July 6, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Dzanc Books' Best of the Web 2010 collects impressive fiction, non-fiction, and poetry first published online, introducing readers to talented writers as well as the websites publishing quality literature.
Series editor Matt Bell and guest editor Kathy Fish have splendidly curated this collection of the year's best online writing, and the resulting book illustrates just how powerful the literary web has become.
Time Out Chicago wrote of the book:
"Of course, we all know the Internet is home to just about anything our brains can Google. But what Best of the Web does—aside from doing the work of finding great writing so we don't have to—is make a case for it as an ideal literary medium."
Oliver de la Paz
"Requiem for the Orchard"
Whenever I write I listen to music. I hear this is an oddity among writers, but music is what keeps me at the writing desk. And it doesn't matter whether there are lyrics--I can cancel out the lyrics. I do, however, tend to listen to stuff that fits the type of tone I'm going for in a given piece. "Requiem for the Orchard" was a sonnet sequence that I started in February of 2009 and finished sometime around April. While I was writing the long poem, I had a few songs/albums that really informed the poem's composition:
"Catastrophe And The Cure" by Explosions in the Sky
It was hard to pick one track from their album, All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone, but if I had to pick just one, it'd be "Catastrophe and Cure."
"Eyes Like Ours" by Tiny Vipers
I love her voice, and I love pace of the song and the quiet of the song. It sounds like she's playing by herself in an empty room. It definitely says "nostalgia" to me. I have musical crushes. She's one. Other musical crushes include Shara Worden of My Brightest Diamond, Annie Clark of St. Vincent, and Sharon Van Etten. My wife tolerates my juvenile tendencies.
"Coast of Carolina" by Telekinesis!
What can I say? It's catchy and again, it bubbled up the mud from my nostalgia well. The song reminds me of the summers I'd drive up and down the Pacific Coast Highway in Los Angeles when I was in college with my windows rolled down. The salty, metallic air and the cool breezes! Ah youth!
"To Lose Someone" by Taken by Trees
The Pakistani musicians coupled with Victoria Bergsman's ethereal voice conjure such a feeling of longing for me when I hear the tune. I can never skip the tune. If I'm at the gym I have to listen to the song. However, it's definitely not a song to listen to when you're doing a lot of heavy lifting.
"Dark Night of the Soul" by Sparklehorse feat. Vic Chestnut
It breaks my heart that both of these musicians have left us. The underwater quality of the recording's what pulls me in. Vic's drowning voice and the marvelous production make for perfect writing-late-at-night-with-a-shot-of-bourbon music.
"Harm and Boon" by Balmorhea
One of the instrumental tracks I had spinning. I can't say much about the song except that it made me think in sepia tones. My good buddy, writer Eric Gansworth, got me hooked on them.
"You wouldn't believe me if I told you, but Me and Theodore built a time machine."
Most of my work starts from a song. A misunderstood lyric or window gazing that is linked to one melody. While writing this story, I obsessively listened to "Bang Bang" by Nancy Sinatra, which has this perfect flashback essence. Listening to that song I wanted to write not the voice singing, but the guitar echoing. "Bang Bang" has such a perfect opportunity lost feeling to it. Still, something was missing. It wasn't until I discovered a cover of the song by Mareva Galanter that the story found an innocence to balance out my bitter intentions. Nancy Sinatra's voice is firmly planted in the dirt and Mareva Galanter's voice pushes into some cloud floating daydream.
“Games Are Not About Monsters”
I can’t listen to music while actually writing—I’m a former pianist and extremely sensitive to music. I love it (or hate it) too much to be able to do anything when it’s around.
So I’d say my essays or poems grow in the general aural culture of my life at the time. I put on music whenever I’m not writing (which is almost all of the time). For the last few years, including the time I wrote “Games Are Not About Monsters,” I’ve listened to some music from video games—the Final Fantasy X and X-2 Piano Collections are still on repeat—along with Philip Glass’ Metamorphosis, Brad Mehldau’s “Song-Song,” the Orlando soundtrack, Jon Hopkins’ Contact Note, Frank Bridge’s Sonata for Piano and Cello, and Richard Strauss’ Four Last Songs. I also listen to 8-bit tunes by YMCK and J-pop by Utada Hikaru. And Kate Bush keeps fascinating me—from Hounds of Love to Aerial.
“From: Chorus from the Land of Grownups”
Because I am a masochist beyond all imagining, I taught English courses at a Catholic secondary school while completing my MFA in Creative Nonfiction and Poetry in a low-residency program. The detritus mentioned in the piece (glitter glue-on nails found under a desk, clot of blood smeared in the restroom) defined my life for three years until poems from my collection Theology of the Body began circulating on the Internet, whereupon I was told by the administration that it would be in my best interest not to return. Although I had been accepted into a PhD program and planned on leaving regardless, I was left scalded, struck dumb. I am writing a memoir about my time there.
Much of what I wrote during that period became emblematic of a kind of sinister quiet. The school was located in a fairly isolated portion of southern Pennsylvania, and with the exception of one kind soul, I had no friends. Most nights I would come home and crawl onto my futon and pray (yes, I pray) and cry. Thankfully, my now-fiance, who was in Detroit, sent me a mix CD that included Neko Case, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Joanna Newsom, Placebo, Regina Spektor, and others. It became a lifeline, and when I would listen to “I Asked For Water” or “Us” during a late drive down an empty, amber-lit street, I felt like I at least had someone breathing with me.
“Pop Star Dead at 22”
Goddamn I wish I was writing about how this story was inspired by something from Blood on the Tracks, or an obscure Willie Dixon song, or how the entire time I was writing it, I was obsessed with In the Aeroplane Over the Sea or Live at the Fillmore East or Soul Folk in Action. Or something, anything, possibly remotely cool. Anything but the truth, which is that it started with Spencer Pratt.
This story is narrated by one of those fame-whore hangers on, a Spencer Pratt kind of guy who had a one-night fling with a Britney-ish pop star. The story is really this guy’s voice – his reaction to the news that the pop star has died. I'm interested in this kind of thing -- our obsession with fame, with getting it no matter what it takes, even if that's making yourself into a crazy douchebag famewhore, or, as in the case of this story, sleeping with somebody and talking about it to anybody who will listen. The guy has reached his goal -- he's somewhat remotely famous -- and now it's all come crashing down. It's a fragile little platform to build yourself, after all is said and done, and that's what he's coming to realize.
To the music: the song that comes to mind when I think about this story is "...Baby One More Time" by Britney Spears. The pop star in the story is more like Britney from this period of time, when she was new and cute and before she went off the deep end. The other side of things should be easy -- there are loads of songs about being famous or wanting to be, but one of the best is "To Be Someone" by the Jam, and "You "Can't Hold the Hand of a Rock and Roll Man" by Okkervil River combines that idea of fame with a weary rock star "be careful what you wish for" vibe that I hope works for this story.
“Selections from Sucker June”
I spent Sucker June listening to and admiring the photography of Boys for Pele by Tori Amos. Her muddy feet slung over the rocking chair, snakes sucking near them, cradled rifle longer than her torso, the piglet breastfed and later her playing on the mattress backyard of the shack, shit everywhere – that inspires a lot in me to write. Half of Sucker June details hybrid The Sheep Child bestiality and incest during a multiple POV gang rape in slow motion. Maybe if I send Amos a copy she’ll shoot me in the face with that gun.
“Wife to Magritte”
When I wrote this poem, I was in my first semester of an MFA program and it was the only poem I wrote all semester that the other members of the workshop liked. It was the beginning of a year-long phase in which I told people "I don't like music" in order to avoid having to defend my taste against a collection of Bob Dylan, Neil Diamond, and Van Morrison fans. My favorite music doesn't have vocals. This confounds people, particularly writers. From 2006 to 2009, the album I listened to more than any other was Dirty Three's Horse Stories. I must have listened to it while writing this poem as well as this poem's sister piece, "Mother to Magritte." Dirty Three is still my go-to writing music, along with El Ten Eleven and Ladytron (which has lyrics, though they don't always make sense).
“Arrgh Luxury Cruises: An Authentic Pirate Adventure”
A short playlist of loosely nautically-themed music to accompany you on your reading voyage:
Villagers – "Down, Under the Sea"
Tennis – "Marathon"
Taken by Trees – "Watch the Waves (Memory Tapes Remix)"
Grizzly Bear – "Deep Sea Diver"
Beach House – "Saltwater"
Phil Phillips – "Sea of Love"
"Suspended" is the sequel to "You Shall Go Out with Joy and Be Led Forth with Peace," which first appeared in Random House's Twentysomething Essays by Twentysomething Writers anthology in 2006, and it's also part of a book-length memoir I may or may not ever complete. I wrote the first draft in response to a writing prompt from my friend Kathleen Rooney. I've never written anything from a writing prompt before, and I don't like them in principle. But the incident I wrote about in "Suspended" had been eating at me ever since a nineteen-year-old of my acquaintance was beat up and arrested by several policemen after he tried to get them to stop kicking a man they had put on the ground in a grass lot in the middle of the night. I figured this is the way the world works, right? These are our heroes, and they learned it from somebody who learned it from somebody else, and so it goes forever. And soon, of course, I was thinking about people who had done it to me. So when Kathleen offered her writing prompt, the pump had already been primed, I guess, and the piece came out more or less whole.
I wasn't listening to any piece of music in particular when I wrote "Suspended," but I'd say there are two albums that could well enough accompany it. The first is David Bazan's concept album Winners Never Quit, which is about more or less the same thing as my essay. The second is Vic Chesnutt's final major album, At the Cut, which is elegiac in the properly raging way.
“Tentacle Mind Report”
"Tentacle Mind Report" is, among other things, a from-a-very-far-distance homage to my time as a student in Heidelberg. This was the late 90's, when we didn't have iPods and instead had stacks of ugly CDs, vinyl LPs, and cassette tapes. I remember driving around at night listening to these tapes, smoking menthol cigarettes, also sitting in smoking compartments in the morning train, having cheese & pumpkin seeds pretzels for breakfast, coming late for lectures carrying cups of what was then a novelty: coffee with vanilla syrup, doing assignments on bulky laptops that ran Windows 3.1, taking all night to print stuff, and filling in equations by hand, with ink, because that kind of stuff wasn't done by whatever text editor we used. Using old-fashioned hard contact lenses instead of the modern soft ones. It all blurs together, as does the music that forms the soundtrack to that era – which, from the perspective of now, feels nostalgic and wonderful, like a respite before we realized that we, too, would run out of options one day, and therefore would have to think about what we were doing.
The Roots, "The Spark"
Air, "You Make It Easy"
Queen, "Bohemian Rhapsody"
Prince, "Face Down"
Tori Amos - "Horses"
Andy Williams, "Happy Heart" (from the Shallow Grave soundtrack)
“My Sister, the Kite”
When I think about this poem, the setting stands out to me as much as the two sisters do. And while I hope that the location feels familiar to readers anywhere, for me, this exchange takes place in a particular community college in the suburbs of Los Angeles, just down the street from where I lived when the poem was written, and not far from where I grew up. This college always felt oddly placed to me. It didn't -- and still doesn't -- seem to belong. Though located in the middle of "The Valley," a half-mile from two mega-malls, the entire west end of the college is a working farm. I think there used to be a slaughterhouse there (or I like to imagine there was). There are cows and llamas and corn fields, and eighteen-year old girls park brand-new luxury cars in the lots on the other side of the pumpkin patch. So of course the Canadian Geese that hang out there all winter are reluctant to leave.
Michael Penn's catalog is a fabulous soundtrack for the off-spots of Los Angeles. For this particular kite-flying, "O.K." on 2007's Mr. Hollywood Jr. 1947 is most appropriate.
“Karner Blue Butterfly Hunt”
My poems flirt with narrative but are usually much more abstract and atmospheric. As such, I think most of my work pairs well with a few classic vintages: Kate Bush's Hounds of Love, PJ Harvey's Is This Desire?, Patti Smith's Horses, and Cocteau Twins' Blue Bell Knoll. I don't know what I was listening to at the time I wrote these two poems, but Hounds of Love, Peter Gabriel's Passion, and U2's The Unforgettable Fire are really generative albums in that they blow a few embers back into the burnt-out cockles of my heart.
I swear that I did not write "Great White" while listening to or even thinking about the band of the same name. Perhaps I should have called that poem "We're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat"?
“A Companion Text to Modernity and Self-Identity by Anthony Giddens”
I can’t say enough about the confluence of driving and music. They’re both basically embodied thought: you sit wrapped in the machine moving forward, held in the course of notes that start midstream when the car comes to life and end abruptly, unresolved, when you shut the engine off. One line in “A Companion Text to Modernity and Self-Identity by Anthony Giddens” refers to the “unrelieved leatheriness” of the music streaming from the classical station the car was tuned to. This reminds me of a movie about Casanova, which I did not see, where the lover escapes down the tower and rows away across the lake in darkness. The waves, however, were not real water, but strips of canvas shaken by the film director’s hired boys. I tried for a while to find the least likely “driving music” for my car, to jar me out of the ordinary. I picked up a collection of late 20th century Greek composers at the little Catholic library. I thought I knew which mean-spirited music professor must have ordered this CD, in a catalog that was otherwise completely predictable. I slid the disk in, hoping for new life. The tracks were filled with breaking glass, scraping metal, creaks and groans sounding just like essential hidden car parts loosening and dropping onto the road. Not at all uplifting, but perfect, wasn’t it?
Best of the Web 2010 links:
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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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 the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists