August 13, 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.
Pauls Toutonghi's novel Evel Knievel Days is both delightfully outrageous and surprisingly heartwarming, a daring coming of age story that spans Butte, Montana to Cairo, Egypt.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"Brilliantly imagined. Artfully written. Superbly entertaining."
1988, Seattle Washington.
When I was a kid I loved classical music. Bach, Beethoven, Dvorak, Debussy, Ravel, Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky: I had their cassette tapes and I listened to them obsessively on the all-classical radio station—late into the night on my Walkman. It was a passionate dedication but, as you might imagine, it didn't get me a lot of street cred.
My friends loved Guns n' Roses and Boyz II Men—and so they treated me with the usual amount of kindness and understanding that you would expect from eleven year olds.
Once those wounds healed—I did manage to branch out from Classic King FM 98.1. I ventured first into Americana, and then blues, and then jazz—and finally, in high school and college—rock of various sorts. It was, after all, Seattle in early 1990s. The University Motorsports Garage regularly had all-ages shows with bands like Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden.
Here is a playlist of what I listened to while writing Evel Knievel Days—some of which made it into the book, itself.
Bach, "The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2, Fugue in E Major" – Glenn Gould, piano
Gould was a reclusive genius who spent years making soundscapes on the CBC; his radio program, The Idea of North, is one of my favorite long pieces. He weaves voices together, telling stories, as if they were the instruments in an orchestra. It's not great writing music, though – all those voices, swirling together. But Bach – tremendous writing music. So orderly and beautiful.
The Dodos, "Fools"
A great song from a spectacular, strange band. This is a melodic and disorderly invocation of some of the musical traditions that I love. I listened to this song while I was writing the tricky scene where the aunts—and the extended family—meet Khosi. The frenetic energy of the song gave me a kind of frenetic energy in my prose – for which I'm grateful.
Beethoven, "Sonata for Piano and Cello, Op. 69"
This is, I think, pretty much the most perfect duet written for these instruments. The mournful voice of the cello contrasts with the precision of the piano. The two instruments feel like they are human voices, in conversation.
This duo from Brooklyn issued this song through only limited conventional means—but the video is an example of thrift rock at its finest. I couldn't stop playing this song, again and again, as I wrote the scenes of the book set in Egypt.
Gas Huffer, "George Washington"
Gas Huffer was a smaller band Seattle in the 1990s. Their lyrics are truly great and delivered in a howling bass moan, over fuzzy feedback laden guitars and insistent drums. This is the first track off of Integrity Technology & Service.
Tad, "Wood Goblins"
For whatever reason, this song by the group Tad was one of the most common songs I listened to while writing Evel Knievel Days. This is a song that has followed me from cassette tape to CD to digital file; somehow it keeps appearing now in my iPod playlists. The Tad documentary, Busted Circuits and Ringing Ears, offers a fantastic glimpse of the band's early years—including its 1991 European tour with Nirvana. You can see how much Kurt Cobain was influenced by Tad Doyle's guitar and vocal sounds.
Songs I Imagined Into the Book:
Merle Haggard, "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down"
Truly the classic I've-lost-my-true-love-and-now-I'm-drinking song. I think that I've only listened to this one a few times, myself, in a time of emotional crisis—but every time, it has made that crisis better. I imagined my protagonist listening to this and wallowing in self-pity.
Fleet Foxes, "White Winter Hymnal"
Orchestral in its composition, this is an otherworldly song—one of my favorites. The story told by the lyrics could possibly be gothic—or it could be a scene from a childhood. It's hard to tell. But the beauty of it is what made me imagine it as the background for a sequence of visual images, a montage, from the novel.
Albert King, "Stormy Monday"
The great blues guitarist with the distinctive sound, the best version of this song comes from his live recording at the Fillmore West, in San Francisco. King could hang the melody and lyrics around the guitar sounds of the blues unlike anyone else. This song is perfect for moments of lost love, too.
Horse Feathers, "Curs in the Weeds"
Among my favorite Portland bands, Horse Feathers' lead singer, Justin Ringle, has a haunted, ethereal voice. It can feel like a ribbon of sound, working its way out of the speakers and then unfurling into the air. This song is a particularly sad one, as well. Looking at these songs—I realize now that many of them are about heartbreak. What does that say?
Ray Price, "Heartaches by the Number"
The lyrics to Ray Price's version of this song—two lines of them, anyway—appear in my book. I wanted to put more in there, but the house didn't feel it would be considered fair use. Oh well. I hear the whole song every time I read that scene aloud. Price, incidentally, is still performing—and has a couple of concerts lined up. What I wouldn't give to see him play this live.
Pauls Toutonghi and Evel Knievel Days links:
Diane Prokop interview with the author
KMVT interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown self-interview with the author
NW Book Lovers interview with the author
Oregonian profile of the author
Portland Monthly interview with the author
The Quivering Pen guest post by the author
The Quivering Pen profile of the author
Read It Forward profile of the author
Reuters interview with the author
Think Out Loud interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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