Social Cues
Diane Coffee: Internet Arms
Drugdealer: Raw Honey
The Fall: Imperial Wax Solvent (reissue) [vinyl]
The Fall: Live At Band On The Wall Manchester 1982
The Fall: Live At The Cedar Ballroom Birmingham 1980
Fat White Family: Serfs Up!
Field Medic: Fade Into The Dawn
Heather Woods Broderick: Invitation
Jade Bird: Jade Bird
Lizzo: Cuz I Love You
Loyle Carner: Not Waving, But Drowning
Nico: On the Radio
Rolling Stones: Honk (3-CD box set)
Sad Planets: Akron, Ohio
Stevie Nicks: Stand Back: 1981-2017 (3-CD box set)
The O'Jays: The Last Word
Stealing Sheep: Big Wows
TR/ST: The Destroyer - 1
Wand: Laughing Matter
Will Kimbrough: I Like It Down Here
Wild Belle: Everybody One Of A Kind [vinyl]
Wooden Shjips: Shjips in the Night: Live in San Francisco June 8 2018
Wynton Marsalis: Bolden (soundtrack)


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

weekly music release lists

Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily book and music news and links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week -April 19, 2019

In the weekly Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week, the Montreal bookstore recommends several new works of fiction, art books, periodicals, and comics.

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly is one of Montreal's premiere independent bookstores.


Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story

Credo: The Rose Wilder Lane Story by Peter Bagge

Following his critically-acclaimed biography of Zora Neale Hurston, Peter Bagge is back with Credo, a graphic account of Rose Wilder Lane’s life. As a thoughtful and thorough biographer, Bagge excels at illustrating what a true trailblazer Lane was politically and as a writer: she founded the American libertarian movement and helped bring her mother's Little House on the Prairie series to its status as a classic. Drawn in vivid colour, Bagge illustrates a life full of spunk and bite.


Normal People

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Much lauded in Europe as the novel of the generation, Sally Rooney’s Normal People is a book you will start, inhale with delight, and feel totally nourished from afterwards. It is about the tenuous relationships held with the people closest to us - full of shame, devotion, warmth, and the inability to communicate clearly.


Optic Nerve

Optic Nerve by Maria Gainza

This English debut from Maria Gainza, a major Argentine author, recounts a woman’s obsession with art. The story merges odd moments of art history with the narrator’s reflective yet unglamourous life in Buenos Aires. It is part Ways of Seeing, part How Should a Person Be?, and part fantastical Calvino.


The House of the Pain of Others

The House of the Pain of Others by Julián Herbert, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney

In a rigorous and passionate attempt to excavate a painful piece of North American history, Mexican writer Julián Herbert writes about the 1911 massacre during the Mexican Revolution. Some three hundred Chinese immigrants in the newly founded city of Torreón were violently murdered. Retelling the events through a mix of “journalism and literature, objectivity and subjectivity,” Herbert works to dig out the deeply planted roots of anti-Chinese prejudice and racism in Mexico.


Native Country of the Heart

Native Country of the Heart by Cherríe Moraga

A fervent feminist, queer, and indigenous activist, Cherríe Moraga tells her own story through her mother’s rejection of a traditional female life. Julia Alvarez’ endorsement sums up the book beautifully and poetically: “This defiant, deep, and soulful book about all our mothers, mother cultures, motherlands, and languages is both political and ceremonial.”


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly links:

Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's website
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly's blog
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Facebook page
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Tumblr
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly on Twitter


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

other Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly new comics and graphic novel highlights)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


April 18, 2019

Shorties (New Books on Filmmaking, The Best Music Documentaries, and more)

Best. Movie. Year. Ever.: How 1999 Blew Up the Big Screen

The Film Stage recommended new books on filmmaking.


Vulture listed the best music documentaries of all time.


April's best eBook deals.


Paste listed women influencing the future of jazz.


Authors recommended books about mythical fandoms at Bustle.


Billboard reconsidered Tom Waits' Mule Variations album on its 20th anniversary.


Ian McEwan discussed his new novel, Machines Like Me, with the New Statesman.


Stream a new NOTS song.


David Nutt discussed his novel The Great American Suction with LitReactor,


Kurt Vile covered the Rolling Stones' "No Expectations."


MariNaomi talked to Publishers Weekly about her work that heightens the profiles of cartoonists of color.


Stereoboard profiled singer-songwriter Craig Finn.


Book Riot recommended books that feature fictional pandemics.


World Cafe interviewed singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten.


The OTHERPPL podcast interviewed author T Kira Madden.


Stream a new Four Tet song.


The Rumpus Book Club interviewed author Maylis de Kerangal.


Stream a new song by NOIA.


Stream a new song by Dressy Bessy.


The Creative Independent interviewed musician and filmmaker Hannah Lew.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
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)
weekly music release lists


April 17, 2019

Shorties (An Interview with Claudia Rankine, Hole's Live Through This Album Reconsidered on Its 25th Anniversary, and more)

Hole

Vulture interviewed poet Claudia Rankine.


Paste reconsidered Hole's Live Through This album 25 years after its release.


April's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale today for $1.99:

Aspects of the Novel by E. M. Forster
The Fifties by David Halberstam


BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from G. Willow Wilson's new novel The Bird King.


Stream a new Bibi Club song.


Roxana Robinson shared her experiences recording the audiobook of her novel, Dawson's Fall, at the New Yorker.


Aquarium Drunkard interviewed musician Lee Fields.


The MNT interviewed cartoonist Carta Monir.


Stream a new song by Lydia Ainsworth.


The Guardian recommended bilingual books.


PopMatters examined the post-punk musical genre.


Oprah Magazine recommended books by Barbara Kingsolver.


Literary Hub shared a reading list of nonconformist women.


The Times Literary Supplement interviewed author Chigozie Obioma.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Andre Alexis's new novel Days By Moonlight.


Literary keychains.


Literary Hub profiled author Susan Choi.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
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)
weekly music release lists


April 16, 2019

Molly Dektar's Playlist for Her Novel "The Ash Family"

The Ash Family

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, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Molly Dektar's stunning debut novel The Ash Family is propulsive and captivating.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"[A] lyrical debut...Dektar’s deft construction of the Ash Family’s world and their environmentalist values brings a meaningful new story to the canon of cult narratives. Perfect for fans of Philip Roth's American Pastoral (1997) and the film Martha, Marcy, May, Marlene."


In her own words, here is Molly Dektar's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Ash Family:



My first novel, The Ash Family, is about a girl, Berie, who runs away from home to live on an off-the-grid community in the Appalachian Mountains. Berie is seeking community and a closer connection to nature and the sublime, but she ends up being drawn into committing violent acts to support the family and its leader, Dice. In short, it’s a cult book. But it was important to me that the family be utopian, in a way, too, and that its ideology—love of nature, promotion of close and intense relationships--have something admirable, even enviable, to it.

While I was writing this book, I became obsessed with an American communal singing tradition called Sacred Harp. I wanted the feeling of Sacred Harp to run through the book: the songs, which are mostly from the 18th and 19th centuries, are characterized by dispersed harmony, open chords that are strange to modern ears (with an emphasis on fourths and fifths), and lyrics that are frequently morbid (“death is the gate to endless joy”). Since I started writing this book in 2013, I’ve listened almost exclusively to Sacred Harp, and also sung regularly with the group in New York City, even though I don’t have a very good voice. By the way: there are groups all over the world, no experience or religious views necessary; if you like the sound of it you should give it a try.

Anyways, now that I’ve gotten my very earnest Sacred Harp recommendation out of the way, I’ll note that this playlist includes a few Sacred Harp songs as well as some other songs that occur in the novel, and then a few Appalachian tunes.

Plenary—Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp
This is usually the first song I play for friends when I’m trying to convince them to come sing with me. (My success in this endeavor has been mixed.) I have the family sing it in my book, and Berie, the narrator, notes that it’s the same tune as Auld Lang Syne, though the harmonies are unfamiliar. These are voices singing from the grave: “Hark! From the tomb, a doleful sound/ mine ears attend the cry/ ye living men, come view the ground/ where you must shortly lie.” One of the forces that motivated the book was my intense longing to understand what it felt like to be alive in past centuries. This arrangement, from 1839, really does put us in contact with generations dead and gone.

The Grieved Soul—Western Massachusetts Sacred Harp
Here is another favorite Sacred Harp song. The cult recruiter, Bay, teaches Berie this song in the second paragraph of my novel. I love it closed-open-closed melody, especially the beautiful split-open chord that happens on “try”--the lyrics are “Come my soul and let us try/for a little season.”

In the Pines—Leadbelly
This much-beloved song was even covered by Kurt Cobain on MTV Unplugged. But I love the Lead Belly version. It is an interrogation—“Black girl, black girl, don’t lie to me, tell me where did you sleep last night”—about what seems to be an abduction. And what about the decapitated head? It is a simple song that is full of menace. I put this song in the very last pages of my novel, when Berie hasn’t even yet begun to process what she’s experienced.

Thinking Bout You—Frank Ocean
This song plays on the radio during one of Berie’s few trips away from the farm. Its smooth, synthetic, slightly seasick throb—and the way Ocean’s voice floats up out of radio static, though Spotify doesn’t capture that—felt like the perfect counterpoint to the life Berie lives on the farm, which is strictly non-digital and which forbids the consumption of any media. At the same time, the aching lyrics—“I’ve been thinking ‘bout forever”—pull the song in very close to Berie’s life.

Swingin Party—Kindness
Even after Berie has made the decision not to return home, she is still, at times, overcome by nostalgia and uncertainty. Swingin Party—the Kindness cover was what I was thinking of, though I don’t specify in the book--is one of the songs that she remembers when she’s dreaming about her former life. It has the same tragic point of view as many of the Sacred Harp songs, full of self-loathing debility, but it’s a dance song.

The Beer—Kimya Dawson
This Kimya Dawson song is not in the book but it has such amazing lyrics it has been an influence on my writing for years. It is really a short story of a song. It’s goofy, angry, surreal, wounded, loving, and defiant. Like a cartoon character, the narrator keeps dying and coming back to life. I listened to this song so many times in high school and it still brings tears to my eyes.

Peg and Awl—Carolina Tar Heels
This is a lament about automation, about having one’s trade replaced by machines. Berie and the members of the Ash Family feel alienated from the contemporary world, and in particular, the way that the pressure for economic growth has led to environmental degradation. My mother and father (who are nothing like the bad parents in the book) used to play this song for me when I was growing up and I think its tragic resignation scarred me for life.

Bonaparte’s Retreat—W.M. Stepp
This playlist is tending towards the lugubrious, but I also love the folk music tradition that is playful and lighthearted and meant for dancing. This fiddle tune was made famous by Aaron Copland’s “Rodeo.”

Soldiers Joy—Nashville Washboard Band
My mother is a folklorist in North Carolina, and traces of the folk art she introduced me to occur throughout the Ash Family, most explicitly in some of the trips that Berie recalls taking with her ex, Isaac: “We’d driven to Bynum to see the wooden giraffes with silk-flower eyes and to Lucama to see the forty-foot whirligigs.” The creator of the first is Clyde Jones, and the second is Vollis Simpson. The inclusion of this song is also thanks to my mother. She writes: “Who were these guys? Street musicians comprised of (in folklorist Alan Lomax's words) ‘two blind men and three day laborers.’”

Son of God
This song appears in the Sacred Harp songbook, but here Tim Eriksen sings it without the other harmonies. I love the sea-shanty, pirate feel of the tune and its stark minor beauty.

I Am A Stranger Here Below
Another version of this song is called “Conflict,” a shape-note song which the family sings during their harvest festival. I love the version by the Ephemeral Stringband, whose members I’ve had the pleasure of singing with at some Sacred Harp conventions. As is true for many debut novelists, my narrator Berie is a version of me, and the lyrics, which are full of self-doubt, are such a vivid reflection of Berie’s experiences, and the experiences I drew from to write about her. “Tis seldom I can ever see/ myself as I would wish to be/ what I desire I can’t attain/ from what I hate I can’t refrain.”


Molly Dektar and The Ash Family links:

the author's website
the author's newsletter

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Raleigh News and Observer interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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


Shorties (Robert A. Caro Interviewed, Nick Cave Profiled, and more)

Robert Caro

Forward and Fresh Air interviewed historian Robert Caro.

The New York Times reviewed Caro's new book, Working.


The Guardian profiled Nick Cave.


April's best eBook deals.

eBooks on sale today for $1.99:

Acolytes of Cthulhu: Short Stories Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft
An Excess Male by Maggie Shen KIng
Reckoning by David Halberstam


Amanda Palmer visited The Current studio for an interview and live performance.


Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed author Bud Smith.


Stream a new song by the Jeanines.


Reedsy shared a guide to cosmic horror.


NPR Music is streaming The Tallest Man on Earth's forthcoming album, I Love You. It's a Fever Dream.


The New Yorker shared new fiction by Catherine Lacey.


Stream a new song by Cate Le Bon.


R.I.P., science fiction author Gene Wolfe.


Cincinnati CityBeat profiled Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy.


Electric Literature recommended books about fires.


Stream a new Beck son


Teresa Wong discussed her graphic memoir Dear Scarlett with Electric Literature.


Stream a new song by the Soft Cavalry.



Julian Lynch shared two cover songs at Aquarium Drunkard.



Phosphorescent visited World Cafe for an interview and live performance.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
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)
weekly music release lists


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