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November 30, 2011

Book Notes - Lou Beach ("420 Characters")

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.

Though limited by design to 420 characters each (the maximum length of a Facebook status update), the stories in Lou Beach's new collection 420 Characters are both powerful and surreal.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"By turns cheeky and cherubic, these 420-character shorts from the author's Facebook page encapsulate in pithy form entire plotlines or character studies. Known largely as an illustrator featuring surrealist juxtapositions and startling cut-outs (Beach's artwork appears here intermittently), Beach injects these tidy depictions with a similar boundless, mischievous imagination."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Lou Beach's Book Notes music playlist for his short fiction collection, 420 Characters:

I DIDN'T listen to music while writing the stories in my book. A great many of them were written in that floaty limbo time just after waking. They started out in the tail end of dreams and coalesced after my eyes opened. I'd close my eyes again and picture the story happening then put it into words, editing in my head. Finally I'd get up and even before I'd have coffee sit down at the computer, open Word and hammer out the tale. The book is comprised of my Facebook status updates, wee fictions compressed into that tight format, an exercise, an amusement that grew up and became a book. They are ruthlessly edited for size and I generally kill my darlings and try not to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

If all art indeed aspires to the condition of music then I hope my art (I am an artist and illustrator, have created many record covers) and my writing can touch that emotional button that music does so keenly, though music has the other forms beat hands down in its ability to viscerally engage. The songs I've chosen can make me melancholy, or contemplative, want to drive too fast, or punch a hole in a wall, or march in the streets. So, with that said, here's some tunes that slay me.

JUNE CHRISTY / "Midnight Sun"

Poetry, just this side of surreal. The words weave a weird love song…"aurora borealis", "stardust on my sleeve", "alabaster palace", "the stars forget to shine". The title itself - "Midnight Sun"…what the hell is going on here, are they in Alaska? Beautiful and strange with Christy's unembellished vocals, so "icy white and crystalline."

JUNIOR WELLS / "Messin' With The Kid"

Oh man, I can play this over and over again in my car, really loud until I get to where I'm going or just drive with no destination til the song exhausts me from singing along with the windows open and I pull up in front of my house wearing Ray Bans and scare the neighbors. It's an old Muddy Waters tune, but with more drive (Buddy Guy's guitar) than Muddy's version. I love Muddy, though, met him a few times and it was like shaking hands with royalty.

FARON YOUNG & RAY PRICE / "Mansion on a Hill"

God, I love a good country weeper. This one has been covered dozens of times but I'm particularly fond of these C&W stars' version - so great to hear them trading off lyrics of heartbreak. The best old country songs evoke such emotion and I appreciate the simple narratives of loss and yearning. Bartender, another round!

RALPH STANLEY & BOB DYLAN / "The Lonesome River"

Another country song, though more old timey, less honky tonk. It is just so sweet and innocent and sad, though jaunty at the same time, with harmonies rather than the voices trading off. The harmonies are slightly sour, back porchy and invite you to come sit a spell, sing along, pass the jug. I like this side of Dylan, his deep regard for country songs.

FIVE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA / "Way Down in the Hole"

One of the best pieces of television music ever for one of the best shows ever – The Wire. It's another one of Tom Waits' spooky oompah tunes and it's torn up by FBBA, puts you right in the pocket of sin and redemption and moonlit nights, the devil, nastiness going on. Best be careful.

ALEX BRADFORD / "It Makes Me Tremble"

It was difficult to pick an Alex Bradford tune, there are so many to choose from. He's my favorite gospel performer. The Professor's raw vocals on this, his whoops, sweetened by the choir, are tension-filled as he sings about Jesus being whipped. Is he trembling with rage or is he overwhelmed with sorrow? The otherworldly organ travels up and down my spine. Gospel is the music that most affects me physically with an emotional wallop. I've been to gospel concerts and services, seen women overtaken by the spirit and roll in the aisle and if anything would make me a believer,this is it, brother.

HORACE SILVER / "Song for My Father"

Just a beautiful piece of writing and playing. There's a swell vocal version as well by Leon Thomas. This is dedicated to Silver's father and the emotion is palpable, a testament to his love for the man. It always hits that spot in the back of my throat, makes me think of my own father whom I loved but with whom I had a rocky relationship. He's been dead now for thirty years and I wish he were here to read my book and hear this song.

MARIA CALLAS / "Casta Diva"

What can I say? She's the cream. This Bellini opera involves tragic love, denunciation and death, oh boy, and Callas' singing here as Norma, the spurned lover is transcendent, shimmering, another heartbreak tune. No twang this time.

STEVIE WONDER / "Higher Ground"

The bass line is whoa! turn it UP. This is a full throttle gospel-protest-dance song, infectious as the best of Stevie's songs, life affirming and generous. If you have any dance bones, you will rattle them.

DAVE ALVIN / "Out of Control"

Dave is a pal, a great songwriter and burning guitar player. He's also a published poet. His driving blues guitar on this number propels a song about people living on the edge in a world with little to offer but false hope and low pay checks. Dave's a master at this type of dark night tale featuring cheap motels and drugs, an outlaw lover and his woman.

(Dave reads some of my stories:

There are also readings by Jeff Bridges and Ian McShane)


Psychedelic blues. Butterfield's great early band churning through 13 minutes of note bending, mind bending jazz inflected tripdom. Transcendence, 60's Chicago style. Mike Bloomfield! Close your eyes, see a pageant.

MOTHERS OF INVENTION / "Trouble Every Day"

This angry sucker is from way back in 1966, but it's still relevant today - pissed off at consumerism, racism, police brutality, apathy. It's about riots and has some of Zappa's best early lyrics and pounding music… favorite Mothers album – Freak Out. Played loud and daily, it really ticked off my room mates.

THE SHINS / "Gone for Good"

Countrified smarty pants music, puckered pedal steel adding that extra angsty pull of lonesome.

FRED NEIL / "I've Got a Secret, Other Side of This Life"

It was just too hard picking between these two. Fred Neil had a great full voice that he wore on his sleeve, all the pain right on the surface, scratching at you. The deep melancholy always comes through. An under rated talent with those big pipes and twelve string guitar. Gone now.

VAN MORRISON / "T.B. Sheets"

Almost ten minutes of being in a hospital room with Van talking to his dying girlfriend Julie. She's consumed with tuberculosis and he can smell the sheets, wants to get out of the room, get to the fresh air. Claustrophobic death blues, Hammond organ driven, a groovy dirge.

PERCY MAYFIELD / "Please Send Me Someone To Love"

Percy's wonderful prayer, so simple, so pure. He just wants the world to be peaceful, have hate be gone, and hey, while you're at it, if it's not asking too much, I could use someone to love.

LOS LOBOS / "La Pistola y el Corazon"

See them live. I've lived in L.A. for over 40 years and Mexican culture is just part of the air here. If you don't speak even a little Spanish, you're from Minnesota. A love song in Spanish is more of a love song and this heartbreaker gets to me. The kisses that you gave me my love are the ones that are killing me. All hail David Hidalgo.

THE BEACH BOYS / "The Steamboat"

From the Holland LP that also included Sail on Sailor, this sounds like a childrens song, has beautifully nutty lyrics over lilting music:

"The river's a bed of sweet berries and flowers

Banks of thirsty lies

(Please be careful)

The stream is an eyeglass of heroes

Bridged with bright replies

The creek is a funnel of forgiveness

Winning every prize

Steamboat of living ever faithfully ride."

ELVIS PRESLEY / "She's Not You"

The King has it all going on here, walking bass line, the background Jordanaires ("wah doo wah") and great yearning lyrics. "She even kisses me the way you used to do, but she's not you."

MOON DOG / "Bird's Lament"

A symphony in a minute and one half, a pearl in a walnut shell, by "The Viking of 6th Avenue". Moon Dog was a blind poet and musician who lived on the streets of Manhattan, a homegrown oddball genius particular to America, like Harry Partch or Howard Finster.

I could do this all day, but I must get back to work. There are so many tracks, whole albums of songs well known and obscure that make me grounded in the world or take me to dreamland. Magic.

Lou Beach and 420 Characters links:

the author's website
the book's website
excerpts from the book

Dazed Rambling review
Design Nomad review
I Trust the Conners review
Library Journal review
Publishers Weekly review
Three Guys One Book review

Urlesque interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
musician/author interviews
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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