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January 13, 2010

Book Notes - Zak Sally ("Like a Dog")

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

Zak Sally may be known to most indie music fans as the former bassist for Low, but he is recognized by comics aficionados as a talented cartoonist.

Sally is incredibly inventive, these cartoons differ in theme greatly, but all come together through his dark, foreboding illustrations. This volume is worthwhile alone for the two editions of Sally's Eisner Award nominated comic, The Recidivist, but the additional works offer a glimpse into this talented artist's evolution (as do the copious notes included in the collection).

In his own words, here is Zak Sally's Book Notes music playlist for his graphic novel, Like a Dog:

Well well. A playlist for my new collection, Like A Dog, huh? I think I can do that-- the thing is, there are a LOT of stories collected in this thing, and if I were to pick a song and explain it for every single story, I'd go nuts writing it and you'd go nuts reading it. And besides all that, there's already copious, altogether-too-descriptive set of "notes" in the back of Like A Dog, so to add additional might push the boundaries of...oh the hell with it: everything's free now anyway, right?

Since I stopped being a musician full-time (which is, with the exception of one strip, what I was doing with my life while I created the work in this collection), I think I listen to music with much less intensity than I used to. Or I'm less interested. Or something.

Recidivist #1

Well, there are 3 strips that make up this mini-comic, but I'm only going to pick 2 songs:

The first is a music-nerd stalwart: "Kanga Roo" by Big Star. I was never a huge Big Star guy, coming to their stuff late and backwards: the "power pop" has just never been huge on my list, but when I heard Big Star's Third/ Sister Lovers, it was right where I lived. Maybe too much. Fractured and f**ked up, barely holding together, sublime, and sad as hell. I became pretty obsessed with this record, and when you're drunk it's even that much sadder. When I first heard this song, I thought it was one of the most amazing things I'd ever heard, and my opinion hasn't changed much since then.

"Shoot Me A Deer" by Bastro. Now, see-- Bastro was a turning point: where the aggressive noise rock I'd grown up with (Big Black, Sonic Youth, etc.) took a turn towards the cerebral (main guy David Grubbs would soon form Gastr Del Sol, and drummer John McEntire and Bundy Brown would end up in Tortoise) but this band was both: a slab of noise that was both smart and visceral: this is the sound of a pressure valve you're not sure you want released just springing a leak, so oh well, better just hang on tight. Bastro seems all but forgotten (as does many things that meant a lot to me from this era), but this song still gives me chills up my spine.

Put these 2 songs together and get drunk by yourself and you've got the state of my life during the creation of this mini pretty well summed up...

Recidivist #2

Considering that this issue was created in about 6 different time zones on a couple different continents, it's hard to put a face on this one. I was listening to a hell of a lot of Bee Gees and the Zombies' Odyssey And Oracle.

I was also in a "metal" band at the time that was responsible for me being able to admit that I liked Tool, and I was in Olympia, so it probably should include one of the many great songs by Unwound, or Beat Happening, or...


Oh let's call it some great L.A. song. Maybe "Tusk". Or that one Tool song about California falling into the ocean, or "Diamonds, Fur Coat, Champagne" by Suicide (yeah I know it's not about L.A, get off my back).

Suicide: now THERE'S a BAND.


"December Hunting For Vegetarian F**kface" from the most recent Stars Of The Lid record, ...And Their Refinement of the Decline. This stuff sounds, on the first couple of listens, like "ambient" music, as if nothing is going on. But the further you listen, you realize that these are incredibly tight, deliberate, and controlled compositions where every note, beat, and movement counts-- they just take 10-15 minutes each to unfold. You feel like you're listening to aural wallpaper until suddenly you've broken into tears, for no discernible reason. Perfect soundtrack for this strip (and would probably last exactly as long as the reading of it).

And, you know; ANY piece off this record would probably work, but with a song title as great as that one, what's a fella to do.


The entire Uncloudy Day record by the Staple Singers.

"The Salesman"

At the risk of sounding overly clever, there really are certain times in one's life when you're caught in a trap, and you can't walk out, because you love them too much baby. And even if your mind isn't suspicious of anything besides itself, you need some goddamned Elvis so sing the hell out of it and prove it to you, over and over and over and over again for 2 minutes straight at the end of the tune.

"The War Back Home"

I have no idea why, but "I Have Known Love" by the Silver Apples. Or OMD's "The New Stone Age" (from back when they were awesome).

And maybe the Swans' "A Screw". Something martial and fascist.

"ROOM 21"

I honestly have no idea where I was living when I did this comic. Like, none.

But I know where I was when it HAPPENED, and I know what I was listening to: I was in Duluth and I was listening to Happy Go Licky. This is the EXACT same band as DC hardcore/ giants Rites Of Spring (who were basically THE defining "emo" 10 years before anybody came up with that dumb name and HGL is proof that they were done with it pretty quick as well), only after they ditched hardcore and went strange. They only played a dozen or so shows (and their entire recorded output is live recordings), but it was all tape loops and weirdness that scrambled my brain real good back then and still holds up remarkably well now.

So, either that or something from Morricone's How The West Was Won soundtrack (this record is one of my favorite ALBUMS-- meaning a physical document of a bunch of pieces of music with related ideas/ themes that come together as some kind of aesthetic whole-- of all time).

"River Deep, Mountain High"

Come on, really? This one needs to be explained?

Wait, actually it does: I love this song to death, but the REAL pinnacle from Ike and Tina working with Phil was the B-side "I'll Never Need More Than This". Holy shit what an amazing song ( about "emo"...); and it's the one I originally pitched to my collaborator Chris Cilla as "content" for this strip, but when we really got to it, there wasn't enough narrative to hang a strip on, so we did this.

"Our Pornography"

Maybe if we put on Willie Nelson's and Julio Iglesias' "To All The Girls I've Loved Before" and that free-noise freak out at the end of "L.A Blues" from the Stooges' Fun House AT THE SAME TIME, we'd be on to something.

No wait: it's "Epitaph For My Heart" by the Magnetic Fields (at one point i had an entire Temptations-style dance routine worked out for the entirety of this song. Please don't ask why).

"The Man Who Killed Wally Wood"

Given the time and the place, probably something by Jawbreaker. I know there's one song off 24 Hour Revenge Therapy that Blake wrote after we were hanging out around the railroad tracks drinking beer one night (we were even in a band together, for a while...). I was actually pretty involved in that East Bay "scene", but in a very sideways way; I never quite understood "pop-punk", but I knew some great people and met some good friends in that world, back then (Steel Pole THAT band, I LOVED...). but hell, this was a strange period of time. There were a million bands around the East Bay thenabouts, and to be honest, I hated most of 'em. Rancid? Green Day? Screeching Weasel?...uh....Grimple? I made ALL of their f**king SHIRTS!! OK, some of them I liked.

Anyway. it was pretty fun.

Oh wait no I got it: it's "Drug Train" by (perhaps the greatest rock and roll band of all time) the Cramps.

R.I.P. Lux.


The writer of this particular story, Brian Evenson, once wrote a pretty great piece about the band Earth (for Arthur magazine), so I'd almost choose something from their more recent records (never was actually all that into the early stuff), but confusing as this may be pal of mine put out some music by a guy from New Zealand who recorded under the name "Surface Of The Earth", which is...exactly what the name implies; huge swaths of sound, like tectonic plates shifting, but somehow soulful and beautiful and terrifying at the same time. Which is kind of how I feel about this strip, and this story. It sneaks up on you-- it's like watching a punch approach your face from 2 miles away, in slow motion.

I sure wish somebody would put out a collection (there was a 7" and a full length, that I know of...) of this stuff.

Hint hint, pal.

"Two Idiot Brothers"

This one is kind of hard.

The end of my time in Low was....pretty rough.

Very rough, for everyone involved, actually; and to be honest-- while it's safe to say that none of us wishes anyone anything other than the best -- the friendship pretty much bit the dust. It was sad then and it's sad now. A lot of folks asked me how I felt/ what I thought about the Low record after I left, Drums and Guns, didn't sound like the band I knew, the band I was part of; it sounded like something different (which, of course, it was. Is. Whatever). Take that as you will, but the final song on the record "Violent Past" WAS all those parts....written fully after I was well out of the band, it's somehow still one of those things that I can't separate myself out from. But that song feels like this strip, and this strip feels like that time. And-- like many other Low songs-- it's a great song.

Sad, though.

"Untitled 2"

"New Day Rising" Husker Du/ "Raisans" Dinosaur Jr.

Nuff said.

"The End Is Here, Now"

Well, this one's a gimme: "I Gave It Up To The Stars and the Night Sky" by the Dirty Three.

One of my favorite pieces of music by one of my favorite bands. Was actually lucky enough to be the Dirty fourth for these guys on a tour of the US, playing bass ...we played this song in San Francisco the night I proposed to my wife. Just a stunning, amazing example of what these guys do, and how they do it like no one else ever has, or ever will; they've been slower and quieter and drunker and sadder, but this song....just when you think they've hit the top of the plateau, there's more. And then more again. Then it's done.

The reference to this particular strip is on the nose, in more ways than I can (over) explain.

"Untitled 3"

After I left Low about all I listened to for 9 months was Led Zeppelin and Stevie Wonder (I'd heartily recommend this to anyone, by the way...), and if there's a piece of music that sums up this book it's this: "I Don't Know Why I Love You", by Stevie. I mean, aside from being one of the greatest songs I've ever heard in my life, it's got that "I can't quit you, baby, even though you treat me mean," but still somehow...transcendental and strangely joyous; and that's pretty much what "Like A Dog" is about (except maybe the "joy" part).


In any order you want:

the entire Life Of Crime album by the Laughing Hyenas
Bee Gee's Greatest Hits Vol 1
"Death Of A Fly" & "Ballad Of Extreme Hate" Halo Of Flies
"The This Many Boyfriends Club" Beat Happening
"There Was A Time" James Brown from the "Say It Loud" live recording Dallas '68
"Afro Blue" John Coltrane
"Into The Vortex" Hammerhead
"Solitary Man" Neil Diamond

I'm probably missing some stuff, but I know, I've got to stop now or it'll just get worse.....

I'm purposely not putting any of MY songs (from this record i just made called Fear Of Song), just because it seems too easy. But I still haven't sold enough of the things, so order one from me (at right away, maybe you'll like it. Thanks.

(also, I just realized I didn't make Grimple's t-shirts.)

Zak Sally and Like a Dog links:

the author's press
the author's Sub Pop Records page
video preview for the book

Corey Blake review
High-Low review
Largehearted Boy review
Now Read This! review
Pop Candy review
Shazhmmm... review

The Comics Journal interview with the author
The L Magazine interview with the author
Minnesota Reads interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

online "best of 2009" book lists
online "best of the decade" book lists

Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming femal comics artists)
Atomic Comics Preview (weekly comics & graphic novel highlights)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks

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