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March 27, 2008

Book Notes - Jeff Gordinier ("X Saves the World")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

In X Saves the World, Jeff Gordinier examines the highs and lows of Generation X, and points out that the coda for my generation hasn't sounded yet. As a (sometimes) proud Generation Xer, I enjoyed this book filled with social history and biting humor. Long live Gen X...


In his own words, here is Jeff Gordinier's Book Notes essay for his book, X Saves the World: How Generation X Got the Shaft but Can Still Keep Everything from Sucking:

Since my book, X Saves the World, is about the rise and fall and quiet resurgence of Generation X, I suppose the right thing to do is to put together a playlist with popular “alternative” MTV chestnuts like Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” Beck’s “Loser,” and Hole’s “Miss World.” But that seems a little too obvious, and Xers have a tendency to dodge the obvious. So let’s try something a little different.

“Silence Kit,” by Pavement. I love the way the song starts off in a state of burbling, squeaking, mumbling, farting chaos, and then unexpectedly lurches into a rush of power-chord euphoria, and then slurps back into entropy. Writing a book can be like that. I also love the way nobody really seems to know what the song is called. On the packaging for Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain it says “Silence Kit,” but on the disc itself it says “Silence Kid.” Writing a book can be like that, too. My book is printed up by now, but I feel as though I’m still not 100% sure what my title is.

“Don’t Look Back,” by Boston. At the end of X Saves the World, after the acknowledgements section, I include a “hidden track” — a three-page passage in which I pay flaming tribute to this song. Because the song is by Boston, those faceless dukes of the classic-rock radio dial, a few readers have presumed that I’m being tongue-in-cheek. I’m not. Really. There was a point in “the writing process” when I was so utterly blocked and downcast that I started to imagine myself jumping off the Tappan Zee Bridge. Then one night I heard this song on the car radio and it filled me up with a mutant surge of energy. I had a Tony Robbins moment! Yes! I bought the song for 99 cents on iTunes and wound up playing it almost every morning until I was done with the manuscript. Now I’m just waiting for Sonic Youth to cover it, along with Billy Joel’s “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant.”

“Deathly,” by Aimee Mann. I’m drawn to love songs that boil down to a combination of “come closer, baby” and “get the hell away from me.” Maybe there’s something Xish about that doomy twinning of yearning and skepticism—or maybe I’m just screwed up. Either way, Aimee’s opening line here is godlike: “Now that I’ve met you / Would you object to / Never seeing each other again?”

“Creeping Coastline of Lights,” by Mark Lanegan. Lanegan is a growly Pacific Northwest troubadour who’s never gotten his due, and The Leaving Trains, who originally wrote this song (which Lanegan covered on 1999’s I’ll Take Care of You), were a growly Los Angeles band that never got its due. The Trains’ version is a churning rocker, but Lanegan slows it way down and gives it a Raymond Chandler makeover, complete with shimmering noir/lounge vibes and reverbing guitar arpeggios that seem to bob back and forth like a boat in the harbor just before a suspicious dame pulls the trigger. Hear it and it will haunt you. One of these days David Lynch is going to use “Creeping Coastline of Lights” in a movie, and then everyone will call it a classic.

“Meet Ze Monsta,” by PJ Harvey. Hand me the blindfold, Polly. I’ll do whatever you want.

“Can’t Knock the Hustle,” by Jay-Z and Mary J. Blige. Yes, I’m totally aware that this is the sort of choice that’s going to show up on Stuff White People Like. Because look, I’m picking a track from Jay-Z’s MTV Unplugged album! Don’t white guys like me just love it when our rap is unplugged…and recorded with “real musical instruments”…and backed up by The Roots? But still, yes, I’m inspired by what Shawn Carter has to tell us. My own motto is not “stack rocks like Colorado,” but I feel as though it should be.

“Mesmerizing,” by Liz Phair. This isn’t one of the more overtly sexual songs on the epochal Exile in Guyville, but it is the sexiest. I once spoke with Liz Phair on the phone and became convinced, after about five minutes of casual conversation, that she and I were long lost siblings and that we’d shared some sort of Cement Garden/Flowers in the Attic ordeal together that we’d managed to repress for 20 years. Naturally I figured that this grand delusion of mine was unique, but now I’m convinced that every male music writer in the 1990s had the same experience.

“River Man,” by Katell Keineg. Technically Nick Drake was a boomer, but since the Woodstock generation ignored him, it was up to Xers to rediscover and reclaim his diffident, whispery melancholia. In sensibility, at least, he’s one of us. Katell Keineg’s live version of Drake’s “River Man,” from a hard-to-find EP of hers called What’s the Only Thing Worse Than The End of Time, is so sublime that I can’t even figure out what to say about it.

“Police on My Back,” by the Clash. Replace the word “police” with “editors” and you’ll get a sense of the ice-cube panic that slides down a writer’s spine when he’s on deadline. Especially at the point in the song where Mick Jones starts shouting, “What have I done!? What have I done!?”

“Gin and Juice,” by Snoop Dogg. I remember being naively taken aback when I first heard this massive hit, because its key line—“with my mind on my money and my money on my mind”—was such a blunt celebration of cash, and I guess I thought that we, as Xers, were supposed to be above all that. Fat chance. Within two years I had become utterly obsessed with my 401(k).

“The Look of Love,” by ABC, “Love My Way,” by the Psychedelic Furs, and “Lions in My Own Garden,” by Prefab Sprout. Nostalgia’s a drag. But sometimes I really do miss the Eighties.

“The Needle Has Landed,” by Neko Case. “The Needle Has Landed” is a different song every time you play it. There’s something liquid about it. It shifts, wiggles around, floats on a lake of mercury. I have no idea how Neko Case pulls it off, but I’ve been known to study it 15 times in a single sitting.

“The Greatest,” by Cat Power, and “Angeles,” by Elliot Smith. Two beautiful ballads soaked through with the erotic allure of failure.

“Losing My Edge,” by LCD Soundsystem. Generational friction you can dance to.

“Good Morning, Captain,” by Slint. This comes from an obscure-but-influential 1991 album called Spiderland, which is a perfect title, because Slint specialized in weaving meticulous, ritualized, delicate-yet-deadly webs of sound. I once went down to Houston to write about a conference attended by hundreds of people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, and Spiderland, intentionally, was the only CD I brought along in the rental car.

“The Next Movement,” by the Roots. The groove hits your system like seven cups of coffee, and I’m automatically in favor of all songs that manage to rhyme “amethyst” and “panelist.”

“Whiskey Bottle,” by Uncle Tupelo. Back in the early Nineties, when my friend Rich and I were unemployed Ivy League grads getting our first taste of corporate cutbacks and hiring freezes, we used to drive around the nicer precincts of Pasadena listening to Uncle Tupelo and finding solace in Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy’s twang-punk anthems of Rust Belt drift and despair. I can only hope that we had a sense of how ridiculous we looked.

“Wave of Mutilation (UK Surf),” by the Pixies. I first found this on the soundtrack to an absurd-yet-strangely-mesmerizing 1990 angstploitation flick called Pump Up the Volume. (Samantha Mathis, where have you gone?) It’s not the same version of “Wave of Mutilation” that appears on Doolittle. It’s much better. It’s slowed down to a crawl, and it’s full of hypnotic echoes and pings and hisses, and Black Francis sings like some kind of cracked Polynesian deity summoning a tsunami from the briny depths.

“This Charming Man,” by the Smiths. What a gas it is to get a bunch of straight Gen X guys together, liquor them up, and hear to them singing “Punctured bicycle on a hillside desolate / Will nature make a man of me yet?” in unison.

“Moby Octopad,” by Yo La Tengo. Someday I want to build a yurt in my backyard. I’ll wire the yurt for “sensaround,” the all-encompassing sonic wash that was used to pump up Seventies disaster movies like The Towering Inferno. Then I’ll put a buckwheat hull zafu on the floor, sit on it, and meditate on this serpentine bassline for, I don’t know, three or four days.

“I Will Dare,” by The Replacements. It came out when I was a freshman in college, and back then I didn’t really grasp the poetry of the line, “How young are you? / How old am I? / Let’s count the rings around my eyes.” I do now.


Jeff Gordinier and X Saves the World links:

the author's website
the book's page at the publisher

AlterNet review and interview with the author
FastCompany review
Wired review

Brainiac previews the book
Powells.com interview with the author
Washington Post article about the Details piece that inspired the book.
YouTube interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
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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