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January 8, 2010

Book Notes - Matt Baker ("Drag the Darkness Down")

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

Drag the Darkness Down may be Matt Baker's debut novel, but its protagonist Odom Shiloh is unforgettable in his descent into mental illness. Part detective story and part road novel, Drag the Darkness Down promises a strong literary future for Matt Baker.

George Singleton wrote of the book:

"Drag the Darkness Down is a brilliant picaresque novel in the tradition of the great Arkansans Charles Portis and Donald Harington. Matt Baker proves to be a master storyteller, possessed with an unforgettable voice and imagination. I couldn’t put this novel down, and I predict that Odom Shiloh will stand as one of the most recognizable narrators in the twenty-first century. "

In his own words, here is Matt Baker's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Drag the Darkness Down:

I've chosen a selection of songs that construct a soundtrack based on the action and characters in the novel. The compilation consists mostly of punk rock songs. This is fitting for several reasons. The first draft of Drag the Darkness Down was written quickly, in a short burst, much like a two-minute punk song. Also, the novel contains an underlying theme of spirited rebellion. Several of the non-punk songs deal more specifically with the psychological health of the characters. This is important in that the way the world is perceived through the narrator's unique mental filter shapes the story and influences the readers' interpretation of events.

1. Electric Frankenstein – "Superstar"

Blakey Flake is a forty-nine year old chain-smoking revolutionary private investigator. I don't think he's familiar with Electric Frankenstein, but I think if he heard this song, he'd love them.

"I'm a superstar philosopher / For the great unwashed / With a new voice calling / For sonic integrity / When tomorrow's not today / Come be a disciple of sound / Where beauty meets beast / In the electric dark / Sound over image, risk over fashion / Still ain't got no satisfaction / Gotta wake up this generation / Stay on target to liberation."

2. Elvis Costello – "Watching the Detectives"

Drag the Darkness Down is a detective story of sorts.

"I get so angry when the teardrops start / But he can't be wounded cause he's got no heart."

3. Social Distortion – "Prison Bound"

The narrator, Odom Shiloh, lies to a police officer, and tells him that he got the suspicious dent on his car at a Social Distortion concert in Dallas. He wouldn't dare tell the truth. He doesn't want to go to prison.

4. Lucinda Williams – "Blue"

The narrator has a very melancholic sister, a poetic soul, perhaps. Her name is Birdshit. This song is for her.

"Go find a jukebox and see what a quarter will do / I don't wanna talk, I just wanna go back to blue / Feeds me when I'm hungry and quenches my thirst / Loves me when I'm lonely and thinks of me first."

"We don't talk about heaven and we don't talk about hell / We come to depend on one another so damn well / So go to confession whatever gets you through / You can count your blessings and I'll just count on blue."

5. Amy LaVere – "Nightingale"

Jim Ruland told me that he thought a character in DTDD resembled Amy LaVere. I can see how he would think that – even though I did not consciously write it this way - since this minor character he's referring to, Amber, plays a stand up bass and sings. "Nightingale" is my favorite LaVere song.

6. Misfits – "Skulls"

There's a scene in DTDD when the narrator stumbles into a show at a downtown venue. The band is a local hardcore punk cover band, and I imagine this would be a song they'd play. What eighteen year old doesn't like screaming, "I want your skull / I need your skull."

7. Judas Priest – "Beyond the Realms of Death"

This song is a pioneer of the heavy metal melancholy ballads that flourished in the 1980s.

"He'd found a place in his mind and slammed the door / Yeah! I've left the world behind / I'm safe here in my mind / Free to speak with my own kind / This is my life, this is my life. I'll decide not you."

I love how the solo comes in about half a beat before you're expecting it. It's vintage old-school hard rock soloing, before the onslaught of silly high-speed note tapping solos that proliferated in the mid-late 80s. The solo is controlled, loud, and powerful.

8. Black Flag – "Nervous Breakdown"

The reason for this choice is clear. The narrator is probably suffering from some kind of mental collapse.

The first time I heard this song, when I was ten, I knew that I would be cursed for the rest of my life with trying to destroy the world with one hand while trying to save it with the other.

9. The Vandals – "Legend of Pat Brown"

This is a fun song about a crazy guy with a shotgun. Every good story has one of these characters, DTDD is no different.

10. Bonnie "Prince" Billy – "I See A Darkness"

I thank Kevin for this recommendation - the perfect final song.

"Oh no, I see a darkness / And did you know how much I love you / Is a hope that somehow you / Can save me from this darkness."

Matt Baker and Drag the Darkness Down links:

Oxford American review
Ozarks Unbound review

Fictionaut Blog interview with the author
Memphis Flyer profile of the author
Oxford American interview with the author
Writers in Profile interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)

online "best of 2009" book lists

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Atomic Comics Preview (weekly comics & graphic novel highlights)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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