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December 13, 2007

Note Books - Jody Nelson (Through the Sparks)

The Note Books series features musicians discussing their literary side. Past contributors have included John Darnielle, John Vanderslice, and others.

Later this month I am moving to Birmingham (Alabama, not England), and the thriving indie music scene in the city has me excited. The city's music renaissance is in large part due to Skybucket Records is home to the Dexateens, 13ghosts, and Through the Sparks.

Pitchfork called Through the Sparks' latest album, Lazarus Beach, "a sophisticated sprawl of sound and songs, with elements of power pop, 70s singer/songwriter, prog, indie guitar rock, and even some smooth southern soul."


In his own words, here is the Note Books entry from Jody Nelson of the Through the Sparks:


A Fan's Notes by Frederick Exley

An autobiographical account of a struggling writer/drunk… the best in the genre in my opinion, but one of the lesser read.

It's funny how so many writers only get to the top upon writing a book about how miserable and drunk they were on their way to success. But, this book has a poetic element that relates perfectly the fear that occurs when one is bordering insanity, I assume.

In contrast to its Hunter Thompson, Norman Mailer, Larry Brown, Bukowski, Hemingway, masculine drinks-a-lot appeal, "A Fan's Notes" takes a better look at young American male ambition… or the lack of it--from real aspirations and artistic leanings, to making a buck and scoring ass, f#cking up and finally giving up and trying again, and again and… classic American writer tale.

It's kind of Sylvia Plath's "The Bell Jar," for men. It deals indelicately with whatever it is (pathos maybe?) that men mask with vice and compensatory ambition that has no female emotional counterpart.

But, it's also a consoling picture of humanity, outside of itself--the fact that the book exists. The occurrence of someone so terrible and wretched and filthy writing prose this beautiful is upsetting and life-affirming at the same time… that acute observations about the otherwise mundane can make a sports-obsessed, Mom's-couch loser/drunk a valid artist.


Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

I downloaded a copy of the local college's required reading list and I'm trying to get through the graduate program's catalogue in case I ever go back to school. I reread "Wuthering Heights" and then "Grapes of Wrath" and was entering a state of depression when along came "Cannery Row." Good old drinking book again. It's one of those "the hobo is an artist" things, like Kerouac and the like, but without making a club out of it, and with, get this… punctuation!

It's my favorite Steinbeck-view of America... like a pink-cheeked Norman Rockwell painting, but with a toothache and a pint of gin in its bottom left-hand drawer.


The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger

It's good for cynics and disparagers to reread this book every few years. I remember reading it as a kid and missing the point. I identified with Caulfield for his hatred of the "phonies."

I read it again a couple of years later and blushed a little as I saw myself in the character that I hated so much.

I read it again when on a big Salinger kick, inspired by a conversation with Brad Armstrong from 13ghosts. I got the idea that if I read what he read, maybe some of his sage-like abilities would rub off on me. It didn't really work.

I reread it recently inspired by a one-day trip to New York.

Here's the thing though… I really don't know what it's about, and I can barely remember what happens throughout the plot. But, I love it.


Villa Incognito by Tom Robbins

This is the worst Tom Robbins book I've ever read, but I haven't finished it yet.

Nothing worse than picking up a book because you love the author and seeing it through to the end, when you know it's just more dribbled-out genitalia metaphors meant to represent some universal truth meant to interlace the ancient folklore and everyday life subplots designed to propel each other. Nothing worse, but it could only happen with Robbins.

Problem is, this one is pimpled with 21st century pop-culture references. Just reading along, and, WHAM! Did I just read that or did I overhear the guy at the table next to me crack a joke to his office buddies? To Robbins' credit, all of the guy's office buddies think he's hilarious.

In the contrast of all the Robbins mythological imagery, they stick out like a pair of big, white, puffy Reebox from underneath a chain-mail suit at a medieval festival... like Geezer Butler's wizard beard paired with a brand new $4, 000.00 electric bass guitar. But, still... he's one of The Greats.


Through the Sparks links:

the band's website
the band's MySpace page

Through the Sparks: "Mexico (Every Last Buffalo)" [mp3] from Lazarus Beach
Through the Sparks: "Falling Out of Favor with the Neighbors" [mp3] from Lazarus Beach

stream Lazarus Beach</a>
Pitchfork review of Lazarus Beach

the band's tracks at Hype Machine
Through the Sparks tracks at Largehearted Boy


also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Note Books submissions (musicians discuss literature)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
Soundtracked (directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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