August 30, 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.
Victor LaValle's The Devil in Silver brilliantly melds literary horror with social conscience in one of the year's most striking novels.
The Boston Globe wrote of the book:
"Victor LaValle’s third novel is a rambunctious mash-up of horror fiction and social satire. He embeds a sophisticated critique of contemporary America’s inhumane treatment of madness in a fast-paced story that is by turns horrifying, suspenseful, and comic in a noirish way."
I'm the black kid who loved heavy metal. From what I hear this should've made me an outcast, a weirdo, as rare back then as a moderate Republican these days. But luckily for me I grew up in Flushing, Queens. At the time it was the most diverse little neighborhood on the planet. This meant there were white metalheads and black metalheads; lots of Latinos and some Asian ones, too. In fact, the person who introduced me to the music was a Persian kid named Cameron Dadgar. (He grew up to be a fighter pilot in the Air Force and a loving husband, father, and friend so he turned out pretty damn good.) Because of that Queens diversity I never thought my musical love was particularly strange. But when I mention it nowadays folks seem surprised. The main character of my new novel, The Devil in Silver, is a lifelong metalhead too so my playlist is a timeline of sorts. Tracking a few thrash metal songs that blew me out when I was a boy and that still make my head bang, albeit faintly, when I hear them now.
1) "Seek and Destroy" - Metallica
A brutal song from their first album, Kill 'Em All. As the album title suggests, the songs are aggressive and ugly (but strangely catchy, which was Metallica's secret weapon from the beginning). The song is, basically, about the overwhelming desire to go out and find a fight. That's the definition of an adolescent male's emotional state right there.
2) "Run to the Hills" - Iron Maiden
Iron Maiden, a British band, penned this amazing ditty about the war between Native Americans and European settlers. The opening lines are: "The white man came across the sea/he brought us pain and misery." This was pretty startling for me as a kid going through public school in the US. Forget Howard Zinn, Iron Maiden were the ones who first introduced me to alternate takes on American history. Plus, this is the only metal song my wife will sing along with me. She knew all the words long before she met me because she's dope.
3) "Devil's Island" - Megadeth
Very recently the lead singer of Megadeth (Dave Mustaine) made some preposterous comments during a concert in Singapore. He basically blamed President Obama for the Dark Knight Rises shooting in Colorado and the Sikh temple shootings in Wisconsin. He then went on to say more insane things. That aside, Megadeth made some ripping good early albums. "Devil's Island" is a song from their classic, Peace Sells...but Who's Buying? The song is about a prisoner trying to escape from a famous old French penal colony called Devil's Island. But that's hardly the point. The driving beat is the point. Mustaine's high pitched yowl is the point. This one's good for high speed chases.
4) "I Am the Law" - Anthrax
I loved Anthrax for many reasons. They were a great thrash band from New York City. (Which was rare.) Plus they took lots of inspiration from books. (Stephen King, in particular inspired some of their best songs: "Among the Living" and "A Skeleton in the Closet," to name two.) But this song, "I Am the Law," was about the famous British comic character Judge Dredd. The character is basically a law-and-order wet dream. He's allowed to arrest, sentence and even execute criminals on the spot. He often executes because nearly everyone he arrests is scum. It will surprise no one that this character first appeared in the bad old late seventies. Hideous politics aside, Judge Dredd was an ass-kicker and this song was a tribute to that quality. It's an ass-kicker, too.
5) "Raining Blood" - Slayer
This would probably count as the easy pick for Slayer songs. Along with Anthrax, Megadeth, and Metallica, Slayer were part of the "Big Four." Namely the most prominent of the thrash metal bands of the era. Slayer were, without a doubt, the harshest sounding of them. If they stumbled across a melody in one of their songs it was almost certainly by accident. They were harsh in all ways but I, a wannabe metal drummer since way back, was always mesmerized by Slayer's drummer, Dave Lombardo. This former pizza delivery man could hammer out rhythms so quickly, and with such precision, that I tended to believe he was a robot. This song, like so much from Slayer, is the soundtrack of malice.
6) "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)" - Metallica
My second Metallica pick, again from their first album. This one is actually an instrumental track. Metallica had a great run of instrumental tracks on their first four albums (Iron Maiden had some great ones, too) but this one remains my favorite. The bassist, Cliff Burton, can be heard saying, "Bass solo take one." Then he proceeds to make the bass howl like a guitar. This was a shock for me because I was used to my uncle's Earth, Wind, and Fire tastes. There the bass was used for rhythm and if there was a solo it was funky. But Burton played his instrument differently, making it groan and mutter and squeal. The music was complex and vibrant. About two and a half minutes in Lars Ulrich, the drummer, joins in and plays a very clean, simple little beat until the song ends in a feedback-heavy wail. I still play this one when I want to feel unhinged. Which is fairly often.
7) "Bored" - Death Angel
A Bay Area thrash quintet whose members were all Filipino kids. I remember seeing them, maybe in some thrash magazine, before I heard them. But seeing them was enough to peak my interest. Five Filipino kids playing metal? Consider me curious. While I certainly didn't think it was strange to be a black metalhead, I admit I did have a harder time imagining metal being played by folks who weren't white. That was my limitation, but Death Angel was like a shock of cold water. "Of course it can happen!" Thankfully, they were also really good. (It wouldn't have been enough if they were non-white and sucked.) I liked this song, in part, because it had a sense of playfulness. The music was loud and propulsive, but the chorus was simple: "I'm bored." Amidst all the songs about escaping penal colonies and the Western slaughter of Native peoples it was actually kind of a relief to hear one about that age-old teenage affliction: boredom.
8) Suicidal Tendencies
This one might seem like an iffy pick to some metalheads. For a start Suicidal Tendencies started out as a hardcore punk band but their third album, How Will I Laugh Tomorrow When I Can't Even Smile Today was their thrash metal makeover (of a kind). As a whole the band's persona could best be described as "petulant." Kids who've been overlooked, undervalued and have been stewing in their alienation since, oh, birth. I always thought there was a sense of humor to their stuff. The founder and lead singer, Mike Muir, seemed to mean every word he said but was also smart enough to know it had all been said by generations of kids before him. His sneer hid a smile. But when he smiled he was really baring his teeth.
Victor LaValle and The Devil in Silver links:
ArtsBeat interview with the author
Capital New York profile of the author
Fresh Air interview with the author
HOBART interview with the author
The L Magazine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Big Machine
Suvudu interview with the author
Wall Street Journal profile of 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