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March 29, 2015

Largehearted Boy Weekly Wrap-Up - March 29, 2015

A list of the past week's Largehearted Boy features:


Book Notes: (authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates to their book)

Carola Dibbell for her novel The Only Ones
John Reneham for his novel The Valley
Nicole Haroutunian for her short story collection Speed Dreaming
Rebecca Scherm for her novel Unbecoming
Skip Horack for his novel The Other Joseph
William Boyle for his short story collection Death Don't Have No Mercy


Author/Musician Interviews: (authors interview musicians, and vice versa)

Chris Tarry interviewed Musician Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond


Weekly New Book Recommendations:

Atomic Books Comics Preview (recommended new comics and graphic novels)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (recommended new books)


New Music Recommendations:

The Week's Interesting Music Releases


And of course, the daily music and news posts:

Daily Downloads (10 free and legal mp3 downloads every day, plus links to free live recordings online)
Shorties (news & links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)


also at Largehearted Boy:

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines
Atomic Books Comics Preview
Book Notes
Contests / Giveaways
Cover Song Collections
Daily Downloads
Lists
weekly music release lists
musician/author Interviews
Note Books
Soundtracked
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week


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March 28, 2015

Daily Downloads (The Week's Best Free and Legal Music Including The Silver Jews, The Damnwells, and more)

Every day, Daily Downloads offers 10 free and legal mp3 downloads.


Today's free and legal mp3 downloads:

The Damnwells: Let Us Eat Cake EP [mp3]

Erin Rae: Crazy Talk EP [mp3]

Land of Leland: Free Songs single [mp3]

The Last Spectacular: The Last Spectacular album [mp3]

The Local Strangers: Take What You Can Carry sampler album [mp3]

Needtobreathe: Tour De Compadres Sampler EP [mp3]

Silver Jews: Live at WFMU [mp3]

Steve Gunn: Folkadelphia session [mp3]

Wave & Rome: Across the Map EP [mp3]


Free and legal live performances at other websites:

Moon Duo: 2015-03-15, Brooklyn [mp3]


search for more free and legal music downloads at Largehearted Boy


also at Largehearted Boy:

other daily free and legal mp3 downloads

covers collections
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads

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


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

March 27, 2015

Book Notes - Skip Horack "The Other Joseph"

The Other Joseph

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, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Skip Horack's novel The Other Joseph is a fascinating story of redemption where the landscape breathes through every page.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Bracketed by stunning revelations, Horack's luminous tale offers perceptive insights about the elemental connections of family."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Skip Horack's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Other Joseph:


Book Notes! What a thrill. And in studying on the form I see that many of these open with qualifications, so here's mine: I can't listen to music with lyrics while writing and get anything done. And—to be even more honest—I'm not a huge fan of music without words. So perhaps I'm a musical philistine, or at least ridiculously uncool, as the soundtrack during the writing of The Other Joseph was mostly the clickings of my keyboard and the intermittent sighs of my dog.

That said, thank you so much for the opportunity to do this. I swear that I like music, even if some of my friends would point to the mere four or five songs I've downloaded to my phone in my lifetime and laugh. But I'll go to my grave arguing that hearing a tune come on the radio unexpectedly is a hundred times more satisfying than simply queuing one up on demand. So, basically, I have that (as well as much of my musical taste, I'll admit) in common with my narrator Roy Joseph—evidenced by this exchange between Roy and a woman he's paid $200 to come home to his trailer with him:

"You got any music?"

I didn't have a CD collection or a stereo or such. They had music stations with my satellite-television package, and that was enough. Classic country and classic rock. I usually went for one or the other, depending upon my mood. I handed Sierra the remote control. "Check out the up channels," I told her.

But again, that's not to say that the two of us don't enjoy music, and there are definitely some songs that speak to me when I think about them in connection with the book.

"Louisiana 1927" by Randy Newman

The Other Joseph opens in south Louisiana, where Roy divides his time between working offshore oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico (two weeks on), and an Airstream in Grand Isle that he shares with his dog (two weeks off). Grand Isle is the only inhabited barrier island in the state, connected to the mainland by the Highway 1 bridge. Eventually the novel transitions from Louisiana to a road trip that will take Roy to San Francisco in search of a possible relative who has unexpectedly contacted him—and it is always difficult for me to drive north from Grand Isle myself, over the bridge and through the marshlands, without feeling saddened by how fragile that land is, how more and more of that marsh is gone every time I visit.

And when others speak of Louisiana as backwater or third-world they usually mean places like these, places that are falling, sinking, eroding into the suck of slinking salt waters, and nowhere as badly or as quickly as the fading fifteen crow-fly miles between my island and the harder ground that finally appeared after the Bayou Lafourche lift bridge. All that was behind me would one day be gone. The marsh, the highway, Grand Isle.

Roy makes his drive in 2007, not too long after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had done their damage to the region, and though "Louisiana 1927" is about the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, both were manmade disasters in many respects—and Newman's song really captures the helpless melancholy and frustration I feel watching the gradually and continual washing away of a place and a culture.

"I Got a Name" by Jim Croce

In Louisiana you drive north to get South, trading Cajun Country for Dixie somewhere just below here—in Ponchatoula, maybe Manchac—and we were in the hardpan pinewoods now, sweet tea and barbeque country, Bible Belt towns that looked and felt like the Dry Springs I remembered.

Roy has seen a lot of tragedy in his life—when he was thirteen his older brother Tommy was lost during the first Gulf War, and six years later his parents died in a car accident. So the idea that he is the last of the Josephs can't help but weigh heavily on him. He's carrying the torch for his family, hoping that something good might come from this trip to San Francisco, and as he drives from Grand Isle toward and through the north Louisiana of his boyhood, I've always heard Jim Croce's "I Got a Name" in my head. A song about legacy and dreams and highways and "pine trees lining the winding road" sung by a man who died too soon in a north Louisiana plane crash. How could it not be in my thoughts? And though I don't know if this track exists outside of YouTube, the version that hits me the hardest is the heartbreaking one sung by Jerry Reed in tribute to Croce. In honoring his lost friend, Reed has added another layer of sadness to the song—as well as a Southern voice.

"Misty" by Ray Stevens

Something about this song, and especially the opening banjo cords in the upbeat Ray Stevens arrangement of it, speaks to the sense of buoyancy and freedom that being on the open road can fill me with (as well as those twinges of lonely sadness). And "Misty" also serves as a minor plot point in the novel—probably because, for some reason, the lyrics "Should I wander through this wonderland alone, now?" were like a goddamn mantra for me while writing this book. To the point, actually, that the working title of the manuscript was Wanderland for quite some time.

"California Dreamin'" by The Mamas & the Papas

There has to be at least one California song, right? That siren has been luring adrift people to her for generations, and Roy is definitely doing the pioneer thing here—heading west across America on pure faith mostly, hoping and dreaming that what he finds there is better than what is in his rearview mirror.

"Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" by Kris Kristofferson

Outside was cloudless and sunny, jeans-and-T-shirt weather for my daily hike to Lincoln Park. But it was also a Sunday morning, and Sundays have always depressed me—so even under that Easter egg sky I was feeling beaten down.

My science-teacher mother once told me evolution might account for why many people have a phobia of all snakelike creatures. The smartest cavemen had the good sense to run from everything slithery, and that fear eventually led to the invention of dragons and the serpent that came calling for Eve. Myths that have been around so long we've forgotten our fears, not our stories, came first. Maybe a similar uneasiness is triggered by Sundays. This is a country founded and formed by believers. And maybe generation after generation of our most prosperous and successful ancestors spending the Sabbath feeling guilty became a heritable quirk. Maybe science explains the hitch I get in my chest on the Lord's Day. I've inherited their fears, if not their god.

Roy is in San Francisco now. So he's made it—but with this song, the counterpoint. The letdown that follows any high. Now, "Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down" has been covered by many . . . there's the famous Johnny Cash version, of course . . . and it was recorded first by Ray Stevens, actually. But I'll give Kris Kristofferson the nod here because he wrote it, and more pertinently, because as a young man Kristofferson flew helicopters in the Gulf of Mexico oil patch. It's in that voice that I like those lyrics best.

"The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" by The Band (from The Last Waltz)

Thanksgiving Day 1976. San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom. The South meets San Francisco as Levon Helm—the pride of Turkey Scratch, Arkansas—steals the show in Martin Scorsese's documentary about The Band's farewell concert. He's singing a song about defeat, pain, and suffering, about the wreckage left by the pursuit of lost and misguided causes, but doing so with such beautiful, beautiful sadness.

"Redemption Song" by Bob Marley

Pirates and imprisonment and prophets. Freedom and triumph. All things I touch on in the book. This is the note I'd like to end on. If I keep listing songs I'd be forcing things. This was a lot of fun for me, so thank you again for the forum the ramble and reminisce a bit, Largehearted Boy!


Skip Horack and The Other Joseph links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Kirkus review

House of Anansi interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

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)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Book Notes - Rebecca Scherm "Unbecoming"

Unbecoming

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, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Rebecca Scherm's debut novel Unbecoming is everything a literary thriller should be: suspenseful, engrossing, and surprising.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:

"Unbecoming inverts everything we expect from a heist story: The pacing is deliberate, the characters are recognizably human, and even small acts of deception leave victims in their wake…By introducing complex themes and one of the most compelling characters in recent fiction, Scherm has elevated the heist novel beyond entertainment. Like a painting that becomes more intriguing the longer you study it, Unbecoming is a genuine work of art."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Rebecca Scherm's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Unbecoming:


Fiona Apple, "Criminal"
I remember the real fear I felt the first time I saw Apple writhe around in the music video for this song: there but for the grace of God go I. I heard "Criminal" as a threat of what it could be like if you went bad. But now I hear this song differently, as a heady moment of girlhood when you begin to recognize some sexual power that you find terrifying. Since Unbecoming opens with the declaration that Grace is a liar, I think the book has a kinship with this song—the taunt of telling someone you're bad and daring them to believe you.

Usher, "U Got It Bad"
Grace and Riley at a middle school dance in 2002, slow dancing. They probably didn't even move their feet. Who could it be but Usher? "U Got It Bad" is what we think love will be like before we've experienced it—the minor-key whine of longing, the confidence in its own wisdom—"I've been there, done it, fucked around, and after all that, this is what I've found…Nobody wants to be alone!" What an epiphany.

It's about having a crush on the idea of love, and the lyrics are a primer for how to feel: "You know you got it bad when you're stuck in the house, you don't wanna have fun, it's all you think about." This may well have become Grace and Riley's "song" until they got old enough to choose something more impressive.

Amy Winehouse. "You Know I'm No Good"
Alls driving up in his blue Buick, Grace watching herself lie, lie, lie.

Linda Perhacs, "Chimicum Rain"
I wrote the first parts of this novel shut up in my apartment in winter, feeling surreally alone, wide awake, and reckless. I listened to a lot of Perhacs's Parallelograms. That album, and this song in particular, still evoke for me that kind of hallucinatory solitude, and I imagine it's how Grace feels lying on her single bed in Freindametz's flat, waiting for the calendar to flip again.

Nancy Sinatra, "Bang Bang My Baby Shot Me Down"
When Dr. Graham calls grace in Prague and she says she can't help him.

Garbage, "Stupid Girl"
This one is for the day Grace returns the centerpiece. Grace's "do over" day is fraught with possibility. The stakes are enormous to her, if to no one else: if she fails, she's back at the beginning again. I was so angry with her most of the time, but on that day, I wanted her to win.

Snoh ft. Killer Mike, "Bad Things" (Remix)
"I do bad things to good versions of me/I find good things in bad versions of me/ I don't know/ It's just versions of me" This is Grace's theme song.

Jessie Ware, "Wildest Moments"
For the end: Grace's sadness as she understands the realities of love, that it can't fulfill her worst longings, that longing is infinite and another mistake is always around the corner. "We could be the greatest," Ware sings, "we could be the worst of all." I love that "could," its sense of promise and lack in equal measure.


Rebecca Scherm and Unbecoming links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Boston Globe review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
New York Times review
New Yorker review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review

Fiction Writers Review interview with the author
Michigan Radio interview with the author
The Riveter interview with the author
Stateside with Cynthia Canty interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

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)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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Shorties (An Interview with Renata Adler, Jason Isbell Profiled, and more)

At VICE, Catherine Lacey interviewed author Renata Adler.


Rolling Stone profiled singer-songwriter Jason Isbell.


Marc Maron's WTF podcast interviewed Kim Gordon about her memoir Girl in a Band.


The New Yorker shared an excerpt from Heidi Julavitz's new book The Folded Clock: A Diary.


Sufjan Stevens discussed his new album Carrie & Lowell with Dave Eggers at the Guardian.


The Evergreen Review will be revived by OR Books.


SPIN profiled the surf-rock band La Luz.


Radio Free Asia interviewed author Ha Jin.


Westword listed the best musical collaborations between a parent and child.


Bookforum interviewed Jacob Rubin about his novel The Poser.


Flavorwire ranked Missy Elliott videos.


The Mary Sue interviewed Hope Larson about her graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time.


Drowned in Sound interviewed singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr.

Sound of the City profiled Jesso.


Electric Literature interviewed author Porochista Khakpour.


Follow Largehearted Boy on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, and Stumbleupon for links (updated throughout the day) that don't make the daily "Shorties" posts.


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
daily mp3 downloads
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)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Daily Downloads (Steve Gunn, Crow Moses, and more)

Every day, Daily Downloads offers 10 free and legal mp3 downloads.


Today's free and legal mp3 downloads:

Crow Moses: Crow Moses 101 EP [mp3]

Daniel Bachman: Folkadelphia session [mp3]

Haley Blais: Rain Knee EP [mp3]

Kail Baxley: Heatstroke / The Wind and the War album [mp3]

Lost Hollow: Three Free Songs from Lost Hollow EP [mp3]

Rachel Mallin: "Most Folks" [mp3]

Sally Fowler: Songs for Adventurers EP [mp3]

Steve Gunn: Folkadelphia session [mp3]

Will Hoge: Small Town Dreams: Writer's Room Edition EP [mp3]


search for more free and legal music downloads at Largehearted Boy


also at Largehearted Boy:

other daily free and legal mp3 downloads

covers collections
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads

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


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

March 26, 2015

Book Notes - Carola Dibbell "The Only Ones"

The Only Ones

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, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Carola Dibbell's debut The Only Ones is a stunning post-apocalyptic novel.

NPR Books wrote of the book:

"Breathtaking. [Dibbell has] delivered a debut novel on par with some of the best speculative fiction of the past 30 years; The Only Ones deserves to be shelved alongside Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Nalo Hopkinson's Brown Girl in the Ring, and P. D. James' The Children of Men. It's that good, and that important, and that heartbreakingly beautiful."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Carola Dibbell's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Only Ones:


The Only Ones is a dystopian novel about a reproductive experiment and its consequences, told by a spunky, grammatically challenged young woman from Queens. I think a lot about overlaps between fiction and music, about the things music can do that I wish prose could. An actual human voice—that would be good. Hard to get an actual human voice into words. And then there is rhythm, texture, layering, and, at least in the semi-pop I listen to, a kind of attitude that I rarely if ever find in even the novels I most love. But written narrative has its own seductions. In this playlist I've constructed a narrative of songs based loosely on the novel's plot and themes. These songs didn't inspire the story, but they say something about how I heard it.

1. Aaliyah, "Are You That Somebody?" This enigmatic single sounds more wistful than ever since the death of the singer. Its hook, of course, is the repeated baby coo, tweaked for rhythm, always interrupted before you've had enough. I can't think of a better use of baby sample, not even on Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely?" While the sample's on the track as a nod to Aaliyah's nickname, Baby Girl, it takes on its own life, burbling between Timbaland's gruff rap boasts and the singer's anxiety about a risky affair, like a vague awareness that whatever you think is going on, when a baby starts making a noise you can't hear anything else. And if love sometimes makes babies, this teenaged girl needs to know are you responsible? Are you that somebody? Whether or not all that is really in the song, it is a haunting and provocative piece of work that I'm claiming for an approximation of a first chapter where you don't really know what's going on and won't for quite a while. It also goes to some of the themes, like the reality of a baby, responsibility, and who you or anybody is or are. It even shares some formal devices like circularity, repetitions. But it leaves out the humor and noise. So let's fix things in the mix with:

2."Bodies," the Sex Pistols. In 1977, punk feminists like me struggled to justify Johnny Rotten's snarly howl, "I'm not an abortion!" Bloke didn't seem that concerned about a woman's right to choose. He identified with the fetus. Here you could say he sings from the point of view of body tissue. Sloppy mess! No logic, just inchoate rage. Ow! Not a funny song, but the voice is funny. As the funny-voiced narrator Inez Fardo matter-of-factly does her job of being prodded and scraped and shot up to make babies, she keeps any need to howl tightly trapped under a droll deadpan. No pushover, she understands that this is a way to earn a living—better than any other job she's had—and, it turns out, with fringe benefits. "You are going to hear what people say about the girls like me, how we are exploited," she tells us. "They never say it's interesting." She has no idea, of course, how interesting this new job will turn out to be.

3. Sonny Rollins, "St. Thomas." Spoiler alert: alcoholic veterinarian Rauden Sachs uses Inez's super-hardy genes to clone her. (He insists on using the term "Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer.") Here he has just performed the procedure in a lab, watched by an awestruck Inez, and is now smoking a cigarette in the sun, blissfully listening to Sonny Rollins. "I always like Sonny Rollins, after I do nuclear Transfer," he confides. "That's with an O." I was getting into "St. Thomas" around the time I was plotting this part—a rare case where a piece of music actually influenced a particular scene. So exuberant, so life affirming. So sunny.

4. M.I.A., "Mango Pickle Down River." The embryos Rauden makes—he calls them "viables"—are put to gestate in a surrogate womb, a tank shaped like an orange. I had a few musical candidates for this chapter, including DJ Shadow's "Stem," which moves like a slow-blooming plant, gradually and methodically coming to perky and ecstatic life. But I chose M.I.A.'s down-to-earth sampling of the five jolly voices of the Australian aboriginal group Wilcannia Mob, who keep fishing and jumping in the river, reminding me of the five floating viables that the bereaved client Rini Jaffur has named, somewhat prematurely, Ani, Berthe, Chi-chi, Lily, and Madhur.

5. David Byrne, "Stay Up Late." I once read that this slightly mean song is about Byrne's own older sister making him stay up all night. But because I listened to it while my new daughter was making me stay up all night, I hear it that way and include it to honor the universal up all night parenting experience, for which Inez, who takes one of the viables home (buy the book and find out which) is totally unprepared.

6. Aretha Franklin, "You Send Me." This is for the scene when Inez, who not only has no love for herself but has never seen an infant till she's entrusted with this one, abruptly falls in love with the baby, who at two months has just woken from a long sleep making a little popping noise, followed by a new smile, and a wink. This actually happened to me with my own daughter, a few weeks before the adoption papers cleared, but I was already attached. For Inez's attachment moment I've chosen what may well be my favorite love song, coming in after a churchy keyboard intro so long and unrelated you almost forget what's coming—Aretha's lean and oblique Sam Cooke cover, from Aretha Now. (Not the live version.) Understated and savoring at first, the vocal eventually busts loose, and the accompaniment fills out too but the sound remains old school, basic, like something you can trust. If you're playing these songs as you read, you may have trouble moving on to anything else after this one, and that wouldn't necessarily be your loss. What a track.

7. The Ramones, "We're a Happy Family." My Ramones question wasn't whether, but which. For the childhood chapters, I've chosen this because it's funny and mentions Queens, where Inez and her daughter live and Joey once sat eating refried beans. But "Blitzkrieg Bop" could have worked here, and "Pinhead" could have worked earlier, when Inez, like the pinhead who doesn't "wanna be a pinhead no more," decides to change her life. The "Pinhead" rhythm is so interesting, too. The Ramones' rhythms influenced me more than any specific music, though it was more about me saying, "My rhythms are too jerky," and then "So what? The Ramones had jerky rhythms." Joey's also is one of the funny voices that may have made me want to write in a funny voice.

8. The Shangri-Las, "I Can Never Go Home Any More." Here we enter the trickiest and most dangerous chapter of childrearing: adolescence. After Bette Midler's groundbreaking deconstruction of "Leader of the Pack," I worried that this teen girl group from Queens might sound campy. But as a voice for a daughter's teenaged drama, it proved just melancholy and hyperserious enough. And for the narrative of this playlist, it slows things down, in preparation for the climactic denouement. But I don't want to give that away, so I'll just move on to a related topic, the love between a mother and her grownup child.

9. Ghostface Killah, "All That I Got is You." I remembered the sound but couldn't pin the artist down until Google dumped me on a site called called "Ten Best Rap Songs about Mothers." My daughter was sure I had Tupac in mind, but from the first bars I knew this was the one. Rapped over a sample from the Jackson 5's "Maybe Tomorrow," with Mary J. Blige killing a cameo and Ghostface detailing painful memories of grinding poverty, this tearjerker of a hip-hop tribute to a struggling single mother is gritty and tender, wholly credible, and concludes with its own credible take on old clichés about knowing who you are.

10. The Only Ones, "Another Girl, Another Planet." Of course I knew this late punk English band got my novel's name before me. Although adenoidal Paul Perrett does have one of those funny voices I go for, the reason I borrowed their name wasn't musical. It was more in the spirit that Tom Verlaine grabbed a Hitchcock title for "Torn Curtain"—to play around with images and ideas. It's a recurring motif in the novel, means a bunch of different things, and is on the edge of oxymoron: only ones, plural. I liked that as a way to think about how the clones in the story are one in many, the same but truly different, and more particularly, how love proves that. I called the final chapter of the book "The Only Ones" as a sort of parting chorus, and bringing the band in for this last track is another version of the same idea. But it also happens that "Another Girl" works with the way the story ends, in a grand if wrenching finale, where life goes on in another way in another girl, although this planet is the only one we get.


Carola Dibbell and The Only Ones links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Electric Literature review
LitReactor review
NPR Books review
Washington Post review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

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)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


Posted by david | Permalink | Comments (View)

Author Chris Tarry Interviews Musician Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond

In the "Largehearted Boy Cross-Media Cultural Exchange Program" series (thanks to Jami Attenberg for the title), authors interview musicians (and vice versa).

Chris Tarry is is an author and musician, his short story collection How To Carry Bigfoot Home was published last week.

Shara Worden is the frontwoman for the band My Brightest Diamond. Her most recent album is This Is My Hand.


Author Chris Tarry interviews Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond:


Chris: Full disclosure, Shara and I have spent time in a van. And by van I mean the long-haul touring-type with guitar amps and suitcases crammed behind three rows of bench seating. When you spend time in vans of this type, you become family, and quick. I've filled the bass chair for My Brightest Diamond a half-dozen times over the past five years, and every time I do, there's no other bandleader that makes me feel at home quicker than Shara Worden.

The van is a place of peaceful reflection, of democratic music choices, and foreheads resting on cold windows late into the night. There is conversation on direction (both the van's and the existential one), plus how far to the next gig, and do you think we'll have time for a roadside sandwich before sound check? The answer to last is most always no.

Sometimes though, especially in a van occupied by the supremely artful and devastatingly talented Shara Worden, the conversation turns to music. And these are often my favorite moments, the inner thoughts of your band mates, how they think about music, how they relate to their instrument, their voice. Moments where influence becomes a communal head-nod and personal playlists are celebrated with hours of headphones stretched across uncomfortable seats.

I've always wished Shara and I might one day have the chance to sit down, parse out her thoughts on music, her lyrics, her immense artistic bravery—and capture one of those elusive van talks for posterity. And so, we did:


Chris: I just picked up the new album (This Is My Hand), and it was great to listen through the finished version. I think what I've heard up to this point were rough mixes handed down for tune-learning purposes. The finished album sounds terrific. I've had the pleasure of playing a wide cross-section of your music and this one feels like a wonderful push forward in all the directions that make you such a distinctive voice. I read that you approached the sound of this record with the image of "imaginary tribe of people, gathering around a fire, making music together, telling stories, hearing from the shaman." Can you expand on this story telling image?

Shara: When I first started thinking about this album, it was beginning from a rather depressing analysis of the music industry. I was feeling rather dismal about the prospects of thriving as a recording artist in this day and age, and so I thought, hey, I've got to get a different point of view! I love making records! I love music and so does everyone else. So, I sought out a bunch of experiences that really make me happy and inspired. One was the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit, which is great because everyone from the community dresses up and there are marching bands from every corner of the city, and I'm a sucker for pageantry. There was also a notable summer solstice DJ event in Berlin with everyone dancing in the streets, and then another biggie was that I was in a Matthew Barney film in which story and music converged in nearly equal proportion. All of these events took place outside, and that ended up playing a big part in thinking about what setting I imagined the music to exist in from the beginning.

Chris: So in a sense, the album started from a connection with place (being outside). I find that interesting, especially when it comes to writing. Place is such an important aspect of any story. Literature has to engage with the physical world in a very direct way. Some writers choose to take it head on, creating these amazing vistas that stick with us sometimes even more than plot or character, while others have trouble describing the color of a room. But either way, place must be dealt with, and must be dealt with on a very base level. I think music considers place as well, though perhaps a little more ethereally. It often has place thrust upon it, where we listen to music can often be as important as how we experience it. Maybe all art is similar in that way. Where we are when reading a certain book, who we're with when hearing a song for the first time. But those experiences seem to serve the listener, or, when it comes to books, the reader. What I find interesting here, is that you took a somewhat more writerly approach by considering place from the beginning of the musical process, in the creation and inspiration behind the album. Has the experience of making the album in this way, imagining the setting in which you wanted the music to exist, changed the way you look at composition, or your process as a whole?

Shara: Absolutely. The album before this one, I knew I wanted in a concert hall setting, so the instrumentation is much more acoustic, more like classical chamber music. The instrument choices were completely affected by place, and the same can be said for this new album. I imagined Prospect Park and how the band shell is lower than the audience lawn, and I thought, "Well, what if there was a marching band approaching everyone from the top of the hill, behind the audience and then walking down to the stage? How can I write something to satisfy that type of moment?" I'd written a bunch of instrumental music, but didn't have that one song where the marching band could approach the band on stage. I wanted a micro horn quintet on stage with the band, so that there could be a dialogue between the larger ensemble with the audience, and the amplified horn section on stage. The song "Pressure" was the last on the album, because I really needed that thesis statement, that culminating moment where the marching band joins the rock band. We've only been able to do this full-blown show ten or so times around the world, but when it happens, it really feels like a dream come true. Acoustics have everything to do with what gets made. So place must be considered.

Chris: Story, lyrics, the shape of narrative throughout a song. How do you approach these things? Are they a concern when sitting down to write lyrics? Does the listener need to be taken on a journey sonically and lyrically? Your songs feel very much to me like little journeys, pieces with a beginning middle and end that often dispose with more traditional pop song forms. In "Before The Words" (the second song on the album) you seem to confront this idea of story head on: "Before the words there was the voice. Before the verse there was the sound. Before the form there was the music. Before the pen and paper there was the…"

Shara: I am actually quite often inspired by books. I had a teacher once who said he didn't believe in writer's block, that if you can't write, just cram your "hole" full of information, and things that inspire you until you start brimming over. And a lot of times, I "fill up" by reading.  For This Is My Hand I based the lyric themes on three books, the foremost being The World in Six Songs by Daniel Levitan, in which he gives six different themes of songs throughout human history: war, religion, love, sad songs, information songs, and friendship.  (I added ghost stories to my own list!). Then, Robert Graves The White Goddess, which is a history of the bards in England. And finally, The Third Chimpanzee by Jared Diamond. His chapter on the creation of art being inseparable to the human experience, even from our earliest history, was the inspiration for the song "Before the Words".  That became my "information song", as it were. I wanted to write about how music is older than language, how fundamental it is, when we are in our mother's womb, how our heart beats and the frequencies of our mothers' songs are deeply ingrained in each of us. That to me is the definition of "folk" --- that to be human is to be musical.

So as an overview I had these three lists of high values, for lyrics, I wanted to hit on these six themes. For the sounds, I knew I wanted to use a marching band for the whole album and give the audience a surround-sound experience, creating my own parade experience. And lastly, I wanted the audience to participate more than I had ever facilitated them to before, so I made a list of general things like, singing along, clapping, organized dances, voguing opportunities, etc, and attempted (I should say) to include the audience in at least one of those aspects on every song. Some targets you hit when you set objectives, and some you don't, but the play of a game is the fun part You don't get everything in the bull's-eye every time.

Chris: That music is the first true language. These things are connected on such a fundamental level, and you're so right, to be human is to be musical. I sometimes feel sad when a person tells me they're not musical. I feel like someone has sold them a bill of goods, that being musical means you have to be able to sing, or keep time by tapping your foot, or know how many albums The Who have released and in what chronological order. For some reason, feeling connected to music through enjoyment has become not enough—that loving a Katy Perry song and splashing around to it in the shower is somehow the antithesis of musicianship. I tend to disagree. There's a reason we all listen to music, and I think it's because we're all musicians from time eternal. That the ability to process music is hard-wired into our DNA, that it's the language we enter the world with. I read this poem the other day by a poet named Bryan Doyle called "What do Poems Do?" In it, there are these few lines:

...You have poetry slots
Where your gills used to be, when you lived inside your mother.
If you hold a poem right you can go back there. Find the handle.
Take a skitter of words and speak gently to them, and you'll see.

So if we take all music to be meaningful, even Kenny G on a bad day, or Katy Perry dancing with sharks, is every part of it relevant?

Shara: I had a teacher who once told me that the drawing of every child is valid, but that Rodin had the ability and discipline to articulate himself, and therefore his work is so much more expressive. He was truly a master of expression. And it's the same with music. I believe that everyone is inherently musical, and being artistic is part of being human, but culture has so much influence in the development of our abilities. Apprenticeship is so important. Having mentors, having financial resources to pursue inherent giftedness… there is so much that is necessary to mature these gifts.

If we want to talk about Kenny G, or Katy Perry or any other pop artist and their relevancy, I think pop music has to do with social conversation, and entertainment, not with pushing the art form itself or dealing with the structure of the alphabet or challenging the listener or viewer. So for example, an artist like the classical composer Pierre Boulez was examining the very fundamental components, the building blocks of music with his own compositions. He was rewriting grammar. That's not what Katy Perry is putting forward in the musical conversation. I think Katy's music is about joy, and hope, and there is a playfulness and sexuality in her music, but if I perceive her intention, I think she just really wants people to feel happy, and that is not about music itself. It isn't about challenging the boundaries of sound making.

So what makes something relevant?  Depends on your basis for evaluating. There are different and simultaneous conversations that we are having as human beings. There is room for every expression. We as human beings came to this planet to create and to express. It doesn't mean that everything is equal, but art can be evaluated with respect to its intention. Whether great art is measured by social impact, or sales, or longevity or pushing the art form, or whatever else you want to have as an evaluator, is in the eye of the beholder. If I speak to one of my friends who is a visual artist, they are going to be able to expound so much more clearly than me, on the reasons why from a technical standpoint, they can perceive Rodin as a master, when I might look at his work, and say, "Wow, that's beautiful" but not really understand the other layers of mastery. And music is the same. There are layers and layers to everything and at the end of the day, I want to become more and more articulate myself in music, that I can imagine something in my mind, and say it with a deftness, with a sharper, clearer form or to sing with greater transparency, to continue to be more and more skilled so that I can get to that pure raw expression in the most direct way possible. I have been doing music since I was a child, and I am still thrilled by the infinite nature of music. We will never master it. We just keep exploring it. And we do this, no matter what the industry is doing. Of course I want to live as an artist. I have to take into consideration the time in which I live, and the context my music will be heard, but at the end of the day, I have to stay in touch with desire to express. To do so as only I am able, because there is only one me, and there is only one you.

Chris: You mention setting objectives for yourself, hitting some targets, not hitting others. This seems like the plight of all artistic pursuits. I know for me, when I sit down to write a tune, or work on a story, the end result is often vastly different from what I originally intended, and this, I think, is where the magic lies, the mystery of the "final product" as it were. Are you able to sit back and listen to your albums objectively? I have a few musician friends who say that after they take time away from one of their albums, that they're able to hear it as others do. That is not the case for me. Albums I did ten years ago I still listen to and remember certain choices and why I made them (rightly or wrongly). For some reason, I don't feel that way with writing. I just received the first official copies of my book in the mail today, quite a glorious day. I held it in my hands for the first time and had this strange feeling. I couldn't remember writing any of the words. It felt like someone else's book. Do you ever feel this lyrically? Musically?

Shara: I learned a while ago that I would never really be satisfied with the records from the past, and that is because in the process of making them, you learn, and so you would never do things the same way again. That said, I value the experience, and I honor the journey from one place to the next, so I don't spend nights drinking with regret over anything I've made. You just determine yourself to make something new. There are some songs that feel like they came from another place and you were just the medium, and they come so easily and quickly, and other work you labor over and nearly kills you as it comes forth. Writing my opera, You Us We All, was like that. It took everything I had as a human being to produce it. I was exhausted, tried, tested, stretched to my outer most limits, but I am so grateful. We are here to manifest, to bring forth, to create and sometimes it is painful to expand in the art making process and at other times, it is complete bliss.


Shara Worden and My Brightest Diamond links:

My Brightest Diamond's website
Shara Worden's Wikipedia entry


Chris Tarry links:

Chris Tarry's website
Chris Tarry's Wikipedia entry


also at Largehearted Boy:

other musician/author interviews

Antiheroines (Jami Attenberg interviews comics artists)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (directors and composers discuss their film's soundtracks)


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Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week - March 26, 2015

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

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


Preservation Society Home Preserves: 100 Modern Recipes

Preservation Society Home Preserves: 100 Modern Recipes
by Camilla Wynne

Montreal-based preserves maven Camilla Wynne is a former indie rock musician who has experience in some of the top restaurant kitchens in North America. Here she shares 100 of her unique and surprising recipes for delicious jams, jellies and marmalades—including Peach Jam with Bourbon and Honey, Cream Pop Marmalade and Maple Ginger Pickled Beets!


Remedy Quarterly #17: Taste

Remedy Quarterly #17: Taste

The new issue of the San Francisco-based independent food journal focuses on taste. We meet an 11-year old girl whose tastes are unusually adventurous. We learn about how to taste with other people’s palettes, how to overcome aversions to certain foods, how to make Pozole Blanco and a Floral Strawberry Float, and more!


New Lovers erotic fiction series

New Lovers erotic fiction series

The first three titles of the anticipated new erotic literature series New Lovers have been released, successfully telling—to hear the Paris Review tell it—stories "for a new generation’s sexual imagination." The novels, all written by women, range in topic (one chronicling a menage relationship between best friends, another a queen's re-seduction of her king) but all offer a new twist on smut.


Rebel Rebel

Rebel Rebel
by Chris O’Leary

Both David Bowie's persona and discography are lovingly catalogued in Rebel Rebel, a look at the artist's output from 1964 to 1976. Exploring his huge oeuvre and his literary, film, and musical influences, music blogger O'Leary uncovers the singer/songwriter who, for all his cultural impact, remains a mystery.


Angry Youth Comix

Angry Youth Comix
by Johnny Ryan

Fans of Johnny Ryan’s famously offensive cartoons will rejoice at this new hardcover collection of all his Angry Youth Comix (2000-2008), replete with juvenilia, semen jokes, and other forms of alarming humour.


Librairie Drawn & Quarterly links:

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


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book Lists

52 Books, 52 Weeks
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly new comics and graphic novel highlights)
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
WORD Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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Shorties (An Interview with Rachel Kushner, The New Mekons Documentary, and more)

Bookworm interviewed author Rachel Kushner.


Rolling Stone went behind the scenes of the Revenge of the Mekons documentary.


Kickstarter interviewed Emily Books founders Emily Gould and Ruth Curry.


Author Antonio Ruiz-Camacho interviewed himself at The Nervous Breakdown.

Read an excerpt from his short story collection Barefoot Dogs.


Aquarium Drunkard shared a new mixtape, "a tranquil blend of global folk, gospel, soul and psych."


Author James Meek reviewed Mad Men at the London Review of Books.


Stereogum interviewed musician Chilly Gonzales.


The Los Angeles Review of Books interviewed author James Hannaham.


SPIN interviewed Lightning Bolt singer-drummer Brian Chippendale.


The Lifted Brow interviewed author Jesse Ball.


Salon interviewed Scott McCaughey of The Minus 5 and Young Fresh Fellows.


Mental Floss separated fact from fiction in Jack Kerouac's book On the Road.


Berfrois examined "the chaos of music genres."


A new collection of Charles Bukowski's writing about cats will be published this fall.


The Decemberists visited The Current studio for an interview and live performance.


The publisher at Penguin Random House India discussed the process of acquiring and publishing Akhil Sharma's Folio Prize-winning novel Family Life at Scroll.in.

The Telegraph profiled Sharma.


Follow Largehearted Boy on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, and Stumbleupon for links (updated throughout the day) that don't make the daily "Shorties" posts.


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
daily mp3 downloads
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)


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Daily Downloads (The Last Spectacular, The Damnwells, and more)

Every day, Daily Downloads offers 10 free and legal mp3 downloads.


Today's free and legal mp3 downloads:

The Buffalo Kid: "Kept Walking (Demo)" [mp3]

The Damnwells: Let Us Eat Cake EP [mp3]

Grace Cooke: Waiting EP [mp3]

The Last Spectacular: The Last Spectacular album [mp3]

Mae: The Everglow 10th Anniversary Tour Sampler EP [mp3]

Nancy Wallace: Live in Southend - Ship Full of Bombs Session EP [mp3]

The Query: Of Winds and Waves album [mp3]

Safia Nolin: Igloo single [mp3]

Young America: Pain, Rain, and the Mundane EP [mp3]


Free and legal live performances at other websites:

Ryan Adams: 2011-06-11, Oslo [mp3]


search for more free and legal music downloads at Largehearted Boy


also at Largehearted Boy:

other daily free and legal mp3 downloads

covers collections
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads

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


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March 25, 2015

Book Notes - John Renehan "The Valley"

The Valley

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, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

John Renehan's novel The Valley is a propulsive debut, a smart mystery set among Army forces in Afghanistan.

Foreign Policy wrote of the book:

"Renehan has a fine eye for the etiquette of the Army, as delicate and complex as the rural aristocracy depicted in Jane Austen's novels."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is John Renehan's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel The Valley:


When I was a kid I played piano, and then drums and the whole family of percussion instruments. As a teenager I fell in love with the "mallet keyboards" – vibraphone, marimba, etc. Something about the layout of the keyboard being the same as the piano so you could make the same music, except you hit the keys instead of pressing them, which I liked. (That probably makes me sound like an angry person. I'm not an angry person.) It seemed like this acrobatic accomplishment, two or four mallets in your hands at once, limbs flying across this six-foot-long keyboard like some crazed maestro, full of all your boyish self-serious intensity and concentration. For my college audition I didn't know what you were supposed to play and didn't know any of the standard orchestral literature, so I transcribed the middle movement of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" and the entirety of Rimsky-Korsakov's Capriccio Espagnol, on vibraphone. It must have been the weirdest audition the professor had ever seen, this gangly self-taught kid with bad four-mallet technique coming in with this mad-scientist selection of pieces. I squeaked by and was a music major for a of couple years and had ridiculous ideas about writing film scores or leading some modern revival of Romantic composers until I realized that I didn't have the ear to compose music. I quit and decided to compose words instead, and a mere 22 years later I actually finished a novel.

So I guess music, or musical failure, is sort of responsible for The Valley. And I guess I still think of myself as "a musician," even though with kids and jobs and the rest of it I almost never play anymore and haven't done a proper gig in about ten years. My oldest and dearest friends are all musicians, so in my head I'm sort of grandfathered in. In any event, I'm sure all this is why music had such a prominent role in the book's plot.

'Friar Park,' 'Village Dance,' 'Sandhya Raga' – Ravi Shankar

I discovered Shankar, the world-ambassador of Indian classical music, during a slow period of our Iraq deployment when my unit was back living on the Forward Operating Base ("fob"), so I've always associated his music with the surreal life of those sprawling patchwork cities we built in the desert. There's a scene where Black, the book's protagonist, walks through the back alleys and shanty world of the FOB at night, catching glimpses of the little deployment worlds people have made for themselves. There's always someone in the Army who's got Vietnam on the brain and rigs up his "hootch" (whatever makeshift little living space you sleep in) with tapestries and incense and all that. Shankar is the kind of thing you'd hear coming from one of those hootches. To me, something about his music just captures that odd parallel nightworld of the FOBs, especially some of his other more atmospheric and cross-genre pieces like "Chappaqua," "Vaishna Janato," or "Raghupati Raghava Raja Ram." I listened to Shankar endlessly while writing Part One of the book, before Black leaves the FOB for the Nuristan mountains.

Brad Mehldau – Highway Rider, Live in Marciac, Jazz a Vienne, Largo

There's no Brad Mehldau music in the book, but if there's a single musician or type of music I associate with the story the most, he's it. I recognize that probably makes me sound crazy, hearing a jazz pianist behind a mountain-war-mystery story, but there it is. I listened to his music more than any other while writing the second half of the book.

I'm one of those people who only works with music playing, whether I'm writing or at my day job. This probably isn't good for my mildly obsessive nature. When I'm tired especially, I'll find myself writing a scene listening to a particular track and then putting it on loop, over and over, trying to keep that feeling or inspiration it gave me until my head hurts and I have to stop and walk away. On the other hand I can't imagine what the process of writing would look like – especially all the "think work" when you're not actually sitting in front of the computer – without everything music brings to it. I'll get whole scenes or characters or plotlines from the feeling a piece of music gives me. So I guess I'm stuck with music.

The plot of The Valley is driven by Black's steadily building obsession. At the outset he can't believe he got stuck with this trivial, undignified assignment and has no intention of doing anything more than the bare minimum. As he comes to realize that there is more to the outpost than meets the eye, that nearly everyone there is lying to him or playing him somehow, he becomes fixated, bit-by-bit, on discovering what the hell is going on. He's come to the outpost with a giant chip on his shoulder, fed up with the Army that has wronged him and has told him he's a disgrace, and now all that is redirected at the soldiers and sergeants in this lonely place who won't deal with him straight. It all fuels his obsession. It's a last-straw moment for him personally, and it just makes him mad – literally maddens him.

I got turned on to Brad Mehldau by a professional sax-player friend who noticed I'd been listening to some other jazz pianists who had some tracks with really strong ostinato motifs (Josh Nelson's Discoveries album; Jason Lindner's "Information Kiss" and "Meditation on Two Chords," or his amazing Ab Aeterno collaboration with bassist Omer Avital). He sent me to listen to Mehldau, who is just a master at constructing these long, intense solos, frequently over ostinato sequences. The motif repeats over and over, and the solo just builds and builds. Tracks like "Old West" or "Highway Rider" from his sprawling jazz-symphonic Highway Rider album, "Teardrop" from Jazz a Vienne, or "Lilac Wine" from Live in Marciac. Something about the dynamics of that, the motif circling around and around while the intensity builds, was exactly the kind of long structure and experience I was trying to build for the reader through the second half of The Valley, as Black's own obsession builds on itself and his thoughts become more circular and fixated and the danger to him increases, until he hits the stress wall and experiences a kind of psychological break, and more or less loses it for a little bit.

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis – Ralph Vaughan Williams

There's an old classical music anecdote in which a famous British conductor disparages Vaughan Williams' music, to which a Vaughan Williams supporter says, Well, what about the Tallis fantasia? Surely that's a worthy work? To which the critic replies something to the effect of: True; it's just a pity he didn't include a theme by Thomas Tallis in all his works. Yuk yuk.

Well, fine. He is not Beethoven, but he is something. I heard this short, amazing piece for the first time on a classical radio station in college and have been mildly obsessed with it ever since. Black hasn't heard a lot of classical music before, and as the violinmaker-slash-soldier who gives him a copy tells him, there's no other symphonic piece like it; it's its own type. Like a good fantasia it is not bound by strict form, though it's not without structure. It's a musical picture above all – the sort of thing people call "ethereal" because they don't know what else to call it. Black listens to it as the convoy carrying him to the Valley climbs into the looming mountain range beneath brooding thunderheads. He sees deep orange otherworldly sunsets over dark hilltop horizons and black seas. It seemed like the perfect representation of the dark ocean of Black's own troubled thoughts at that moment.


'Kashmir' – Led Zeppelin

The soldiers taking Black to the Valley play 'Kashmir' at top volume in their Humvee, beating back anxiety as the convoy climbs through a treacherous stretch of pitch-black mountain "road" barely wide enough to contain the big military vehicles. The part of Afghanistan where the story takes place abuts Pakistan and the Kashmir region, so I more or less had to pick this song for that scene. In addition to classical music, Black is also weirdly unaware of most popular music (for reasons that aren't really explained in this book), and when the soldiers play the track they're flabbergasted that he doesn't recognize it. But he likes it.

'Xanadu' – Rush, Exit . . . Stage Left (live)

You weren't allowed to be a drum nerd in the '80s without going through a period when you believed that the Canadian art-rock trio Rush was the best band in history and Neil Peart was the best drummer who ever held sticks. I did my time. I admit it.

Rush's take on Samuel Taylor Coleridge's opium-fueled poem "Kubla Khan," reimagined as a tragic tale of an adventurer who gets more than he bargains for when he sets out to find Coleridge's mythical paradise, is straight prog-rock awesomeness: all wind chimes and gongs and complex instrumental mastery and intellectual bombast. I didn't go looking for a way to incorporate their music into the story; it just sort of fell into my lap by accident – opium poppies are grown in the Valley, for one thing – and I was happy to go with it, happy that my old friends would get a kick out that. (There's something of an underground cottage industry among fans in the creative arts of sneaking Rush references into otherwise mainstream entertainments. Greatest single victory: in a foldout magazine advertisement introducing the iTunes Store to the world in 2003, the screenshot of the iTunes interface shows not the Beatles, Stones, Elvis, U2, Ella, Frank, or Louis Armstrong . . . but a Rush album from 1976. High-five, dorks.)

There's a scene in the book where Black is interviewing a young, nervous soldier as part of his investigation, and the kid has "Xanadu" playing on a tinny boom box in his little deployment hovel. Black thinks it's awful, just unlistenable (which is a pretty common reaction to the genre), even though he figures out it's another little clue to what's going on in the Valley. When I wrote that scene I figured if Rush themselves ever somehow came across it they'd get that it was a tribute – they poke a lot of fun at themselves these days – but of course I was secretly terrified that they'd see it and wouldn't get it, and I'd be some tragic, aging superfan that the band hates.

'Xanadu' – Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra

I loved the movie Boogie Nights. There was so much to it. Paul Thomas Anderson could turn on a dime from laughing at these people in one moment, mocking their tacky lives and ridiculous porn dreams, to sucker-punching you with their wrenching desperation in the next. One of my favorite aspects of the film was the way the movie used '70s period music not just to "dress the set" but to create these great ironies and juxtapositions within the scene. ELO's exuberant "Livin' Thing" was fantastic carrying the final scene of the film (the Raging Bull homage with Mark Wahlberg in front of the mirror), which is this tragicomic, just pathetic tableau, into the closing credits. Night Ranger's "Sister Christian" was even better in the outrageous set-piece at drug dealer Rahad Jackson's '70s-spectacular suburban castle, this gaudy power ballad providing the soundtrack to one of the most unbearably, hilariously tense scenes in film.

I didn't have any of this in mind when I wrote the chapter in which Black confronts Brydon, the platoon's tormented outsider, but I realized afterwards that I was going for something like the same effect in putting Olivia Newton-John behind this really unhappy scene. (Trying to avoid spoilers here.) It was another obvious choice since Coleridge's Xanadu was already a key theme in the plot, but I enjoyed the way the music here is just tormenting Black. He's beset by all these clues throughout his time at the outpost – mysterious graffiti written for his benefit, a book of Coleridge poems, bizarre notes in an old high school yearbook, music with oddly significant lyrics. So many voices are talking to him; it's as though the Valley itself, the evil within it, is speaking. In the Brydon scene this bright disco-pop confection almost serves as the tragic chorus speaking from the side of the stage, and it is almost mocking him as he flees, even as the music itself is dropping another clue on the reader. I liked how that fell together.

'Angels We Have Heard on High' – Sixpence None the Richer

This was one of those instances where a particular track directly influenced a particular scene. Without saying too much more, this is Private Corelli's tune. There's no way to tell from the text, but this is the version of the Christmas song he's thinking of, that he is singing to himself when he's all alone. (Again, spoilers.) In my head it's the soundtrack to that moment of the book, where the narrative cuts from Corelli to the tumultuous events occurring at the outpost right then. I recognize that anyone who's read the book will think I'm certifiable for saying this, but when the wounded, concussed Black stumbles across the outpost grounds, more or less unable to hear what's happening anyway, and looks up to see everything coming down around him, Leigh Nash's gentle voice is what I hear over that scene. (In fact, the guitar work in the song was also the source for some of the particular "atmospherics" described in that scene). Several of the characters, American and Afghan, see deeply religious implications in everything that's happening in the Valley. There's an irony and clash of meanings in that cacophonous chapter that I was attracted to.


John Renehan and The Valley links:

the author's website

Foreign Policy review
Kirkus review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
Providence Journal review
Wall Street Journal review

Bookselling This Week interview with the author
Huffington Post interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

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

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)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)


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