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November 5, 2010

Book Notes - Alex Lemon ("Happy")

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

Alex Lemon's Happy is simply one of the most striking memoirs I have read in years.

In an earlier review of the book I wrote:

"My wife is getting a doctorate in physical therapy, and always asking me to recommend books with medical themes that humanize patients' experiences with the medical establishment as well as their afflictions. In the past I have recommended David B.'s graphic novel, Epileptic, Sarah Manguso's memoir, The Two Kinds of Decay, and Brian Dilon's The Hypochondriacs, all books she enjoyed and found enlightening. This past week I recommended Alex Lemon's memoir, Happy, and she couldn't put it down.

Alex Lemon's memoir is a rollercoaster, a whirlwhind of action and emotion. A college athlete seemingly bent on self-destruction, he begins experiencing double vision and vertigo and is eventually diagnosed with a brain hemorrhage. This is more than just a medical story, Lemon candidly recounts his own tragic personal history as a child and vividly shares his life dealing with this life-threatening medical condition.

Lemon is a poet, and the poetic power of words is always evident in Happy."


In his own words, here is Alex Lemon's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, Happy:


Music is an essential part of my life—it shapes moments as much as it can be a marker of memories. Happy: A Memoir is about a college boy learning to love himself (in the late 90's) and a mother's unending love. There are traumas-that-haunt, hurricanes, brain surgery, assorted bottles and loves, sports, self-hurt and joy—but always, there is music. This is a mix-tape with wormholes—the songs that, just for today, represent those years—and assorted sonic ephemera.


Happy: The Mixtape Volume I


John Hammond "Get Behind the Mule"


This is from Wicked Grin, an album of Tom Waits songs performed by bluesman John Hammond. My mother sent me this CD when I was in graduate school (2001-2004) and it's still one of my favorites (a number of years ago saw him play all the songs from the album at The Cedar, in Minneapolis, MN. Pieta Brown opened.)

I couldn't sleep much back then—I was in the dark years after my brain surgery. Often, I'd find myself listening to this album in the middle of the night as I shaved my head. For a number of years this was a ritual. I was (and still am) learning to live in a radically changed body—I have double vision and nystagmus (my eyes bounce). I loved how the electric razor rattled my brain. It made me dizzy. It made the world swing around me.


Jimi Hendrix "Machine Gun"

I'm awake and the world is spinning. I keep falling down. I can't feel my face. I must be hung over or something. I feel like I'm on fire and turning inside out. I try to be with my friends, but can't stand the light, the sound—but, like many young men, I don't know how to tell anyone that I'm hurting, that I don't know what the fuck is happening, that I need help. I listen to a lot of Vic Chesnutt, which doesn't help with the doom that's setting in.

See also: Black Sabbath, The Doors, Huey Lewis & The News, Ice Cube, Bonnie Raitt, Michael Jackson & Calobo


The Clancy Brothers & Tommy Makem "Whiskey You're the Devil"

This was the first song on the first album I remember having as a little boy. I'm not sure which vinyl I listened to more—these Irish drinking songs or the copy of Old Yeller I had checked out (perpetuity) from the library. I sang these songs in college when I was partying and I sing them now, in sobriety.

See also: ZZ Top, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Nil Lara, and the Kings of Leon's "Closer" if the you are attending a gathering in a strip club or strippers are attending your gathering.


DJ Kool "Let me Clear My Throat"

It is the middle of the night. The passing streetlights make us all look like zombies. My best friend, Casey, is driving me to get an MRI. My girlfriend is in the backseat. Casey talks a lot—cracks jokes. I don't know what to say so I don't speak. I've never been sick before. Casey turns this song up until the windows shudder. Tomorrow, they'll shave off my pubic hair and cut a slit in my femoral artery, run a tiny catheter up to my head and I'll find out that a spot in my brain stem is bleeding.

See also: Bel Biv Devoe, The Traditions, Elvis Costello & Wilco


The National "Baby, We'll Be Fine"

It is spring break and I wake up in the hospital. My teammates call from a party the night before our team leaves for a baseball trip to Florida and I can feel the bass in my chest. I embrace the impossible and imagine them all listening to Blackroc's "Coochie." I laugh and joke like things are fine but I'm not going with them and I have no clue what's wrong with me. My girlfriend, most of my friends have left town. My family is getting to Minnesota as fast they can.

See also: Elliot Smith & Paul Simon's Graceland


Beck "Pill Box Hat"
The Black Keys "Breaks"

To recover, I wake before the sun rises to go work out as hard as I can—I do everything the doctors tell me. But I'm drifting away my friends. I'm rotten inside and I'm becoming so lost. I barely know how I feel, how to feel, let alone tell someone I can't do it myself. I party more than I ever have.

See also: Mississippi John Hurt, Camp Lo & Spoon "Black Like Me"


Peaches "Search and Destroy"
Geto Boys "My Minds Playin' Tricks on Me"
Louis XIV "Louis XIV"

Between 1997-1999, I am a sword swallower, a glass-chewer, the man shot out of cannons, the on-fire body leaping from a sky scraper, the captain of a sunken ship, the sunken cheeks of someone starving, the man who tried to sell the world but couldn't find anyone to talk to, the woman who sat on your lap and tried to give herself away, a slab of freezer-burned meat, the illustrated man, someone weeping in the shower, someone cutting themselves next door, a glass of spoiled milk on the counter and special delivery: A detailed map of Welcome to Nowhere. No matter how much I loved the people around me I couldn't feel anything myself. And no matter what I did, I couldn't die.

See also: Pras "Ghetto Superstar," String Cheese Incident, Bob Marley


Tom Waits "Lucky Day"

My brain begins bleed again and I crash my bike into the curb and flip over the handlebars. Crumpled in the wet grass, my eyes bouncing, my face numb, I can barely make out the hazy shape of a man standing in the picture window above me. He does not come out to see if I'm OK.

I will have to have brain surgery. Because I think this will be the end (and part of me wants it all to end), I go on a road trip with my best friend from high-school. Hello Sturgis, hello rain forest, hello goodbye. Before it all ends, I will fly to a Miami that will be boarded up because of Hurricane Floyd, a Miami where I will be cut open.


Bonus Track: The Flaming Lips "Do You Realize"

Just because we're all going to die doesn't mean this life ain't lovely.


FYI: I don't want to spoil the book for you, but I live. Happy: The Mixtape II contains: Ugly Casanova, Los Lobos, Ol' Dirty Bastard, Okkervil River, Lifsavas, Thomas Mapfumo, Johnny & The Moon, Soledad Brothers, Prince, Nina Simone, Lucinda Williams, Neutral Milk Hotel, Ted Hawkins, The Detroit Cobras and Wolf Parade.


Alex Lemon and Happy links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book (at Esquire)
excerpt from the book (at Thimblewicket)

Bookreporter.com review
Boston Globe review
Charlotte's Web of Books review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Colorado Springs Independent review
Dallas Morning News review
Fort Worth Weekly review
GalleyCat review
Inland Empire Weekly review
Largehearted Boy review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Minnesota Reads review
Old Smiley review
Oregonian review
Salon review
Washington Examiner review

Bookslut interview with the author
Harriet the Blog interview with the author
Huffington Post essays by the author
Paper Cuts interview with the author
Word Out 2010 interview with the author
Zulkey 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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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


Posted by david | permalink






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