May 4, 2012
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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Boarded Windows is a stirring and contemplative novel about identity, love, and loss, one of the year's strongest debuts.
Dylan Hicks also recorded a companion album for the novel, which is available as a free download with the book's purchase.
Sam Lipsyte wrote of the book:
"Do yourself a favor and read this smart, tender book. The characters will haunt you with their longing, and inspire you with their sweet, caustic wit. Dylan Hicks knows his music and his prose is a song in itself. He's given light to the shuttered and boarded parts of life."
"Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" – Waylon Jennings
My novel originated from a hazy boyhood memory of being taken to a Waylon Jennings concert at the Minot Municipal Auditorium in what was probably 1978. I wanted to write about a certain provincial bohemianism, and the scene seemed a good starting point, though I guess I wound up writing more about a different provincial bohemianism. By '78, the outlaw aspect of Jennings's expansive music had grown perfunctory—accordingly, some of his best songs from the late '70s are expressions of exhaustion and skepticism—but this tune's from a few years earlier, when the stance's mixture of self-deprecation and self-satisfaction was still fresh, its change-from-within rebellion still urgent. Much like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder had done in Detroit, Jennings had kicked over the traces in Nashville, winning creative autonomy from the division-of-labor industrialists at RCA. "Are You Sure Hank Done It This Way?" is a call for change that hardly ever does, chugging from B to E over and over again in a rhythm at once steady and wobbly, as if the song were both the rutted Nashville establishment and its sweaty, pie-eyed disruption. At least for three insistent minutes, Jennings makes any song with more than two chords seem inefficient and rococo.
"Ain't No Future in Yo' Frontin' " – M.C. Breed and the DFC
The novel's unnamed narrator explains that, during the early '90s, he worked "in downtown Minneapolis at an unhip record store, a shabby, not terribly profitable branch of a locally based national chain, now shuttered." As it happens, during the same period I too worked at a Minneapolis record store that could be described in almost identical terms. Through the summer and into the fall of 1991—just before and during the principal time frame of my novel—this single by Flint, Michigan's M.C. Breed (later MC Breed, without the periods) was one of our biggest sellers, almost impossible to keep in stock in the then-dominant cassingle format. The track samples Zapp's perdurable "More Bounce to the Ounce" and a microtonal synth line from the Ohio Players' "Funky Worm," over which Breed raps with laid-back, amiable toughness about "pickin' suckers like a four-leaf clover" and meeting "your homeboy Marty at a B.O.B. party." It was closest in spirit to EPMD, but especially with that snaky synth it also looked toward the pacesetting gangsta-funk found on Above the Law's 1990 debut. The radio never really caught on, but it was such a car-stereo staple that, at least until it got cold, you could hear it often enough just by going outside.
"That's the Way Love Is" – Ten City
There's a scene in the book in which the main characters throw a little dance party to celebrate the narrator's twenty-first birthday. The narrator refuses to cite any of the records played at the party, but I hope they got to this transcendent Chicago house single, the ultimate showcase for Byron Stingily's supple tenor and remarkably powerful falsetto.
"Boarded Windows" – Bolling Greene
Bolling Greene is a secondary character in my book, an admirable also-ran from a movement closely modeled on outlaw country. According to the book, this is a song he wrote in the late '60s for the great and nonfictional country singer Porter Wagoner, though Greene also recorded his own, less intensely sung version. As a companion to my novel, my band and I recorded an album called Dylan Hicks Sings Bolling Greene, in which I perform loose interpretations of Greene's imaginary songs, as well as songs drawn in other ways from the book. I don't imagine that Greene's rendition includes our long outro of simple vocal harmonies, which I meant to evoke John Sebastian's "Welcome Back." (But maybe I'm wrong.) There are a few problems with the title. One is that I actually sing "boarded window," though I picture this singular window as one of several if not thousands. Still, it's as if Charlie Rich, in his conjugal hit "Behind Closed Doors," in fact sang "behind closed door." Another problem is that it's customary to say boarded-up window; somehow that extra syllable seemed destructive.
"Christianlands" – Tricky
This swirls in the background during a somewhat triste tryst in one of the novel's Chicago sections. I tried to listen to it while revising the scene, but I kept getting up to dance, moodily.
"Coyote" – Joni Mitchell
The novel centers on a visit its narrator receives in the early '90s from Wade Salem, a father figure for the narrator, whose parentage is either unknown or disputed. Wade is a drug dealer and journeyman musician who, among other things, supposedly had one interaction with Jaco Pastorius, who plays the harmonics-heavy bass on this rueful, then funny, road song. For me and many people around my age, Mitchell's music is indelibly tied to motherhood, if only because it was music our mothers listened to a lot, and despite the fact that her '70s lyrics often thoughtfully reject domesticity and draw much of their power and interest by tracking an autonomous, drifting existence. Since this book is in part about maternity, about someone who doesn't know precisely who his mother is, Mitchell seemed like an apt central figure for the soundtrack. "Coyote" isn't specifically mentioned in the novel, but its titular rogue is akin to the Wade character.
"Amanda Ruth" – Rank and File
In the late '70s and part of the '80s, Wade plays bass with Bolling Greene and cowrites Greene's '83 single, a slow-selling indie release produced by Tony Kinman of the excellent country rockers (or, if you must, "cowpunks") Rank and File. I'm sort of hoping mine is the first novel to mention Tony Kinman, but considering how many novels are published, probably even this is too much to hope for.
"The Poor Orphan Child" – The Carter Family
This gospel number was issued as the Carter Family's debut record in late 1927, and recurs throughout my novel. The narrator—very lonely, often self-pitying—clings to his complicated orphan status, and though he's not religious, he'd surely want someone or something to lead him to "that glittering strand."
"Something for Kenny" – Elmo Hope Trio
At one point the narrator describes buying a (fictitious) album by (the actual) jazz pianist Elmo Hope, whose often troubled life ended young. Hope was frequently compared to childhood friend Bud Powell, and like Powell he played with head-turning fluidity and pulled inventively from rangy, blues-to-Bach sources. He was also an able composer. This isn't one of his most memorable melodies, but it has a seductively capricious arrangement and great playing all around, especially from drummer Frank Butler, who knocks and taps out the second half of his solo with his hands.
"I Haven't Learned a Thing" – Porter Wagoner
What if age brings no increase in wisdom or contentment but only compulsively repeated mistakes and ongoing bewilderment? Wagoner's songs can be among the bleakest in all of country music, a genre historically friendly to defeatism, and as such they mirror my narrator's lowest moments. Like Wagoner, though, he's at least "still looking for the answer," if not in the most sensible places.
Dylan Hicks and Boarded Windows links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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