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February 25, 2010

Book Notes - Zachary German ("Eat When You Feel Sad")

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

In his debut novel, Eat When You Feel Sad, Zachary German assuredly depicts young, modern life with his unique, minimalist prose. Both funny and heart wrenching, this is an impressive debut from one of the most talented young writers I have read in years.

Dennis Cooper wrote of the book:

"Zachary German's nimble, catwalking, archeological, surface dwelling, emotionally unpaved prose is a thing of total wonder and my favorite drug, language-based or otherwise. Eat When You Feel Sad is so bright and pleasurable and full of excellence, it’s positively serene."

In his own words, here is Zachary German's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Eat When You Feel Sad:

Eat When You Feel Sad is a novel I wrote between the ages of eighteen and nineteen, while living in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and feeling extremely alone and depressed. The novel deals with a young man's life, from age five to nineteen, and initially takes place in a suburban part of America, before moving to an urban part, with occasional return visits to the suburban part.

Music plays a major part in setting the tone of the novel, as it has set the tone in my own life. Songs serve as landmarks, leading me back to specific places and times, as they do in the novel, leading back to specific scenes. The novel's index, which made listing the page numbers of songs mentioned below a breeze, allows the reader to refer back to scenes not only based on characters' names, but also on that of bands, albums and songs (not to mention foods, models of cars, city names and other categories.)

As Eat When You Feel Sad is largely based on my own experience and that of those around me, all of the music in it is music which has figured prominently not only in the novel's main character Robert's life, but in mine as well.

The Rapture - "Out of the Races and Onto the Tracks" (p. 10)

Robert hears this song on a Sub Pop label sampler CD he gets for free when his aunt gives him a The Shins record for Christmas. Years later he hears it in an American Apparel. In my own life, I have always thought this song was okay, and have on several occasions added it to playlists for work or a party. It seems like this song probably doesn't add anything new to the world, which could be considered a bad quality, but I don't necessarily see it that way.

Jay-Z (featuring UGK) - "Big Pimpin'" (p. 15)

This song seems important, to me. I don't think it's very unique among other nineties rap songs about being rich and sleeping with a lot of women without caring about them, it's just, perhaps, the most iconic one. Like if there could only one of those songs, this would be the one. And this song and songs like it were pretty much the soundtrack of the kids I grew up with, even if Jay-Z wasn't really anyone's favorite rapper at the time.

Explosions in the Sky - "Memorial" (p. 17)

I was never really that into Explosions in the Sky, but I listened to a lot of music like it. I guess I probably listened to Explosions in the Sky as much as I listened to any of the other quiet-loud American instrumental bands from the nineties and early two-thousands. It seems appropriate for a lot of settings, be it in a car in the suburbs in the afternoon (as Robert listens to them in the novel) or in an apartment in Brooklyn at night (as I am listening to them now.)

Death Cab for Cutie - "Pictures in an Exhibition" (pp. 21, 84, 111)

"Think you caught me on the downslide, downturn." Seems apropos of something. Are things ever apropos of something? Feel sure I don't know how to use the word "apropos." I listened to this band's first three albums a lot in middle school and a lot, occasionally, to this day. In the novel, Robert listens to them in his girlfriend's bedroom, then later in his own bedroom, alone, and then later, again ostensibly in his bedroom, alone, while thinking, perhaps in regards to Death Cab for Cutie, about how he no longer tries to be cool, but has not yet started trying to be anything else.

The Black Lips - "She's Not White" (p. 29)

I was into The Black Lip a lot during high school and a little bit afterwards. I really liked how out of control they sounded, especially on their album Live at WFMU. I've always been really shy and unconfident, so their music, especially when I've seen them live, has always been really exciting to me. In the novel, Robert goes to see them play and thinks about how their material has gone downhill.

Lil' Wayne - "Put Some Keys on That" (p. 44)

Lil' Wayne's two-disc mixtape Da Drought 3 came out three to six months prior to my starting to write the novel. From the time it came out to when I left Philadelphia, not a day went by when I did not hear Da Drought 3 playing out of someone's car stereo. I would step out my front door and hear it, immediately, then walk a few blocks to the Chinese restaurant and there would be a car outside, just idling, and just blasting it. It was really cool, that something I liked so much was so popular where I lived. The few times I got to drive cars during this time I always played it really loud, too.

The New Pornographers - "Entering White Cecilia" (p. 48)

On the other end of the spectrum is this song, and this band in general. I don't think I've ever met anyone who admitted to liking them. I've liked them from day one, as they say, and have always listened to them by myself. I kind of rediscovered them a couple months ago when I had to spend a lot of time on a bus with my iPhone. It was like meeting an old friend again. But yeah, this is a song I listened to a lot when I was by myself, doing things like writing Eat When You Feel Sad.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons - "Oh What A Night" (December 1963) (p. 52)

Me and my friend Travis Gaston used to sing along to this song, but change the words "Oh what a night" to "I wanna die." That still seems really funny to me.

Raekwon (featuring Ghostface Killah and U-God) - "Knuckleheads" (p. 66)

When I first started writing, in high school, I would listen to this album (Only Built 4 Cuban Linx...) all the time, which might seem distracting or something, but it wasn't, somehow. In the novel, Robert plays it for some friends as they drink and play cards. I still listen to this and a lot of other Wu Tang stuff, and have found it to be good for a number of activities, including but not limited to those listed above.

Guided by Voices - "Hold on Hope" (p. 81)

Guided by Voices is a band I've liked for a long time. Their albums seem really easy to listen to all the way through, sort of as one long song. "Hold on Hope" is probably more accessible, and also works better as a standalone track, than most of their stuff. I at one point considered changing the title of my novel to the title of this song; the lyrics register with me on both a sincere and ironic way, as does the actual title of the novel, and a lot of other things I like.

Animal Collective - "Peacebone" (p. 89)

I don't like this song, or this album, or Animal Collective in general, for the most part. I remember they were really popular with people I knew at the time, and that this album, Strawberry Jam, was pretty anticipated, and then I think mostly a letdown when it finally came out. I definitely listened to it a handful of times in 2007, along with a lot of other music that I didn't necessarily "get," while cleaning my house and feeling bored and vaguely upset.

My Bloody Valentine - "Soft As Snow (But Warm Inside)" (p. 97)

The album this song is on, Isn't Anything, plays in one scene in the novel, in which Robert admits to having never heard MBV before, while at the same time asserting that he has heard of them. I think this band, in that scene, kind of functions as a piece of knowledge that he doesn't have, yet, and which he perceives to be stopping him from happiness, or something.

The Rolling Stones - "Wild Horses" (p. 105)

Taken out of a situation of extreme loneliness and hopelessness, this song seems kind of funny, kind of bad, to me. It seems very sincere. I never had to try to not think about what the song was about, it was always very easy for me to just listen to it. Many times a day.

Spiritualized - "Feel So Sad" (7" Version) (p. 105)

This song seems really pleasant and easy to listen to, to me, while at the same time having lyrics like "Dear lord I know / I hate this lonely life so." I like how it's all about feeling sad and hating life but at the same time is, as mentioned above, pleasant and easy to listen to. I guess I was going for a similar thing with the novel itself, and definitely listened a whole bunch to this song and the rest of The Complete Works Volume 1 while writing it.

Xiu Xiu - "Apistat Commander" (p. 108)

Two characters, Robert and Tom, discuss this band's lead singer, Jamie Stewart, near the end of the novel. This has been one of my favorite songs for years; one time I thought a friend and I were going to start a band and I was really stoked to cover this song, but we never ended up starting a band. I feel like Jamie's voice is how I feel, all the time. I know nothing I write will ever be as effective as his music.

Zachary German and Eat When You Feel Sad links:

the author's website
the book's website
the book's video trailer
videos inspired by Eat When You Feel Sad
excerpts from an early draft of the book

Philadelphia Citypaper review
Publishers Weekly review
Time Out Chicago review

Bookslut interview with the author
The Faster Times interview with the author
Greenpoint Gazette profile of the author
HTMLGIANT photos of the author's bookcase
The L Magazine profile of the author
New York Press interview with the author
Publishing Genius interview with the author
Rhombus Trapezoid Disaster Blog interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (highlights of the week's comics & graphic novel releases)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (highlights of the week's book releases)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists

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