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August 16, 2018

Rebecca Makkai's Playlist for Her Novel "The Great Believers"

The Great Believers

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.

Rebecca Makkai's novel The Great Believers is an engrossing multi-generational exploration of the AIDS crisis and its lasting effects on families.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"With its broad time span and bedrock of ferocious, loving friendships, [The Great Believers] might remind readers of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life…though it is, overall, far brighter than that novel. As her intimately portrayed characters wrestle with painful pasts and fight to love one another and find joy in the present in spite of what is to come, Makkai carefully reconstructs 1980s Chicago, WWI-era and present day Paris, and scenes of the early days of the AIDS epidemic. A tribute to the enduring forces of love and art, over everything."


In her own words, here is Rebecca Makkai's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Great Believers:



The Great Believers is about AIDS in Chicago, and it’s about someone looking back on that time from modern-day Paris. In other words, it’s about loss and survival and memory—sentiments probably better expressed in a three-minute song than a four-hundred-page novel. That didn’t stop me from trying. There’s a lot of music in the book—songs referenced or listened to or sung along to—and while some of that music doesn’t speak to the book’s themes (Billy Joel’s “Always a Woman,” anybody?) plenty of it was the music I myself heard as I wrote. I write in silence, as I don’t want lyrics chewing up any of the linguistic part of my brain, but I’ve never in my life been without a song playing in my head. Here are a few of them.


“America,” by Simon and Garfunkel

I was at an artists’ residency during the 2014 election, an election that did not go very well, and the next morning another writer posted “America” on Facebook in response. I wasn’t totally preoccupied with politics (ahhhh, 2014), and so the song spoke instead to the novel-writing part of my mind, the part that was just starting to grapple with my opening scene. I didn’t know anything yet about the man whose memorial would start the book, but I decided this was his favorite song, this anti-anthem, this song of wandering and yearning, of being young and lost. I built him from there, and I built the scene around this song being played at the memorial. In the early days of writing, when the book was still a slippery thing that would sometimes evade my grasp, I’d watch the video of Simon and Garfunkel playing that song in Central Park, and boom, I’d be back in the world of my story.


“Pie Jesu,” by Andrew Lloyd Webber

Webber’s requiem was new in 1985, and this felt like the right piece for a 1986 funeral. It was written for a soprano, and made famous by Sarah Brightman’s recording with boy soprano Paul Miles-Kingston, but in my novel it’s Yale’s secret crush, Asher, who sings it. Asher is all voice throughout the book—protesting, speechifying, pontificating—and so it made sense to me that he’d be a singer, too. I put in that he was a classically trained baritone, which suggested to me a depth beyond all that shouting.


“You Spin Me Round,” by Dead or Alive

This is the song being blasted at the 1987 Pride parade from the float on which Yale’s ex-lover, Charlie, is tossing condoms. I found the lyrics appropriate to the way Charlie had treated Yale; Charlie is a piece of work. I’d originally had Donna Summer’s “Protection” playing here, in what would have been a cheeky nod to the condom distribution on behalf of the float organizers—but then I learned that in the late ‘80s, the gay community was livid with Donna Summer for allegedly suggesting that AIDS was a punishment from God, and never would have played her music in this context.


“Moon River,” by Mancini and Mercer

This is a song Yale was smitten with as a child, when he watched Audrey Hepburn sing it in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. It’s a song he associates (irrationally) with mothers, although he doesn’t have much of a mother himself. It’s the song he asks Fiona to sing him late in the book, and she tries, despite not knowing the words. I can’t say too much more here without giving major spoilers, but I love the wistful nature of this song, and I love the line about “two drifters, off to see the world.” Fiona will get to live on, traveling far and seeing the world, when not all of the men she looks after will.


“Please, Please, Please, Let Me Get What I Want,” by The Smiths

Yale is going out and dancing to Bronski Beat, but at home he’s listening to New Order and The Smiths and REM. I don’t believe I ever stipulated what particular Smiths songs he’s listening to, but in my mind it’s this one. The lyrics “the life I’ve had / Can make a good man bad” are pretty damn bleak, but appropriate to a lot of my characters and the decisions they make (or abdicate) under extreme stress. And Yale’s entire story is about both getting what he wants and losing everything he has.


“Being Boring,“ by Pet Shop Boys

I didn’t have this song in mind as I wrote, but someone online suggested recently that it was the perfect soundtrack for The Great Believers, and I think he was right. It’s about looking back on times with lost friends, it’s about caches of old photographs, and it’s about suddenly finding yourself in the future, realizing the life you knew best is now the past. If The Great Believers were ever made into a movie, I wouldn’t at all mind this playing as the credits rolled.


Rebecca Makkai and The Great Believers links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Chicago Review of Books interview with the author
Electric Literature interview with the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Music for Wartime
Los Angeles Times interview with the author
WBEZ interview with the author
WBUR 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






August 16, 2018

Shorties (The 100 Best Horror Books and Stories, R.I.P Aretha Franklin, and more)

Aretha Franklin

NPR Books recommended the 100 best horror books and stories.


R.I.P., Aretha Franklin.

Paste listed Franklin's best songs.


eBook on sale for $1.99 today:

Tell the Wolves I'm Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

eBook on sale for $2.99 today:

Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges


Guitarist Gwenifer Raymond shared a mixtape at Aquarium Drunkard.


Electric Literature interviewed author Nick Mamatas.


Drowned in Sound interviewed Interpol's Paul Banks.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Olga Tokarczuk's novel, Flights.


Stream a new Kurt Vile song.


The Oxford American features a new essay by Leesa Cross-Smith.


Stream a new Mudhoney song.


Ms. Magazine recommended feminist fiction for the end of summer.


Stream a new song by Low.


Cartoonist Kate Gavino discussed her graphic novel Sanpaku with Paste.


Stream a new Joyce Manor song.


Nico Walker discussed his debut novel Cherry with All Things Considered.


BrooklynVegan previewed fall's best albums.


Bookworm interviewed author B. Catling.


Courtney Barnett interviewed Elyse Weinberg's "Houses."


Entropy interviewed poet Natalie Eilbert.


Stream a new Spirit of the Beehive song.


Lily Allen's memoir My Thoughts Exactly will be published in the US in December.



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


August 15, 2018

Inman Majors' Playlist for His Novel "Penelope Lemon"

Penelope Lemon

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.

Inman Majors has been compared to P. G. Wodehouse and Anne Tyler, and his novel Penelope Lemon is a fiercely funny and moving book about female friendship.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"A laugh-out-loud funny tale of misfortune and female friendship. Majors' latest is a riot from beginning to end."


In his own words, here is Inman Majors' Book Notes music playlist for his novel Penelope Lemon:



Penelope Lemon: Game On! my fifth novel, is a comedy about a forty-year-old, small town Virginia mom, recently divorced for the second time, who finds herself thrown back into the work place and the dating life in middle age. It’s a short, light read that I think of as the love child of an R-rated Parks and Rec set in a ribald Mayberry. It's meant to be the first in a series. (I wrapped up the second installment just last month). I’m hoping to do something akin to the PG Wodehouse Bertie/Jeeves series, but southern, rural, and with a female lead. It’s meant to be literary and stylish, but also goofy and fun—escapist fiction to the max.

Penelope is a big music fan, an MTV kid of the 80s, and music plays a big role in the book. In fact, the main plot point revolves around the Van Halen song, "Hot for Teacher." Penelope is cyber-snooping on her ex husband when she notices he has added a new song to his FACEBOOK favorites list. Along with this song and other clues (Mr. Holland’s Opus, etc.) she surmises that her ex has started dating their son’s 3rd grade teacher. A fair portion of the rest of the book revolves—comedically-- on Penelope’s detective work to see if this is indeed the case.

All of these songs or musicians are mentioned during the course of the novel.


“You Really Got Me” by Van Halen

In the first chapter, Penelope is at her son’s baseball practice when she notices another mom sitting off by herself reading an erotic novel called The Tycoon’s Dare. Penelope, something of an outlier among the other parents in attendance, is intrigued and moves closer to check-out the woman. The woman’s name is Missy and she is not just reading erotica in public but also wearing a black Van Halen t-shirt. Penelope takes both of these as good signs and they make friends on the spot.

“California Dreamin’” by the Mammas and the Poppas

Financially strained, Penelope is forced to move into the basement of her childhood home with her mom and step-dad. After discovering the clues to her ex husband’s new flame, she goes to the kitchen for a glass of wine to try and wind down. While there, her elderly mother comes flouncing into the kitchen in an un-cinched robe, fresh—it seems certain—from a lovemaking session. During their encounter, Penelope discovers that her mother has become wise to the ways of modern personal grooming. As she floats happily around the kitchen, she hums "California Dreamin’." Penelope finds all of this unfortunate.

“Country Boy Party” by Inman Majors

I truly and completely can’t stand New Country music (though I love the old stuff). And the worst of New Country, in my opinion, is of the Party Boy variety. Penelope’s first job after her divorce is waiting tables at a place called Coonskins. It’s one of those joints posing as a frontier roadhouse where people throw peanut shells on the floor and there’s a ton of stuffed mammals all over the place. The fictitious song on the radio when she gets fired for a confrontation with a customer is "Country Boy Party." Here is a sample:

Pull down the tailgate and ice the keg
Them rowdy boys got some hollow legs

Dancing Daisy Dukes, swaying Elly Mays
They won’t ask for your dossier

Yes it’s a risqué soiree
Kissing au francais
Country girl parfait
Look at them sashay

“Gimme Two Steps” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

At one point Penelope discovers that a nude photo, taken after a drunken day at the lake with her first husband when she was in her twenties, had made it onto the Internet. She recalls that this song was playing as she posed, on a waterbed, under a mounted largemouth bass, and that her first husband, the HHR (huge, huge redneck) was performing a nude Texas Two-Step save for high top Converse and a bandana, as he snapped away with his Polaroid.

“Paranoid” by Black Sabbath

The nude photo has appeared on a website called Paybacks Are Hell Heaven! While evaluating her young, carefree self, Penelope notes a Black Sabbath sticker on the waterbed upon which she lounges. A green bong, with which she was once familiar, can also be seen in the shot. The bong’s name was Tinkerbelle.

Recalling all this, Penelope spent a moment wondering if she was really meant for life in the middle class.

“Burnin’ For You” by Blue Oyster Cult

When Penelope calls the HHR to confront him about the nude photo on the internet, she finds that he is, per usual, stoned out of his mind. On the other hand, his tale of erotica stolen during a recent break-in does ring true. He’s been on the defensive during the whole of the phone conversation against Penelope’s understandable rage, but after another hit from the hookah, he is coming back to himself:

Penelope could tell the HHR was about to quote something about character or forgiveness from Duane Allman or the Blue Oyster Cult.

“Smells like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

When Penelope needs a night out on the town, she meets up with Missy, the public erotica reader, at Applebee’s for a couple of drinks. They show up wearing matching Nirvana t-shirts, the one with the screwy-looking Happy Face.

“Crimson and Clover” by Joan Jett

While Penelope and Missy are at Applebee’s, Penelope receives an invitation to go to an outdoor party from BrettCorinthians2:2, someone she has cyber-met on the Christian dating app her mother got her for her 40th birthday. When they get to the party they discover that it is a gathering of an evangelical young adult group, centered around the beanbag-tossing game, Cornhole, and Christian rock music. That combination leads to this monologue from Missy:

“Do they have even one song that doesn’t have the Jehovah in it?” Missy asked. “It’s a damn hard word to rhyme. Noah. Leaf blowa. Tabula Rasa. Crimson and Clover. That’s Joan Jett. God, I love Joan Jett. I mean, Jehovah, I love Joan Jett.”

She began to sing now, quietly, so no one but Penelope could hear.

O Jehovah, bring me a whiskey and soda
Or maybe a mimosa
I’ll drink it in my Toyota
And let that Christian boy turn me ova

“Immigrant Song” by Led Zeppelin

While driving BrettCorinthians2:2 to Missy’s house for a little night-time swimming after the Cornhole party, he turns down "Immigrant Song" on her stereo without asking permission. Thus ends BrettCorinthians2:2’s slim chance of a casual make-out session.

“I’ve Got a Tiger by the Tail” by Buck Owens

Penelope’s car blows a head gasket that she can’t afford to get fixed, so her stepfather, George, lets her drive his old pickup, a yellow 1970 Chevy named Daisy. Penelope learned to drive on this truck with George while listening to the great Buck Owens.

“Hot for Teacher” by Van Halen

At the end of the book, when the mystery of her ex-husband’s love life has been solved, Penelope goes to hangout with some old friends from her neighborhood. After a series of setbacks, her life is finally moving in the right direction. The last music you hear in the book is, appropriately, Van Halen.

Penelope currently had a brain freeze from drinking her blueberry Slurpee too fast, but this too would pass. She reached for the volume knob, but it was already as loud as she could get it. How could anyone not like Eddie Van and David Lee? No one rocked harder.

The author agrees with this sentiment.


Inman Majors and Penelope Lemon links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Deborah Kalb interview with the author
Tuck Magazine 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


Shorties (Anthony Bourdain Fan Fiction, A New Cat Power Song, and more)

Cat Power

Helen Rosner recommended Anthony Bourdain fan fiction at the New Yorker.


Stream a new Cat Power song (that features Lana Del Rey).


Vol. 1 Brooklyn interviewed author Brian Alan Ellis.


Stream three new Mountain Man songs.


Longreads features a new essay by A. M. Homes.


Stream a new song by Justus Proffit and Jay Som.


Ada Limon discussed her new poetry collection The Carrying with BOMB.


Stream a new Doe Paoro song.


R. O. Kwan talked book tour food with Grub Street.


Stream a new Black Belt Eagle Scout song.


The Guardian recommended books about Americans abroad.


Stream a new Madeline Kenney song.


Bookworm interviewed author Christian Kracht.


Stream Oh Sees' new album Smote Reverser at Stereogum.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Ling Ma's debut novel, Severance.


Stream a new Roosevelt song.


Book Riot recommended baseball books.



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


August 14, 2018

Ling Ma's Playlist for Her Novel "Severance"

Severance

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.

Ling Ma's novel Severance is an astute combination of workplace novel and apocalyptic tale. Smart and filled with humanity, this debut is one of the year's best books.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"A biting indictment of late-stage capitalism and a chilling vision of what comes after . . . [Ma] knows her craft, and it shows. [Her protagonist] is a wonderful mix of vulnerability, wry humor, and steely strength.... Ma also offers lovely meditations on memory and the immigrant experience. Smart, funny, humane, and superbly well-written."


In her own words, here is Ling Ma's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Severance:



Severance is an apocalyptic office novel. It features Candace Chen, who works as a production coordinator of Bible manufacture as the world comes to an end. The Bibles, considered a labor-intensive product, are produced by suppliers in China. Although she works out of New York, the novel and Candace’s story spans Hong Kong, New York, Fuzhou, Shenzhen, and Salt Lake City. Similarly, I listened to a pretty wide-ranging mix of tracks (albeit almost all American) while writing this novel. I needed a good beat to keep the rhythm of my sentences, and to give the narrative energy. I also tried to find songs that tapped into emotions that informed the scene at hand. This is an incomplete playlist.


“Dark Fantasy,” Kanye
Sometimes my taste isn’t all that different from that of 20-year-old frat boys. But I love the maximalist emotional approach on this album: anger tempered by flashes of humor, sadness cut by bravado. Writing from Candace’s point of view, I wanted to capture that multiplicity. The energy on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy is so infectious, its puns so sharp, that it jumpstarted a lot of my writing at the time.

“I Get Nervous,” Lower Dens
That ticker-tape guitar captures the anxious frequency of living in New York. The Lower Dens are fronted by Jana Hunter. Her solo work, particularly “Vultures” reminds me of my time living in New York, back when Cake Shop (rip) was still open.

“Fake Empire,” The National
When you’re single and you live in New York, that moment before the dusk comes and it’s dinnertime but you haven’t invested in making anything. Through the windows of surrounding buildings, everyone around you is making dinner. They have out their bags of rhubarb and veggies from the farmer’s markets. It’s a specific type of loneliness.

“Money Trees,” Kendrick Lamar
“A dollar just might make that lane switch.” Anyone can get bought out. I really vibed with this track while writing.

“More Than This,” Roxy Music
I associate the entire Avalon album with Hong Kong, and the particular romanticism of cities in southeast Asia. The way those cities look, to me as a kid, was so exciting. I remember riding in a car through city streets for the first time, how it was such a strange sensation. This was back when everyone still rode bikes. And at my aunt’s house, my grandpa and uncle smoking cigarettes while conversing with each other, their elegant ankle socks in slippers against the concrete floor.

“Unchained Melody,” The Righteous Brothers
Sunday afternoon TV infomercials introduced me to the Righteous Brothers, but this is one of those songs that you know even before hearing it. It has the feel of a religious hymnal, but the lyrics about secular love, and the desperation of the delivery, sound almost profane. “God speed your love to me.” Wow!

“Satisfaction,” Cat Power
I listen to this Rolling Stones cover when I need a palate cleanser, to reset. I like the lyrics about being sold to: “When I’m watching my tv and a man comes on to tell me / how white my shirts can be / But he can’t be a man cause he doesn’t smoke / the same cigarettes as me.” The languid pace says that I can take as long as I need.

“Crying,” Roy Orbison
This is classic. I like the strain of Orbison’s voice as he hits the high notes. I always thought Candace was more torn up about her breakup with Jonathan than she let on. I feel this song is a possibility for how she felt, if she had let herself.

“Ocean Floor for Everything,” How to Dress Well
If there’s an ocean floor for everything, then nothing is ever really lost. I liked that burst of light at the end. Tom Krell’s work throws back to 90s R&B, which is the genre that most reminds me of immigrating from China to the US. This live version is even better. And his cover of R Kelly’s “I Wish” tears me up.

“Who Is It,” Michael Jackson
I could recognize the opening strains of this track anywhere, its agitated mix of funk and R&B. I might’ve been in first grade when I first heard it. One of my Chinese friends had a cassette tape, and I duplicated it.

“Consideration,” Rihanna
Rihanna shows up a lot in Severance. I often thought of this track as Candace’s power song. I listened to this a lot as things got worse and worse for her. I might’ve been listening to this when I wrote the end.


Ling Ma and Severance links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

All Things Considered 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


Julian Gough's Playlist for His Novel "Connect"

Connect

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.

Julian Gough's novel Connect is propulsive and ambitious, one of the most thought-provoking books of the year.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Connect imagines a world of systems within systems in which the alteration of a few human cells could have far-reaching and astounding effects on the universe. Recommended for those who enjoy near-future speculation coupled with an engaging and effective exploration of a fractured family."


In his own words, here is Julian Gough's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Connect:



I’m a word guy, so I tend to fall in love with songs for their lyrics. And I also like songs with dramatic or surprising structures – the arrival of the crazy-loud strings, halfway through Julie Cruise’s "Falling in Love"; the wild, wonderful, unsettling way Mary Margaret O’Hara sings "Body’s In Trouble". But, to my sorrow, I can’t listen to anything with lyrics, or anything dramatic, when I’m writing. Yet I do like to listen to something, if only to mask the passing trains, car horns, and random shouts of Berlin street life. So the stuff I listen to when I’m actually writing is very different to the stuff I listen to for pleasure. Unobtrusive modern classical stuff by people like Arvo Pärt; Górecki’s Symphony No. 3 (though that gets waaaaay too emotionally overwhelming towards the end). Side two of Low by David Bowie (the first album I ever bought; still endlessly new, endlessly good). Sometimes the low-fat version: Philip Glass’s Low Symphony. Or, above all…


Brian Eno, Music for Airports. This is the album I listened to again and again and again and again and again while writing Connect. It’s the album I listen to while writing everything. Except, of course, I don’t actually listen to it any more… Which is the whole point of Music for Airports. It was the first ambient album; the first album deliberately designed to exist in the background, at any volume, not drawing attention to itself. And after all these years, I don’t even hear it, it’s just a sound that subliminally tells me I’m at work. Very occasionally I’ll realise it’s on, and pay attention for a few moments, and, startled, realise: it’s a really beautiful piece of music.



I love the origin story of this album, this genre: Brain Eno had been hit by a taxi, and was in bed with a broken leg, recovering. He asked a visiting friend, just as she was leaving, to put on an album of harpsichord music for him. But she’d accidentally put it on at the wrong volume, far too low, and Eno could hardly hear it. He couldn’t get out of bed to change the volume, and so he had to listen to it in this unfamiliar way: the harpsichord music mingling on equal terms with the sound of the rain on the window and the wind in the leaves of the trees outside. And it gave him an idea for a new kind of music…

And so I still tend to think of Eno’s ambient music as music for people trapped, with a broken leg, unable to move. Which feels right, when I’m writing a book; as the day goes on, my feet get bored of sitting flat to the floor; my legs rebel, sick of the dark space under the desk, and they lift, writhe, and knot themselves into pretzels under me as I sit there in the chair, the chair, the chair, the chair, the chair, THE CHAIR in which I will be trapped for the next couple of years, inventing a world.

Sitting in front of a bright, clean screen for years (as my life, ignored, got messier), writing a novel about a boy who would rather live in a bright, clean virtual world than the living moment of this messy real world, got weirdly meta. Writing about alienation can get a little alienating. Working on a computer, writing a story about computers and how they change us.

And so, in the last couple of years of writing Connect, I fell in love with a whole other world of music, that exists outside of technology, a tradition that’s far older than Western civilisation; the singing and music of the Aka people, the Baka, the Mbuti, and the other peoples that the Greeks, two thousand years ago, called “pygmies”. (An aside: These culturally gifted but politically powerless people, by the way, are currently being raped, enslaved and murdered with impunity, particularly in the Republic of Congo and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. That is a whole other story, but do google them, and their appalling situation, and if you can lean on a politician to do something about it, please do so.)

There are “official” albums of such music and singing, albums like Music for the Buma Dance, recorded in Cameroon, with drums, with everybody singing call and response, and all the kids singing harmonies. (That’s a Baka album.) There are formal albums of hunting songs available, too, powerful and structured. They’re great; but I prefer the more casual singing you hear in random clips of everyday Aka and Baka life posted on Youtube. It’s the opposite of Brian Eno, and yet it also the place Brian Eno is trying to get to. It’s music that is totally holistic, music you can’t unpeel from its place; in the opening moments, you might hear a bird sing. Then a woman, looking up casually from weaving, or cooking, will sing notes that feel like a response to the bird; another woman will join in. A man in the distance will join them. And all the time, you can also hear the sounds of the birds and animals to which the people are responding. And the birds, the animals, respond in turn to the human singing. Some go quiet; some change their call. Everything alive is a singer, everyone joins in. Singing isn’t separated out from life.




It’s a deep privilege to be allowed listen in on these moments. They’re a reminder that music used to be something we all made, not just something we consumed. Those moments exist still in the delightful and decadent west, they’re just hard to find. But they’re worth seeking out. Hell, they’re worth joining in. If you know nothing about music, that’s OK. Learn by doing. Start simple. Buy a harmonica; all the notes are in the same key, so you can’t play a bad note. Go for a walk with the harmonica in your mouth, and you’ll make music as you move, just breathing. Change the shape of your mouth, it’ll change the tone of the notes. Don’t tense up and “try to play”: relax, and mess about with it. Don’t think about tunes, notes, rules. Just move the harmonica around your mouth as you move. Learn to breathe music. Yes, people will laugh at you. So what.

I lived for years in Galway, in the west of Ireland, where music is also a living tradition, where there are still some places where a musical session (or “sessiún,” pronounced sesh-oon, in Irish) can break out at any time, with musicians turning up and joining in and leaving as they feel moved to. Here’s a tip, if you’re ever in Ireland: Upstairs in the Crane Bar, on Sea Road, has the best sessiún in Galway, but be respectful: you’re not in the audience at a gig, you are inside a living, unfolding moment that is not for your pleasure, that is just about itself. You have become part of it by turning up. Be present. Pay attention. And yes, join in, if you can, and if they give you the nod. You are not a spectator. You’ll hear tunes a thousand years old, and songs that are recent, but that sounded timeless the day they were written. Songs like "Raglan Road," a poem by Patrick Kavanagh (a fine Irish poet, perpetually penniless, who spent much of his life sleeping on friends’ sofas), set to music by Luke Kelly the year the Beatles released Revolver.



For years, I lived in a flat just a few hundred yards from The Crane; an ever-changing, international bunch of broke, scruffy, cheerful, traditional musicians lived in the flat above me. When I was in bed, I could hear, directly above my head, a foot tapping on their floor, my ceiling, keeping time in a never ending sessiún. I would drift off to sleep at midnight with the foot tapping away, and, more distantly, the sound of the uilleann pipes, a tin whistle, a fiddle, a balalaika. I’d wake for a moment at 4am, and the tap tap tap, the whistle, the drone, dreamily continued.

Years before that, thought, as a kid growing up in Tipperary, in rural Ireland, I grew up in a very different musical tradition: post-punk. And so, at 15, I decided I was going to be a pop star in my twenties, and a novelist in my thirties. In the end, my weird, underground, literary band, Toasted Heretic, released four albums, and had a top ten hit in Ireland.



So my first decade of writing was spent on the lyrics to pop songs. It has, I think, fed into the way I write novels. I write words to be heard through the air: the voice is conversational. (You can tell Henry James never fronted a post-punk outfit.) And I love a sentence with a bit of snap and crackle. As a result, Connect is full of epigraphs (they form a kind of book-within-a-book); mostly male voices, talking our world of technology into being. Sometimes they argue with each other, form a kind of call-and-response, like the three epigraphs introducing Section Eight:

‘There must be an immortal, unchanging being, ultimately responsible for all wholeness and orderliness in the sensible world.” — Aristotle

‘Aristotle could have avoided the mistake of thinking that women have fewer teeth than men, by the simple device of asking Mrs. Aristotle to keep her mouth open while he counted.’ — Bertrand Russell

‘Everybody knows that Aristotelian two-value logic is fucked.’ — Philip K. Dick

And sometimes the epigraphs are lines from songs, that illustrate the themes of the book. And sometimes they are just nods to artists that I love. I threw in a couple of mentions of Silver Jews, because American Water is one of my favourite albums, and because not enough people have heard it. (Main man David Berman’s book of poetry, Actual Air, is pretty great, too: go get that.) Stephen Malkmus and half of Pavement back Berman, and play a simple, harsh, American music, as Berman sings: so cracked and broken. You can hear his despair, his stage fright, his credit card debt. You can fit so much life, so much pain, into a three minute song.



Songs, songs, songs… Yes, sometimes, living now, in Berlin, I just want to listen to a song. Not the Aka. Not traditional Irish music. Not ambient. Something produced. Arranged. Recorded in a studio. And so, when I’m not writing… when I escape the chair, I go back to old favourites, and new ones, obsessively. Here’s a handful…

Tracey Thorn Oh, The Divorces!. The family at the heart of Connect has fallen apart before the book begins. But a family, like a war, never really ends. The cascade of consequences goes on for years after it’s officially over. And so the book is, in some ways, custody battle as apocalypse: As Colt’s parents struggle for his soul, Las Vegas ends up burning; collateral damage.

My own first marriage fell apart over the course of writing the book, so that’s all in there, somewhere. And, sensitised to the subject, I fell hard for Tracey Thorn’s “Oh! The Divorces”, from her 2010 album, Love And Its Opposite. It’s very English, very understated, very beautiful. “The afternoon handovers by the swings…” Thorn just gets better and better. Her new album, Record, might be her best. (Go check it out.)




Gil Scott Heron, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

Gil Scott Heron’s smart 1970 deconstruction of mass media, of how TV culture masks reality in America, feels so brutally up to date right now. (Not surprising it popped up in Black Panther.) The technology has changed (swap “internet” for “TV”, and “algorithmic social media manipulation” for “advertising”), but the dynamics are the same.


Turtles All The Way Down, by Sturgill Simpson. This is insanely great. Gorgeous, lyrically wild, in the great psychedelic country tradition of Jimmy Webb (who wrote "The Highwayman," and "Wichita Lineman.") When country singers do magic mushrooms, wonderful things happen. That sense that it’s all connected, that there’s a greater meaning behind the chaos of our lives, and that no God is required for this: that the astonishing glory of this dynamic, self-assembling universe with its 1,000,000,000,000 galaxies, each containing 1,000,000,000,000 stars, is entirely enough, if you can see it clean. Connect is an attempt, over 500 pages, to see the universe, and our place in it, clean. But Sturgill Simpson does it in three minutes.



Nick Cave, generally. With and without the Bad Seeds. There are a lot of Nick Cave songs in the book. (Colt’s father, Ryan, likes Nick Cave.) And Sasha, the young hacker who upends Colt’s world, wears a black T-shirt with “Bad Seed” on it. That T-shirt actually belongs to the woman Connect is dedicated to, Solana Joy, who was upending my world (in a good way) around the time I wrote those scenes. (Reader, I married her.)



Kate Bush, Cloudbusting. Her amazing take on the life of Wilhelm Reich, whose lifetime of research was burned by the FBI… A song written from the point of view of a boy, whose parent is a scientist, whose research gets them into a lot of trouble with the government… So yes, "Cloudbusting" totally ties in with the themes of the book. But mainly it’s a song that makes me cry.


Anyway, all the above, in their various ways, fed into Connect. I can’t simplify the book here, or sum it up: it took me seven years to write because I was trying to do everything I’m capable of doing, in layer after layer after layer. Trying to do all the things my favourite music does, all at once. Thrill you; amuse you; console you; blow your mind. And so, if you’ve made it this far, I’ll ask you one small favour, directly, even though I know we are supposed to play it cool: go into your local bookstore (or if you don’t have one nearby, go click on Look Inside on Amazon), read the first five pages of Connect, and see if I wrote it for you. I tried to. I hope I did.


Julian Gough and Connect links:

the author's website

Guardian review

Irish Times profile of the author
Unbound Worlds 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


Shorties (An Excerpt from Thomas Page McBee's Memoir, Jeff Tweedy's Forthcoming Memoir, and more)

Jeff Tweedy

Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Thomas Page McBee's memoir Amateur.


Jeff Tweedy's memoir Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back): A Memoir of Recording and Discording With Wilco, Etc. will be published November 13th.


eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
A House Divided by Pearl S. Buck


The Oxford American features a new essay by singer-songwriter Julien Baker.


Work in Progress shared a conversation between authors Sloane Crosley and Zadie Smith.


Stream a new Henry Nowhere song.


The Millions shared a conversation between authors Jordy Rosenberg and Andrea Lawlor.


NPR Music is streaming the new Death Cab for Cutie album Thank You for Today.


Photographers, curators, and others recommend the photo books that have inspired them at The Observers.


Nate Chinen talked about his book Playing Changes: Jazz for the New Century with Morning Edition.


Ling Ma discussed her debut novel Severance with All Things Considered.


Stream a song from Mount Eerie's forthcoming live album.


Bookworm interviewed author Lydia Millet.


Stream a new Cloud Nothings song.


David Joy discussed his novel The Line That Held Us with Weekend Edition.


Stereogum profiled the band Young Jesus.


Salon interviewed author Amanda Stern about her memoir Little Panic.


Pure Bathing Culture covered the Blue Nile's "The Downtown Lights."


Stereogum listed obscure cover songs better than the originals.


Stream a new Saintseneca song.



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


August 13, 2018

Nicole Rivas's Playlist for Her Flash Fiction Collection "A Bright and Pleading Dagger"

A Bright and Pleading Dagger

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.

Nicole Rivas's chapbook A Bright and Pleading Dagger is a testament to the power of flash fiction.

Rigoberto Gonzalez wrote of the book:

"For their thought-provoking denouements and skillful use of compression, the stories of Nicole Rivas beg comparisons to the celebrated stories of the surrealist painter Leonora Carrington. For their arresting strangeness, readers of Latin American literature will recall the stories of Clarice Lispector. But for their edginess and fearless wit, a more contemporary sister is Carmen Maria Machado. Yet Rivas will thrive on her own terms. A Bright and Pleading Dagger is truly a compelling and unforgettable journey into the dark but poignant experiences of women."


In her own words, here is Nicole Rivas's Book Notes music playlist for her flash fiction collection A Bright and Pleading Dagger:



I’ve heard the sentiment that the writing we do, the art we make, reveals just as much about ourselves--and our obsessions--as it reveals the interiority of the characters and worlds we create. More and more, I find this to be true. And how fun--obsessions are fascinating, especially if they’re not our own. Though I rarely set out to write around a certain theme or express a known-obsession, many of the stories in A Bright and Pleading Dagger share an interest in women and girls who are going through a profound life difficulty, whether it’s the feeling of artistic failure, social inadequacy, or engulfment by the complexities of sexuality and love. Women on the cusp of birth or death, women always at a crossroads. The following playlist contains songs and artists I’ve obsessed over throughout the years--often while at my own crossroads--and that inform their paired stories in some way or another:

Mirah - “Light the Match” ("Death of an Ortolan")
In “Death of an Ortolan,” a first few dates aren’t as conventional as one young woman expects, and she turns out to surprise even herself. Mirah’s accordion-laden song delights in the intensity underlining the most fiery and subversive of pairings.

Franz Lizst - “Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2” (Piano Version) ("Gretel's Escape")
In this brief fairytale reimagining, Gretel runs away from Hansel, seeking to break away from her written fate and an unwanted relationship. Just as she runs away toward predictability, Lizst’s hypnotic and nostalogic masterpiece simultaneously feels like a rollercoaster escape and a dreadful sentencing.

Beat Happening - "That Girl" ("Crush")
Nothing says ‘middle-school romance’ to me quite like clammy hands, bad microwaveable food, strange body odor, and the stabbing joy of firsts. As Calvin Johnston bellows in “That Girl,” “There’s a new girl in this town. She’s been a lot of places, worn a lot of crowns. I wanna touch her hair and tell her she is fine.” Easier said than done.

The Melvins - "Going Blind" ("The Staring Contest")
We’ve all heard the saying that eyes are the windows to the soul, but only some of us believe it. In “The Staring Contest,” speed dating is reimagined as a romanticized staring contest between a young woman and a much older man. The Melvins provide a sludgy, sardonic soundtrack to this unconventional affair.

Django Reinhardt - "I've Found a New Baby" ("The Woman on the Bus")
As the protagonist of “The Woman on the Bus” ensues in a physical and emotional struggle with her beau in a New Orleans café, this iconic tune plays in the background. I appreciate that Django Reinhardt’s full band version is both gaudy and beautiful, flippant and sincere, perhaps much like the throws of a new and enigmatic love.

Bikini Kill - "Feels Blind" ("Thirst")
This is one of my favorite Bikini Kill songs--it’s quiet, loud, morose, and angry, all in the span of a few minutes. Kathleen Hannah sings, “As a woman as I was told to I was being hungry. Yeah, women are well-acquainted with thirst. Oh, I could eat just about anything. We might even eat your hate up like love.” By the end of “Thirst,” our narrator seems to be able to well-relate.

The Mountain Goats - "Up the Wolves" ("A Bright and Pleading Dagger")
John Darnielle’s lyrics are well-known for their poetic bite and personal relevance, and “Up the Wolves” is no different. In “A Bright and Pleading Dagger,” two teenage girls share a traumatic experience at the hands of two men who offer them a ride home, and Darnielle seems to get to the core of the narrator’s heart when he sings, “There’s bound to be a ghost at the back of your closet, no matter where you live. There’ll always be a few things, maybe several things, that you’re gonna find really difficult to forgive.”


Nicole Rivas and A Bright and Pleading Dagger links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Roo Black 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


August 10, 2018

Charlotte Seley's Playlist for Her Poetry Collection "The World Is My Rival"

The World Is My Rival

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.

Charlotte Seley's poetry collection The World Is My Rival is an impressive debut offering thought-provoking insight into heartbreak and existence.

CAConrad wrote of the collection:

"There is a concern for our living bodies I look for in poetry and Charlotte Seley gives us the resonating conversation of the world through skin on every brilliant page! She gets me feeling the terrestrial simultaneously calculated as cosmic in the everyday everywhere!


In her own words, here is Charlotte Seley's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection The World Is My Rival:



1. “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” José Gonzales

Sure, I could've gone with the original by Joy Division. It's just as haunting—but love is a lot like a cover song. It's the same lyrics and general melody over and over; every rendition has a different nuance but all in all, it's all pretty much the same. While writing these poems, I felt this way a little, too. I was aware of all the recurring images and words, the way love is revealed and examined under all these different lenses and places within it, like a broken mirror reflecting back short and stretched and stumpy and tall versions of ourselves. Roland Barthes in A Lover's Discourse strives to find the language to talk about love, talk to his beloved, find himself in the other, but all the while the language causes a snag in the flow, like an untied shoelace. We tiptoe, tread carefully, blunder forward. Many times we think it's love that's threaded us tight and, just when we think we're wound together by it, it rips us asunder. In the end, it's love that tears apart love. Love will always tear us apart. Again and again. Over and over.

2. “Absolutely Cuckoo,” The Magnetic Fields

When I began writing this manuscript, I knew I wanted it to lean heavily into A Lover's Discourse. It's my favorite book, and it provided me with so much inspiration as I navigated poetry and the loves that inspired the poems. However, after writing a cluster of poems deeply borrowing from Barthes, I started to lose steam. I started to wonder if the collection was a lost cause. I thought, Can I really pull together 100 pages of A Lover's Discourse poems? For a while, I switched to writing poems inspired by the Magnetic Fields, conveniently forgetting that this was actually a continuation of the work I was doing—most of the poems stemmed from their album 69 Love Songs, and while Stephin Merritt claims they are not love songs but rather about love songs, I argue that love is about love too. If that makes any sense. We're always talking about it; it's nearly impossible to do it, or know we're loving as it's happening. Anyway, this is the first Magnetic Fields poem I wrote, “Absolutely Cuckoo,” named after the song with the same title, a song where I always felt an instant connection:

I must be crazy vexed even besieged by blank avatars
online dating profiles a cache of cuckoo holding cards
without faces, numbers, or suits to tip I built this persona
a curated dilemma person to toe the tides but inside I hide
ten thousand tiny tridents ready to pierce upward
I'm an anchorless anemone so run away and let me go —
I'm vexed mad with the shivers bitten by dynamite
what creaks in the night seeps in the cracks stumbles out
fumbling for a switch or glass of water a coronation for corroboration,
I'm crowned queen of crazy liars like I'd chase you
with a serrated knife or crash you deep into a fortress
of unmovable beasts. To sleep with me is to raid
the medicine cabinet—a bad trip they sometimes say
a hazy fade Read between the lines parse the lies
o let me go xoxo sudden conjuncture surprises
us in pallid ways. What I mean to say is run
while you can. The boat is still docked. Rip down
the curtains and show us what you've got. Loneliness
isn't worth brittle backstory of what's beneath
this mattress of uncomfortable coils pressing down
and the motley junk shoved underneath sighing
the cradle giving up ghosts between the sheets

3. “Ocean of Tears,” Soko

"I thought I was a witch, was I responsible / For the death of all the people that I love the most / Try to forgive myself for all the wrong I've done / Oh, God has a plan to kill us all”

Love begins and then it ends. Even when it doesn't end fully, it goes through all these little endings everyday. Throughout most of my life, not just my adult life, I felt as though I was the source of all bad things, or like if something had to end, its ending was my fault. It's kind of childish right? Or rather, we're told to think it's childish to want anything to last forever, especially love. What resonates with me about Soko's song in relation to The World is My Rival is that it encompasses the multitudes the speaker is so interested in understanding: fear, love, regret, nihilism, tenderness, and on and on. I think poetry is so much like that. I think love is like that too. Love encompasses everything, even the bad parts, the ugly and unwieldy. Some of these poems were super hard to write on a personal level, but the hard stuff was also a part of the speaker's story that couldn't be denied a voice. There's something bigger than all of us, not necessarily on a God level, but in this freeing way that makes it easy to let go and just write it, say it, just be. I'm not a witch, I'm not responsible for the happenstance of the world, the I in these poems is always just being. Oh, just let her be.

4. “No Children,” The Mountain Goats

When love goes awry, anger is an old friend, and sometimes where anger is, there are its cohorts self-destruction, masochism, and the staggering vulnerable raw-bits that howl sadness into a cold open night. “I hope you die / I hope we both die” is as scorned as it gets, both malicious and masochistic, and yet, the worst hasn't even happened. We're met with a repetition of “I hope.” There's hope. That it will and that it won't. The truth is that nothing is set in stone. The poems I wrote, I hope, always see what is and what could be. Even in its darkest hour, there's hope. There has to be. Hope comes and comes again as an obsession. These poems are obsessed. The speaker is obsessed. With herself, with the men, with love. She hopes in the end and when it ends, there's always love.

5. “Sad Girls Club,” Katie Ellen

The speaker in the bulk of these poems looks at her own womanhood through its conventions and knows that, especially in love, she'll always be seen as a dud. She is not a wife, mother, nurturer, or even kind sometimes. She drinks too much, revels in casual sex, becomes wickedly jealous when betrayed, and invests her time on even bigger duds than herself: The drug addicts and the dropouts; the band dudes and the abandoners. She knows she doesn't deserve this, but she also knows she can't be the woman society wants her to be. Sometimes she is a wildfire, sometimes she's a doe in headlights. Sometimes she understands the chorus in this song that says, “Sad girls don't make good wives.” No, she understands it all the time.

6. “Tits Up,” The Uncluded

“One day you're in love / One day your pills suck / One day your shit's fucked / nip tuck / tits up”

When did I start writing poetry seriously? I would say probably when I was in the third year of my undergrad program at Eugene Lang College of the New School in NYC. I liked Kimya Dawson a lot at the time and actually listened to “Loose Lips” approximately 56 times in a row drunk while writing my Feminist Film Theory final. I loved Aesop Rock too. I never knew these two had this project called the Uncluded together until I went on a road trip with my boyfriend and his friend Mitch from New York to Rhode Island then from Rhode Island to Kansas in 2017. The juxtaposition of Kimya's hopscotchy cute and Aesop's lyrical jabs, the poppy drum machine and the idea of being so down on your luck you're “tits up,” but also thinking of “tits up” as a way of “bucking up” is everything I hope for a reader to find in my book. Down has the potential to be up, I mean, sometimes you can turn around upside down.

7. “Baltimore,” Cleveland Bound Death Sentence

An ex-boyfriend of mine got me really into Aaron Cometbus. He bought me a copy of “Lanky” and it was over, I was obsessed. The Magnetic Fields have a song called “Punk Love” where they just say “Punk Love” repeatedly for 58 seconds, which I always thought was really funny, especially in comparison to the economy of images in Aaron Cometbus's Punk Rock Love essay from one of his earlier Cometbus issues. I see a lot of similarities between that essay and this song, coincidentally a song he likely wrote for Cleveland Bound Death Sentence. In any case, I wanted to contribute to the conversation, as a homage to him, to the Magnetic Fields, and of course, to punk love, as young and reckless as it is:


hand me down love stitched as though
ripped on purpose i wanted those fables for us
tequila on the porch & astroturf
in the bedroom maybe I take it too earnestly
I mean all love is the same love is a rusted
truck where a first kiss once transpired
It's not a best practice to only say something's
special when it's gone like an impossible treasure
out with the trash I mean it we were so
young unwieldy & willing to lose love
is to give into the idea that it's already gone

8. “Parades Go By,” The Magnetic Fields

Stephin Merritt says he wrote this song “under the influence of H.P. Lovecraft” and I literally wrote my “Parades Go By” poem less than a block away from the Lovecraft birthplace plaque in Providence, RI's Wayland Square. I had a love-hate relationship with Providence, but always found it interesting that the spirit of Lovecraft seemed steeped in the city's fabric. Merritt sings, “The days go by / a million little nights and days go by / and I don't mind / Parades go by / So many beautiful parades go by,” and in the littlest state in the US, I felt this way sometimes too. It helps to know that the narrator of this song is supposedly dead. I think the speaker in my poem is a little too alive:

H.P. Lovecraft was my neighbor once I know because
they erected a plaque commemorating his birth place
I pass it every day waiting for the parade of buses.
while I live here I feel like a vampire hiding
in the shadows maybe I'm dead & don't even know
I love the burning wood & brick oven smell
of the brasserie across from Lovecraft's plaque
& garlic so I'm a horrible vampire or maybe one
that just won't die stuck between 2 hills in the downtown
valley of a wet river Native American names abundant
with vowels harvest to harbor ome of the cops still
ride horses & the horses shit in the streets parades
go by celebrating smallness as big as I feel I am also small,
a spectator waiting to commence. It's too loud—
trumpets & superfluous car horns but I love animals
out of context & sequins balloons & fried foods gondolas
metal scaled koi. The details pass the feeling
passes my therapist says this is not a forever feeling
The most merciful thing in the world is the inability
of the human mind to correlate all its contents I am
challenging this mercy every day I am always forgetting
to be kind undoing silence is the end of protection:
would you rather be the fanfare or its sharp & inevitable
end? In death we are silent & also protected
the soil is neutral I am where I am
what I am is dependent upon it

9. “Change,” (Sandy) Alex G

“Remember when you took too much / I didn't mind being your crutch / We loved you then / It's not the same / I don't like how things change”

Change is happening all the time in these poems, and the speaker has such difficulty with it. And yet, change is the only movement of energy, the only way she can illuminate and elucidate. If I didn't move out of where I grew up, I'd probably still be with the same dude who abused drugs and wasn't very good to me. Or I'd be haunting the same old bars with characters that roll through and find somewhere else to settle in and settle down. I am grateful for change but I don't have to like it. It's hard to mitigate the big waves of change, how you can love someone so deeply in one moment, and in the next, they are almost like a stranger. They get older and change, and their new girlfriends stay the same age.

10. “Silver Spring,” Fleetwood Mac

“Time cast a spell on you but you won't forget me / I know I could have loved you but you would not let me / I'll follow you down 'til the sound of my voice still haunts you / you'll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you.”

Sometimes poems seem synonymous with spells, sometimes hexes, sometimes incantations, sometimes ethereal monologue. How many times in your life have you thought “I wish I could Eternal Sunshine him” but also “I wish he loved me so much it hurt down to his marrow”? I've thought both of these things, and felt like a witch, but I know that when love has a stronghold on you, there's something witchy-magic about it. Someone once challenged me and said, “Yeah, but that's just lust,” and I thought, “No, not at all.” When you deeply connect with someone and there's a dynamic there, not even time can shake that bond. Even when time tries. Many of my poems seem haunted by voices, voices that time can't let go. Sometimes the speaker is haunted. But mostly she's confronted by ghosts that just want to stay inside her story. Sometimes she still loves them. Sometimes she doesn't. Near the end of the collection, I like to think the speaker exorcises all her demons. The voices have quieted and found their hosts.

11. “Reno Dakota,” The Magnetic Fields

Originally titled “Pantone 292” after a line in this song, my poem “Majestic Blues” was published in the online lit journal Vinyl. I ended up changing the title because I thought it played too close to the Magnetic Fields song, and I edited out a lot of the overt references. The one funny fact about this poem is that I actually utilized paint sample names as an entry into the poem, along with overlaying lyrics. In that way, “Pantone 292” still probably would've worked as a title. Oh well.

Sometimes, when I miss you,
colors come spooling out of me
organically. There's no cure
for the majestic blues. O you know
I'm a recluse, some deep longing
ajar like a petulant storm window
haphazardly hung. I am not
weatherproof nor winter ready. If you
never said it, I'd never wear gloves.
Let my hands get so merlot & cracked
in the malevolent January. This feeling
has a majesty, scattered headquarters
manufactured here & solid
as a coveted gem you'd keep
in a velvet drawstring sack. A shot
of Crown for your tribulations. O beautiful
fracture, interrupted amber waves
of grain. How did you fall into my lap?
I was lightly searching. Year of the
Radiant Orchid. Soon the blues
of lesser hues—Halogen. Zephyr.
Illusion. Opal. Wan. I miss
you in a twilight blue. A ball of yarn
unraveling across coasts, loop
and pull. Loose thread in the carpet
systematically undoing
the floor. My heart's carpeted shag,
soft to pass out upon after too many
blue sleeping pills, pulsing
a message: Don't play fast & loose
with me. Don't sleep here too long.
Expand your palette & ride
out the whispering blue wind.

12. “Demirep,” Bikini Kill

“I am hiding / the truth I show to you is just a lie / you take what you want / you get what you take / but I got something, man / that your fucking money cannot buy”

A message from the woman who dreamed up the speaker of the poems in The World is My Rival: This woman transmitting poems to you is all the things in “Demirep.” She's facetiously sorry she's getting chubby, that she's not some lame sorority queen taking you home to meet her daddy. She's speaking truth right through your lies. Sometimes you might not like it. Sometimes it's self-conscious. Sometimes it's a little too loud, or earnest in a very particular way. Sometimes she doesn't care. Sometimes she knows you don't know what it's like to be alive.

13. “I Want To Dance (With Somebody),” Whitney Houston

This song probably seems like an outlier in the playlist, but it was actually one of the inspirations of the most gut-wrenching (in my opinion) poems in the collection, “Elegy”:

The reporters said there was blood
on her legs. We said, oh no, she wouldn’t

damage those—we remembered her poise,
accentuated muscle, how they called her

The Voice, but we called her The Legs,
remembered it better than the bad interviews,

where she said Crack is whack, when we said
So sad, when we blamed it on Bobby.

I focused on the clock, sobbing
out the time, stricken hours, the TV’s

crackle and all its horrible humidity.
My breakdown was not broadcast

but I, too, was on the floor with nobody
who loved me. All I had were capsule shells

like cast-off claws from a baby monster.
A culmination of things once killed me.

When we were living, I called you Monster.
When we were dead, I called you Bobby.

Say you wanna dance I said, but we
were only shells. Nothing of substance.

We heard the news say accident, felt sad
but we liked that word, used it for our own.

I needed a bath to be just a bath, just
to loosen crimped and lacquered hair,

all my days belabored into restless nights.
I needed to loosen the grip of your claws

fallen from orange bottles, printed prescription
names of people who we had no relation.

I did not know then the difference in sound
between scattered pills and a tiny splash

or an empty room from the downtown lights—
we could not tell the people from monsters

my Baby from my Bobby, powder from poise.

The fever broke—or maybe it faded,
and the party carried on without us.

We knew then the legs weren’t sad,
it was all that they had to carry.

14. “Nobody Sees Me Like You Do,” Yoko Ono & The Apples in Stereo

Love really put Yoko Ono through the shit. I told my boyfriend I find Yoko way more interesting than John Lennon and we debated a bit, but I think what I meant is that she is a phenomenal artist and thinker, something a lot of people don't give her enough credit for. I'm sure the way I phrased it to my man was flippant and bratty, I just feel so hard for a woman who wants to create, illuminate, and love. I feel for the woman in the song who laments, “Why does it have to be like this / You & I / I wanted us to be happy.” I chose this song because it is entangled with so much wistfulness and ugliness but also hope. At the end of the day, the person closest to you can see you as the utmost perfection and also the devilish underbelly of your worst day. But isn't that the closest to the purest love that we can ever get? Isn't that so wonderfully and simultaneously tragic and beautiful?

An earlier version of “Majestic Blues” was first published in Vinyl.

“Elegy” was first published in H_NGM_N.


Charlotte Seley and The World Is My Rival links:

the author's website
the publisher's page for the book


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 - August 10, 2018

David Bowie

This week's archival releases include the following live recordings: David Bowie's Isolar II Tour 1978, Neil Young's Live in Concert: The Early Years, and Tom Petty's On the Box: The Best of the Television Appearances 1977-1994.

Vinyl reissues of The Fall's 45 84 89 A Sides, Gillian Welch's Soul Journey, and Neko Case's Furnace Room Lullaby are also in stores today, as is a remastered edition of Tom Waits's Blue Valentine.


This week's interesting music releases:


Allman Brothers: Fillmore East, February 1970
Bee Gees: Soundstage 1975
Ben Folds: Brick: The Songs Of Ben Folds 1995-2012 (13-CD box set)
Ben Khan: Ben Khan
Clairo: diary 001 [vinyl]
Cordovas: That Santa Fe Channel
David Bowie: Isolar II Tour 1978
Dawn Landes: Meet Me at the River
Deaf Havana: Rituals
Enuff Z'nuff: Diamond Boy
The Fall: 45 84 89 A Sides (reissue) [vinyl]
Foxing: Nearer My God [vinyl]
George Jones: Ten Classic LPs
Giant Sand: Returns to Valley of Rain
Gillian Welch: Soul Journey (reissue) [vinyl]
Il Divo: Timeless
Jake Shears: Jake Shears
Jason Mraz: Know.
Kodaline: Politics of Living
Liz Cooper: Window Flowers
The Magpie Salute: High Water I
The Mouldy Peaches: The Mouldy Peaches (reissue) [vinyl]
Neko Case: Furnace Room Lullaby (reissue) [vinyl]
Nicki Minaj: Queen
Neil Young: Live in Concert: The Early Years
Robbie Fulks and Linda Gail Lewis: Wild! Wild! Wild!
Sera Cahoone: Sera Cahoone (reissue) [vinyl]
Shovels and Rope: Predecessors [vinyl]
Shooter Jennings: Shooter
Sunn 0))): White2 (reissue) [vinyl]
Tom Petty: On the Box: The Best of the Television Appearances 1977-1994
Tom Waits: Blue Valentine (remastered) [vinyl]
Tomberlin: At Weddings
Various Artists: Boppin' By The Bayou - Flip, Flop & Fly
Various Artists: Freaky Friday Original TV Movie Soundtrack
Various Artists: The Trojan Records (13-disc box set)
The War And Treaty: Healing Tide
Warren Zevon: The Wind (reissue) [vinyl]


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)


August 9, 2018

Joshua Mattson's Playlist for His Novel "A Short Film About Disappointment"

A Short Film About Disappointment

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.

Innovatively told through 80 film reviews, Joshua Mattson's novel A Short Film About Disappointment is a witty and thought-provoking debut.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Mattson’s intelligence, in the form of knife-sharp observations and acrobatic language, takes the novel’s center stage."


In his own words, here is Joshua Mattson's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel A Short Film About Disappointment:



Don’t Bother, in A Short Film About Disappointment, is a remake of a classic science-fiction comedy, which devolves into nationalist spectacle during the second iteration. Earth receives a signal from a distant star which indicates sentience. The narrator, a film critic, likes the first version.

In the original, the whole film passes in a conference room, where bureaucrats maneuver to wrangle the honor of making first contact with the aliens. After eighty minutes of slapstick, they agree to not contact the aliens, unable to decide which institution should have the honor.

The reboot, loathed by the narrator, is an invasion film, an advertisement for the military.

Logan Broder, the director of the reboot, thought himself to be a visionary filmmaker. He commissioned John Satmost, a janitor on the studio lot, to do the soundtrack to his film, after he heard him practicing scales in a boiler room. Three days later, Logan Broder received his soundtrack, which was one piece of sound, twenty-five and one-half minutes long. Broder used it to score the final act, the slaughter of the enemy. How did Satmost feel about the abuse of his music? Satmost had never seen so much money in his life, and his knees hurt from three decades of polishing banisters. What did it matter if his depiction of numinous experience was paired with a rather tasteless dogfight between seven hundred F-16 fighter planes and a swarm of scintillating orbs that fire indigo lasers? Even a janitor could understand that images have become bankrupt, that they have no meaning at all, that they can be invested with the opposite of the meaning which they allegedly convey.


Joshua Mattson and A Short Film About Disappointment links:

Publishers Weekly review

Literary Hub essay by 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


Heather Abel's Playlist for Her Novel "The Optimistic Decade"

The Optimistic Decade

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.

Heather Abel's coming-of-age novel The Optimistic Decade is an impressive debut.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A politically and psychologically acute debut… A strong sense of time and place anchors the story, and Abel’s well-crafted plot brings all the strands of the story together into a suspenseful yet believable conclusion. Without landing heavily on any political side, and without abandoning hope, Abel’s novel lightly but firmly raises questions about how class and cultural conflicts play out in the rural West."


In her own words, here is Heather Abel's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Optimistic Decade:



The first music I knew was protest music, learned at rallies or vigils and then listened to on my parents’ record player during the long hours I spent alone. I’d sit with my face pressed against the black mesh of the speaker, imagining myself as part of a crowd of singers, joining in the delicious call and response. I’d sing along until my sisters came home and told me to stop. I’m a terrible singer. Chorus teachers have asked me to mouth the words at concerts. Friends have laughed. My husband has said, in wonderment, “But how are you always out-of-tune? You’d think one time you’d land on the right note.” Now, my kids shush me. And yet I’ve never been happier than when singing an angry song in a large group; it’s the high I’ve sought my whole life, since those early protests, my first campfires. And while that experience is basically the opposite of the quiet aloneness of writing a novel, on very good days, I feel the crowd singing with me.

The Optimistic Decade takes place in 1990 and the early 80s, but it grapples with the question many of us are struggling with in the terrifying present: How to fight for change when so many attempts fail? The main characters in The Optimistic Decade aren’t all seeking the same sort of change -- Rebecca and her father, Ira, are furious at capitalism and the suffering it creates; the bankrupt ranchers Don and Donnie believe the federal government and coastal elites are destroying the West and its working people; Caleb is a utopian camp director and David his devoted camper -- but they’re all idealists. Their idealism is tested in the book, brought to the edge of the ravine of disillusionment – or smashed against the rocks below. And because they are all idealists, there are lots of songs in the book. What is an idealist without a song? Music is the aural manifestation of our togetherness, our euphoric readiness. Music creates groups, defines insiders and outsiders. Here are my character’s sing-alongs:


“We Shall Overcome,” as sung by Pete Seeger

Last night, a babysitter took my kids and I walked into town with a friend and when we happened upon a small protest, we joined it. It was intended, as far as I could tell, simply as a wail against the despair of this past week, our totalitarian-loving president lying while kids remain in cages. What can be said, really, of this horror? The first speaker, a white lawyer, tried to buoy our spirits by reminding us how much progress the Mueller investigation has made. The second speaker, an African American doctor, began by singing We Shall Overcome. My god she could sing. It was impossible not to join in, although I have lots of conflicted feelings about "We Shall Overcome," feelings I gave to Rebecca, who, like me, grew up singing "We Shall Overcome" while other kids were playing soccer and watching TV, who believed in the claims of each verse – We are not afraid, We’ll walk hand-in-hand, Black and white together -- and who comes to realize that all these promises might indeed be false. We shall overcome someday? Really? When exactly is someday?

The small protest I joined last night in Northampton, MA, was again not that elusive someday. There were maybe fifty of us, mostly white people, signing a song from the civil rights movement, holding with earnest signs. Before I wrote The Optimistic Decade, I would have walked home full of bile. Why bother? Nothing concrete would come of that rally, no substantive economic or political change. But I feel differently now. The fifty of us on the lawn were nourished by the protest, by standing together, upset and angry, by singing. We returned home with more strength to make phone calls, to read the news, to stand against it. Protest isn’t, as I used to believe, a clear cause and effect game. It’s food, it’s church, it’s how we stay hopeful when there’s darkness all around, it’s as powerful as a song.

“There is Power in a Union” as sung by Utah Philips
“The Internationale” as sung by Billy Bragg

Like me, the songs Rebecca listened to as a kid were union hymns, which means they began as Christian hymns with words changed to fit the labor battles of the early 20th century. Since I was raised by atheists, these were our only hymns, and I loved the clear and grand melodies, the twang of Pete’s banjo in the Almanac Singers, the call and response of voices in unison, and most of all, the grand vision of revolution: There is power, there is power in a band of working folks when we stand, hand in hand, That’s a power, that’s a power that must rule in every land. One industrial union grand.

This version is sung by Utah Philips, the great labor organizer, anarchist, and train-jumper. I used to join his sing-alongs in church basements. He was an incredible story-teller, and if you want to learn about – or relive -- the heyday of the labor movement, you could listen to his stories, recorded in his albums. Be sure to listen to "Hallelujah I’m a bum" -- and his story of asking the Feds to plow his garden.

By the time I was an adult, the labor movement had lost its power in the US. Like Rebecca, I was sort of shocked to realize that societal change would never come from the workers of the world rising up. These union songs can seem quaint, antiquated. Still, the Internationale, as sung by Billy Bragg in this version has a line I think about all the time: Freedom is merely privilege extended unless enjoyed by one and all. I’ll sing along to that any day.

“Don’t Fence Me In” by Willie Nelson

When I moved to a small coal mining town in western Colorado in 1995 to write for the environmental newspaper, High Country News, the United Mine Workers signs along the highway were bullet-ridden and anachronistic. The unions held no power. Instead, the corporate-funded Wise Use movement courted miners and ranchers, rallying them in a hatred of environmentalists that Donnie shares. The town, which became Escadom in the book, was divided between enviros and miners, but when Willie Nelson came to play in the rodeo grounds in Ridgeway two hours away, everyone came -- the hippies and the ranchers. Everyone dressed like a cowboy. Who is a real cowboy anyway? Who belongs in the west? Does Donnie belong there, because his great-grandfather, a white pioneer, was given a free parcel of land by the government? Does Caleb belong there because he bought Donnie’s land and wears Donnie’s cowboy hat? Well, no. Neither of them do -- or we all belong there. A cowboy is a cover song. Its Willie Nelson singing a song made popular by Roy Rogers, written by Cole Porter, its words stolen from a highway worker from Helena.

What I love about "Don’t Fence Me In" as an anthem for the west, a place so intent on authenticity and myth, is that it’s completely inauthentic, rugged individualism as played by Hollywood. And yet I can’t listen to it without wanting to drive as fast as I can until I’ve crossed the 100th Meridian and I’m back in the wide open country that I love, away from all this greenery and civilization. Don’t fence me in.

“Rocky Mountain High” by John Denver

How do you get a group of teenagers to sing a campfire song without becoming ironic or sarcastic? "Rocky Mountain High," like all of John Denver oeuvre, lacks "Don’t Fence Me In’s" jaunty insouciance. It’s too reverent about the West. It display’s an outsider’s earnestness. But if you sing it enough times, it becomes something else. Like everything else at camp, repetition and ritual turns the mundane into the sublime. Here’s David, explaining how this works:

“At the first campfire, that first summer at Llamalo, Caleb and Mikala had taught them hippie songs: “Teach Your Children,” “For What It’s Worth,” “Will The Circle Be Unbroken,” “Leaving on a Jet Plane.” Songs with repetitive choruses so everyone could join in. The last song that night was “Rocky Mountain High.” David had been sitting between Suze and Caleb. There’d only been thirteen kids that first summer. “This is ironic, right?” Suze had asked Caleb. And yes, it had started out with irony. They’d sung it the way Ira and Joe sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” when the police had come to arrest them. Too loudly, tongue in cheek. I’ve seen it raining fire in the sky. But in just a few nights, it was sung differently. With the sweet sincerity of believers. They sang it every night at every campfire that summer, and still they sang it, always the last song of the evening, standing and holding hands in an amoebic ring. It was how they said goodbye to the day.”

“It’s the End of the World As We Know It” by R.E.M.

At last we’ve reached a song that understands irony. Here was the anthem of my Gen X college days. We started jumping up and down as soon as we heard the galvanizing drum roll intro. But there are far too many words, and with no lyrics available in the liner notes, we all memorized it slightly wrong. Still, we’d shout out LEONARD BERNSTEIN, as if it meant something. What did it mean? It meant : Everything’s fucked; let’s sing. At the end of July, Caleb’s counselors leave Llamalo and wander into Escadom the rundown mining town that’s as odd to them as if they’d landed in a foreign country. How do they celebrate the euphoria of being a group? Through this song:

“Scott reached the bus first. He coaxed the engine, shoved a tape in the deck, and twisted the volume. Then he jumped out. That’s great, it starts with an earthquake. Scott was first to start dancing, and the way Scott danced was like one of those wooden animals where you depress a button and the strings fall limp. Eye of a hurricane, listen to yourself churn. World serves its own needs. Saskia was next, and the way Saskia danced was more like pogoing, and the way Kai danced was hips and tits, like she was listening to an entirely different song, and the way Jeremy danced was to hop from foot to foot and huff out the words. Team by team, reporters baffled, trumped, tethered, cropped. Look at that low plane. Lights went on in the houses across from the park. The way Mikala danced was to grab hands with Scott and to swing their arms from side to side. You vitriolic, patriotic, slam, fight, bright light. Feeling pretty psyched. The way they all danced was to shout as one, It’s the end of the world as we know it.

One thing I love about this song is that, as a counterpoint to all the words, one voice (is it Stipe’s?) plaintively sings, “Can I have some time alone?” I like to think of this as the voice of the writer. If the high I’m always seeking is a sing-along, I know that to actually write a book, I have to leave everyone.

“Father and Son” by Yusuf/Cat Stevens

When I was in high school, I was part of a group that brought 100 high school students to the Nevada Nuclear Test Site outside of Las Vegas to protest the detonation of nukes on Western Shoshone land. We trained the other students in nonviolent civil disobedience, rented buses, and camped out among the activists who did this regularly. The night before we planned to get arrested, we couldn’t sleep. The moon was bright, and a group of us walked through the desert singing every Yusuf/Cat Stevens song. We knew all the words, or at least Blase did and the rest of us followed him. The best was "Father and Son," because we were young and angry.

David and his friends, hiking through the high desert outside Llamalo, sing this song for the same reason – the sheer joy of collectively shouting out their fury at being told that their dreams may not last (that their Optimistic Decade might end). From the moment I could talk I was ordered to listen! But I also chose this song because my book is crowded with men -- with fathers, like Ira and Don and Caleb’s dead dad Robbie, and with sons like Caleb and David. I wrote about men because I was interested in masculinity in the west and how it gets learned and performed. And I also wrote about it because when I was young, like Rebecca, the leader of every group I was a part of – every activist org., every camp – was a man. She’s surrounded by men. They have all the power and in this book she’s learning how they abuse this power, she’s learning not to revere them, to find her own voice.

“Rebel Girl” by Bikini Kill
“Waiting” by Sleater-Kinney

But before she finds her voice, Rebecca has to listen to men, men, men, including her new boyfriend Luke: “‘We are each only the sum of our signifiers,’ Luke liked to say. Luke was a senior she’d met in a seminar on postmodernism. After he’d eviscerated a paper she’d written—“Who Is the Dreaming Animal Really?: Representations of the Other in Kingsolver”—he’d asked her out to coffee, where he explained that all politics was aesthetics. Protest was an aesthetic choice. Capitalism had subsumed rebellion, making it just one more thing to purchase. Now, they were dating, which meant that every week she’d sit on Luke’s floor, his Panasonic cassette player between them, and he would lecture her. It was important to him that she learn which was the best Sonic Youth album, exactly when Nirvana was “dialing it in.” At some point in the evening, he would put on Galaxie 500 and they’d have quick sex on the floor, a jabbing in the general direction of her clitoris, a frantic humping.”

This comes toward the end of the book, but I love to think about the world Rebecca might enter after the last chapter. I can see her, headphones on, walking down the street in Berkeley with a new kind of bravery, because she’s listening to Bikini Kill’s "Rebel Girl." I can see her, in 1996, at her first Sleater Kinney show, maybe at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco, shouting along to every word of "Waiting." It’s waiting for you, Rebecca. A new kind of protest music. A new euphoric belonging. A heroic fuck you to the patriarchy. It’s all there for you to find it.


Heather Abel and The Optimistic Decade links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
School Library Journal review

Book Talk interview with the author
Powell's 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


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