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August 22, 2006

Book Notes - Jason Fagone ("Horsemen of the Esophagus")

In Horsemen of the Esophagus, author Jason Fagone examines the world of competitive eating. As he follows three of these "gurgitators," Fagone searches for the meaning behind this subculture, relentlessly documenting the lives of these competitors and their preparations and events.

In his own words, here is Jason Fagone's Book Notes contribution for his book, Horsemen of the Esophagus.

Horsemen of the Esophagus is a nonfiction book about competitive eaters -- men, mostly, and a few women, who gorge in public for cash prizes. (They're the "Horsemen" of the book's title.) America has more pro eaters, and more opportunities for pro eaters, than any place in the world. The book is my attempt to figure out why and how: why America, and how this strange spectacle developed; how Takeru "Tsunami" Kobayashi can eat 53.75 hot dogs in 12 minutes, say, and how it's come to pass that a million people watch him do it every year on ESPN.

Night Ranger, "Sister Christian"
Competitive eaters come onstage the same way pro wrestlers walk toward the ring. The top eaters all have personal backing tracks. An eater named Allen "Shredder" Goldstein is always introduced to "Sister Christian," and he competes all the time, so I heard this song a lot. I was happy about that.

Badlands Booker, "The Sweet Science (of Competitive Eating)"
Probably my favorite track from Booker's LP "Hungry & Focused." Booker is a subway conductor from New York and a longtime gurgitator; every song on his LP is about pro eating. I listened to "Hungry & Focused" often enough to memorize some of the lyrics -- i.e., "eat you outta house and home, no thought or care / fridge empty, cupboards bare" -- but my wife wasn't as into Booker as I was, and started yanking the disc as soon as I'd pop it in.

John Vanderslice, "Exodus Damage"
Vanderslice. Vanderslice. Basically a secular saint, as Largehearted Boy readers well know. Expresses strong opinions about music and art without coming across as a curmudgeon. Stays on good terms with his sense of wonder. Has a catholic approach to media (carries a Leica on his tours, takes great photographs). Writes beautiful songs such as "Exodus Damage," whose loose, organic phrasing is surprising and lovely, and which caused me a lot of happy trouble whenever I tried to sing along in my car.

Uncle Tupelo, "Screen Door"
I used to think Wilco sucked. I had only heard one of their songs, on MTV, and it wasn't very good, and the band members in the music video were jumping out of a plane to their bad song. Afterward I was really confused whenever Pitchfork would treat the Wilco guys with fanboy reverence. But my wife got me into "Screen Door" and a few other old Uncle Tupelo songs, and also Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, and I still don't think Wilco is amazing or anything but now I understand the reverence.

The Dismemberment Plan, "Tonight We Mean It"
"Tonight We Mean It" is track one on the Plan's second album, "The Dismemberment Plan Is Terrified." Cue the disc and POW POW POW POW -- no intro, just a starting-gun burst of sound and frontman Travis Morrison's nerd-funk vocal: "Head-to-toe rayon, don't light a match..." Oh man, I remember the first time I heard this song. Ten seconds in and I was grinning. Twenty seconds and I was DONE, you know that feeling? Done. A dead-ender for this band.

New Pornographers, "Bleeding Heart Show"
I tend to play a new CD over and over until I'm sick of it and can't stand to listen to it for months. I did put "Twin Cinema" through this treatment but I never did get sick of it.

Missy Elliott, "Lose Control"
I wrote the book in a home office that looks out onto a north-south street in Philadelphia's Center City. For a few weeks when this song came out, guys would drive down my street and I could hear "Lose Control" a few times per day. Having come of age in the era of crappy middle-school-dance hip-hop -- Rob Base, DJ Jazzy Jeff, MC Hammer, Biz Markie, Young MC, C+C Music Factory -- I've been late to the game on Jay-Z and Kanye West and Missy and the like.

Andrew Wagner, "Palmetto Acres"
Andy is a friend, a former bandmate, and the most talented musician I've known personally. This song is propulsive, gorgeous. It's intricate and it moves. I haven't heard anything that sounds like it.

David Cross, "Shut Up You F---ing Baby"
On a long solo drive, sometimes you need another human voice in the car with you. The more obscure the destination and the duller the road, the more it helps for that voice to be angry, profane, and funny. I might have abandoned my car several times -- like, say, at the side of I-80, on the way to visit Ohio's corn-eating champion David "Coondog" O'Karma -- if not for David Cross.

Babe the Blue Ox, "Stand By Your Man"
A great, great, all-but-forgotten three-piece. Chick drummer, guy-girl harmonies and some endearingly weird tics that keep their glossy songs rough-edged and their rough-edged songs sweet. I regret that I never saw these guys live before they broke up.

Stevie Wonder, "I Believe"
I had never heard this song before this past year. I feel kind of bad about that. Better late than never.

Guided By Voices, "The Best of Jill Hives"
This song seems to be about finding the good in people, as the song's title suggests, but it's a Bob Pollard song so who really knows.

Ted Leo + Pharmacists, "Little Dawn"
Epic sweaty emo song. After I finished promoting the book, my wife and I took a small vacation to the Delaware Water Gap region of PA/NY and played "Little Dawn" over and over in the car whenever we ventured out from our cabin to get food or explore the little towns up there. One time I got excited listening to this song, drove too fast around a corner, and almost hit a deer thanks to Mr. Ted Leo.

see also:

The Author's Website
Excerpt (from The Atlantic)
Excerpt (last pre-Katrina oyster eating contest)

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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