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March 31, 2010

Book Notes - Brian Joseph Davis ("Ronald Reagan, My Father")

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

Brian Joseph Davis's new book Ronald Reagan, My Father is not a tell-all biography of the former president, but a wonderfully bizarre collection of short stories.

I was first introduced to Davis's genius through Cellstories, which delivers short fiction to cell phones, and it proved the perfect medium for his his cutting edge storytelling.

These stories are incredibly imaginative and often hilarious, and Davis's characters always retain a credibility that grounds them to the reader.

In his own words, here is Brian Joseph Davis's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, Ronald Reagan, My Father:

I make music, and sounds and noises for art galleries and theatres. Yet when I write fiction I need quiet, generally the kind of quiet available at 6:30 AM. There is however, music all over my new collection of short fiction and monologues, Ronald Reagan, My Father.

“Ordinary People"

This story about a convicted killer donating his body to science only to wind up embroiled in “the only death penalty case that turned into a custody case that turned into a right-to-die case" can be read here. In it, a character is revealed to be a Charlie Daniels fan. That was right for the character but if I had to choose a song from a conservative country crooner to listen to, it would have to be a Merle Haggard song. Appropriate for the story would be his best number, “Sing Me Back Home." The song elegantly turns on the complex idea of being a song about a song, more so than being about death row itself. But what version? Haggard's original is fine, even if it has that ruined-by-Nashville-clarity. I like the Everly Brothers' version, drenched in reverb and tremolo, which sounds like proto-Suicide. Best, hands down, is Graham Parsons' version.

“The Gift of the Twelfth Congressional District of Michigan"

I grew up in, what we jokingly referred back then, as the Canadian part of Detroit. A.K.A. Windsor and environs. All our teachers were draft dodgers and deserters. All our parents worked across the river either putting factories up or tearing them down, and all our TV and music was from Detroit. We're talking The Stooges' Fun House for 99 cents and Westbound vinyl everywhere. I usually avoid locations in my writing but this story is built around place, time, death and family. 1980 may have been a fallow period for Detroit—funk and garage rock had left the building, techno was yet to show up—but that year I remember being five and finding in my uncle's collection, and being freaked out by, an 8-track of Funkadelic's Maggot Brain. I didn't actually listen, as the image scared me a little too much. I probably ended up listening to The Ohio Players or something else that a kindergarten-aged kid could dance to that day. "Maggot Brain," the ten minute guitar solo title track by Eddy Hazel that features the most complex emotions ever seduced out of a guitar, is vaunted enough that further discussion is not warranted. But try this underrated cover by Mike Watt and J Mascis for extra special mind melt.


In the new collection there are two long monologue works I'm genuinely concerned about including next to the more outright narrative stories. The first is “Johnny." I wrote it by collecting lines of dialogue addressed to “Johnny" from over two years of film watching. To me this isn't so far off from Michael Ondaatje's early collage work but in this case, a performance of the text by a human being helps. Listen here for an unhinged, bravura performance by actress Jane Moffat.

“The Lame Shall Enter At Five Miles Per Hour"

This story, one of several that I gave away this year via Dan Sinker's CellStories (and which you can still read via a cellular device here) is about a group of senior citizens taking to the streets for illegal electric 4-wheel scooter racing. If there's a tone I tried to achieve in the collection it's the tone of this story. Take a silly idea but treat it with the respect and narrative tightness of a serious idea. At 35 aging is a bit of an obsession for me as I, like everyone else my age, has had to start reconciling the fact that our impervious 20s are gone, faded, and coated in three layers of nostalgia enabled by YouTube instant recall. One band I've listened to more than anyone else this year is Mission of Burma. Other than it being just fantastic, full-blooded music, the story of Mission of Burma—20 years between albums—can bash out of your head the notion that youth is a prerequisite for greatness. “That's When I Reach for My Revolver" is a fine song but it's marked with the high contrast philosophy of youth. Take a song like “1001 Pleasant Dreams," from 2006's The Obliterati, with its bitterness and joy, and you'll hear a song that can only come from knowing that good days fade, come back and fade again. Old is, if nothing else, a new thing.

Brian Joseph Davis and Ronald Reagan, My Father links:

the author's website
the author's online literary magazine
the author's Wikipedia entry
improvisational radio plays based on stories in the book
excerpt from the book ("Bury My Heart at Tatouine")
excerpt from the book ("Johnny")
excerpt from the book ("Ordinary People")
excerpt from the book ("The Lame Shall Enter At Five Miles Per Hour") (cell phone only)
excerpt from the book ("The Bourguignon Prize") (cell phone only)

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 (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
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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