March 18, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Sam Lipsyte has been one of my favorite writers for years, and his new novel The Ask is another darkly comic masterpiece. Lipsyte excels in portraying underachieving protagonists at the mercy of forces greater than themselves, and takes his characters to the brink of absurdity with a skillful mix of humor and social satire.
Dennis Cooper wrote of the book:
"Probing many themes— or, perhaps, anxieties—including work, war, sex, class, child rearing, romantic comedies, Benjamin Franklin, cooking shows on death row, and the eroticization of chicken wire, The Ask is a burst of genius by a young American master who has already demonstrated that the truly provocative and important fictions are often the funniest ones."
I don't write to music, but I prepare to write by listening to music. Or else I come out of a day's work with music. Here are some of the songs I soaked up in the last few years of writing The Ask. Most of them don't have a direct thematic link to the novel, but they all trigger feelings in me I wanted the book to evoke in readers.
"96 Tears" – Suicide
This is the legendary Suicide's cover of Question Mark and the Mysterians' garage classic. It's a quite moving deconstruction of the song, and at the end Alan Vega says, "Question Mark and Mysterians, 1965, your national anthem whether you know it or not." Though I think the song came out in 1966.
"Have You Ever Seen the Rain?" – Ramones
Another inspired cover, this is the Ramones' version of the plaintively beautiful and somewhat terrifying Creedence song. A great band knows a great band.
"Don't Feel Alright" – Dwarves
It seems half the lyrics of rock songs from the last century included some variation of "I feel alright" or "Gonna feel alright." Leave it to the mighty Dwarves to offer a counterargument: "Don't feel alright/ don't feel alright/don't feel alright/got up this morning/ it was the middle of the night/ don't feel alright."
"Decide" – The Feelies
This has a different Feelies sound than the ever-popular Crazy Rhythms, but I've always loved the song's tough, Velvets-tinged drive. And I'm very indecisive at times, so I just put this on to encourage me to make the call.
"She's Like Heroin to Me" – The Gun Club
"Frenzy – The Ex
What Dutch anarchists the Ex prove in this song (and have proved for many years) is you can rant about politics all day if your band is as fierce and hooky as this.
"Outta Here" - KRS One
A little booster shot of integrity, this song recounts Lawrence Parker's rise from graffiti artist and shelter rapper to hip hop pioneer. I believe this was the work that really kicked off the memoir craze.
"Top of the Bottom" – John Wesley Harding
Harding, who writes award-wining novels under his real name, Wesley Stace, was born the same year as KRS-One, and this song is also what a human resources person might call a "career narrative," so I think this song and "Outta Here" work in tandem.
"Let It All Go" – Jay Reatard
Listened to this a lot after my book was done. So I could "let it all go." I saw Mr. Reatard play a month before he died this winter. He opened for the Pixies and in his own way smoked them.
"Drum Gets a Glimpse" – Liars
I became a little obsessed with this record during some of the writing of The Ask. I know people like their other records, but I find this one ridiculous and brilliant in the just the right proportions.
"Love Vibration" -- Ann Peebles
A great song about letting the moment slip away. When Ann Peebles sings "I was too busy being tough and you were too busy being cool" it sort of makes you dwell on how much you've let your insecurities dictate the outcome in many aspects of your life. Then you cry. It's a nice little emotional get-away.
"How I Wrote ‘Elastic Man'" – The Fall
If you're stuck in some writing project this is a good song to listen to listen. It's weird and addictive and will help you not at all. Mark E. Smith is a genius when sentient and he gets to something almost touching with the line: "The only thing real is waking and rubbing your eyes."
"No Fun" – The Stooges
This will get you going. But it might take you to the wrong place. Still, you will be happy there.
"23 Minutes in Brussels" (live version) - Luna
I found myself listening to Luna again and then Dean Wareham's really good book about being Dean Wareham came out and I listened to Luna even more. Wareham is such a crafty bastard, and he can soar. "23 Minutes Over Brussels," by the way, is the name of a recording of a concert by the aforementioned Suicide, booed off the stage in Belgium. So it all comes around. Or did I yank it over here?
"Banging Camp" - The Hold Steady
My favorite from their excellent Separation Sunday, which would often serve to amp me up for another writing session.
"All My Friends" LCD Soundsystem
There have been several memorable covers of this song (John Cale, Franz Ferdinand) but I think the original is still the best, unless Nina Simone returns from the dead and records it. They may have software for that now.
"Wheelchair Epidemic" – Jesus Lizard
One of the best rock bands of the nineties covers the Dicks, who formed in 1980 and were the greatest gay-fronted Marxist punk band in Texas history. I think I may possibly have air-drummed in a public library while listening to this. I need to be put down.
"Off to One Side" – Come
It's almost two songs in one, both of them tough and beautiful and incredibly sad. Severe depression should always rock hard. This one always holds up for me.
"Motown" – Harvey Milk
I don't know, just listen to it. According to my computer I've listened to it 30 times. And that's not even counting my ipod. Not for everyone, but the way it combines the crunchy and the sludgy, not to mention yearning and pain and a sweet guitar lick, has kicked my ass at least 30 times.
"You Can't Have it Both Ways" - The Juan Maclean
I admire many Juan Maclean numbers, but this one has a guest vocal by me (actually just a loop from some old recording of me from where I don't know). Wait for it. It's the closest I came to success in the music business.
"Final Solution" – Pere Ubu
I left it last because it has the word "final" in it. And whenever I finish hearing it I have this incredible urge make something that can be as exciting as I've always found this song. It's my national anthem, whether I know it or not.
Sam Lipsyte and The Ask/a> links:
The Believer review
The Boston Globe review
The Boston Phoenix review
Cleveland Plain-Dealer review
Dennis Cooper review
Entertainment Weekly review
Los Angeles Times review
Louisville Courier-Journal review
The Millions review
Minneapolis Star-Tribune review
New York Press review
New York Times review
Newcity Lit review
The Outlet review
The Quarterly Conversation review
Time Out New York review
The Village Voice review
Washington Post review
The Bat Segundo Show interview with the author
BlackBook interview with the author
BOMB Magazine interview with the author
Codex interview with the author
The Daily Beast profile of the author
Flavorwire profile of the author
Fork in the Road interview with the author
Jewcy interview with the author
New York Magazine profile of the author
Paper Cuts interview with the author
The Quarterly Conversation with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author
Writers on Writing 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 (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
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