June 7, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Alina Simone is a singer-songwriter whose craft I greatly admire. Her songs are smart, dark and introspective, delivered with a strong voice that holds a hint of vulnerability.
You Must Go and Win is her first book. This collection of essays shares the traits that makes her music successful, with the surprising addition of a grand sense of humor. Simone recounts her indie music career and search for her roots in a tragicomic and delightfully self-deprecating voice, this is easily the funniest book I have read all year.
Alina Simone's new album, Make Your Own Danger, was released last week, and she will be reading from You Must Go and Win tomorrow at WORD bookstore in Brooklyn as part of the Largehearted Lit reading series along with Wesley Stace and a special musical guest.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Simone ably juggles the philosophical and the comical, her genuine enthusiasm for arcane subject matter as contagious as the fleas in her long ago apartment"
So my dirty secret is this: I can't listen to music while doing anything else. I can't read or write or even successfully think if there is music on. If I am talking to someone while a song is playing, all I'm really doing is staring at their left eyebrow and nodding at precise, five-second intervals. If I am listening to music, that's all I am doing. Period. It's a liability, but it's how I've always been.
I recently wrote a book about my own inspiring journey from someone no one's ever heard of, to a singer whose name sounds vaguely familiar to people who spend all their time online until they realize, Whoops, that's Nina Simone. At some point in the book, I observe that no matter how hard I try, I will never grow up to be an old black woman like the singers I most admire. Barring some sort of reverse Michael Jacksonification, this remains true. Yet I continue to listen and revere. Take the aforementioned Nina Simone, (whose given name, by the way, was Eunice Waymon — just saying), and whose greatness I can only boringly reassert here. And the gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson. And the contemporary soul singer Sharon Jones, whose incredible stage show makes everyone in the audience feel like they must have a thyroid deficiency.
This is what I listen to (but not when I'm writing).
I love singers whose voices stand out like an alcoholic crazy person claiming to be a hamburger on a quiet suburban street. The vinyl edition of Stid I Sram, Soviet punk singer Yanka Dyagileva's final album, is one of my prized possessions. I got a handheld tape recorder for the express purpose of playing the two Daniel Johnston cassettes that I bought back when I lived in Austin, Texas. For a steady diet of incredible singers whose names have mostly been lost to history, I turn to Alan Lomax recordings and labels like Numero and Revenant Records. For more contemporary fare, my heart consistently thrills to the music put out on Constellation Records. I've also recently joined a powerful and top-secret group of nice people who recommend music to one another online called Bread-and-Circuses. Through B&C I was happy to discover Lee Moses, who could have passed for James Brown's secret twin brother. Or the lovechild of Aretha Franklin and Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Or a Tabasco sauce enema. Or something.
Here is my playlist:
"Workhouse Blues" by Mattie May Thomas from American Primitive, Vol II: Pre-War Revenants (1897-1939)
"Is There Any Love" by Trevor Dandy from Good God! A Gospel Funk Hymnal
Alina Simone and You Must Go and Win links:
Brooklyn Paper review
Codex interview with the author
Jewcy profile of the author
Largehearted Boy interview with the author (with Eugene Mirman)
Largehearted Boy interview with the author (with Mark Everett)
Largehearted Boy Note Books essay by the author
Largehearted Boy Why Obama interview with the author
New York Times essay by the author
T Magazine interview with the author
Tufts Magazine profile of 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)
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
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