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August 28, 2008

Book Notes - Mathew Honan ("Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle")

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

With Senator Barack Obama set to accept the Democratic party's presidential nomination tonight in Denver, my morning reading today consisted of Mathew Honan's Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle: 366 Ways He Really Cares. Though the book is a humorous list of simple fictional kindnesses the Illinois senator has performed for us, it can be seen to embody the vast opportunity for both change and hope his candidacy entails.

In his own words, here is Mathew Honan's Book Notes essay for his book, Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle: 366 Ways He Really Cares:

When I wrote Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle, I was nearly constantly listening to music, in the sunlit garden behind Mojo Bicycle Cafe in San Francisco. For the most part, I just hit shuffle on my iPod and let it do all the DJing for me. But I also sought out certain songs to listen to again and again for inspiration during the time I worked on the book. Moreover, the book itself is riddled with musical references--some direct nods to artists and others to more generic themes--tuning guitars, mixtapes, mp3s, and the like. And I think that's because the book is obviously a reflection of the author, and music has always played a very large role in my life, from my early childhood when I used to sit on the floor of my bedroom listening to my parents' Beatles cassettes in my little red Panasonic tape player, through piano and then guitar lessons as a boy and teenager, and on into bands and concerts and an endless procession of pop that's marked my adulthood. While it would be impossible for me to re-create the playlist I was listening to when I wrote the book, I think the ten tracks below might at least re-create that mood.

Immortal Technique feat. Mos Def - Bin Laden

While I don't think this is a sentiment that Barack Obama would likely share, I'm kicking things off with a track that speaks to the frustrations, fears and resentments many Americans have felt since the onset of the war in Iraq. While I don't share the stronger opinions expressed in this song, the pure rage -- calculated or not -- is a real and potent political force today. What I think Obama has done is help those people feeling this kind of rage and frustration to find a positive and constructive path to victory, rather than wallow in the dark vision this song expresses. I doubt, however, that it would be included when "Barack Obama put a thought-provoking mix of obscure hip hop on his Muxtape."

Sweetie - Saturdays

Not only did Sweetie's lead singer, Omar Lee, illustrate Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle, but it was a conversation I had with Sweetie's bassist Andre Torrez that was directly responsible for launching the site in the first place. Andre was the first person--aside from my wife--who I made the "new bicycle" joke to, and and of course his site served as the inspiration for much of the functionality of

Talib Kweli - Say Something

I was listening to a lot of Talib Kweli when I wrote the book. As a writer, I've always found his use of language inspirational. As a listener, I find myself moved by his delivery. While this isn't my favorite Talib track, it scores with the line "Speak to the people like Barak Obama." Oh, and Jean Grae makes an appearance too. How can you top that?

Pink Floyd - Bike

Perhaps no other song is more apt when talking about the site or book or the entire meme than Pink Floyd's classic "Bike." It's non-sequiter city, happily goofy, and in the end utterly optimistic and full of hope. This has been one of my favorite songs since I was in high school, and even now 20 years after I first heard it, it still makes me smile. I'd give it to you if I could, but I borrowed it.

The Clash - London Calling

Another track that makes an appearance in the book, I think Barack Obama is a candidate Joe Strummer would have approved of. (And I likewise wouldn't be surprised to find out Obama is a fan of The Clash.)

David Bowie - Panic in Detroit

My favorite piece of art in the book--and all of them are great, Omar Lee did a real bang-up job--is one illustrating how Obama turned you on to Bowie's work in the 70s. And if you haven't actually ever been into the stuff between Ziggy and, say, China Doll, Panic in Detroit is a good introduction.

Vampire Weekend - The Kids Don't Stand a Chance

One of the things I tried to do with the Website and book was to drop in a lot of contemporary references--hence the namechecks of Facebook, Twitter, FriendFeed and the like. But I also tried to include pop culture references. One of these was to Vampire Weekend. At the time of writing the book, there was something of a critical kerfuffle over the band. They were one of those bands that had a reactionary backlash before their album even dropped. But since the Barack Obama featured in my book (though not the actual candidate himself) is all things to all people, "Barack Obama shares your opinion of Vampire Weekend."

Nas - Black President (video)

I don't think it matters that Barack Obama is black. He transcends race, seeming to rise above it, as if the color of his skin were no more of an issue than the, well, the color of his eyes. But on the other hand, it's completely unavoidable, and to not recognize that is foolish. It will be a reason many people don't vote for Obama, and a reason for many others to do so. And at the end of this long campaign, if we do pay attention to it, and he does succeed, maybe, finally, race will cease to be an issue. "Yes we can, change the world."

The Smiths - How Soon is Now?
The Smiths make a cameo appearance in the book--or rather, Barack Obama makes an appearance wearing a Meat is Murder T-shirt in the book. Though "How Soon is Now" was only on a UK edition of Meat is Murder, it seemed an apt choice for this playlist, both because of the lyrics below, and the somewhat famous poster.

When you say it's gonna happen now,
Well, when exactly do you mean?
See I've already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

Yes We Can -
Yeah, you got tired of this. But it's been a while. Go back and check it out again. The speech itself is just beautiful, revealing much about the man who delivered it. Yes we can.

Mathew Honan and Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle links:

Barack Obama Is Your New Bicycle website
the author's website

Boston Phoenix profile of the author
Internet Superstar interview with the author
Mother Jones interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musician and author essays in favor of Barack Obama's bid for the US presidency)
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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