October 13, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book. Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.
David Lester's The Listener is one of the year's most impressive graphic novels. This compelling book offers an insightful glimpse into the Nazi party's 1933 election in Germany as well as the connection between modern art and politics.
The San Francisco Bay Guardian wrote of the book:
"David Lester depicts the shadowy relationship between words and actions in The Listener. The black guilt that weighs heavily within Louise and the German couple seeps across each page like a Rorschach blot."
The Listener tells two intersecting stories. One is the true story of the last democratic election to take place in Germany before Hitler seized power and the other is a fictional story of a female artist named Louise who makes a piece of art that inspires political action that ends in tragedy. The link between the two stories is art and politics. Aesthetics were an important part of the destructive Nazi ideology while in today's world, art and politics can be a valuable part of progressive social change.
"Root Smooth Sapling Whips" by Jean Smith
There is a purely visual sequence in The Listener where the female artist Louise visits a concentration camp called Mauthausen in Austria. I had visited the same camp myself. It was a bitter cold, windy, fall day with moments of rain. The camp was virtually empty. My wife and I stood in silence on the spot where thousands had perished years ago. The ghosts hung heavy on us. So when it came time to draw this moment in my book, I left the sequence without words. The mournful beauty of Jean Smith's sax and piano perfectly convey the melancholy of standing silent in the remains of a concentration camp.
"Reclamation" by Fugazi
Drawing and writing The Listener was a solitary act that required strict attention and focus. During these times, the music I listened to was generally quiet and moody. But there was also a need for the loud and the raw. I wanted to hear the rebellion of frenzied razor guitars. Reclamation is the quintessential aural manifastation of art and politics. It was this late evening boost that gave me the energy to draw many of the pages.
"Symphony No. 7 in C Major" by Dmitri Shostakovich
The Listener highlights the obscure history of the last democratic election in Germany before the Nazis consolidated power. It is a true story that has never been the focus of any book in English that I'm aware of. These small details of history are often lost in the wave of what follows, such as in this case, the Third Reich, the Second World War and the Holocaust. But it is all the more important to know these details because they become the crucial moment when it could have all been otherwise. Why did it go this way and not that way? Shostakovich's Symphony No. 7 is the soundtrack to the historical chronology I include in my book of the terrible events that followed Hitler's rise to power. Symphony No. 7 is about the 900-day German siege of Leningrad and its citizens brave resistance despite half a million of them dying in the process.
"Knock On The Door" by Phil Ochs
Phil Ochs' music has fueled my art since I was a kid. My one and only time of seeing him perform was on a flat bed truck in Vancouver at a protest rally. After he'd finished playing I walked up to him with my pencil and paper and asked for an autograph. He signed his name and kept my pencil, then looked up to see who was next. But there was no one but me. Decades later I would include Phil in my Inspired Agitators poster series. "Knock On The Door" is an obscure song from his first album that acts as an eloquent soundtrack to a graphic novel about the origins of totalitarianism.
"Malachi" by Mecca Normal
Much of the inspiration for The Listener comes from my life-long fascination with art and politics. My rock duo Mecca Normal has, over the course of 27 years, not shied away from combining our art with social issues that mattered. From the feminist anthem "I Walk Alone" on our first album to "Malachi", our most recent release, which is a song that tells the story of Malachi Ritscher (1954-2006) an American musician, free speech and anti-war activist who for many years made high quality recordings of other musicians (often jazz and experimental) performing live in Chicago. He would give a copy to the performers and sometimes these would become official releases. After the U.S. invaded Iraq the second time, he became a vocal opponent of the war at demonstrations and was twice arrested. Like monks opposing the Vietnam war, his final act of protest culminated in an act of self-immolation. The Listener's narrative is driven not only by the spirit of protest and resistance but the acquiescence and fear that prevented those from acting against Hitler.
"1,000 Years" by The Corin Tucker Band
One of the subjects running through The Listener is art. I wrote dialogue that reflects the contradictions and difficulties that can be evident when artists talk. Art is not always easy to explain. The best art defies our expectations and inclinations. I was there when Corin Tucker's band Heavens To Betsy played at The International Pop Underground in Olympia, in 1991, and I was there in 2011 when Corin asked Mecca Normal to join her onstage for her song "1,000 Years" in Vancouver. It was fun and reminded me of the longevity and continuity that artists share. We may not see each other for years, but our histories are linked.
"Tone on Drone" by Wendy Atkinson
Wendy Atkinson's eerie, evocative experimental bass music was the ideal accompaniment to a short animated film I made from a sequence in The Listener. In the sequence I intercut two scenes, one showing Hitler benignly sketching his mistress Eva Braun and the other scene showing the murder of a reporter by Hitler's stormtroopers. I wanted to use the murder of one to foreshadow the murder of millions and I wanted to also metaphorically relate Hitler, art and the cult of death that Nazism embraced.
"A Change is Gonna Come" by Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke wrote this song in 1963, after talking with civil rights demonstrators in Durham, North Carolina. The song's expression of struggle is infused with a love that shows how art can offer hope and inspiration in times of crisis. My character Louise is looking for that balance in her art. Not an easy thing to achieve, but in the end she gets there.
David Lester and The Listener links:
Alternative Magazine Online review
The Book Mine Set review
Comic Attack review
Georgia Straight review
Joshua Malbin review
The Pacific Northwest Inlander review
San Francisco Bay Guardian review
The World's Strongest Librarian review
Alienated in Vancouver interview with the author
CBC interview with the author
Isak interview with the author
The Morton Report interview with the author
The Ubyssey profile of the author
video interviews 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