September 25, 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.
Antoine Wilson's Panorama City is as enjoyable a comic novel as I have read all year, a coming of age story that vividly captures the modern world through innocent eyes.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Fresh and flawlessly crafted as well as charmingly genuine."
I love music too much to listen to it while I'm writing. I'd rather listen to something wholeheartedly than try to tune it out so I can put words on paper. That said, I'm definitely inspired by music, in a right-brainy way, as a mood-setter, as an emotion-accessing tool. The music that hits me most deeply tends to play in my head on repeat when I'm no longer listening to it. If I'm surfing alone, for instance, I've usually got the acoustic leftovers of some song echoing in my head.
Panorama City doesn't contain much by way of specific musical references, but in the years it took to write the book, the following songs each played a role in nudging Oppen Porter along his journey from village idiot to man of the world.
Brian Eno - 'Golden Hours'
In Panorama City, Oppen Porter's father is remembered as working daily on a 'letter to the editor,' typing it onto a continuous sheet of computer paper, out of one box and into another. The haunting beauty and isolation of Eno's song (complete with rhythmic typewriter clacking and Robert Fripp's amazing guitar solo) is interwoven in my mind with the loneliness and generosity of Oppen's father. This song also covers what it's like to be a writer, from 'perhaps my brains have turned to sand' to 'you'd be surprised at my degree of uncertainty.' The final line of the song 'putting grapes back on the vine' appeals to me as a clumsy maker of artificial universes.
Beck - 'Chemtrails'
I wasn't super hot on Beck's recentish album Modern Guilt, but this track is a masterpiece of atmosphere, with Beck's falsetto singing 'so many people' over driving drums and a very cool bassline. Oppen Porter wouldn't know what to make of the paranoid overtones of the referenced chemtrail conspiracy theory, but to my mind this song perfectly captures coming down the hill into Los Angeles or the San Fernando Valley, the sky cross-crossed with contrails (or, heh, chemtrails), and the buildings and traffic spread across the landscape like chunky peanut butter. So many people.
Lou Reed - 'Andy's Chest'
A beautiful piece of surrealist rock and roll, supposedly written by Reed to cheer up Andy Warhol after he was shot by Valerie Solanas. On a literal level, this song has nothing to do with Panorama City, but if they ever made a movie of the book, I'd want it to lead off the soundtrack. What can I say' It just feels right.
Belle And Sebastian - 'Get Me Away From Here, I'm Dying'
From the first time I heard it, this song lodged itself in the writing part of my head. I sympathize with its statement of aesthetic purpose ('nobody writes 'em like thy used to, so it might as well be me') and its conflicted final verse ('ooh, that wasn't what I meant to say at all'). But it's the story described herein that might have seeped unconsciously into Panorama City, a story about a 'boy who's just like me [who] thought there was love in everything and everyone.' A story which concludes: 'with a winning smile the boy, with naïveté, succeeds.' This song has always torn me apart on the inside'-it can't be coincidence that my writing has come to echo it.
Silver Jews - 'We Are Real'
Here's where I admit that I was tempted to put together a playlist of all Silver Jews songs. I listen to Silver Jews more than any other band these days, especially if I'm going to have to get up in front of people for, say, a reading. Something about David Berman's abstract poetic lyrics and slacker melodies put me in a properly calm and creative state of mind. Unlike late Pavement, there's very little irritable reaching after fact and reason. I realize that not everyone wants to listen to this band, so I limited myself to one song, choosing 'We Are Real' because of its title-declaration, as well as for the following line: 'my ski vest has buttons like convenience store mirrors and they help me see / that everything in this room right now is a part of me / oh, yeah.' Something Oppen Porter might have noticed, I like to think.
Little Junior Parker - 'Tomorrow Never Knows'
Hazy, haunting and soulful, Little Junior Parker's version of the classic Beatles song would make perfect musical accompaniment to Oppen's hospital stay, particularly after the painkillers have kicked in.
The Fall - 'Paint Work'
At the center of Panorama City is a man with no plan, surrounded by people all too willing to make plans for him. When Oppen says, 'most problems can be solved by waiting,' he is essentially saying that we must leave room in our lives for the fortuitous. Some artists exist to remind us of this continually, such as The Fall's Mark E. Smith. It's not a message everyone wants to hear in our control-obsessed culture. Thus: 'Hey, Mark, you're spoiling all the paintwork.'
Charles Mingus - 'The Shoes Of The Fisherman's Wife Are Some Jive Ass Slippers'
I hope someday to stuff as much life into 300 pages as Mingus does into these 9 1/2 minutes.
Antoine Wilson and Panorama City links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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