September 28, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Christopher Boucher's How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive is original, deeply touching, and hilarious, truly one of the year's strongest debut novels.
Bibliokept wrote of the book:
"Also funny and sad: Christopher Boucher's How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (new from Melville House). Like Trans-Atlantyk and Kleinzheit, Volkswagen is composed in its own language, a concrete surrealism full of mismatched metaphorical displacements. It's a rare bird, an experimental novel with a great big heart."
My fiction is often driven by my unsophisticated but fervent enthusiasm for music of all genres. In my own reading, music always beats meaning to the punch; I’m fascinated by the moment in which, milliseconds before I connect a string of letters to an idea, a word hits me as pure sound.
Some of the songs on this playlist informed my writing process, and others were central to the cross-country roadtrip which I took last month to celebrate the publication of my novel.
Rusty Belle, “Rearview Mirror Sunrise”
Rusty Belle is one of mine and my wife’s favorite bands, and they happen to be located in western Massachusetts. Their music sounds just like their name suggests it would – earthy, crooked, worn leather shoes and old suit coats. In my opinion, this band is far less well-known than they should be – I’d love to see them open for Tom Waits or Beirut.
This song is from one of their newer albums, and when I hear it now I think of driving through Utah with my wife, the highway swooping towards gigantic brick-colored rock formations on either side of us, the entire country on the other side of our windshield. This song contains my reverence for that moment, especially when siblings Matt and Kate Lorenz harmonize on the word “drive.”
Buke and Gass, “Your Face Left Before You”
I tend to take steps to destabilize the reader in my own work, and I think I look for a similar instinct in music as well. I know that’s one of the qualities which drew me to Buke and Gass, whose album Riposte I was listening to a lot as I was completing edits on my novel. Arone Dyer and Aron Sanchez are on a totally unique frequency, but it’s one that, because of their chops and great songcraft, is tremendously inviting. This song in particular rocks unstoppably.
The Bad Plus, “Physical Cities”
David King may be my favorite drummer of all time – I wish I could write with as much reckless abandon as he plays the drums. A lot of my favorite novels and songs attain that status because of some central mystery which, try as I might, I can’t decode. For me, that mystery is at work in the music of The Bad Plus, who I listen to with a sort of dizzy awe – I’m not always sure where I am in the tune, but I’m completely engaged and amazed.
Bon Iver, “Lump Sum”
Justin Vernon is my favorite musician at work today. I started listening to For Emma, Forever Ago while on retreat in Northampton, Massachusetts during the last months that I was writing my novel, and those songs were exactly what I needed to hear at the time. To me, Bon Iver’s music is both challenging and accessible, both beautiful and strange.
The Low Anthem, “Ghost Woman Blues"
I love The Low Anthem's patience and quiet – they're not afraid to write songs that are unhurried, deliberate and layered. There are good lessons for writing here, I think. I particularly love the clarinet in this song – it’s surprising to me every time I play the track.
Chris Thile, “The Eleventh Reel”
This is from the first album by the band that became the Punch Brothers, and I can’t think of too many other tunes which contain this much joy. I especially love the breaks here by guitarist Chris Eldridge and banjo player Noam Pikelny. And Chris Thile’s mandolin playing is ferocious – he is, in my opinion, one of the most creative musicians working today.
Laura Veirs, “I Can See Your Tracks”
This is the first song on Laura Veirs’ stunning 2010 album July Flame, which I find remarkable for both Veirs’s writing and Tucker Martine’s production. The end result is a sound which strikes me as incredibly spacious – the first notes of the nylon-string guitar are a football field away from the background voices that we hear halfway through the tune, and Veirs’ voice is situated right in the center.
Tom Waits, “Make It Rain”
I listened to this album, Real Gone, repeatedly during a time when I was stuck with my novel and writing story after story in an attempt to find the plot. I love guitarist Marc Ribot’s playing on this album, and Tom Waits is simply one of my favorite musicians of all time – I’m amazed by his artistic evolution, which somehow seems both surprising and organic.
John Hartford, “Steam Powered Aereo Plane”
This is a bluegrass/newgrass favorite, and one which my friends and I play at bluegrass jams in western Massachusetts. There’s no denying how much fun John Hartford had playing music, and that fun is contagious in this tune.
Bela Fleck, “Sanctuary"
There are dozens of great banjo players at work today, but I don't know of anyone in the same neighborhood as Bela Fleck. “Sanctuary” is one of my favorite tunes by Fleck; it’s beautifully-composed, and all of the musicians (Tony Rice, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Stuart Duncan, Mark O'Connor) seem to be on exactly the same page. This song is a Route 47 every time I hear it.
Christopher Boucher and How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive 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