August 19, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kevin Wilson's debut novel is unique, compelling, and bizarre. The Fangs might be the year's quirkiest literary family, and Wilson's writing skills are all on show as he moves the story from their odd lives to darker spaces.
The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:
"What could devolve into little more than slapstick becomes, in Wilson's skilled hands and, let's face it, somewhat strange imagination, a rich and textured read. He brings us to the brink of absurdity, then turns on a dime and delivers a deeper, darker novel."
In my novel, The Family Fang, the elder Fangs are performance artists who seek to create chaos and unleash it upon unsuspecting people; they use their two children, Annie and Buster, as props in their performances. They believe that nearly every other form of art is worthless and dead. They hate all forms of art other than their own, with one exception: weird music. They love, love, love punk and no wave and esoteric, noisy music. They find it conducive to creating chaos. There are a few songs mentioned in the novel and then there were songs that I listened to in writing the book to help me get a little closer to the Fang family. Here they are:
"Contort Yourself" by James Chance and the Contortions
This is a song that the entire Fang family listens to before going out to cause mayhem. I first found this song from an album I believe that I bought at The Great Escape in Nashville, TN, when I was a teenager. I was listening almost exclusively to Tevin Campbell albums and pop songs on the radio in junior high, and this album kind of wrecked me. It was the first song I thought of when I started imagining the Fang family.
"31 VII 69 10:26 – 10:49 PM" by La Monte Young
This is a song that the elder Fangs listen to at one point in the novel while Buster hides in his room and tries to convince his sister to come visit him. I found this song on the internet when I was in grad school and it seemed like something used to communicate with aliens. It was so beautiful and bizarre.
"Six Pack" by Black Flag
I saw the writer Amy Fusselman perform this song as a lullaby when she read in Cambridge, MA in 2000 or 2001. It was wonderful and transformed the urgency of the song into something hypnotic and sleep inducing. I imagined this would be the kind of lullaby the Fangs would sing to their children.
"Ain't Got No Sense" by Teenage Head
This got cut from the novel, but there was a scene when Annie and Buster, now grownups, listen to this song and jump around the living room. I first heard Screeching Weasel's version of this song when I was in high school and then managed to find a copy of the Teenage Head song through a mail order catalog for more money than I really should have been spending as a teenager.
"The Third Man Theme" by Anton Karas
Annie and Buster watch this movie and then Annie later whistles this song. The Third Man is one of my favorite movies of all time and the strange music made by Anton Karas and his zither was unlike anything I'd ever heard, especially for a movie score.
And these are the songs I listened to most frequently when writing the book:
"Bicycle, Bicycle, You Are My Bicycle" by Be Your Own Pet
This is one of my favorite songs of all time and I listened to it nonstop when I was writing the book. It seemed like a modern version of what the Fang family would have listened to in their early years. Jamin Orrall, who was the lead singer for Be Your Own Pet, would be the daughter the Fangs wished they'd had.
"Rites of Death" by Antestor
For writing, sometimes I want something hypnotic so that it fades into the background and other times I want something jangly and strange to make the writing weird, and then sometimes I just want to listen to black metal and let the propulsive nature of the music push me through the pages. I kind of wish I'd made the entire Fang family fans of black metal.
"Relief" by Sam Amidon
I heard Sam Amidon perform this song live at Joe's Pub in New York City and I thought the way he interpreted this R Kelly song was incredibly joyful and beautiful and perfect. During the revision process of the novel, I listened to this song, on a loop, for hours and hours at a time. I felt like I was in a trance.
"Hayride" by The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show
My parents owned this 7" and it was one of the first songs that I truly loved. It is still my favorite song. I found an mp3 version at some point and I listen to it a lot when my writing isn't going so well. It's such a bizarre song. It opens with a kazoo-like cacophony and then, despite the fact that the band's name is The Saturday Morning Cartoon Show, is about nothing but the lead singer trying to coax someone to go on a hayride with him and have sex…during the hayride. As if this will help the listener make up their mind, he says that "my momma said you would love it," referring to the hayride, I am hoping. It's a basic bubblegum pop song, but the weirdness of it, wrapped in the unthreatening music, is just amazing.
Kevin Wilson and The Family Fang links:
Booking Mama review
Chicago Tribune review
Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Dallas Morning News review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fresh Air review
Kirkus Reviews review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review
Washington Post review
Author Talk interview with the author
Book Talk interview with the author
New York Times profile of the author
Nooga.com profile of the author
Pittsburgh Tribune-review profile of the author
The Shelf Life profile of the author
Speakeasy interview with the author
Talking with Tim interview with the author
Wild River Review 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)
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