July 16, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
When Dzanc Books picked Roy Kesey's short fiction collection All Over to debut their independent press, I was impressed. I have been reading Roy Kesey's short fiction for years. In McSweeney's, the Land-Grant College Review, or other literary journals, his stories were always the ones that stayed with me. Kesey's unique voice brings these stories to life with an energy level rarely seen in literary fiction.
"Even though some of Kesey’s aesthetic choices are frustrating, he constantly demands attention and admiration. Line by line, this book ranks among the best post-postmodern fiction that I’ve read in years. Some people like their sundaes topped with doughnuts. Dig in."
One of the stories in All Over had a song written specifically for it by actual real musicians. The other stories don’t know that yet. When they find out, will they become sad? Angry? Bitter? Perhaps none of these things if, thanks to this very playlist, they each get, in a sense, and in proper order, their own song:
1. A poem called “The Defence of Fort McHenry,” set to the tune of John Stafford Smith’s drinking ditty “To Anacreon in Heaven” (A combination also known as “The Star-Spangled Banner”)
My overly dramatic and self-mutilating instincts notwithstanding, I have always loved this song. Particularly when played quietly, when no one else is around, but in a few other contexts too.
2. Ben Sollee’s “Bury Me With My Car”
Quite simply the greatest song ever written about America, and about being buried there, with a car.
3. Ben Folds Five’s “Your Most Valuable Possession”
The greatest thing about this song is that it is its own best argument for a position on any given playlist. The second-greatest thing about it is that even a 16th-century miller from the Friuli (or perhaps especially a 16th-century miller from the Friuli) would jump at the chance to engage with its stance as re: mind v. non-mind.
4. Danny Gatton’s “Elmira St. Boogie”
Gatton’s hands looked like they were made for maybe hanging sheetrock. But that’s not what they sounded like, not much at all, and I wish he was still around.
5. Jeff Buckley’s version of “Corpus Christi Carol”
I chose this song only partially because Jeff dedicated it to me. Well, perhaps not to me, but definitely to someone with the same name as me. It says so right on the CD cover.
6. Paolo Conte’s “Gelato al limon”
There aren’t nearly enough songs in the world about ice cream, but this one takes up most of the slack.
7. Abigail Washburn’s “Song of the Traveling Daughter”
Turns out that in the right hands, bluegrass knows what China is all about.
8. Tom Waits’ “Time”
This may have been a case (and if so, it was the only one) where a song was relating itself to a story in All Over while my head was in the act of actually writing said story. I say ‘may have been’ because I don’t really remember, but it seems likely, seems like a punch line worth reaching for.
9. The Rolling Stones’ “Shine a Light”
I sometimes forget why people would ever talk or sing about Light, but with this song I remember for a while.
10. Andrés Segovia’s “Estudio sin luz”
He was mostly blind for a time, and wrote this song. I’m still not sure how something so complicated can be so gentle.
11. Led Zeppelin’s “The Rain Song”
Yeah, I know. But still, right?
12. Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 4”
Okay, so if background undulations = silent questions, then maybe melismatic melody = noisy answers?
13. “Trinkle, Tinkle” from Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane
It’s not at all clear whether Coltrane is ever going to find his way out. But then he does.
14. The adagio that is the middle third of Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor.
Yup, every bit of it.
15. Leonard Cohen’s “Closing Time”
At any given moment, the easiest way to cheer up is to realize that no matter how depressed you are, Leonard Cohen is even more depressed, and is getting good material out of it.
16. Béla Fleck’s “Spanish Point”
This song does not seem like the kind of thing that could ever happen in proximity to a banjo, and yet it does.
17. Jacques Brel’s “Ne me quitte pas”
There’s no way a song like this should be able to survive any sort of translation at all, but I’ve heard maybe twenty versions and liked almost all of them. Even the salsa version. Really! Ne me salsa pas, and still I mist up.
18. They Might Be Giants’ “Be Patient”
And at last we come to the money shot, the specifically-written-for song, one of the forty-four tracks that accompany the pieces in Issue 6 of Timothy McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.
19. Green Day’s “American Idiot”
This is the song (the whole album, really) that announced the end of each workday throughout the writing of the final draft of All Over: my kids, fresh home from preschool, have put the CD on, and it is now time to dance, and dance we shall, madly.
Roy Kesey and All Over links:
January Magazine review
L Magazine review
Los Angeles Times review
Matt Bell review
Mid-American Review review
New Pages review
Rain Taxi review
The Short Review review
The Short Story Reading Challenge Review
Time Out Chicago review
Time Out New York review
Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
Big Mouth Strikes Again interview with the author
Bluestalking Reader interview with the author
China Radio International interview with the author
Hobart interview with the author
Inside Higher Ed interview with the author
McSweeney's Internet Tendency articles by the author
Poets & Writers interview with the author
The Short Review interview with the author
Will Focus interview with the author
Zulkey 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
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)