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September 21, 2017

Book Notes - Jorge Armenteros "The Roar of the River"

The Roar of the River

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jorge Armenteros's short story collection The Roar of the River reads like an evocative dream that you never want to end.

D. Harlan Wilson wrote of the book:

"Beautifully written and crafted, The Roar of the River is a mythic incantation of the relationship between nature and culture. Armenteros evokes the dreamscapes and desires of Marquez, Joyce, and Ballard while asserting his own distinctive voice."


In his own words, here is Jorge Armenteros's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection The Roar of the River:



While it's difficult for me to write in anything but total silence, I've always crafted mix tapes (and then, playlists) for my characters, stories, and novels. Music helps me understand, even articulate the feelings that are locked inside my ideas and concepts. Once I have that understanding, once I've really realized and listened to the emotional truth of my work through music, it's like a door opens and invites me inside the world that I'm creating.

Crafting my short story collection, A Dream Between Two Rivers: Stories of Liminality, wasn't really that much different from creating a mix tape. The book has two sections, and in some ways, each section or "side" is a record of ways that I felt, my obsessions and dreams over the course of creating the book. It's also, of course, a catalogue of the darkness, the loneliness, and the yearning that my characters feel. Below you'll find songs that gave me insights into their lives, specific melodies that illuminated their stories for me, beats that underscored their darkest and brightest moments. I've tried to share these moments, and like doorways, into the stories themselves, I invite you to come inside.


The Loneliness

(SIDE A)


"The Dark Valley of Your Lungs" | Siboney by Connie Francis
At the lavandería you read in a magazine about Connie Francis, how she learned her songs phonetically, mouthing languages she didn't know, echoing the longing in the hearts of those without a home. When everyone is at midnight mass, you play Abuela's records in the dark. You press your palms to your throat, your chest. You move your lips, make the song dance on them without your tongue, mimic the sounds of longing until the sun comes up. Abuela returns to a warm turntable, empty 7up cans, the ghost of your song fogging the bathroom mirror.

"The Children's House" | Night Reconnaissance by The Dresden Dolls
We love the dark, what happens when the lights go out around our neighborhood, our tiny bodies illuminated only by stars. Night is the perfect time for collecting: gnomes and flamingos are plentiful, and though our basement and attic burst with so many of their technicolor bodies already, we can't resist. Why do grown-ups love them so? Do they appeal to their sense of color and whimsy? Or are they the odd constants of suburbanity, the only monsters Maple Street U.S.A. can conceive of? To us, they are bright reminders of alien adventures, stories we will tell our own parents one day.

"Hansel and Gretel" | Devil in You by The Watson Twins
Hansel's sister led him to the edge of town. It was like a race they'd been running their whole lives, knees pressed to concrete, cheeks sticky with sweat, ready to run. They'd been running so long. And Gretel always beat him, always got there first, out-smarted the witch. But did she win? Hansel asked himself over and over and over, seeing the blood on his sister's hands. Did she win?

"Postcards From the Underworld" | Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division
It's the love that's supposed to be unconditional that's always the hardest. Demeter can't understand it. How can you birth a child, especially a girl, in the very image of you, and from the moment she slides from your legs, want to both lock her back up inside you and push her away? How can you choose your lovers, your arts, over her, again and again, while at the same time lamenting her absence? Do you feel relief after she is gone? Do you tell others that she was taken so people will pity you? So you can pity yourself? And why, why is loving the image of yourself so hard?

"Searching" | Wish You Were Here by Pink Floyd
Mateo's daughter picks up the arm and resets the needle. The grooves in the vinyl are worn and the needle dull and the song skipping. How many times has she listened to this song? It helps her try and believe that she and her father are both out there, missing each other at the same time. But maybe the real story, the truer story, is that they are missing the same thing, that they have the same hole inside that can never be filled, even by each other. There's a Grand Canyon of difference between these two things, but bridging it is unfathomable. Can you string a tightrope over a gulf that big? If anything can do it, she thinks, this song can.


The Devouring

(SIDE B)


"Thick as Skin" | I Put A Spell on You by Nina Simone
The ingredients are not hard to come by, and anyway, that's not the most important part of any curse; it's the will that makes a spell work. I've wanted you for so long, I almost thought I'd never get you. But then of course, I remembered the stories and read the books and found the spell and danced under a full moon naked...of course I'm not going to tell you how I did it! And risk you finding the counter-curse? Obsession is one thing, loneliness another. I survived one for ages, don't intend to endure the other. And it's love, darling, truly, truly, true love. What makes a love spell a success? When it fools both practitioner and subject.

"Transformations" | I Put A Spell on You by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
What can make a spell go bad? Al knows now, of course. It all lies in intent, tone, even if the words are pure. Of course, there are no pure words anymore. They've all been sullied by use in evil spells. Al would never have dreamed any of this could have happened but then of course, Al doesn't dream anymore. There are only nightmares, day or night. If Al could deliver a caution, it would be: Even if grief gnaws your fingers and your spleen, do not craft a spell with malice, fear, or longing in your heart. If anything in you questions what the state of your soul will be after the spell, do not do it. Pour the moon water down the drain, throw the fenugreek in a neighbor's garden, burn the plants. Become friends with your grief. Sit with it in afternoons and offer it tea. Do not wish it away.

"The Scent of Love" | Where the Wild Roses Grow by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
Elizabeth was always happiest when she was allowed to play in the graveyard. She loved to read the inscriptions on tombstones (Passed on to the arms of angels! At eternal rest in the bosom of the Lord!) and steal the freshest flowers, one flower from each grave, and at the end, a bouquet of someone else's grief would fill her arms. When she was very young, she tried to pick the wild roses that grew along the high fence, but after cutting herself to ribbons on their green thorns, she went after easier catch. Not that the stolen blooms were perfect. While they sat in pride of place at the center of the dinning room table, scores of ants trailed from the vase, scurrying for the plates. As Elizabeth giggled and squished their tiny, black bodies with the butt of her knife, her mother shook her head and thought that she'd rather see the girl's blood on her table.

"How to Bring Your Dead Lover Back" | Never Tear Us Apart by INXS
Everyone says that their stories are about true love, compulsion, caution, but take out the tragic mothers and emo musician/king of the underworld boyfriends, and Persephone and Eurydice are just fine. Most people don't believe it. What happens if we subtract dark men and lamenting crones from our narratives? Can young women really live their lives as the heros of their own stories, rescuing no one but themselves (and maybe each other)? Sometimes Persephone and Eurydice laugh about it as they sip whiskey-laced sweet tea, and swing from their hammock. Their house is full of cats and other wild creatures who come and go as they please and don't follow Aristotle's rules of a satisfying (read: heteronormative) narrative. Here, they're allowed to create their own destiny. And no one really needs saving anymore.


Jorge Armenteros and The Roar of the River links:

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

TNBBC's The Next Best Book Blog 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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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






September 21, 2017

Shorties (A Profile of Joan Didion, A Conversation Between Philip Glass and Devonte Hynes, and more)

Vogue profiled Joan Didion.


NPR Music shared a conversation between Philip Glass and Devonte Hynes.


Dave Eggers talked to Smithsonian about his forthcoming book Ungrateful Mammals.


Drowned in Sound interviewed the Horrors' Faris Badwan.


Hazlitt interviewed author Carmen Maria Machado.


Stream a new song from Montreal's Common Holly.


Bookworm interviewed author Matthew Klam.


Stream a new Charlotte Gainsbourg song.


Celeste Ng talked books and reading with the New York Times.


Stream a new song by the Kalbells.


Book Riot recommended campus novels for autumn.


Beach Slang covered Big Star's "Thirteen."


Literary writers discussed the influence of Stephen King at Literary Hub.


NPR Music is streaming Loney Dear's self-titled album.


The Rumpus shared four new poems by Maggie Smith.


Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers talked protest music with the Columbia Tribune.


Franklin Foer discussed his new book World Without Mind with Literary Hub.


NPR Music is streaming Jessica Lea Mayfield's new album Sorry Is Gone.


BookPage interviewed author Jamie Ford.


Rolling Stone profiled the band Deer Tick.


Paste interviewed Mick Fleetwood about his new book Love That Burns.


Stream a new Kristin Kontrol song.


Publishers Weekly profiled author Jennifer Egan.


Stream two songs from Angel Olsen's rarities collection Phases at NPR Music.



eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
The Constant Gardener by John le Carre
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The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
Loner by Teddy Wayne
My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal
North Haven by Sarah Moriarty
Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
The Temple of Gold by William Goldman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

Girl waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky
Native Believer by Ali Eteraz

eBooks on sale for $3.99 today:

All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
Goddess of Buttercups & Daisies by Martin Millar
Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
My Happy Life by Lydia Millet
The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio
They Live by Jonathan Lethem



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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


September 20, 2017

Book Notes - John Haskell "The Complete Ballet"

The Complete Ballet

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

John Haskell's The Complete Ballet is a marvelously inventive and compelling novel.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Fiction and essay share the stage in Haskell's captivating, erudite novel. . . . In imaginative, analytical, affectless prose, Haskell gives new life to well-known stories danced onstage, constructing interiorities and motivations for the characters, and drawing connections between the emotions of the ballets and his narrator’s story."


In his own words, here is John Haskell's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Complete Ballet:



Music, like memory, gets stored away in the brain, pulled off the metaphorical shelf when a connection, either playful or appropriate, is needed. The connection between the events of life and the memory of a tune or lyric or rhythm is unconscious, and like a dream, sometimes it doesn't seem to make sense, but mostly it does, even if the person doing the dreaming, me in this case of The Complete Ballet, can't say what the connections are. However, for these notes, I'll try to give an indication, at least, of what those connections might be.


"My Favorite Things" by Rogers and Hammerstein
This song comes first because, for me, it straddles both the world of Rogers and Hammerstein, the world of narrative musicals, and the world of John Coltrane, a spiritual world of introspective jazz. Growing up my family had the Mary Martin version, and now with my daughter I listen to the Julie Andrews version. Because the book is partly about my daughter I should also mention "Do-Re-Me," also from the Sound of Music, a song I used to sing with her.


Peter Tchaikovsky, "Swan Lake"
At a certain point in her life my daughter loved ballet, and especially Romantic Ballet, which is what The Complete Ballet is partly about. But only partly. It's also about love, and the music played when Odette and Siegfried meet by the lake is full of the exuberance of love and the danger of love.


Pete Seeger, "Shady Grove"
Another song I used to sing with my daughter. The part that goes: "Shady Grove, my little love, I'm bound to go away" expresses an idea of loss that is part of the book.


Bob Dylan, "Mr. Tambourine Man"
My daughter didn't know what a tambourine was but she intuited what "the jingle jangle morning" was, and she loved to sing this song very loud.


The Grateful Dead, "Uncle John's Band"
Another song my daughter used to sing, expressing joy in the part that goes, "Hot damn, I declare, have you seen the light." Also, there's the fact that Tricia Brown, the choreographer, used the song for her dance, Accumulation, a dance I don't mention in my book but was part of my research. I like the juxtaposition of spare, modernist movement with the old timey folksiness the Grateful Dead brought to the song. I'm not saying I ate any magical mushrooms when I heard them play it at the Winterland Ballroom but the song has a lot of associations.


Kurt Weill, "Mac the Knife"
John Gay's The Beggar's Opera became Brecht's The Threepenny Opera, which was made into a film by G.W. Pabst. Brecht shares a birthday with me and he's always hovering in my work, specifically his ideas about how an audience (or reader) might come to a work of the imagination.


John Zorn, "Spillane"
I heard this first on NPR when NPR was interesting. Then I saw Zorn's band playing it in a now-vanished music venue on Houston Street. And by seeing the show I mean I sat in the middle of the musicians, and it might be my imagination but I think I was given a triangle to play. Although the music is contemporary, it sounds like what a film noir movie looks like, and there's an element of noir in my book.


"Falling in Love Again" sung by Marlene Dietrich
This is a song featured in the book. I remember Marlene Dietrich singing it in The Blue Angel, a movie about a man who got in over his head, and what he got in was his own desolation. The song is quite emotional but it's also extremely simple, just words repeated. In that it's a little like Simon and Garfunkel's "Leaves that Are Green."



Neil Young, "After the Gold Rush"
A number of scenes in the book take place in a nightclub called the Crazy Horse West. I associate Neil Young, who had a band called Crazy Horse, with the Sunset Strip, with the whiskey nightclubs that dotted it back in the 1970s, places in which styles of music were given the freedom to incubate and grow. Flying mother nature's silver seed for sure.


Laurie Anderson, "Progress" (or "The Dream Before")
This is where I was introduced to Walter Benjamin's idea of an angel being blown by a storm from paradise, being propelled into "the future to which his back is turned." It's another example of reworking something already known to make it known again, in a different way.



Joanna Newsom, "The Book of Right-on"
For a few weeks, possibly months, I walked around singing the chorus of this song, about shining a light on, and that the book of right-on, it was right on. With all the hopelessness I see in the world it's nice to radiate a bit of idealism.


Radiohead, "How to Disappear Completely"
I've been known to write with this song playing, but until I sat down to write this playlist, I never knew the title, which, in relation to The Complete Ballet, is apt.


Talking Heads, "Cross-eyed and Painless"
Lost my shape, trying to act casual. That about sums up my narrator's dilemma. It's a song that's easy to get submerged in, and also easy to come up for air.


Chick Corea, "Spain"
This is a song that, when I hear in my head, and when I hum the melody to myself, working through the rhythms of the melody, I almost always get lost, losing my place, and although it's annoying, it makes me like the song even more.


Jorge Ben, "Fio Maravilha"
At a residency, with the help of a Brazilian architect, I tried to learn to sing this song in Portuguese. I'm still trying, and part of what appeals to me is the fact that the song, full of emotion, which I thought might be about tempestuous love, was instead about a soccer player.


Joni Mitchell, "A Case of You"
This haunting song, full of emotion, is about love. Also, because Joni lived in Laurel Canyon, it partly haunts my book.


Leonard Cohen, "Chelsea Hotel # 2"
Another form of the personal essay.


Steve Reich, "Tehillim"
The music I listen to when I'm writing, for the most part, can't have lyrics. Not lyrics I understand anyway. The voices in "Tehillim" are probably speaking Hebrew, I don't know, and it doesn't matter because the words, while retaining the shadow of their meaning, are released from meaning, which is what writers try to achieve.


David Lang, "The Lost Meeting"
Sound that floats, and floats me when I hear it.


Johann Bach, "Cello Suites"
Almost all of Bach is rejuvenating. I'm not a big fan of his organ work, but The Cello Suites, definitely, and also the piano work and flute work, the duos and trios, calm me while at the same time focusing my unconscious on what it should focus on, the unconscious. And instead of leaving the unknown alone the music seems to opens up what I imagine are the secrets of rhythm and melody and oddly, I see Bach as very American.


Aaron Copeland, "Appalachian Spring"
Speaking of American.


John Dowland, "Come Again"
Another case of the lyrics melting into the music. In this case it's sweetness and purity, and because the song was written in another time, the 16th century, the purity seems real.


Bob Marley and the Wailers, "And I Love Her"
The idea of a cover, an appropriation of a song that becomes a completely different song is, in a way, what I'm doing in my book, and this cover makes the Beatles song more plaintive and raw and emotional.


Lou Reed, "Satellite of Love"
Lou. Romanticism. Death.



Kate Bush, "My Silver Bullet"
When I started writing these notes, for some reason, this song began playing in my mind. I have no idea why but I'm including it because there it was, or really, here it is.



"Bigmouth Strikes Again" by The Smiths
Proof that despair can also be fun.



"Help Me Somebody" by Brian Eno and David Byrne
When I read Amos Tutuolo's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, years ago, I remember being inspired but what seemed to me the innocence of his outlook. Not innocent as in naiveté, but a wide-eyed observance of what is happening in front of our eyes. Then, layered over that, is this song from Eno and Byrne's My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, and the title speaks for itself.


John Haskell and The Complete Ballet links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Publishers Weekly review

Literary Hub 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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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


Book Notes - Scott Esposito "The Doubles"

The Doubles

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Scott Esposito's The Doubles brilliantly blends memoir with film criticism.

Alvaro Enrigue wrote of the book:

"Scott Esposito is a true American cosmopolitan—full of ideas and void of pretensions. His way of seeing—inquisitive and gentle—his way of writing—honest and charismatic—are a life-line out of our self congratulatory provincialism.”"


In his own words, here is Scott Esposito's Book Notes music playlist for his book The Doubles:



I'm first and foremost a book person, but I'm also someone with an intense love of film, so this has led to some very conflicted feelings. There's no doubt that film is the major artistic medium of the modern era (sorry novels, your reign ended a while ago), but there's also no doubt that a lot of what makes books indispensable will never, ever be possible in a movie.

The Doubles comes out of that tension. It's a book about 14 movies that made me. As I explore how these 14 films helped make me what I am, I look at how film has made all of us. Retelling 1 film per essay—in essence translating 14 films into 14 works of words—I use creative nonfiction that combine what's spectacular about cinema with what's necessary about literature. These 14 films collectively cover some 20 years of my life between 1996 and 2016.

The result is part memoir-through-film, part investigation into how art affects our lives, part philosophy of art and life.

So for Largehearted Boy's Book Notes feature, I decided to put together a playlist of 14 different tracks that each embody something important to me about these 14 films. If you read The Doubles, I think this playlist will add a dimension to the book. And if you don't read The Doubles, I think this is still a pretty epic playlist. If you doubt that, just read on and see what's in it.


1996, A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME, ERROL MORRIS (1991)
Cosmic Background Radiation Ambient Noise — The Universe



Yes, I'm beginning this playlist with 12 hours of ambient noise—12 hours of ambient noise like none other in the universe. A Brief History of Time is Errol Morris's film adaptation of Stephen Hawking's book of the same name, which sums up everything this one-of-a-kind genius had figured out about black holes, the beginning of time, the cosmos, and reality. And when I think about the impact this movie had on me some 20 years ago, I go right to this noise, which comes from the beginning of all existence. As you listen to these sounds, they might sound like your white noise machine, or your air conditioner, or being in the cabin of a jetliner at cruising altitude, but they're actually none of those things: this noise is being generated by the energy that was released by the Big Bang, which is still with us some 14 billion years later. It's essentially the remnants of the most freakishly gigantic explosion ever. So far as we know, it was the beginning of the very reality we all live in. So listen to this and think about the fact that that the noise you're hearing started at the beginning of time and has been traveling through our universe ever since.

1997, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, STANLEY KUBRICK (1971)
Eminem — Amityville



Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange gave us Alex, the utterly despicable character at the heart of this very transgressive movie. He's a singular creation, one that has inspired a lot of controversy, and it's hard to watch this film with a lot of mixed feelings. Yes, Alex is a compelling, even charismatic character, but he's also purely disgusting. To me, this track of Eminem's is basically the hip-hop version of Alex. This is a nasty, angry, perverse song that exults in its own horror. This is basically Eminem at his worst, one of the most screwed-up cuts off of the most screwed-up album he ever made. And yet, there's a part of me that really responds to this music, which really troubles me and makes me think. Which is kind of like what I'm saying as regards Alex and this movie in the essay on A Clockwork Orange.

2001, SUZHOU RIVER, LOU YE (2000)
Summer Rain — Carl Thomas



I listened to this song so much the summer I met my partner. And not long after we fell in love, we watched the Chinese movie Suzhou River together. For me, Suzhou River was all about a moment in my life when I was discovering the true parameters and dimensions of love. This is also a deep theme of the story told in Suzhou River, which is about how hard it is to stay in love. Anyone can fall in love, but to remain in love you need to have a quantity of idealism, an ability to embrace fantasies, which not everybody has. Listening to this song always takes me back to those falling-in-love moments and gives me back a little of that idealism that we all need.

2003, RUSSIAN ARK, ALEXANDER SOKUROV (2002)
Sinking of the Titanic — Gavin Bryars



Russian Ark is a 99-minute film that occurs over just one take—a momentous tracking shot that goes on for miles through the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. It's a really weird film without much of a plot, the kind of film that you just have to embrace, just let it wash over you and take what you can from it, not hoping to derive a single plotline or come to some sort of a conclusion. It's kind of like ambient film, so that's why I'm choosing one of the most famous (and beautiful) ambient music tracks in recent memory. In the weird mixture of genres of sound, and in its relentless ongoingness, Sinking of the Titanic achieves something that reminds me of a aural version of Russian Ark.

2004, THE FIVE OBSTRUCTIONS, LARS VON TRIER (2003)
You Know My Steez — Gang Starr



Sometimes when you put two things together, the result is a lot more than the sum of their parts. That's one of the ideas behind The Doubles—a lot of the movies in it are fueled by pairs, be it pairs of people, of ideas, etc, and these two things tend to spur one another on into greater things than would have been possible alone. And that's also definitely the theory behind The Five Obstructions, in which Lars von Trier puts mind-fucking obstacles in the way of Jørgen Leth, hoping to inspire creativity and self-discovery in him. Things end up going in really weird directions, to the good of this film. So, to musically embody this, I'm picking one of the best tracks from what is quite possibly hip-hop's greatest duo ever: Guru and DJ Premier. These two had a very special chemistry, and neither one of them is ever quite this good on their own.

2005, KOYAANISQATSI, GODFREY REGGIO AND PHILIP GLASS (1982)
The Rite of Spring — Stravinsky

Koyaanisqatsi is all about what technology has done to the modern world, about trying to find a cinematic language to begin putting all of this into perspective. So, I thought it was fitting to include music whose premiere is often regarded as the moment that modernism started. To me, Stravinsky's ballet feels like letting some genie out of the bottle, which is apropos, because that's exactly what Stravinsky did, and also what modernism has done. Koyaanisqatsi is all about reckoning with the world that freed genie made. In addition, the charge of Stravinsky's music really captures how the visuals of this film feel to my eyes—all the movement, the frenzy, the sudden changes, the moods. And I hope the essay I created out of this movie—which was the hardest of all 14 to write—captures a little of the relentless energy and ceaseless invention of Stravinsky's work.

2006, THE DOUBLE LIFE OF VERONIQUE, KRZYSZTOF KIESLOWSKI (1991)
Henryk Górecki - Symphony No. 3: movement 1



The plot of The Double Life of Véronique is built around an incredibly beautiful symphony featuring a transcendent soprano. Unfortunately, the symphony in the film is unfinished, so we can only hear a little bit of the first movement—which is reall too bad, because it's absolutely incredible music. Whenever I think of what that music would have been if it had been completed, I think of Górecki's Third Symphony. There are very few—if any—things that you will hear that are this stunningly beautiful as Górecki's Third. It always puts me right in mind of that beautiful quality Kieslowski managed to capture with this one-on-a-kind movie. And, it's very fitting that Górecki is a Pole just like Kieslowski, and of the same generation. And also, I discovered this symphony almost exactly when I discovered Véronique. Enjoy!

2008, CAPTURING THE FRIEDMANS, ANDREW JARECKI (2003)
Shostakovich — Symphony 15



Capturing the Friedmans is a really challenging movie that takes you into some of the darkest parts of our world. It's about a pedophile, and pedophilia is one of those supremely awful crimes, something that's so taboo that it still has the power to evoke a real sense of transgression in our society. If you combine such these emotions with the authority of the law, the system of justice, and the obligations and bonds of family, then you have an extremely potent mixture. And that's just what Capturing the Friedmans is. So I'm including here Shostakovich's Symphony 15, the great composer's last, which is also a mixture of diverse elements—from childhood to old age, plus Soviet terror, world war, and a long, compromised life—that produces supremely challenging, strange music. There's a reason that David Lynch listened to this symphony nonstop as he made Blue Velvet—it's weird, intoxicating stuff.

2009, 3 WOMEN, ROBERT ALTMAN (1977)
Alban Berg — Piano Sonata, Opus 1



God is this music creepy. And complex. And just plain inexhaustibly deep. Which is basically exactly how I feel about 3 Women, too. In my pantheon of cinematic gods, Robert Altman gets a special place, and 3 Women may be my very favorite of all Altman's works. It's a movie that packs so much in, and that makes everything you think you understand about the world feel creepy and foreign. Most of all, it's about people and their identities, and how weird it is that we're split into different genders. Alban Berg's perfect piano sonata feels very close to this film to me, and it was great music to listen to as I wrote this film into an essay.

2010, MEEK'S CUTOFF, KELLY REICHARDT (2010)
On the Transmigration of Souls — John Adams



Meek's Cutoff is, in my opinion, probably the most profound response to 9/11 made by an American filmmaker. Even though it's set in 1845 and has very little to ostensibly link it to the atrocities of September 11, 2001, the movie is clearly all about that day and its results—you just have to look at it the right way. So I thought I would include this music, which is also a very remarkable response to 9/11, also made by an American artist of the first rank. My essay on this movie is all about how that day felt for me, and what happened to me and my country in the years after. If we're going to understand what happened on that day and what's been happening since, we need our artists to step up with this kind of work. And the rest of us need to reflect deeply on that work and start talking publicly about what it means to us.

2011, THE SEVENTH CONTINENT, MICHAEL HANEKE (1989)
Allure — Jay-Z

The Seventh Continent is a movie about people who decide to kill themselves—if anything, this movie makes you understand what a horror that is. Not just that suicide itself is absolutely repulsive, but the world that would make people choose suicide is also repulsive. It takes a whole lot to extinguish the will to live in a person, you really have to work to drain away those things that fill life with mystery, and hope, and discovery, and passion. So I've got to put this song of Jay-Z's here, which is basically him romanticizing that part of life that makes it worth living. That surge of electricity you feel throbbing through you when you know you're really alive. I think that feeling is absent from these people's lives; and, by association, I would say that Haneke is arguing that contemporary society doesn't allow for enough of this feeling in our world.

2014, EXIT THROUGH THE GIFT SHOP, BANKSY (2010)
Run the Jewels — All Due Respect



The great thing about Run the Jewels is they can do it all—deep, introspective stuff, battle raps, political anthems, and also pure malicious mayhem. This right here is the pure mayhem. In case you didn't guess, the title is absolutely ironic, as basically every word that comes out of the mouths of El-P and Killer Mike in this track is completely disrespectful of all authority. And this is perfect for Exit Through the Gift Shop, because this is how I imagine the mindset of people heading out for the night to paint illegal graffiti. This music is just thrilling and frenetic and very fuck-the-world, all things that fit into my image of street art bombing runs in the wee hours of the morning—which is what Banksy's movie Exit Through the Gift Shop is all about. My essay tries to capture some of that energy and understand the complexity of the identity of "street artist." Oh, and in closing, if people aren't making graffiti to this track, they should be.

2015, BOYHOOD, RICHARD LINKLATER (2014)
For Philip Guston — Morton Feldman



Boyhood is a film that plays with duration in a very strange way: it was filmed over 12 years, and as the characters age in real life, they concurrently age in the film. It's "slow filmmaking"—there was no way you could rush this movie. So, in the spirit of playing with duration and taking it as slow as necessary, here is Morton Feldman's nearly 5-hour-long piece, "For Philip Guston." Like this music and Linklater's movie, the essay on Boyhood is also the longest essay in the book, and it took a long time to get it just right. And lastly, I just want to point out that the first comment on this video over at YouTube (when I looked at it tonight as I wrote this) was strangely appropriate to Boyhood's material, and also just perfect: "This was the only song we had played at our high school prom which was themed Minimalism and Moonlight."

2016, VOYAGE OF TIME, TERRENCE MALICK (2016)
Ab-Soul — Nibiru



This is prophesy right here. The thing I love most about Ab-Soul is that he's rap's crazy prophet. This is one of Ab-Soul's oldest tracks, and it's still one of his best—this is basically Soulo rapping from the perspective of a rogue planet that's destined to hurtle into the Earth. True to form, he's invoking Ancient Sumerian deities, Atlantis, the Mayan 2012 prophesy . . . oh my god, that's just the first verse! Anyway, Voyage of Time is based 100% on science, not a whole bunch of paranoid conspiracy theories, but I put these two together because they've both got that cosmic feel, basically that sense that there's a whole lot to this world that we don't know, and we're probably never going to know it. They both put me into this space of cosmic wonder, whose presence in my life is one of the most longstanding and important aspects of me being an artistic person. I tried to embody all that in the essay for this movie and go out in a big, big way.


Scott Esposito and The Doubles links:

the author's website

CCM interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for The Surrender


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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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 (Kirkus Prize Finalists, An Interview with Zola Jesus, and more)

The 2017 Kirkus Prize finalists have been announced.


Stereogum interviewed Zola Jesus.


Author Alistair McCartney interviewed himself at The Nervous Breakdown.


Ann Powers discussed her book Good Booty: Love and Sex, Black and White, Body and Soul in American Music with Salon.


Vol. 1 Brooklyn shared an excerpt from Pamela Ryder's novel Paradise Field.


Stream a new Torres song.


East Bay Express profiled cartoonist Mimi Pond.


Stereogum interviewed singer-songwriter Moses Sumney.


SmokeLong Quarterly interviewed author Jen Michalski.


Stream a duet from Tommy Stinson and Nicole Atkins.


PANK interviewed author David Joy.


Rolling Stone listed the essential albums of 1967.


St. Louis Public Radio interviewed author Margaret Atwood.


NYCTaper shared a recent Purling Hiss live performance.


The Barnes and Noble Review interviewed author Jac Jemc.


The Los Angeles Review of Books interviewed author Joshua Cohen.


Stream a new song by The She's.


Literary Hub recommended gritty crime novels set in the New York City of the 1970s.


Paramore's Hayley Williams covered Jawbreaker's "Accident Prone."


The OTHERPPL podcast interviewed author Chiara Barzini.


The Quietus interviewed Polish musician Anna Zaradny.


The Millions interviewed author Zoe Whittall.



eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
The Constant Gardener by John le Carre
Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut
Devotion by Dani Shapiro
Georgia O'Keefe by Roxana Robinson
The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
Loner by Teddy Wayne
My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal
North Haven by Sarah Moriarty
Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
The Temple of Gold by William Goldman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

Girl waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky
Native Believer by Ali Eteraz

eBooks on sale for $3.99 today:

All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
Goddess of Buttercups & Daisies by Martin Millar
Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
My Happy Life by Lydia Millet
The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio
They Live by Jonathan Lethem



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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


September 19, 2017

Book Notes - Kaveh Akbar "Calling a Wolf a Wolf"

Calling a Wolf a Wolf

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kaveh Akbar's Calling a Wolf a Wolf is the most striking and moving poetry collection I have read in years.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A breathtaking addition to the canon of addiction literature, Akbar's poetry confronts the pain and joy in denying oneself for the sake of oneself…Akbar's poems offer readers, religious or not, a way to cultivate faith in times of deepest fear."


In his own words, here is Kaveh Akbar's Book Notes music playlist for his poetry collection Calling a Wolf a Wolf:



I've thought often about how all of my favorite music and all of my favorite poetry tends to orbit incantation, conjuring. Early audiences of Marlowe's Faustus claimed to see extra demons onstage hiding out among the costumed devils, conjured by the spells in the Marlowe's text. All the art that speaks most deeply to my soul, all the poetry I love best, seems united by a similar ambition.


Moonface – "Marimba and Shit-Drums"

Spencer Krug is one of my great poetic influences. I think it's probably unsexy to claim a contemporary musician as such, but it'd be disingenuous to deny it. Spencer has a number of projects, but Moonface is the most interesting of the bunch (followed by Sunset Rubdown, followed by Swan Lake, followed by Wolf Parade). This track was Spencer's first offering as Moonface; it was also probably his best.


Westside Connection – "Bow Down"

This was my first favorite song, the first song to which I knew every word by heart front and back. I recorded it off the radio to a tape one day and would rewind and listen to it over and over and over. I think its bombast and self-assured assertions of control assuaged a deep sense of powerlessness within me. It still does, actually.


Destroyer – "Bay of Pigs"

The first time I heard this song, I was coming down off A Lot of Drugs and lying in bed in the late afternoon and the room was a particular shade of sun-blue that I think I've only seen that one time. "Please remove your spurs. / Come to think of it, remove your antlers," enacts everything, in a line, that many of my poems aspire toward. There are certain poems in Calling a Wolf a Wolf that owe a great spiritual debt to Dan Bejar's singular rhetorical constructions.


Arab on Radar – "Running for Asthma"

31G records was, for a long and important time, the guiding aesthetic influence in my life. This track, by my second (or possibly third) favorite 31G band (after The Locust and maybe Mr. Quintron) is my favorite piece in their entire catalog. There's a darkness, a kind of weird petulant throb, that is so consistent with a particular frequency of my own psychic vibrations.


Joanna Newsom – "Go Long"

"There's a man / Who only will speak in code / Backing slowly, slowly down the road / May he master everything / That such men may know / About loving, and then letting go." I can't comment on that. I can't even comment about that.


Beep Beep – "Executive Foliage"

Beep Beep was my introduction to real music, which was my introduction to real art, which was my introduction to real writing and real people. I owe this band, this record ("Business Casual"), and this song in particular, everything. The first time I heard it, I think I almost literally shit my pants.


Titus Andronicus – "Theme from ‘Cheers'"

During the time when I was deepest in the throes of my scumbag phase, I would stumble around my city in a fugue after the bars closed, listening to this song and album and shouting the lyrics off bridges and into bike racks and the like. I think (hope!) there are moments of that kind of anthemic yearning in Calling a Wolf a Wolf.


HEALTH – "Stonefist"

I listened to this record (Death Magic) on repeat during every writing session through the eighteen months where the vast majority of Calling a Wolf a Wolf was written. That's thousands of listens. I'm not sure what exactly about the record lent itself so perfectly to this kind of repetition, nor do I fully understand why or how it felt so generative to the work. I do think it has something to do with that aforementioned sense of incantation.


Liars – "Drum and the Uncomfortable Can"



Incantation, conjuring. I have been trying to rip off the sonic experience of this song in a poem for over a decade.


Angel Olsen – "Creator, Destroyer"

There's this quote from Brian Eno's A Year With Swollen Appendices: "The blues singer with the cracked voice is the sound of an emotional cry too powerful for the throat that releases it. The excitement of grainy film, of bleached-out black and white, is the excitement of witnessing events too momentous for the medium assigned to record them." I am so invested in that effect in my poetry, how I might achieve that effect on the page. The way this song unfolds and frays as it nears its end has been so instructive to me in that way.


Bonus: Omid Walizadeh – "Modern Persian Speech Sounds"

It seems antithetical to the spirit of a mixtape to put a 33-minute track in the middle of it, but this incredible collage of classic Persian songs and samples is directly responsible for key moments across several poems in the book. If the book had a signature track, this would be it.


Kaveh Akbar and Calling a Wolf a Wolf links:

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

Publishers Weekly review

Glass Poetry Journal essay by the author
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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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


Book Notes - Jude Angelini "Hummingbird"

Hummingbird

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jude Angelini's Hummingbird is a memoir that manages to be dark, poignant, and laugh-out-loud funny.


In his own words, here is Jude Angelini's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir Hummingbird:



All songs are referenced in the book.


Massive Attack – Tear Drop

This little trip hop number is kinda like hot sauce, it can go on anything. I threw it on for my homeboy and his girl when they were having a bad trip off some psychedelics I gave ‘em. The melody is like a playful lullaby and the beat thumps enough where a dude won’t feel like his manhood’ll get questioned listening to it. I was hoping it would chill em out, maybe they’d fuck and feel better. Perhaps I was projecting my needs on theirs.

I just found out yesterday that it’s the theme to the TV show, House. This makes the song a little less cool to me. I’m sure Massive Attack can live with that.


Bob Seger – "Night Moves"

When I grew up in Michigan, Seger was everywhere and I ignored him. He was a singer for the white working class, which I was trying to escape. When I got out here to LA, with all these fucking snobs, they’d shit on him and I’d end up repping him hard. I felt like they were shitting on me, a bunch of Yaley’s claiming Broken Social Scene.

"Night Moves" is about going to field parties as a teenager and losing your virginity there. I been to those parties, I never smashed.

The song starts slow, it builds, it breathes and crescendos with the back up singers chanting the song’s title. On a good night, I sing to this with my eyes closed and pump my fist when appropriate.

“Woke last night to the sound of thunder, how far off I sat and wondered….”


Troop – "All I Do is Think of You"

Late '80s- early '90s R&B. The epitome. It starts with a grand piano solo, then goes right into the syrup. The boys can sing. It’s a slow jam about teenage love. Jackson Five did it first. I’m sure old heads and purists prefer that one. But this is the one I listened to as a chubby, shy, thirteen-year-old, late night talking to girls on the phone, this playing in the background, while I’m waiting for them to like me. They never did.


Pharaoh Sanders – "Kazuko"

My mom put me onto this record. Now I do drugs off it.

This song is ideal for zoning out. It starts slow with wind chimes, and then some weird string instrument gets to plucking, and a little while later, in comes the sax. After that the song just strokes you with melodies for the next eight minutes.

Free jazz isn’t the most approachable music, it can be a bit masturbatory and at its worse, even headachey. But trust me, if you like this song, then Journey to the One might be a nice intro album for you. There’s more groove than spazz to it. And maybe, just maybe, down the road you can claim this album at a dinner party while some pretentious asshole is repping Captain Beefheart.


Bootsy Collins – "Munchies for Your Love"

Bootsy stopped playing bass with James Brown cuz James wasn’t funky enough. He jumped over to Parliament–Funkadelic in the early '70s and was heavily influential in their P-funk sound. That’s the shit Dre was sampling for The Chronic. Then in the late 70’s he started dropping solo shit.

This is his solo shit. This song is built for drugs and fucking. Me and my old roommate used to get off work, dose ourselves with mushrooms, lay on the floor in the candlelight and zone-out to this song, kneading the carpet in our hands, gazing at the shapes in our heads.

It starts with the delicate picking of a guitar, then one instrument after the next is slowly introduced. A minute twenty into it, Bootsy finally starts singing, adding to the groove. The song is an nine minute long incline, that has ‘em moaning and screaming by the eight minute mark.

That’s what I love about this seventies music, it’s not rushed. They build. They groove. Shit, they were probably high on drugs when they were doing it. Nothing like drugs and talent combined to get you to a new place - check the Beatles, Coltrane, Fleetwood Mac, etc.

Here’s a cheat code, I feel like if you fuck to this song and just match the groove, you’re gonna get to an orgasm.


Supertramp – "Oh Darling"

Back in the '90s, I thought I hated Supertramp. If the "Logical Song" came on when I was driving, I’d wanna punch the radio.

Then twenty years later my mom throws on Breakfast in America while we’re playing spades, and I’m like, “That’s the jam… that’s the jam… that’s the jam too. I didn’t know they did that.”

The album plays like a god damn greatest hits LP. It’s become one of my favorites. And some of my favorite songs aren’t even the singles.

"Oh Darling" falls into that category. It’s about unrequited love, but it has hope. It’s like he doesn’t have her yet but he’s finna get her and not in a restraining-order way either. The Wurlitzer piano plays this bright, driving, almost "La Cucaracha"-esque melody the whole way through that gives me the belief I may win in the end, the same belief slot machine bells give gamblers.


Bjork – "The Hunter"

My ex loved Bjork and after the break-up, when I heard her songs, I’d shatter. I was like, I can’t keep living like this cuz my sister plays the fuck out of Bjork, too. So I went and copped Homogenic and this is the first track you hear.

It’s drug-out keys, driving snares, thumping base, violins, and chicks going oooooooh in the background. Bjork knows how turn a song into drama. It’s no wonder Michigan girls liked her so much, it’s like the warehouse-party scene mixed with pure emotion. Plus, she’s a snappy dresser.

This song, along with "Possibly Maybe," really got me into her. I played this album constantly while living in New York, thinking about my ex a little bit less with each rotation. And a few years later, Bjork was mine too.


Frank Sinatra – "High Hopes"

When I hear this motherfucker, or Dino, or Prima, or Crosby, it takes me back to my Nonnie’s with homemade meatballs in the pot and hand cut pasta hang drying all over the kitchen. We yell-talk at dinner. Then play cards with Frank in the background and our Nonno’s telling us stories about being a shepherd back in the mountains of Italy.

"High Hopes" isn’t even my favorite song; it just came on my shuffle in the story in my book, so now you get to hear about. It’s got children doing the back up vocals and weird flutes and shit. Some people might even call it corny. It’s about shooting for things that are out of your reach and grinding till you get there. Maybe it’s a good song for our times, where people would rather cry than do, then come up with big ideas to cover up their cowardice.


Leon Russell – "Hummingbird"

In the song "Hummingbird," hummingbird’s a woman. He serenades her, he loves her, he watches her sleep. He implores her to stay. He brings in black gospel singers to cosign, “Don’t fly away. Don’t fly away.” I hope she stuck around.

The book has nothing to do with this song. The book is about searching for joy in the grind. The hummingbird is a magical animal. But it works its ass off just to float.


Brian Eno – "On Some Far Away Beach"

This is the first song on the second side of Here Come the Warm Jets. It could be the last song on any other album. The first few minutes is drums, piano, and layered ahhhhs. It’s a song of triumph, exhausted triumph. I imagine I might play this after I’ve scaled a mountain and reached the summit. I don’t climb mountains so that’ll never happen. It usually comes on while I’m walking down Sunset Blvd high on GHB. It’s decent in that setting too.

By the time the song ends, it’s just piano, and you end up feeling like you won and you lost at the same damn time.

My sister put me onto Eno. I’m extremely grateful for women in my life past and present who have taught me so much.


Jude Angelini and Hummingbird links:

the book's website

Detroit News profile of 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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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 (Fall's Best Short Story Collections, New Music from Mirah, and more)

The Washington Post recommended fall's best short story collections.


Stream a new Mirah song.


Patty Yumi Cottrell shared the influence of Fiona Apple's music on her life at Hazlitt.


Snail Mail played a Tiny Desk Concert.


Dissent interviewed author Valeria Luiselli.


October interviewed members of the band Protomartyr about beer.


Celeste Ng discussed her new novel Little Fires Everywhere with Minnesota Public Radio.


TIME shared an excerpt from Dar Williams' memoir What I Found in a Thousand Towns.


The Scotiabank Giller Prize announced its 2017 longlist.

Congratulations to Largehearted Boy contributor Deborah Willis.


Stream a new Morrissey song.


Salon interviewed author Tom Perrotta.


Aquarium Drunkard interviewed Alasdair MacLean of the Clientele.


Smile Politely interviewed author George Saunders.


CHVRCHES covered Tegan and Sara's "Call It Off."


John Haskell discussed his new book The Complete Ballet with Literary Hub.



eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
The Constant Gardener by John le Carre
Deadeye Dick by Kurt Vonnegut
Devotion by Dani Shapiro
Georgia O'Keefe by Roxana Robinson
The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
Loner by Teddy Wayne
My Name Is Leon by Kit de Waal
North Haven by Sarah Moriarty
Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut
Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
The Temple of Gold by William Goldman

eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

Girl waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
The Narrow Door by Paul Lisicky
Native Believer by Ali Eteraz

eBooks on sale for $3.99 today:

All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
Goddess of Buttercups & Daisies by Martin Millar
Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
My Happy Life by Lydia Millet
The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio
They Live by Jonathan Lethem



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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


September 18, 2017

Book Notes - Ariel Gore "We Were Witches"

We Were Witches

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Ariel Gore's novel We Were Witches is inventive and profound.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Gore's magic-infused narrative. . . .is a moving account of a young writer and mother striving to claim her own agency and find her voice."


In her own words, here is Ariel Gore's Book Notes music playlist for her novel We Were Witches:



A friend of mine called We Were Witches: a "90s revivalist novel." I'll take that. It's a based-on-a-true-story tale of a queer teen mom trying to make her way in a violent, misogynist world and discovering—through magical feminism—not only the secrets to survival, but the secrets to happy failure & the imperfectly divine supernatural superpowers needed to kick oppressor-ass.


"Cosma Shiva" - Nina Hagen
I was living in Italy and seven months pregnant with my daughter, Maia, when the Berlin wall came down. I wanted to go there, but it was wintertime and I had laundry to do. I put on Nunsexmonkrock instead. The mother of German punk, Nina Hagen was in every way my first mama-artist idol. She was like, I can't even hear your tired old ethics over my synthesizer! So what if I was impregnated by aliens! I'm bringing the baby to the recording studio, and if it means we need a new aesthetic in art and music--one in which you can hear the baby gurgling or screaming right through the middle of it—so be it! Years later, I gave my son the middle name Cosmo after Cosma Shiva, the complete merging of art, family, life, and the universe.

"Blacks Boys on Mopeds" - Sinead O'Connor
This beautiful bipolar girl who I went to college with turned me onto Sinead O'Connor in 1990. She tossed the cassette tape onto the table in the cafeteria where she shared her lunch with baby Maia and me—shared because only the kids who lived on campus could eat there for free and students like me with babies couldn't live on campus—anyway, my friend said, "You'll like her. She has a baby." And it was in part that Sinead O'Connor had a baby that made that album so influential, changing the way I understood art, and the way I understood what was allowed in mainstream art. I was coming out of Beijing and London myself, having misspent my youth traveling broke and political, and here Sinead O'Connor was singing about protest and poverty and racism and motherhood—things I'd maybe never heard on a mainstream album. And the subtext was Sinead O'Connor saying, You can be an artist and mother and tell the truth about the world as you see it. I mean, sure, she warned that it wouldn't get us any love. But the possibility existed. I hope Sinead O'Connor is doing ok.

"Survive" – The Bags
Do you ever wonder how progressives got to be so genteel? Worrying about every word, seeking a kind of unattainable purity, silencing themselves for fear of the pushback from other lefties? Women in punk--and L Alice Bag in particular--have always been, like, To hell with purity. Sometimes it's just about survival. And while we're surviving and after survival feels like a given, then we hold the door open for other women who want to make something expressive, who want to give voice to their anger and their boundaries and their refusal to be shamed.

"Down to Zero" - Joan Armatrading
To me, Joan Armatrading is pure introvert power. And even when she sang about men it was so clear she was so gay and I loved that. It was a closet we understood in those days--a professional necessity--but Joan Armatrading never fooled anyone and never really tried. Her albums became my baby-to-sleep lullabies, my self-esteem shots, my reminder of the sweetness of solitude, and my instruction to always walk with my feet on the ground.

"Tyrone" - Erykah Badu
When Erykah Badu came on the scene with her African Queen style and her big ankh on stage, I was in love. Sometimes her lyrics read like the best kind of public service announcements. She said, Yeah, I'm femme, I'm powerful, and if you don't have anything to contribute to the household, well, you can get your shit outta here. When the world made me feel like femininity meant just giving, Erykah Badu said, Oh, hell no, Ms. Badu is gonna show you how it's done.

"Both Hands" - Ani DiFranco
Finding that first Ani DiFranco album in 1990 or so felt like a revelation. I'd never heard a lyricist like that--an out queer who intended to build a career completely outside established record-label mafia. She was punk philosophy, folk sound, and she had that excellent musical aesthetic that acknowledged the intimate as political and the political as intimate. That was the first concert I ever took Maia to. Ani DiFranco at a packed church in Oakland, California.

"Doll Parts" - Hole
Now, Courtney Love always seemed more like a cautionary tale than a deep inspiration, but there's no denying that Live Through This was a great album. And I'll be honest: Hole totally inspired Muffy Bolding and I to start our notorious underground all-womyn band, Box. You may recall our classic rage ballad, Lavender. Well, we might have only performed it once, drunkenly, in Austin, but given its success in our minds, I'd be tempted to choose "Violet" here, but I'm going with "Doll Parts" because I always wanted to be the girl with the most cake and sometimes the only solace comes in telling ourselves that, yes, some day our adversaries will ache.

"Teenage Welfare Mother" - Little Red Car Wreck
Little Red Car Wreck's album, Motor Like a Mother, is one of the great underrated albums of the 90s with its quintessential Olympia sound. You can find it at litteredcarwreck.bandcamp.com. It's one of those albums that built to be listened to from start to finish. Recorded in part, I think, on one of those little Fisher-Price kids recorders. For me at the time, hearing another demonized welfare mom singing, basically, "fuck you, I'll have more babies if I want" was completely refreshing.

"Butch in the Streets" - Tribe 8
Tribe 8 was playing around San Francisco in the days when We Were Witches is set, and those women and that time redefined for me what a queer world could look like. I'd always thought that if I wanted to be queer I'd have to date one of those sporty gender-neutral girls who wore chinos or a land dyke with serious armpit hair, but in San Francisco desire felt expansive. Butch/femme culture was very much alive, reviving, and whose fantasy wasn't a butch in the streets and a femme in the sheets? I sure didn't know.

"What are Little Girls Made Of?" - Spitboy
In the early 90s, this Bay Area women's punk band, Spitboy, pretty much wrote the anthem for my early single motherhood with baby Maia: We were second-class citizens, we were pink for weak, we were red for whore. We were swaddled in red, like targets. As fortune would have it, Todd, the drummer from Spitboy, aka Michelle Gonzales, was in the magical little writing group where I wrote We Were Witches. It wouldn't be the book it is—might not be a book at all—if it weren't for Michelle and Karin and Tomas telling me every month, Let's peek around that corner of the psyche, let's open that door, let's go further into that cave of a closet…

"Mama's Always on Stage" - Arrested Development
Wendy DeJong and Julie Bowles and I had a Hip Mama hour on Free Radio Berkeley, this pirate station near where we lived, and with "Mama's Always on Stage," Arrested Development gave us our theme song—pure lyrical acknowledgement and support. Isn't that a great move for an artist? Just think, Who needs our love and support right now? And then bust out a song for your marginalized sisters.

"If That's Your Boyfriend He Wasn't Last Night" – Meshell Ndegeocello
Towards the end of the book, Ariel finally meets a sweet lover, not someone who will be around forever or anything like that, but someone who makes art about consent and is happy to eat rice and beans at a cigarette-burned table. The first time she comes over, she asks to put on this Meshell Ndegeocello album, Plantation Lullabies, and Ariel knows she'll be all right.

"Fast Car" - Tracy Chapman
Tracy Chapman's first album came out in the late 80s. I remember the first time I heard it—in a youth hostel in Shanghai—and I knew something was changing, culturally, back in the U.S. and that album emboldened me to think I could try and live in my country again. Even though "Fast Car" is a song of escape, or the hope of escape, it's a song that portrays an America we all knew, but an America most people were still lying about then. I thought, all right, yes, I can live in my country if we can start telling the truth about it. So, after Maia was born, with this song of escape on my Walkman, I headed home.


Ariel Gore and We Were Witches links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Lambda Literary review
Publishers Weekly 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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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


Book Notes - Joyce Maynard "The Best of Us"

The Best 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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Joyce Maynard's The Best of Us is a moving memoir about finding and losing a life partner.

The San Francisco Chronicle wrote of the book:

"'The Best of Us' remind[s] readers to let go of superficial concerns and embrace a deeper appreciation for our lives and the people in them . . . Perhaps with 'The Best of Us,' 'Maynard' will come to have new definitions: Maynard (verb) 1. To find love later in life. 2. To do anything possible to help a loved one in crisis. 3. To let oneself be changed by love. 4. To write movingly about it all."


In her own words, here is Joyce Maynard's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir The Best of Us:



If I could have chosen what art form I might have been good at, no question, I'd have been a musician. A back up singer would have been enough. Even the girl on the tambourine. But I'm a writer (I love to sing, not always on pitch) and the keys I play are the ones on a laptop. My goal though, when I write, is to come as close as I can to create, with words, the kind of intense feeling that music brings about in me. Corny but true: I want to pluck your heartstrings. All I have to accomplish this is the alphabet.

So I always create a playlist for myself when I'm writing a book.  I don't play music while I write, but I play it while I'm considering what I need to say.  Most of all, though, the music I choose to play is meant to remind me of feelings I had and experiences I want to bring back.

My new book is about finding the first true partner of my life, in my fifties, and losing him four and a half years later to cancer. For the story I tell in The Best of Us, more than any other book I ever wrote, music was everywhere, because my husband and I shared so much of it. So…the playlist I created is a long one. (Four hours and seventeen minutes, to be precise.)

Jim had been, since age 14, a bass player (forbidden by his father to play rock ‘n roll, so he did it in secret, and forty five years later, when we met, he rejoined a band. Many of the happiest times he knew during his last few years—the ones we shared—were spent making music. Or listening to it.

I wanted to create a story in songs, in this playlist, beginning with the state of solitary yearning for a partner that I was in, before I met Jim, ("Somewhere Along the Way" by the Silly Sisters, and the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away") to the joyful time of early love , through trouble (some of which we encountered before his diagnosis), and struggle, and having to let go of a man I adored, and after, being on my own again.

So I created The Best of Us Playlist, and it's available (free) on Spotify.

Some of the song choices are not difficult to figure out.  Marc Cohn's "True Companion", that I used to listen to in my single days, thinking "That's what I want", and Leonard Cohen's "I'm Your Man". There was no question I'd include the Townes Van Zandt ballad, "If I Needed You.  My three children sang this one for Jim and me at our wedding.  And I had to include the song my friend Melissa sang for us at Jim's memorial, "The Book of Love" by The Magnetic Fields.

The playlist follows a certain order, though not always an obvious one.  (There's Richard Thompson's "1952 Vincent Black Lightning", an homage to the time, not quite a year after we met, spent together on Jim's motorcycle over the course of what I call our Bonneville Summer, and a song in Spanish by the Guatemalan singer Ricardo Arjona, because we had such happy times together at Lake Atitlan in Guatemala, and Nina Simone, singing in French, because France was probably where we fell in love, and a song by a group we discovered at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, Low Anthem, called "To Ohio", because we never missed that festival, and because Jim came from Ohio, and he remained –despite sixty years spent in California, very much a Midwestern Eagle Scout. I treasured the part of him.

I included a song by George Jones, "He Stopped Loving Her Today" for a few reasons. First off, no singer's voice reaches directly into my chest cavity and tugs at my heart strings the way his does. I asked the band that played at our wedding to perform this one, and when they started to play, I couldn't help myself: Though I had not planned this, I performed an interpretive dance out on the floor, acting out the story of the song, which is about a man who loved a woman so deeply and unfailingly that the only thing that finally made him stop loving her (even years after she'd abandoned him, which I would never have done with Jim) was that he died. The song is definitely a little over the top (as was my dance), but that was the way Jim loved. The way he loved me, anyway.

And then there's Richard Shindell's gorgeous song, "Wisteria", that still brings me to tears every time, because wisteria was blooming the first time we laid eyes on the house we bought together, the summer before his diagnosis, and it was blooming again when I brought my husband home from the hospital that last May, when he said to me "This would be a good place to die".

This one is almost painful to listen to, but I wanted to include a recording made by Warren Zevon when he was dying of cancer, himself, " Keep Me in Your Heart", in which you can hear, as you play the song, how hard it was for Warren Zevon just to breathe by the time he recorded this one.

Emmylou Harris had to be on this list, because if there's any singer I could be, it would be Emmylou. And Lucinda Williams. And Roseanne Cash. And Dolly, because I love her, and the McGarrigle sisters singing "Mendocino" , because I think it's one of the most beautiful songs anyone ever wrote. Oh and Willie Nelson of course—one of the many, many singers we went to hear together (at the Fillmore). The song I chose: "You Were Always On My Mind". Because not always, but very often, this is true for me, of Jim.
 
It was hard choosing which Bob Dylan song—there were so many we loved, so I ended up with two. Dylan would have been part of this playlist even we hadn't made a pilgrimage to hear Dylan perform (outdoors at the Greek Theater in Berkeley) on a night that turned out to be the last time Jim ever left our house. He died five days later.

In the end, the Dylan songs I chose to include on this playlist were "Knocking on Heaven's Door" and "Shooting Star", but the one that made Jim get up out of the wheelchair that night at the Greek Theater—god only knows how—and stand there, through all the verses, was "Tangled up in Blue". When the nurses helped us back to our car, Jim asked, (and this was just about the last thing he ever said to me): "Did you have a good time, Baby?".

The best.

The last song my husband played on his bass by the way (not on this playlist) was "Sympathy for the Devil." He finished the song. Then he set down his bass. He said "I'm done". He was not just talking about that song.

I have to add here, if Jim were making a playlist, there would be whole lot more rock and roll on it, in addition to blues, and classical, and R and B, and rap. Led Zeppelin for sure, but also a lot of bands I never heard of until I met him—like Tragically Hip and Thievery Corporation and Camper Van Beethoven and Sigur Ros, that he played, very loud, while driving his Boxster, that had a subwoofer in the trunk. But this is not Jim's list. It's the list of the woman who loved him. And no question, it's a little sentimental because of that.

There is one odd omission from this list:  The Beatles.  When we got right down to it, I think they were Jim's all-time favorites.  They were the ones he wanted to hear on our last great road trip to the Eastern Sierra, anyway, that we took the month before he died, anyway—beginning with the old songs, that we fell in love with when we were so very young.  I don't even need to play the Beatles much myself, is the truth. Because their songs are embedded in my brain, same as they were for Jim. I can't even imagine what it would be, not knowing those songs.

Near the end, I wanted to include "They Can't Take That Away From Me", as sung by Susanna McCorckle—particularly because of that line "The way you wear your hat", which spoke to me, of Jim. (I am aware, writing this, of how many of the singers on this playlist have died. But we're still listening to their voices! That tells you something about how a person can remain a presence in our lives, even after they're not here among us any more.)

So then there's Randy Newman's "Living Without You", but sung by Mary McCasliin; I wanted a woman's voice for this one, because that's where I was, after Jim died. "It's so hard…it's so hard…living without you. " And then I had to share Liam Clancy's "The Parting Glass", that we played at Jim's memorial service, as friends passed around shot glasses of whiskey, and the Traveling Wilburys' "End of the Road" . And there could have been another three dozen songs after that—Hank Wiliams! Tom Waits! Dwight Yoakum! Dean Martin! The great Mexican band, Mana! -- but a person has to stop somewhere.

The playlist ends with the one that is closest to being our song, John Prine's "The Glory of True Love". We danced a lot together, usually in our kitchen, and often to that one. One night, when Jim was already very sick, we rode into San Francisco on a BART train to hear John Prine, and we he started singing that one, Jim reached for my hand, but mine was there already, reaching for his. "The Glory of True Love" captures how we felt when we found each other-- such a joyful, optimistic song, and happy, and funny too, which was always true of Jim.

I ended my playlist with that song because I didn't want to end on a sad note. Jim would not have wanted that either.


Joyce Maynard and The Best of Us links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Buffalo News review
Kirkus review
Library Journal review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Scope 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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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 (Jennifer Egan on Her New Novel, Stream the New Album by the Clientele, and more)

Jennifer Egan discussed her new novel Manhattan Beach with Publishers Weekly.


NPR Music is streaming the Clientele's new album Music For The Age Of Miracles.


The Think Again podcast interviewed author Claire Messud.


Stream a new song by Petal.


Celeste Ng talked to the Chicago Review of Books about her new novel Little Fires Everywhere.


The New Yorker profiled Yusuf / Cat Stevens.


The 2017 National Book Awards longlist for fiction has been announced.


Stream a new cFamily in Mourning track that features Lydia Lunch.


LIT interviewed author Rakesh Satyal.


Drowned in Sound profiled the band Mogwai.


Philadelphia Weekly interviewed author Carmen Maria Machado .


Stream a new Alice Boman song.


Fiona Mozley talked to Weekend Edition about making the Man Booker Prize shortlist with her debut novel Elmet.


Spoon visited The Current for an interview and live performance.


The Washington Post profiled cartoonist Emil Ferris.


Rostam talked to Salon and All Songs Considered about his new album Half-Light.


HuffPost interviewed author Holly Goddard Jones.


Craig Finn talked music and religion with America Magazine.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Ben Loory's shprt story collection Tales of Falling and Flying.


Rolling Stone profiled Japanese Breakfast's Michelle Zauner,


The Rumpus interviewed author Joyce Carol Oates.


Salon reconsidered the Talking Heads: 77 album on its 40th anniversary.


The Guardian profiled author Martin Amis.



eBooks on sale for $1.99 today:

Bagombo Snuff Box by Kurt Vonnegut
The Constant Gardener by John le Carre
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The Harder They Come by T.C. Boyle
The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy
Lean on Pete by Willy Vlautin
Loner by Teddy Wayne
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Palm Sunday by Kurt Vonnegut
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eBooks on sale for $2.99 today:

Girl waits with Gun by Amy Stewart
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eBooks on sale for $3.99 today:

All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison
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Memoirs of a Porcupine by Alain Mabanckou
My Happy Life by Lydia Millet
The Palace of Illusions by Kim Addonizio
They Live by Jonathan Lethem



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
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)
weekly music release lists


September 15, 2017

Book Notes - Margo Berdeshevsky "Before the Drought"

Before the Drought

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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Margo Berdeshevsky's poetry collection Before the Drought is filled with clever and passionate poems that continue to reveal themseves after several readings.

Carolyn Forche wrote of the book:

"Before the Drought is a lyric meditation on corporeal existence, suffused with atavistic spirit and set in historical as well as cosmic time, a work of radical suffering and human indifference but also sensual transport. The tutelary spirits of these poems are the feminine principle, and a flock of messengers that include blue heron, ibis, phoenix, egret, and blood’s hummingbird."


In her own words, here is Margo Berdeshevsky's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Before the Drought:



As a poet and not, honestly, so much a popular music mammal, I admit it is often the lyrics of songs that have led me into them. But there is always the music, and always the strains of the music that haunt me and guide me and that lead me down down down and up up up to where the language of the soul (that’s what I often call poetry) lives and dies for me.

“Nothing More Violent Than Silence” (Hala Ali)

some dreams are visits    yes I say yes it must
have been      on a midsummer night      grief’s
an odd beast, you cannot blame the griever

These are brief words from a newly composed poem of mine which takes its title from a quote by the poet Hala Ali (a Saudi Arabian-born poet who lives in London.) I add it here, because poetry is both language and music and silence, for me. And it is in the silence and awful noise, both, of my time—that I look for a different music to understand and to be with. My collection, Before the Drought, can be said to be a book for the cries and the whispers of our shared now. It is a book of warning and haunting and obsessions with the body and with its and our own collective time. A book for the breaths and cries of our shared “now.” The poet Carolyn Forché has understood the book profoundly and has written this about it: “In the City of Light, Berdeshevsky writes poems commensurate with her vision, poems that know to ask How close is death, how near is God? Hers is a book to read at the precipice on which we stand.”

Shostakovich’s Piano Trio N°2, Op. 67 (Kogan /Rostropovich / Gilels) has always reminded me of the sounds that might accompany the spinning of the fates. Here, a recording that haunts me and holds my poems for me in the delicacy and rage of its notes. I played it often, as I wrote. And I played it very softly, when I recorded this small video of me reading “Here is My Body,” one of the poems in the book:
https://vimeo.com/221705004 .

Eagles of Death Metal’s “Speaking in Tongues” and “I Only Want You” played when the band returned to Paris the year after the massacre there, and they sang into the collective silence of that still mourning and still determined-to-live audience. One poem in my book honors and remembers the massacre in Paris (City of Light,) that occurred on the night the Eagles of Death Metal had first come to perform for the young and eager. . .and about to be murdered.

Old flower child that I am I replay this early recording of a Dylan classic: “Masters of War” (recorded by Judy Collins). My work looks at our wars and our war makers and mongers, and I don’t know if or when we have learned. . .

There has been much, maybe too much discussion as to whether Bob Dylan merited the Nobel Prize for Literature last year. But it is his “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” and Patti Smith’s singing it at the ceremony for Dylan that proved to me that both the words and the music and the power of how that song continues to speak to our time on earth. . .how it must quiet all argument, and simply ask me/us to hear it: (“saw a newborn babe with wolves all around it”: . . . “heard the song of a poet who died in the gutter”: “heard the sound of a clown who died in the alley”: “I met a young woman whose body was burnin’. ” And a hard-driving rhythm that holds it all. Lyrics, music, and performance of this title are a talisman to me. . .a prayer, and a reason to keep the efforts to write my own.

And, I turn to this, the Finale of “Bernstein at 70”: tribute concert to Leonard Bernstein from Tanglewood, 8/25/88. (Jerry Hadley, Dawn Upshaw, Seiji Ozawa.) Yes— I admit to being desperate for hope, a thread that pulls through, and that has pulled me through the making of this Before the Drought. In the finale of his opus, “Candide,” Leonard Bernstein invokes a prayer that I would wish for our human and planetary future. It is his song Make Our Garden Grow: Bernstein at 70... “Candide” that I would wish for our human and planetary future. It is in his song “Make our Garden Grow” that I have wept with wanting just a little hope for us all.

There’s a YouTube offering of Robert Wilson-Berliner Ensemble’s production of Brecht and Weil’s production of The Threepenny Opera that I might dare to say leads me to many threads I tried to follow in Before the Drought. Brecht and Weil’s existential take on the dark times the opera grew out of is one place I might add here. “Existence makes a thing useful/ nonexistence makes it work.” This quote is from the Taoteching and how it is about the moon, and the dark that births it. Red Pine, its translator, speaks of skating on thin ice when he was a boy, and how sometimes the ice was so clear he felt as though he were skating across the night sky. That is true for me as well, and for the music I am often pulled toward.

And there is a short poem of Brecht’s, not in the opera, but which I would add here:

The war which is coming
Is not the first one. There were
Other wars before it.
When the last one came to an end
There were conquerors and conquered.
Among the conquered the common people
Starved. Among the conquerors
The common people starved too.

Nina Simone’s singing “Pirate Jenny” from Brecht and Weil’s Threepenny Opera, (“There’s a ship. . .the black freighter. . .with a skull on its masthead will be comin’ in. . .nobody’s gonna sleep here. . .”) that teaches me how to speak of the darkness. And there’s Billie Holiday’s iconic performance of “Strange Fruit,” a horror tale of a lynching and America’s evils, at least one of them. . .all to remember that we have been looking at our world for so long. And in my own work, I try to remember, and to ask: how long?

While the classicist in me listened to Pavarotti’s rendering of Vesti La Giubba, the famous tenor aria in Pagliacci, a piece that’s hovered in the background for me in this book—the clown bearing the rags of deaths he can’t forget must finally remove all protection and defenses that were the mask of the clown. And stand as I know I need to, open to both grieving and to what future there will be.

Still, I turn to Leonard Cohen’s “Suddenly the Night Has Grown Colder,” or “You Want It Darker” because both take me as well to the times my own book confronts. And it is in his “Hallelujah” that I seek what faith I still have, what hope for us all that I dare to still hold, in my and our midnights . . .

Raised in NYC, in the footlights of the theatre, I also turn to Camelot (1960) Original Broadway Cast Recording. Its poignant evocations of what was, ( JFK’s words, to which his widow, Jackie, turned after his assassination, for remembering, and for sustenance): “Each evening from December to December. . .ask every person if he’s heard the story that once there was a fleeting wisp of glory. . .” We live in a global moment when we need more than ever before, to remember what has been good about humanity.

I’ll turn to one John Denver song in which he affirms “there is wisdom here. . .healing time on earth. . .” It was never recorded, but was played once in concert: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wrDc8lx3_I

I turn to jazz and one of its greats, singing his inimitable version of a song my Russian-born father used to sing in his native tongue when we drove an old Dodge, top down, in the American wind. Louis Armstrong’s performance of Ochi Chernyie (Dark Eyes.) And I found a YouTube recording of the song in the original: “Visocky” (Владимир Высоцкий _ Очи черные) . . .occi chornia (Black Eyes) because I will acknowledge that my poetry seeks roots even as it watches the leaves of the present days fall.

Because I grew up addicted to Alice In Wonderland and Lewis Carroll’s nonsense and wisdom—and because I need language and its music to make me crazy(!) and to lead me to what I cannot even understand—I delighted when I found that an early folk music rendition captured it all. I played and played and played Donovan’s recording of “Jabberwocky” (“beware the jabberwocky my son, the claws that catch/and shun the frumious bandersnatch. . .) It is a time to beware. Yes, it is.

Mireille Mathieu singing “La Marseillaise.” I live much of the time these days in France. I’m not a nationalist, not for France, not for America, not for any nation anywhere. . .but this performance of France’s anthem can occasionally bring me to tears. Because too damn many have died in wars that nations say make them proud.)

Before The Drought begins with an epigraph by the poet Muriel Ruckeyser: “. . .and a word/of rescue from the great eyes. . . .” What we have, I affirm, I admit. . .is this morning. The day I woke in. I turn to one more title that demands I stay “woke,” as the saying goes. . . and that I give up on regret. Edith Piaf’s “Je Ne Regrette Rien” where she sings, “No, I regret nothing, nor the good nor the evil, they are equal to me. . .” I return to zero. . .and I welcome “a word/of rescue from the great eyes—”


Margo Berdeshevsky and Before the Drought links:

the author's website
excerpts from the book

Brooklyn Rail 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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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