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January 11, 2012

Book Notes - Alex Gilvarry "From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant"

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.

Alex Gilvarry's debut From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant is a startling, dark and funny post-9/11 novel, one that brilliantly mixes current politics and our obsession with celebrity culture.

Brock Clarke wrote of the book:

"One of the best celebrations and condemnations of American fear and ambition since Bellow’s Augie March was doing the celebrating and condemning."

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 Alex Gilvarry's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant:

When you're spending three years of your life writing a novel, living with the same set of characters, the same plot line (in my case terror, paranoia, unlawful imprisonment, and ehem… high-end fashion), all strands of art, whatever they may be, begin to seem relevant to your story. Music is the most apparent because it can be digested daily, in small doses, even while writing. The hero of my novel, Boy, is a fashion designer who moves to New York City, and through a circuitous turn of events, he becomes a suspected financier of terror and is dubbed the "fashion terrorist." Boy is detained indefinitely in Guantanamo Bay writing out his confession while he awaits a military tribunal. Most of the songs I've chose here I would put on any mix-tape, but these are the songs I scored my writing day with, and which speak to Boy's situation, his life, his fate, his art, and mine, most appropriately. Listen to it loud.

"I Don't Know Why" – The Rolling Stones

My novel begins with our narrator, Boy, declaring his love for America, and the Stones cover of Stevie Wonder's "I Don't Know Why [I Love You]" says it all. Mick's hootin' and hollerin' on this track gets right at the heart of the matter. It's a love song between a man and a woman, but like all songs about cheating hearts, it can be applied to anything, even the love for a country.

"20th Century Man" – The Kinks

The first track on Muswell Hillbillies, a mostly overlooked album by the Kinks. This song in particular has all of the humor and political quips that I rely on the Kinks for. The 20th Century Man in Ray Davies narration, in many ways, is a disillusioned hero straight out of Dostoyevsky. If you have time, follow it up with the next song on the album, "Acute Schizophrenia Paranoia Blues," a hokey blues song that resonates heavily with post-9/11 paranoia.

"Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey) – The Feelies

I have a song from the White Album tattooed on my right arm. The Beatles are my religion. But it's hard for me to put the fab four on a playlist because I never want to play them out. Instead, here's the Feelies rendition of "Everybody's Got Something to Hide," and for a story about a man imprisoned, I believe the title here says it all.

"Suffer for Fashion" – Of Montreal

A lot of my novel takes place in the fashion industry. Boy, the hero, is a struggling fashion designer. So it's only fitting that I pepper this playlist with a little couture. I met Kevin Barnes once, the lead singer of Of Montreal, after a show at the Bowery Ballroom where he performed, partly, in a wedding dress. Nice guy, funny man, and I suspect a member of Mensa. His lyrics are, for lack of a better term, incredibly intellectual. He has the vocabulary of Vladimir Nabokov and swims in his own wordplay just as much. In this song alone he uses the words "Emote," "Emasculate," "Emaciate,"—even if you need a dictionary you can still dance to the whole thing.

"American Boy" Estelle featuring Kanye West

Let's keep it dancy for now. In trying to create a fashion designer with a big ego, I listened to a performer with the biggest ego around—Kanye West—and I mean that as the highest compliment. This is a love song about success. I first heard it at a dance party in Williamsburg where a lot of my novel is set. And will you look at its title? I could have named my book after it.

"Heartless" – Kanye West

My novel has a love story between Boy and a Sarah Lawrence undergraduate named Michelle Brewbaker, who writes a hit Broadway play about him. It's a modern love story set in dorm rooms in Westchester and fashion parties in Bryant Park. "Heartless" is a song that speaks to their relationship best.

"Time" – David Bowie

Time is the only thing my hero has once he's imprisoned in the world's most notorious prison. So I think it's fitting to include Bowie's rock ballad, a spooky reflection on time. Plus, no playlist of mine is complete without a Bowie tune.

"Fortunate Son" – Credence Clearwater Revival

When I need someone to belt out a song about America, I turn to John Fogerty and CCR. He's got an American howl that sounds like it's straight out of the deepest south. This is a protest song of the highest order.

"What Have They Done to the Rain?" – Malvina Reynolds

By far the saddest song I've ever heard. Malvina sings about a world without rain. For a time, Boy doesn't see any rain from his prison cell in Guantanamo. This is what he'd be listening to.

"Saved" – Devendra Banhart

Banhart is the type of man, like my hero, who isn't afraid to put on a dress once in a while, and women still want to sleep with him. "Saved" is a song that begins with a church organ, reminding me of Boy's childhood spent in Catholic school. I, too, spent many years in a prison I called Catholic school. And if we had a singer like Devendra Banhart when I was doing my time in Monsignor Farrell High, I may very well have put on a dress too.

Alex Gilvarry and From the Memoirs of a Non-Enemy Combatant links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Boston Globe review
BroadartVibe's Blog review
Full Stop review
Head Butler review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

All Things Considered essay by the author (on Max Frisch's I'm Not Stiller)
All Things Considered essay by the author (on writing in Norman Mailer's former home)
Bibliophile Brouhaha interview with the author
New York Times profile of the author
Thirteen 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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