September 1, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Alexander Maksik's debut novel brilliantly kicks off Alice Sebold's Tonga imprint at Europa Editions. Told seamlessly through three narrators (a teacher and two students at an international high school), this nuanced story offers a glimpse of everyday Paris through the eyes of Americans while also exploring fundamental questions of morality.
The Rumpus wrote of the book:
"Alexander Maksik in his debut novel, You Deserve Nothing, (the first book from Europa’s new Tonga imprint run by Alice Sebold of The Lovely Bones) dusts off the tired story of predatory teacher and nubile female student and makes it new again by using multiple perspectives. What is achieved is the grander consequences of such a betrayal. Not only is the young high school girl’s life changed, but so are the students who revered and idealized the lecherous teacher."
Although, I wrote You Deserve Nothing in Paris, I wanted to write a novel that wasn't steeped in the usual Paris imagery, so I made a point of avoiding certain music when I was working. Edith Piaf, for example, was anathema and I avoided her and anyone else whose songs had been used to provide "French" atmosphere in American films. I often listened to Georges Delerue's score for Le Mépris, such a beautiful album, and Miles Davis' soundtrack to Louis Malle's Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud, which feels to me Parisian in just the right way. Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert is one of my all time favorite recordings and I listened to it often while I was writing. Another soundtrack I love to write to, and which is a kind of bridge between pure instrumental and lyrical music is John Lee Hooker's The Hot Spot, which is really forty minutes of the world's finest moaning.
Three of my best friends in Paris - John McNulty, Andy Scisco and Erica Buettner - are musicians and, while I was working on the novel, they were all writing and recording music. It's impossible for me to separate that time in my life from their songs.
I have a hard time writing to music that's too lyric-driven, but there are mysterious exceptions. For some strange reason I find Fink's album Distance and Time to be perfect writing music. And the same is true of Shuggie Otis' Inspiration Information, an album, by the way, that has some of the coolest song titles in the history of pop music.
Here's my playlist for You Deserve Nothing:
Georges Delerue – Le mépris – "Camille"
This is one of my favorite pieces of music from one of my favorite films - a melody that is evocative and instantly recognizable.
Gustav Mahler – Symphony 5 - "Movement 4"
Years before I moved to France, when I was just beginning to think about writing a novel, I was driving a rental car down a highway in Idaho and this came on the radio. That was it. I don't know enough about music to say much more than I love it in the purest most visceral way. When I finished the first draft of You Deserve Nothing I went alone to the Salle Pleyel and heard the whole symphony performed by the Paris Orchestra. I had the very worst seat in the theater and it didn't matter at all.
Miles Davis – Ascenseur pour l'Échafaud - "Sur l'Autoroute"
About the saddest, coolest song from one of the coolest albums ever recorded. And by the way, the original album includes extraordinary photographs of Miles Davis blowing his trumpet into Jeanne Moreau's ear and teaching her how to play.
Keith Jarrett – The Köln Concert – "Part 1"
My parents played this album over and over when I was young, so I'd been listening to it forever. One night I went to a party in Paris and the host had the original vinyl version leaning against the wall. We've been friends ever since.
John Lee Hooker – The Hot Spot – "Harry's Philosophy"
The best track from one of the sexiest albums I've ever heard (on par with D'Angelo's Voodoo). The film, The Hot Spot, directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Don Johnson as a mysterious drifter without a past, doesn't quite do the music justice, but trust me, it's better than it sounds.
Fink – Distance and Time – "This is the Thing"
A musician I discovered in Paris. I'm not sure what it is precisely – lyrics, rhythm, quality of voice - but I've always found this song, and the whole album in fact, seductive and great to write to.
Shuggie Otis – Inspiration Invitation - "Strawberry Letter 23"
The Brothers Johnson version of this song is better known, but Otis wrote it and I think his original recording is far superior. For a long time I taught for nearly nothing at a windowless language school on the far eastern edge of Paris. When I was finished repeating, "this is a spoon, this is a spoon," I'd ride my bike home across the city at night listening to Shuggie Otis. I always associate it with leaving and being free of that miserable place.
Charles Lloyd – The Water is Wide - "There is a Balm in Gilead"
I saw Brad Mehldau play in Paris and between songs he mentioned Charles Lloyd. I'd never heard of him, but the next day I bought this album and it's become one of my favorites. And his version of "Balm in Gilead" is just gorgeous.
Erica was writing songs and just barely scraping by when we met. We were both desperate and poor and sort of pathetic. We'd go up to Cabaret Populaire in Belleville and I'd read and she'd play and then we'd drink a lot. She's one of the most determined and purest artists I know and I think this is the best song she's ever written.
John McNulty – Sketches for Anvers – "Will You Let Go?"
After his ridiculous French rendition of "Purple Rain," this is my favorite of John's songs. I've heard him play it in so many places that it's deeply connected to the time in my life when I was writing You Deserve Nothing, and it's hard now to separate the song from all those nights we were out together trying to figure out what we'd do with our lives. John's written a lot of great music, but this has always struck me as his most powerful song.
Andy Scisco – The Sky Between Us – "You and I Begin"
I spent some time in London with Andy when he was recording this album. Later he got a gig opening for Gérald Depalmas and ended up playing huge venues. Of all the artists I knew in Paris, Andy was the first to have any real success. I remember sitting backstage at Bercy fitting liner notes into jewel cases, because he was selling more CDs than Depalmas. Listening to him play this song in his kitchen one night, a bunch of us sitting around drinking wine with all the windows open – it's one of the best memories I have of my life in Paris.
Alexander Maksik and You Deserve Nothing links:
The Book and Biscuit review
The Bookbag review
Bunny Tales review
The Daily review
Fan the Pages review
Kirkus Reviews review
Portland Mercury review
Publishers Weekly review
Three Guys One Book review
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