October 19, 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.
David Foster Wallace called That's Not a Feeling "bold, funny, mordant, and deeply intelligent debut" in the last blurb he wrote before his death. Dan Josefson's novel is all of those things and more.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"The prose is matter-of-fact, even placid, and studded with perfectly phrased gems, a cool surface to a work that is rich in feeling. A wonderful and noteworthy debut."
My novel is set on the grounds of an odd boarding school called Roaring Orchards, where the headmaster has developed his own therapy regimen to help students in "dealing with whatever it might be that [they're] dealing with." Most of the students are troubled, have been kicked out of school or placed on probation, or their parents just don't know what to do with them. Among the other penalties and restrictions that comprise the headmaster's system, the students aren't allowed to listen to music. That might be why there's no real music in my book—whatever songs and bands do appear, I invented.
"Teddy Bears' Picnic" by Henry Hall and the BBC Dance Orchestra
This song pounces on you like Gargamel jumping out from behind a tree. Then the warbling voice comes in, all rolling his R's and weird falsettos, singing about teddy bears. "If you go down in the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise / If you go down in the woods today, you better go in disguise." That sylvan combination of innocence and menace feels just right for my book, which takes place on a campus in a wooded valley and which also features a teddy bear-like creature. He's the silent witness.
"Let's Not and Say We Did" by The Silver Jews
There's so much about this one that reminds me of growing up, but in a good way. The pitch-perfect obnoxiousness of the phrase used in the title, the barely containable energy, the list of mean-spirited and surreal pranks. "Our minds can dream / like soda machines." David Berman hallucinates ideal juvenile delinquents, "finding the fiercest way to live" while no harm can come to them. That's part of what writing this book was for me.
"Rhumba" by Young People
If you were going to run away and start a failed revolution with your best friend, who had just been beaten up, and you both decided to drink too much fortified wine and write a marching song, this is what it might sound like. Accompanied only by drums, Katie Eastburn's delivery is urgent, threatening, sweet, daft, and totally deserving of the album's name: War Prayers. If the students in my book could sing, they'd sing like this. If I could sing, I'd sing like this too.
"Dream Baby" by Roy Orbison
One of the places I lived while writing this novel was Romania. This was before I had an iPod, and I was already traveling with too many books, so I tried to be as careful as possible about what music I brought with me. I vividly remember having a beer with a friend on the beach by the Black Sea, and Kris Kristofferson was playing on the radio at a nearby bar, and I couldn't think of anything other than how much I wished I had brought some Roy Orbison to listen to.
"Time Has Passed" by Nikaido Kazumi
Another place I lived while working on the book was Las Vegas. Around that time the Microphones got really popular, and for reasons I couldn't understand, none of the big venues in town wanted to host them. So a local anarchist bookstore stepped up. When I walked into the show, there was a Japanese woman sitting on a stool, playing guitar and alternately singing and wailing the most incredible songs. I bought her CD, Mata-otosimasita-yo, which I've never seen anywhere else since, and listened to it nonstop for months.
"The Underdog" by Spoon
When people ask whether my novel is autobiographical, I can't honestly say no, but it's about me in very weird ways. For example, this song underscores one way I came to identify with the characters after the whole thing was written. I had an awful time trying to sell the book, about four years of rejections from agents and editors. And it's ridiculously embarrassing to admit this, but the lines, "You got no fear of the underdog / That's why you will not survive," were as bracing for me as they would have been for the students at Roaring Orchards.
"Frontier Psychiatrist" by The Avalanches
This song is completely bananas. I don't have anything else to say about this song.
"It's Late, Minerva" by The Kinky Lincolns
The three guys in this trio began singing together at UC Santa Cruz, and eventually signed with Am-Pan Records in Tucson. Most of their music is disposable 60s pop stuff with a philosophical bent to the lyrics—I think the bass player, Theodore Walkins, had briefly been in Santa Cruz's History of Consciousness program. I got their album in Las Vegas when lounge music made a brief resurgence, and it was fun driving up and down the Strip listening to it on repeat. Especially when I was stuck waiting at a traffic light beside the dancing fountains at the Bellagio.
"Eagles Fly" by Sammy Hagar
Ok, I just remembered that there is an actual song in my book, and it's this. At one point, a student describes being forced to sing it as a punishment, but I think it's actually pretty great. After all, it involves an extreme imaginative identification with an eagle. It also goes quiet-LOUD-quiet-LOUD-quiet-LOUD, which I love.
"Kohoutek" by R.E.M.
I suspect that Kohoutek refers to the comet that passed Earth in 1973 and won't be back for 75,000 years: "Like Kohoutek you were gone." But I prefer to imagine Kohoutek as a large creature roaming the woods. Or rather, he once roamed the woods but was lost long ago. And we miss him. Even though he was mysterious and aloof—no, because he was mysterious and aloof. If anyone has any better ideas, please get in touch. Anyway, I listened to this one a lot while working on the book, and it made me feel happy and cool, and it has the startling, wonderful line, "Fever built a bridge."
"Historie" by Empedocles
I first got into this band when they were doing a kind of funk-drone thing, really fuzzy guitars and Nikki Foell singing a few lines over and over through songs that ran to eight or nine minutes, until the words stopped sounding like words at all. I remember hanging out with my then-girlfriend in Las Vegas, turning out the lights and lying beside one another on the floor, staring up at the ceiling, only our heads touching, listening to Foell sing, "Babe your love's got me retarded / the way Heloise was Abelarded." I was already way too old to be doing stuff like that, but discovering this band made me feel very young.
"C Is the Heavenly Option" by Heavenly
The teachers at Roaring Orchards are too disorganized and distracted to ever give exams or tests, but I think if they did, the tests would all be multiple choice, like this song. But that's honestly just a stretch to include this really fun song on my mix.
Dan Josefson and That's Not a Feeling links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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