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March 17, 2012

Book Notes - William Walsh - "Unknown Arts"

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.

William Walsh has proven himself creative and talented at repurposing text in the past with his book Questionstruck, a literary remix of questions posed in the works of Calvin Trillin. He works that magic again in Unknown Arts: Texts and Poems Derived from the Works of James Joyce. This collection uses Joyce's prose as building blocks to form wholly original pieces that further our appreciation of the legendary writer and his work.

Darcie Dennigan wrote of the book:

"Art critic Thomas Hess found that the only worthwhile criticism of a work of art is another work of art. William Walsh must feel this too, because he does not merely document and rearrange Joyce’s work here—he makes, with Joyce's materials, his own music. Each piece is a lovely read, and a reminder not of totemic, hallowed literature, but of how personal and playful the act of reading really is."

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

In his own words, here is William Walsh's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Unknown Arts: Texts and Poems Derived from the Works of James Joyce:

My interest in James Joyce is a case of undergrad arrested development. I minored in Irish Lit and took a seminar in Joyce my junior year. My teacher, Francis Phelan, author of Four Ways of Computing Midnight, told us on day one that we weren't going to make it all the way through Ulysses, and we should forget about Finnegans Wake. We focused on A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man and Dubliners. Once he thought we understood those books, he said he'd take us through the first three chapters of Ulysses. So my reading of Joyce remained unacademic. But the approach kept me reading (and re-reading) Joyce and wishing that I could mount a more academic assault.

The playlist below is just a song each from Van Morrison, U2, The Pogues, and Sinéad O'Connor. I could make a long playlist for each of these artists. I've been listening to them all for so long—my first album purchase for each was during the waning years of the LP era. I bought all the old Van albums from the cutout bins; I remember waiting for a record store clerk to cut open the box that had War in it on its release day; my copy of the first two Pogues albums were imports; and I had a Lion and the Cobra LP plus a Sinéad poster.

"Bulbs" Van Morrison

From his Veedon Fleece album—the one with the two big Irish Wolfhounds on the cover. This song reminds me of the description of the children playing on the streets at the beginning of "Araby."

"The cold air stung us and we played till our bodies glowed."

"Araby" kills be every time I read it. Joyce's use of the word "play" throughout Dubliners interested me, resulting in a text in Unknown Arts that tracks the occurrence of the word throughout the collection.

"I Am Stretched on Your Grave" Sinéad O'Connor

Such an amazing performance of a song written in Gaelic in the 17th Century and translated by Frank O'Connor in the early 20th Century. The minimalist beatbox arrangement, the space and echo around her voice, and the hot minute of fiddle at the end. Perfection. Sinead was so mysterious and so striking when she put out her first album. I remember watching her early videos on MTV—they only played the cool "alternative" videos late at night. The popularity that came with I Do Not Want What I Haven't Got was just too much for her to manage. Listening to her now, it's hard not to hear her whole story within every song.

She's not Molly Bloom or Mangan's sister or even Anna Livia Plurabelle. But her disposition is Irish. Maybe she's Cathleen ni Houlihan. Maybe she's Nora Barnacle Joyce.

"An Cat Dubh" U2

The black cat. This song could play in the opening scene of Ulysses, when Stephen complains to Buck Mullgan about the English usurper Haines.

—He was raving all night about a black panther, Stephen said. Where is his guncase?
—A woful lunatic! Mulligan said. Were you in a funk?
—I was, Stephen said with energy and growing fear. Out here in the dark with a man I don't know raving and moaning to himself about shooting a black panther. You saved men from drowning. I'm not a hero, however. If he stays on here I am off.

I know that Stephen is meant to be a prick. But I have so much good will for him from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

In the same way, I indulge Bono and forgive all his latter-day excess because of Boy and October and War. And as good as those early albums were, Achtung Baby was even better and still sounds so contemporary.

"Body of an American" The Pogues

My first moshing experience was at Pogues show when Rum, Sodomy, and the Lash came out. It was completely unexpected. I remember my buddy Mike excused himself the first times we got jostled. But we stayed in the pit and shared our pint of Dr. McGillicuddy's Menthol Schnapps with our fellow moshers.

Shane MacGowan wrote some brilliant songs. "The Body of an American" could be heard as a companion to The Quiet Man, the classic John Ford movie starring John Wayne as a retired American boxer who travels to Ireland to lay claim to an old family farm. There's a great comic fight scene between Wayne and Victor McLaglen, and there's a dramatic "big first kiss" between Wayne and Maureen O'Hara that Eliot reenacts in ET. But my favorite part of the movie is Barry Fitzgerald, whose horse automatically stops its cart at the pub very time he passes. Fitzgerald is like a little leprechaun, popping up a few times in the movie to comment on the action, saying, "It's Homeric." And that's just what Ulysses is. Homeric.

William Walsh and Unknown Arts links:

the author's blog
excerpt from the book

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Questionstruck
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Without Wax: A Documentary Novel
Necessary Fiction essay by the author about the book

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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