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February 5, 2009

Book Notes - Kyle Beachy ("The Slide")

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

Coming of age novels don't always focus on teens, and Kyle Beachy's debut novel, The Slide is a prime example. Filled with unforgettable characters, Beachy's book follows Potter Mays in the summer after his college graduation, and Potter's continual missteps are often as funny as they are sad as he attempts to find himself.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Beachy’s characters, infinitely fallible, are real and fleshy, and their loneliness is palpable. Potter’s total lack of discipline and common sense are as funny as they are frustrating, and he is lovable even when he’s annoying."

In his own words, here is Kyle Beachy's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, The Slide:

I decided immediately that this would be a fifteen song playlist, and I wanted five songs to accompany each of the book's three sections, June, July, and August. I'm not sure how I've managed to omit the only two songs that appear in my novel, Boston's "Fourplay / Longtime" and Bowie's "Rock n' Roll Suicide." But the songs listed below capture some of the atmosphere I hoped to inject into the book, both in terms of music and lyrics. The Slide tells the story of a young man who wants very very badly to understand Love, so many of these songs deal in some way or other with human emotion (as I suppose most songs do). Others capture something of denial, escape, collision; habits that accompany desire.

June

"Lonesome and a Long Way From Home" by Delaney & Bonnie & Friends
A driver to begin, good for the book's opening and also because I wrote much of The Slide in my head during drives across Kansas and Missouri, into Colorado and the West. I've just recently been introduced to Delaney & Bonnie. Guitar and harmonica propelled by a series of phantom clappers and a very sporadic tambourine. "Such a lovely day…something's wrong, something sure is wrong."

"Scapegoat" by Atmosphere
Early Sean Daley remains his best, the gritty days back when he couldn't get laid, before "ugly" was a meal ticket. I include this for its staunch rejection of guilt. As simple a song structure as you'll see, seven descending piano notes remain constant as the list of excuses goes on and on. Meanwhile, Sean's voice rises with defensiveness as the argument grows more and more ridiculous, potential scapegoats stretching "for as far as the eye can see. It's reality. F**k it: it's everything but me."

"The Knife Song" by Milk
Much of my musical tastes come from the skateboard movies I've been watching since I was twelve. This is the song Jason Lee skates to in Video Days, the legendary old Blind video. As far as I know the song only exists as a 128 mps download. The copy I have is raw as hell and all the better for it. It's pretty typical of late-eighties twang-punk, a song Uncle Tupelo might have recorded, or maybe O'Death. "It's about a bear, it's about a man, it's about a girl, it's about a gun, it's about a knife, it's about the world." Now I'm left to kick myself for not putting a bear somewhere in my book.

"Puppydog Love" by Serengeti & Polyphonic
Geti is a genius, and I stand by this claim without any doubt whatsoever. That Chicago's cool-kid music sites aren't jocking this guy is horseshit of the stinkiest kind. Here Polyphonic provides stand-up bass, cello, clean-picked guitar, mysterious organs that grow more electrical as the song progresses, and a perfectly reliable chime of what could be a shop door bell. "Now the last relationship f**ked me up. Treated me good, but I beated you up." There's a lot of failure in The Slide, a lot of lingering in the past, a lot of people beating one another up.

"Colours" by Donovan
I once tried to explain to my editor how I wanted The Slide to be the novelistic equivalent of this song. I don't understand why people shit on Donovan so hard, like it was his fault he was so handsome. There's a section where my main character's mother tells him about when he was learning to speak, and there were only two colors he chose to note: yellow, and not-yellow. It's a moment I hoped could capture an ounce of what drives Donovan's track, the color of memory. "Freedom is a word I rarely use without thinking of the time when I've been loved." I sing along every time this song comes on. I'd sing along in a funeral home, library, I'd sing and smile. Impossible not to.


July

"T.O.J." by El-P
I made one half-assed attempt at securing the refrain of this track as an epigraph for The Slide. But to be honest it loses something when divorced from El's scattershot drums, that syncopation he loves so dearly, master of the off-beat (you can hear his father's jazz, here). Plus I think I was misquoting him. I want to find a Hamlet allusion in "time out of joint" when more likely it's a Phillip Dick reference. Either way, I love the notion of an "S.O.S. shrapnel, echo of dead sentiment…a wasted effort, a shrug." People who dislike El's voice drive me insane. "I haven't loved many people. I grew up afraid that I was crazy." I'm also backing his choice of a full minute and a half of instrumental to close the track.

"Kiss" by Scout Niblett w/Will Oldham
Could have killed me.

"Glamorous Glue" by Morissey
I've had trouble finding much joy in The Smiths, but something about this song just rocks so goddamned hard. Kevin Long skated to it in one of the Baker videos, if I remember correctly. But for me the connection to The Slide is the sense of wonder about people who sniff glue recreationally: the desperation, rotting one's brain away, what kind of pain? What nature of escape? "First day with the jar you find, everyone lies. Nobody minds."

"A Sunday Smile (Son Lux Remix)" by Beirut

I love how Son Lux plays with the fragments of Condon's vocals in this version, capturing those key phrases and letting so much else of the track fade into background. Once I was introduced to Beirut they sort became my official soundtrack to writing. Here, the Anticon collaboration turns the gentle sway of the original into something upbeat without losing any of the song's natural beauty. So plain the desire: "All I want is the best for our lives my dear."

"9-5ers Anthem" by Aesop Rock
One theme of The Slide is labor of various sorts and how Americans look to work to solve the mystery of our dread. This song, released in the same year in which my book is set, takes the piss out of the nine-to-five lifestyle. Aesop is a surgeon, and his lyric book reads like Coleridge. "I take my seat atop the Brooklyn Bridge with a Coke and a bag of chips to watch a thousand lemmings plummet just because the first one slipped"…


August

"Someone Is Waiting" by Neutral Milk Hotel
…And then Jeff Mangum wailing to this bagpipe dirge, a song to scream and bawl to in hopes of scraping from within those petrified husks of long-ignored feeling, the pugilist flailing as he falls backward off a thousand-foot cliff. Lamentations and longing and delusions of terror. "And I love you, and I want to shoot all the super heroes from your skies. Watch them bleeding from your ceiling as their empty anger falls out from their eyes."

"Grieving" by The Bitter Tears
A back-and-forth between Son and Dad about death, church, ghosts, angel wings, and crying. Guitar, horns, power drums, and a damn fine use of silence. I'm a sucker for father/son moments. Have I mentioned yet that my father is my hero? I seem to be mentioning it everywhere I can lately. But the song, the song. The Bitter Tears are a Chicago band who released an amazing album in 2004 called The Grinning Corpse Who Went to Town. They've toured with Califone, worked with a local spectacle theatre group, and done god knows what else because they're amazingly strange individuals who have allegedly finished a new full-length to be released sometime soon. "We're stuck in the nightmare of life. We cry. We're crying."

"Sugar City Magic" by The Bound Stems
Another Chicago band, another family epic. Bobby Gallivan's lyrics are enough to stand alone, but here the vocal arrangements lift them into something grand and complex, a rousing battle cry for a family's breakdown. Hear Janie Porche sing, "Welcome to our home. Please excuse the mess, but they left it like that last night. I've been keeping this family afloat for years…" while snares and bass drum rattle beneath her ghostly voice, and then the building, the let's call it the "f**k yeah" section that brings this to a close. The whole thing is gorgeous, not least of all for being so distinctly American.

"Only Someone Running" by Superwolf
Bonnie "Prince" Billy achieves that balance of loveliness and strangeness that I love, not terribly unlike Louisville itself. Sing evil, sing good. Of his catalog, I return to this track especially for the violence, the impact of two people, the toil and the frank admission of what's to come. "There are things I will not do. I will even be mean and cruel. And I will not stay with you unless you give me all of yourself." Just handing it over like, here it is: take it, leave it. And as much as I enjoy when Mr. Oldham shares vocals with a female partner, Matt Sweeney's addition here is perfect.

"The Taming of the Hands That Came Back to Life" by Sunset Rubdown
I want badly to sit down with Spencer Krug and speak about songwriting. Over the course of this song's six minutes we have four or five melodies sparring, simple basic and outrageously effective drums crashing, then the chorus of…what are they? Children? Young women? Spooky as shit, this one. So far he's been great at the difficult balancing act of self-awareness ("I said, can I use that in a song?"), thanks in large part to his willingness to dip into wordless chants and la-da-dahs and bum-ba-bums. I toyed with a lot of potential book titles that involved "Hands", and I think much of the hand imagery emerged in my story from listening to Krug's songs. And so also I should thank him, if we ever sit down. Buy this man a beer.

Kyle Beachy and The Slide links:

the author's website
the author's book tour events
the author's MySpace page
GoodReads page for the author
LibraryThing page for the author
the publisher's page for the book
Facebook group for the book
GoodReads page for the book
LibraryThing page for the book
the book's video trailer
excerpt from the book

Booklist review
Chicago Reader
Entertainment Weekly review
Fort Myers Florida Weekly review
Publishers Weekly review
Three Guys One Book review

Bantam Dell podcast featuring the author
Riverfront Times profile of the author
St. Louis Magazine profile of the author
Time Out Chicago profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
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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