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August 30, 2012

Book Notes - Eric Nuzum "Giving Up the Ghost"

Giving Up the Ghost

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.

Eric Nuzum's memoir Giving Up the Ghost is both a moving and darkly humorous tale of friendship and love.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"An original, deeply moving memoir about how a man's quest to understand the supernatural led him to confront his own haunted past."

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 Eric Nuzum's Book Notes music playlist for his memoir, Giving Up the Ghost: A Story About Friendship, 80s Rock, a Lost Scrap of Paper, and What It Means to Be Haunted:

My new book, Giving Up the Ghost, is a memoir about a time in my young life that was both mundanely unextraordinary, as well as extraordinary fucked-up.

Like many kids, I was a perfect storm of teen angst, loneliness, and depression. A tsunami of dork. Unlike other kids, I was also convinced that there was a ghost in my parents' attic that wanted to harm me.

Needless to say, this situation didn't end well.

The book is about being a misfit in the Midwest in the 80s, grasping to hold on to a life that was falling apart (then put back together), falling in love, and what it means to be haunted--by ghosts, literal and figurative.

Instead of sharing a playlist of music thematically connected with my book, these are all songs that are discussed in the book, or were playing on the car stereo or turntable while the scenes play out. A surprising number aren't mentioned, yet whenever I think of those experiences, I remember listening to these songs while they happened. I've also tried to offer a bit to explain why I can never listen to these pieces without thinking about the moments they soundtracked.

You can hear the full playlist via Grooveshark and Spotify. Below are some thoughts on a few of the songs.

"Swing the Heartache" - Bauhaus

Every huge music fan usually became a huge music fan because, at one or several points in their life, they heard a piece of music that blew their mind. Something unexpected and weird and new and exciting and perhaps unsettling. Perhaps you didn't even like it, but it opened up an entire world to you. As a music fan, you quickly develop an addiction to those moments and spend the rest of your life chasing as many as you can possibly find.

This song was one of those moments for me.

When my friend Laura (a central character in my story) comes back from a year as an exchange student, she gave me a cassette of Bauhaus's Press the Eject.... It was queued to this song.

That night, and this song, have been stuck in my head ever since.

"Once In A Lifetime" - Talking Heads

In the book I'm at a party, looking for an excuse to rage out. What did I hand-select as my trigger? Cap'n Crunch. As in the naval-like cartoon character who battles the Soogies to keep the cereal crisp and delicious. I hated that motherfucker and wanted everyone to know it. I started screaming how much I hated him. While this song was blaring in the next room, I brought the party to a dead stop while flailing around the kitchen, destroying an otherwise innocent box of breakfast cereal.

"God of Thunder" - KISS

When I was 11, I was in a KISS cover band called KISS Junior, comprised of my friend Terry, who owned a guitar but hadn't learned to play it yet, his sister Tammy on tambourine, and me on electric organ. Since there were no KISS songs playable on one guitar, a tambourine, and electric organ, we would put one of the four KISS records we owned on the turntable and just play and scream along with it.

Unfortunately, KISS Junior broke up following a harsh experiment in attempting to paint our faces like our heroes (after which we were accused of "being gay" by Terry's stepdad for wanting to wear make-up).

The story has little to do with ghosts or being haunted, but I kept fighting for it to be included in the book and I won!

"Let's All Go (To The Firedances)" - Killing Joke

One night while sitting in the empty parking lot of a grocery store in Canton, Ohio, my friend Laura hit eject on my car player and put in Firedances from Killing Joke. We weren't 15 seconds into the first song on the tape "Let's All Go (To The Firedances)" when I realized I had to find and buy a copy immediately. I needed to hold it, look at the artwork, and listen to it whenever I wanted. It had to be mine because, even though I hadn't known it existed half a minute earlier, it was a pitch-perfect sonic calling card to everything I thought, felt, and knew.

"The Jezebel Spirit" - Brian Eno and David Byrne

When Brian Eno and David Byrne created My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, there were no such things as samplers, scratching, or even laptops for that matter. They laid in found sound as vocals for the entire album using hand-fired tape cuts, practiced and attempted, over and over again until they could finally nail it. What you or I could do in a few minutes with free software took them weeks and weeks of shitty horrible work.

Of course, whenever anyone talks about this album, they mention what I have and its rightful place as the first "sampled" album. Rarely does anyone mention the beautiful, ethereal, mind-blowing and, yes, haunting music they created.

This tape was a constant presence in my player throughout my late teens--and I still listen to with embarrassingly regularity even today.

"Ignore The Machine" - Alien Sex Fiend

As a teenager in Ohio, I loved Alien Sex Fiend before I ever heard any of their music. I just loved saying that I had a record by a group with that name. I often wished people would ask me what I was listening to, just so I could say their name. There was actually a few songs of theirs that I genuinely adored, regardless of the band name. This was one of them.

"DJ" - David Bowie

In the book, this song is playing while I was standing on top of a cafeteria table screaming at a woman who dared to question my taste as a DJ at our college radio station. To this day, whenever I hear it, I mentally see my boot-clad foot kicking half-empty cups of bad coffee off of the table top while singing, "I am a DJ, I am what I play!"

"Living for the Depression" - Flipper

This was the song that initiated the listeners complaint that ended up with me screaming on top of a table.

"Christian Says" - Tones on Tail

Towards the end of the book, my best friend Laura, who is largely responsible for me making it through my troubles, came over to my house one afternoon.

I'd just bought a 12-inch of "Christian Says" Which she'd asked me to play. Then she asked me to play it again, and then again, and again. She just stood in front of the speakers listening to it over and over. She never told me what she heard in this song that resonated so deeply, but it obviously did.

"2/1" - Brian Eno

I've owned at least half a dozen copies of this record in my life, mostly because I keep giving it away. I meet people who I think would love this music and I feel they need to have it. If I'm not in the position to buy it for them, I just hand them my copy.

For reasons best explained in the book, this specific piece of music fills a very important role in my history. The moment in the book where everything turns around, when you realize that I'm going to eventually be okay, involved this song. It wasn't simply playing in the background--the song itself was the catalyst.

Literally, this song saved my life.

Eric Nuzum and Giving Up the Ghost links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus Reviews review
Washington City Paper review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Dead Travel Fast
Talk of the Nation interview with the author
To the Best of Our Knowledge interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
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musician/author interviews
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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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