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October 5, 2006

Book Notes - Mark Swartz ("H20")

With H20, Mark Swartz has produced a commentary of our society masquerading as a science fiction novel. In 2020, as the world's drinking water supply becomes scarce, an employee of a large corporation invents synthetic water, but must fight the exploitation of his invention before it is fully tested.

In his own words, here is Mark Swartz's Book Notes entry for his novel, H20:

Call it Water Music. This isn’t the soundtrack to the nonexistent movie of my eco-noir novel H2O, but to one proposed way of reading the book. The first three people who write me at swartzmark [at] yahoo (friends and family excluded) win a CD-R of the mix.

Note: some chapters are silent.

Chapter 1.

TEXT: As the sun slid behind a huddle of naked towers, the hotel’s photosensitive curtain-wall system responded with a well-stocked bar of color transformations.

AUDIO: Arto Lindsay, “Light Moves Away,” from Noon Chill. I first heard Lindsay on a Golden Palominos record, back when he was a noise brutalist. By the time I caught up with him again, he was crafting wonderfully damaged Brazilian pop.


Chapter 2.

TEXT: The whiff of a tremendously overburdened infrastructure remained in the air notwithstanding the many cosmetic programs that had been instituted.

AUDIO: Barry Adamson, “Deja Voodoo,” from As Above, So Below. I bought this CD at the same time as I bought the Arto Lindsay, at the Quaker Goes Deaf in Chicago, early 1999. Both were an enormous comfort during a difficult time in my life.


Chapter 3.

TEXT: She’d smiled with one eye, or with a twitch beside it. The rest of her face betrayed nothing as her hand reached up to the back of her head, as if to adjust the tuning on her bun, and a silver pin sprung loose.

AUDIO: The Bee Gees, “Lamplight,” from Odessa. Sweet harmonies, uplifting but not cloying lyrics. The sound of someone imagining himself to be falling in love.


Chapter 5.

TEXT: Toxic fumes hung glamorously in the back of the cab, recycling through the ventilation system and stinging my eyes. On her lap she held a pocketbook of freshly killed leather.

AUDIO: Bob Dylan, “Hard Rain,” from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. The song’s about rain. The book’s about water. Sure. Only, don’t demand allegory from either one, and you won’t be disappointed. In Scorsese’s Dylan documentary, Allen Ginsberg is rhapsodic about this recording.


Chapter 6.

TEXT: In the mood for a shower and a shave, I headed northeast on Ogden, passing a pole with a motorcycle on top, a low building covered in red glitter, and a vast and empty parking lot with billions of glass bits dancing in the intense sunlight of late morning, late winter.

AUDIO: Cassandra Wilson, “Waters of March,” from Belly of the Sun. No message here, either, just a voice and a mood—stately, unafraid. Alternate cut, Veruca Salt’s “Seether”; when the video was shot in front of Chicago’s Randolph Street Gallery, the facade was covered with red glitter.


Chapter 7.

TEXT: The light was too strong, as if the other patrons—an assortment of invalids with their aides and scared-looking men in their fifties whose tragic prognoses had been confirmed by second and third opinions—needed help getting over jet lag.

AUDIO: The Cowboy Junkies, “Lonely Sinking Feeling,” from Lay It Down. In 1989, during my senior year in college, I interviewed Margo Timmins for The Michigan Daily, and her attitude about love and doom made such a strong impression on me that I wrote a terribly melodramatic profile of the band.


Chapter 8.

TEXT: The noise of the market, the color of the stones, the slant of the sun all felt familiar to her… .The scent of peas baked in a pastry made her daydream in a language she didn’t understand.

AUDIO: Z. El Fassia & Troupe, “Yali Fik Demoui,” from The Secret Museum of Mankind: Music of North Africa. The scene is Malta, the music is Moroccan—close enough. The mood here is aromatic disorientation.


Chapter 9.

TEXT: When it was over, great joy overcame great exhaustion, followed by feeble delirium that instantly lifted when I looked over again at Hayden Jr.’s tensed shoulders.

AUDIO: Elastica, “Blue,” from Elastica. The sound of acceleration before a crash. Their second CD, The Menace, was pretty good too. Back when I worked in the same building as Rolling Stone, the janitor sometimes shared the editors’ discards with me.


Chapter 10.

TEXT: My son let me into the house that I once called mine.

AUDIO: The Latin Playboys, “Forever Night Shade Mary,” from Latin Playboys. This Los Lobos side project has no reason to exist. The band already seems to give itself the permission to be weird and rootless. Nevertheless, it does exist. Some pop music works in a state of barely-thereness. (See also Scritti Politti.) Listen too hard and it vanishes like smoke.


Chapter 11.

TEXT: A film of sweat glazed my face. I raised my arms over my head, wiggled my fingers, and opened my mouth as wide as it would go. The piss kept coming out of me, a steady stream that showed no sign of tapering off.

AUDIO: Lotte Lenya, “Lost in the Stars,” from O Moon of Alabama. Why not hit a moment of reverie while urinating? Elvis Costello and the Brodsky Quartet do a pretty great version of this song on a Kurt Weill tribute, but they don’t touch Lotte.


Chapter 12.

TEXT: A stolen glance at the clock radio: 11:58. One of those times I always seemed to catch.

AUDIO: Low, “That’s How You Sing Amazing Grace,” from Trust. More reverie, just before midnight. I once wrote a lengthy essay about “Amazing Grace,” arguing something about race and America, but Low says much more with this song.


Chapter 14.

TEXT: We settled in a far corner, out of earshot, but neither of us said a word as the room filled. She took me by the hand, but I didn’t know whether it was a true gesture or part of the act.

AUDIO: Marianne Faithfull, “Don’t Forget Me,” from 20th-Century Blues. It’s about a breakup, but for a long time I thought it was about dying. I’ve never heard the Harry Nilsson original.


Chapter 15.

TEXT: What Las Vegas had become at the end of the twentieth century was what Chicago was shaping up to be at the start of the twenty-first: capital of simulation and simulation of capital, a kind of four-dimensional abacus of bodies and values.

AUDIO: Sainkho Namtchylak, “Boomerang,” from Stepmother City. Why a Tuvan avant-gardist gone techno to accompany a trip to Vegas? More aromatic disorientation, perhaps. Plus, those bird songs at the end are astonishing over headphones when you’re jogging in Forest Hills Gardens.


Chapter 16.

TEXT: Rain had begun falling from an anime sky by the time we pulled into Union Station. Thousands of tiny fists of water massaged the windows, testing their strength.

AUDIO: Tori Amos, “Enjoy the Silence,” from Strange Little Girls. A beautiful cover of a ridiculous Depeche Mode song, with lyrics running on and on about the meaninglessness of language. The opposite of aromatic disorientation. Absurd despair, maybe.


Chapter 18.

TEXT: Later, in a windowless hotel-bar, a few elderly German couples presided solemnly over used glasses of beer. Nobody turned to look when the door opened and lemony Maltese sunlight wedged onto whitewashed floorboards.

AUDIO: Patricia Barber, “Mourning Grace,” from Cafe Blue. More absurd despair (a Maya Angelou poem), but even more gorgeous (set it to pulsating jazz, and I’m sold).


Chapter 20.

TEXT: By the time I was entirely settled, the prolonged set of motions that got me there was already playing itself back in my mind, seeming delightfully slapstick—a pratfall worth of Charlie Chan. Or, no, Charlie Chaplin. I felt my diaphragm kick with inappropriate laughter.

AUDIO: Chic, “At Last I Am Free,” from C’est Chic. Robert Wyatt’s melancholy cover convinced me to give another listen that I thought was boring when I was 11 years old. A reverse, slow-motion anthem? The confusion of triumph and despair, a grand and inconclusive conclusion to our story.


Alternates (no room on the CD-R): Scritti Politti, “Boom Boom Bap”; World Saxophone Quartet, “Lullaby”; Yvar Mikhashoff, “For Cornelius”; Gavin Bryars with Tom Waits, “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”; David Bowie, “Wild Is the Wind”; The Hilliard Ensemble, Music from a Prague Manuscript; Neko Case, “I Wish I Was the Moon”; Pink Floyd, “Goodbye Blue Sky”; Ornette Coleman, “Lonely Woman”

see also:

Flash trailer for the book
the first chapter of H20

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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