April 21, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Brian Allen Carr's short fiction collection Short Bus brings to life the Texas-Mexico border with its grotesque characters and honest, precise prose.
Benjamin Percy wrote of the book:
"Brian Allen Carr's brain must be a snarl of firing pistons, sizzling fuses, hoses leaking blood and tequila and hydraulic oil. How else can you explain the twisted machinery of his stories? Each of them is a disturbing journey that will thrill and educate you in the sunlit haze of the Texas/Mexico border—and the sometimes subterranean darkness of the human heart."
Short Bus is a collection of 18 stories, and originally I sat down to string together a list of 18 songs--one for each story. A sort of play by play. But sweet christ that was near impossible. It could have been done, but it would have taken some serious emotional toll on me. I used to play in a band, we weren't all that good. We cut a few demos when I was in my early twenties. I was the main songwriter of the group and I hit a wall. I don't know what happened. I quit getting better. I wanted to be really good at writing music, but it seemed the harder I tried the worse I got. Music is an insanely important part of my life, but it's also a hard part of my life. Like a dead brother. Something that I can't call up anymore. And while I still listen to music, and love music, I can't love it the way I used to. A few months back I was in a bar, just one we'd stumbled into, and a band took the stage. They blew my mind. Tight. Mustached. Cool. I can't remember who they were. I don't even know how many members they had. It was that kind of night. They were killing it. They had found a way to become something I couldn't, and it filled me with rage. They finished a song, and I had to leave. They were too good for me to enjoy. They made me jealous. That is not a common reaction I have with music, but I think it happens sometimes. I get jealous of other writers as well. If you don't get angry, if you're not pushing yourself, then I don't think you really care. I don't think you should let artistic competition cripple you, but you should definitely have some form of competitive spirit. You're up against so much. The market is thin on consumers and saturated with producers. So. . .
After realizing it'd be a bit of a nightmare for me to come up with a corresponding song for each story in Short Bus, I decided I would make a list of instrumentals that, when all played together would give a good atmosphere for Short Bus. I can't read and listen to music with lyrics at the same time. I get distracted. I almost got 10 songs with no words. I think three have some lyrics, but of those three the lyrics are secondary to the instrumentals, so I let them ride.
Short Bus is a book that examines deformity and oddity, and I tried to pull together songs that had an element of queer to them. Most of these songs are older. Nothing less than 10 years old. I listen to new music, but I'm not sure that new music informs my writing. It might. Well, it probably does when it does. In one of the stories in Short Bus the narrator is obsessed with Wolf Parade, so . . . But Wolf Parade did not make the list. Here is the list:
1. "Big Sky" - The Reverend Horton Heat
The Reverend Horton Heat grew up in Corpus Christi, TX, which is where I went to high school. He is a ridiculously undervalued guitarist. When I was in high school Rockabilly and swing had a resurgence, and it was nice to live in a town where someone instrumental to that resurgence was from. It gave us pride. The folks in Corpus Christi are blue collar. Many of my characters are from Corpus Christi. It's an odd place. A tattooed, red neck city. A sunny place for shady people. A couple years ago a poll came out that said it was the second stupidest city in the nation. A few months after that another poll came out that said it was the second happiest city in the nation. "Big Sky" is a rowdy and epic rocker, that sounds like the soul of the refinery workers who live in the Coastal Bend (a name for the area of Texas that houses Corpus Christi and other coastal towns). It's a slap in the face of a song. The opener to Short Bus is "Running the Drain" a sort of truncated noir. I think "Big Sky" and "Running the Drain" could live side by side. Their kids would play together. They'd have fish frys on the weekends.
2. "Wig Wam" - Bob Dylan
My wife and I walked the aisle to "Wig Wam." It's a freaky sort of march with Dylan sort of lipping some odd accompaniment to a trumpet driven melody. There's a piano in the background. A mosquito stained guitar riff. Then a tuba. What the hell. It sounds like a death march in a Spaghetti Western. It sounds like an oily mustache. Dylan is a hero of mine. He had to come along. I think I like this song so much because you can hear the room it was recorded in. There's a kind of dusty hum over it all. Like the indy hiss on all of Elliott Smith's albums. A white noise that screams art to me. I love white noise. I wish I could take a bath in it.
3. "Silencio" - Juan Torres
You probably haven't heard this, but it'll remind you of "Spill the Wine." There are organists that play in tons of the border Mexican restaurants. Skinny men with lumps in their throats wearing Sears brand tuxedos, playing syrupy organ songs that sort of make your brain melt into tequila. This is one of the songs they often play, and, as most of Short Bus takes place on the border, I found it necessary to include an example of the sound so ubiquitous here. "Silencio" is beautiful and creepy. The organ stretches out like a long legged murderer, but it doesn't really go anywhere. So much of my book deals with changes that never come. The silence that most folks generally fall back into. In life it is often easier to deal internally than externally. Especially now with all the porn and video games to distract us. "Silencio" is kind of a musical image of the nausea I feel when I realize that so much stays the same, even when it shouldn't. Maybe.
4. "Improvisation #1" - Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt kicks ass and has a crippled hand. He had to be here.
5. "Sweet and Low" - Fugazi
I love Fugazi. I grew up on them. I think they would hate me, but that's alright. I've only seen them once. A five dollar show in Austin. The best five bucks I've ever spent. I spent my teenage years roaming CD stores trying to find all their records. There's something that doesn't happen anymore. I was lying about things changing earlier. Things do change. All the good things, like running around talking to record store clerks and glass Coke bottles, all that stuff changes. All the shitty stuff, like bad organists in crappy suits and racial tensions along nation's borders, that all stays. We are brilliant at reducing the joy and increasing the convenience. Anyhow, used to the back of a Fugazi album said "Pre-Paid $10." But a lot of times the record stores would charge like twelve bucks, and it was really great to get into arguments with the cashiers over the difference. They didn't understand. It was so important to me. I'd scream at them and run my fingers through my ratty hair and stomp my Doc Martens and pop the chain on my wallet. Nothing bothers me that much anymore.
6. "Your Hand in Mine" - Explosions in the Sky
You can't be from Texas and not like Explosions in the Sky. Well, you can, but then you're no friend of mine.
7. "Two Bulls" - John Brown's Body
I've got this story in Short Bus called "The Union of Sherman and Grant" and it's about, well, Sherman and Grant. This one was a no brainer. A song called "Two Bulls" by a band named after the Union's theme song.
8. "Sleep" - Godspeed You Black Emperor
Godspeed You Black Emperor is from Montreal, one of the best cities I've ever been in. I've lived on the Texas/Mexico border and I've lived near the Vermont/Canada border, and I'm amazed at how similar the places are. I mean, they're different as hell. You can't get good chorizo in Vermont, you can't get good pancakes here, but there is this odd tension brought about by the neighboring places. I waited tables a bit in Vermont, and you'd always get pissed when your table had Quebec accents, because you knew they wouldn't tip you shit. I used to cook down here, and the kitchen gets furious when Mexicans (the ones from Mexico, and yes, Yankees, there's a huge difference) come in four minutes before closing, because you know that they're going to keep you there long after you'd normally be. Those fuckers will order dessert 40 minutes after the kitchen's closed. But they tip well. So. If you want to know a people, watch them in a restaurant. Mexicans with money truly believe that everyone has a price. In the border towns of Mexico you can get anything, because the only real source of their income is the vice of Americans. You can get a blow job, buy a monkey, get a massage, drink for days, French food, pain killers, dental work, handmade jewelry, hand crafted furniture, ride a mechanical bull. There used to be boys with backpacks that would run around with metal rods. You'd give them a few bucks and hold onto the rods and they'd shock you--they were hooked up to car batteries in the backpacks. You could do it with a chain of friends. The first friend would hold a rod and the hand of a friend, and then they'd hold a hand, and they'd hold a hand, and you could have as many folks as you wanted so long as the last person held a rod, created a circuit. And then you'd all get shocked together. There'd be a half a dozen of you catching volts, looking around at each other like, "What the fuck?" I can only imagine how that shit started. Some bastard with a fetish and a wad of cash standing drunk on the corner screaming, "Someone shock me," and some industrious kid yanked a battery out of a parked car and figured a way to taze him with it. Then it just caught on. "Sleep" is the song I want to be cremated to.
9. "Astronomy Domine" - Pink Floyd
Old Floyd is brilliant. I actually loved Floyd when I was younger. Of course I did. I was fifteen. There's something that will never change--fifteen-year-old American boys will always love Floyd. Syd Barrett was a kind of hero of mine. I was always attracted to insanity. Once I had to write a paper about my father for a high school English class. I was supposed to provide a picture. I wrote about Syd Barrett and tore a picture of him out of a library book. Shit. Do people tear pictures out of library books anymore. It's so liberating. I had a picture of one of Gauguin's topless Tahitians in my wallet that I'd pulled from a library book, and I used to ask folks if they wanted to see a picture of my girlfriend, and when they said yes, I'd pull those pastel titties out and say, "Tada." And folks would either laugh like hell or look at me like I was late taking medication. Many of my characters are crazy. Some out and out, some by and by. "Astronomy Domine" is fractured and jangly and is the soundtrack to psychosis.
10. "Goodbye Sky Harbor" - Jimmy Eats World
I don't really like Emo, but I love the album Clarity by Jimmy Eats World. The final song stretches on for something like 18 minutes, and at the end of it it doesn't even make sense anymore. I think Short Bus makes more sense at the end than anywhere else, and I thought the juxtaposition would be nice. Of course, you'd have to read it to see what I mean. But you'll read it, right?
Brian Allen Carr and Short Bus 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)
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