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May 15, 2008

Note Books - Jonathan Zeitlin (Mezzanine Owls)

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

The Mezzanine Owls are one of the most interesting Los Angeles bands to pop up in the past few years, and definitely one of the most talented. Their 2006 self-released album Slingshot Echoes was an impressive debut and their recently released "Snow Globe" single is one of 2008's musical highlights for me.

Thanks to Mezzanine Owls guitarist Jonathan Zeitlin for sharing some of his favorite novels with Largehearted Boy readers.

In his own words, here is the Note Books entry from Jonathan Zeitlin of Mezzanine Owls:

A common question asked of bands by music journalists (an enthusiastic lot, however spotty their record of ingenuity) is, “Who would like your music”, and one of the finest answers I’ve ever heard is “People who like to read novels”. Some of my favorite musicians are writers who seemed to wander absent-mindedly (this seems to be a common affliction among these word-obsessed folk) off the glue-bound path and into the tangled wilderness of noise and songs. From opaque image casting to deliberate (if somewhat concise) storytelling, I like music made for people who love novels. That said, here are a few novels worth clearing off some shelf space for next to all that treasured vinyl.

Warlock – Oakley Hall

I’m not a genre miner -- a lot of the formal elegance of Mysteries and Westerns seems formulaic, the worn in sweater feel of conventional structure is lost on me as, um, conventional -- but Warlock transcends the archetypal gunslinger narrative. Oakley Hall was an inspiration for the king of lunatic laffs himself, Thomas Pynchon, but writes with a far more steady and deliberate hand. For all its revolutionary stylings, both in the structure and content of the novel, Warlock is some of the cleanest prose of the 20th century. I read the bulk of it while stranded for a day in Zurich after missing a connecting flight in the sleepy haze of transatlantic travel, and slipped effortlessly through some fold in the curtains into that old companion, the American West. I slurped down duty free liqueur and airport priced Euro-beers and ripped through the chapters under the audio blanket of monotonous trilingual flight announcements and a Switzerland tourism video looped in the terminal. Threatening vibes ripple through the pages as a small town dances drunkenly on a high wire, chaos and violence seething everywhere like black inevitability. As outlaw ranchers and a merchant committee wrestle over the fate of town, hired guns and citizen lawmen, peripheral vision Indians and the dangerous idiot pair of government and military collide and disintegrate, consume and give birth to each other. Idolaters beware, in Warlock all those principles of civility touted by today’s flag pin fanatics are marred and scarred in this sorta allegorical struggle for society.

You Bright and Risen Angels – William Vollmann

Did I confess my undying love and all-consuming obsession with Thomas Pynchon yet? This thing would quickly collapse into over salivated ramblings if I took up Gravity’s Rainbow as a topic, so I defer to You Bright and Risen Angels. Vollmann reads like a shy scientist with a mujahideen heart. The novel is both wildly cartoonish and painfully intimate, like a slapstick comedy about the unmitigated veil of sadness that drapes over this modern existence. I read You Bright and Risen Angels working my first job in a cubicle, tearing through 12 packs of diet Cokes and sleeping in my car on my lunch break. I was fired amid suspicions (false suspicions, I’ll have you know) about drug use, but my relentless craving to escape from the industrial carpeting and low radiating computers made me the perfect victim for Vollmann’s first and most freely experimental novel. In You Bright and Risen Angels ruthless jaw-jutted men strangle technology out of the ether; men with an acid bellied need for total dominance over nature and the universe. Vollmann’s time in Afghanistan in the 80’s during the Soviet invasion is made plain in the spirit of his revolutionaries – elementary school teachers blasting automatic rifles into hostages, guerilla warfare on the streets of San Francisco, solitary journeys through the artic wilderness, and dogged pursuit by the relentless forces of industry and men of destiny. Yes, it is about insects versus humans, but c’mon, this thing is a shimmering epic that has the roar and electricity of a blockbuster special effects blitz in Dolby 5.1.

The Fermata – Nicholson Baker

Parental warning: The Fermata isn’t just a dirty book; it is at times sincerely pornographic. Above all else, however, it is sincere. Nicholson Baker may be more curious about putting various objects in various orifices than is typically healthy, but he is anything but a misogynist. Baker is painfully absorbed in the minutia of our tender existence (this is, after all, the guy who wrote an entire novel that takes place in the narrator’s mind as he travels up an escalator from the first floor to the second in his office building) and this ass-obsessed book pushes his obsession with the intimate to its furthest potential. Our narrator has possessed, for most of his life, the ability to freeze time and move freely in what he calls “the Fold” (astute LA scenesters take note: there is no evidence to date that the folks of “The Fold”, who book bitchin’ shows at the Silverlake Lounge, El Cid, the Bordello, etc. are connected in any way to Mr. Baker or his works of fiction). While the sole purpose our narrator can divine for his gift involves a lot of voyeurism and unauthorized exposure of the female populous, he comes off bizarrely more as a humanist than a pervert. He will string you spellbound for pages of staring into a time-frozen laundry machine in mid-cycle. He obsesses over the intimate details in the face of a woman in mid-orgasm. He is a giver, not a taker, to say the least. You will needlessly hide this book when friends or family come over, even though you know there is nothing to be ashamed of. You will read and re-read it and agonize over whether it is the wordplay or the foreplay you are drawn to. I am actually feeling the guilt of committed sin just typing this. I’m actually sort of blushing.

Mezzanine Owls links and mp3s:

"Snow Globe" [mp3] from "Snow Globe" 7" single
"Lightbulb" [mp3] from Slingshot Echoes

the band's website
the band's MySpace page

Mezzanine Owls posts 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 (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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