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February 27, 2009

Book Notes - Patrick deWitt ("Ablutions")

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

Patrick deWitt's Ablutions is a short, dark, wickedly funny novel. deWitt has already been championed by Waterstone's books as a "new voice" for 2009.

Seattle Weekly called deWitt's writing "a hypnotic cross between Lorrie Moore and Denis Johnson."

In his own words, here is Patrick deWitt's Book Notes essay for his debut novel, Ablutions:

I washed dishes in a bar from the ages of 24 to 30. The first few years, I was reliant on a mini-disc system for music, which was compromising because as someone who didn’t have a similar set up at home I was unable to bring in my own selections, forced instead to listen to the small library of pre-recorded mixes. I’m not exactly sure who was responsible for these, but suffice it to say we had differences in taste, and that this was a dark period for me in terms of torture endured. Mercifully, a jukebox was eventually installed and the employees were allowed to nominate CDs, which I did, and which the owners kindly heeded, and thank Christ for that. Below we have a miniaturized re-creation of a typical weekday shift, from set up to after hours, in a quiet/loud/quiet format.

Cass McCombs: I Went to the Hospital - A pretty little warbler with seemingly irregular tempo, which isn’t annoying or distracting but charming, magically. There’s something about this whole record, actually - A, it’s called - that thuds me each time. Some days, on arrival, I’d punch in every song; by the end of the disc the bar would be prepped and I’d have had a couple drinks to warm up; I’d be smoking, no customers around, the door still locked. Suddenly a knock, and I’d die, slightly.

Lefty Frizzell: Long Black Veil - Story songs are great for bar scenarios, which is funny, because bar stories aren’t. I like to think of Lefty Frizzell shopping for jets with his boxing gloves on. Nodding, he points a glove to the one he likes best.

Haunted Tiger: My Orbit - This song wasn’t on the jukebox, so I’m officially cheating on my playlist. Home recorded in a carpeted garage in the San Fernando Valley about a decade ago. The solo makes me feel like my guts are pinwheeling, in a good way.

The Howling Hex: Cobra Heart - How badly am I screwing this up? This song didn’t even exist when I worked at the bar. But it has a certain band-playing-in-a-small-club production quality that prompted me to bend the rules. The phrase, ‘Where’s the party at, Peaches & Cream? It’s been a while,’ is repeated 4.5 times; I imagine it a query put to a prostitute from a man just out of prison. Narcotic relapse is a foregone conclusion and the parole officer can go sharpen pencils in his dick-tip.

Neil Michael Hagerty: Louisa La Ray - This song did exist, and the record, Plays That Good Old Rock & Roll, was on the jukebox, and proved itself useful as a tazer gun, that is to say, very useful. The solo is lengthy and brutal and always made someone angry - deservedly, surely: ‘What is this shit?’ I never knew how to answer this question.

The Equals: The Skies Above - The Equals wrote a lot of great tunes. One of them, "Police on my Back," was covered by the Clash. But this one’s the keeper, the kind of song you brave the DJ’s coffee breath and peevishness to find out more about. Fronted by a young Eddy Grant, who later became famous for walking down to "Electric Avenue," and then, taking it higher.

Reigning Sound: If You Can’t Give Me Everything - The Too Much Guitar version - a speaker shaker, a barn burner; I was never not asked to turn it down: ‘We’re trying to have a conversation?’ Last word emphasized as if to say, ‘Heard of them, retard?’

AC/DC: What’s Next to the Moon - For fifteen minutes each night the universe yawns open like a toxic whale’s blue-black rotten jelly-smelling mouth, and anything can happen, and it’s usually not good, in fact it’s never good. Lock yourself in the storage room, smoke three cigarettes, and wait it out.

The Wipers: Messenger - If you don’t like this song then I don’t see the point in continuing our discussion. Peace be with you.

The Pogues: A Pair of Brown Eyes - It sucks when you tell someone you love them and you don’t, because you can’t take it back - not really.

The Saints: Messin’ With the Kid - I have a weakness for overweight lead singers. It’s like a thing with me.

Phyllis Dillon: Perfidia - If it comes down to dancing by myself in the corner versus washing a hundred and fifty dirty rocks glasses? Come on, people.

Gordon Lightfoot: Early Morning Rain - I inherited my mother’s copy of this; she wrote her maiden name in red ink on the back cover. I imagine her, in her early twenties, listening to it and reading the liner notes - I think this makes me like it more.

Horace Silver: Lonely Woman - Have you ever slow danced with a bouncer? It’s strange when you reach the point where it’s not a joke anymore, you’ve both stopped laughing and are really just sincerely dancing together, wondering about each other, thinking about your lives. All the half-lit drunk-pink faces in the background are blurred to look like huge, evil thumbs.

Sam Cooke: Trouble Blues - Try counting twenty-five hundred dollars in small, filthy bills with one functioning eye and the mathematical talents of a clever horse. It’s three o’clock in the morning and someone’s left a pair of sunglasses in the lost and found. Put them on and get in the car, playing this song on a loop. Sam Cooke is cop repellent, like a crucifix in the face of a vampire: a light to see you home.

Patrick deWitt and Ablutions links:

the author's MySpace page
the book's video trailer
Goodreads page for the author
Goodreads page for the book
LibraryThing page for the book

Boldtype review
Cross Reference review
Hot Metal Bridge review
Los Angeles Times review
Own This City review
Time Out New York review

Moonlight Ambulette interview with the author
Publishers Weekly review
Three Guys One Book interview with 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 (2009 Edition)
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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