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November 9, 2012

Book Notes - Ben Masters "Noughties"


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.

Ben Masters' debut Noughties is a clever and comic university novel, one that has earned comparisons with the early work of Martin Amis and Zadie Smith.

Financial Times wrote of the book:

"Beneath the comedy is a serious intent. With the costs of higher education rising, the age of mass university attendance may be about to end. Eliot Lamb, his head filled with Renaissance poetry and structuralist theory, has no idea what to do with his life post-Oxford. In the repentant morning after the night before, he packs up his books and, accompanied by his parents, leaves. For all its mish-mash of literary styles and influences, Noughties is a caustic, street-smart novel for our times."

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 Ben Masters' Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Noughties:

Noughties, narrated by the hapless Eliot Lamb, tells the story of a group of students on their last night out at university as they descend from pub to bar to club. Unsurprisingly, music plays an important part in the novel. Here are the majority of artists/songs mentioned:


'The End', The Doors:

'This is the end, beautiful friend, the end. Our university finale; the last time we'll ever do this.'

And so Eliot's last night at university begins. Eliot, as will become clear, is a narcissist par excellence, somewhat over the top and frequently pretentious. He especially likes to treat his most mundane experiences as if they are somehow profound. So it is safe to assume that in dropping this allusion he is thinking about the opening scene of Apocalypse Now, and sees a fair comparison between the Vietnam War and his final night of getting hammered as a student. It's going to be tough …


'Charmless Man', Blur:

“Educated the expensive way

He knows his claret from a beaujolais

I think he'd like to have been Ronnie Kray

But then nature didn't make him that way.”

The original draft of Noughties had these lyrics playing on the jukebox in the pub, but it didn't make the final cut. Eliot is forever trying to simplify the world by grafting stereotypes onto his reality. He arrives at university thinking he already knows what he will find there (namely upper class toffs), and quickly proceeds to organise everyone in his life into crude types. Of course, his estimations of people fall wide of the mark and he will eventually have the sticky nightclub floor pulled from beneath his feet.

Damon Albarn is very good at creating grotesque stereotypes, and this one has its obvious resonances for an Oxford story. Keeping the lyrics in the novel seemed just a bit too postmodern for Eliot's own good though.


'There was, for instance, the sexed-up playlist singing instructively in the background with all its hints and prompts.'

These are the tunes on Eliot's lovemaking soundtrack. You're welcome.

'So Amazing', Luther Vandross (probably self-referential in Eliot's mind)
'Let's Get It On', Marvin Gaye
'Call My Name', Prince
'I'll Make Love To You', Boyz II Men

'I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Babe', Barry White (good old Bazza, he actually talks you through it all step by step – and that's before he's even started singing)
'Sweetest Taboo', Sade


'I would be leaving the next morning to become, as Fitzgerald's Gatsby puts it, 'an Oxford man' – whatever that means. The ruffled bed was surrounded by boxes brimming with my stuff – books (battered Dickens, partially read Shakespeare, unthumbed Joyce, Eliot, Wordsworth, Keats, straight from the uni reading list), DVDs (Partridge, Sopranos, Curb), clothes (flimsy tees and skinny jeans), CDs (the Stones, Leonard Cohen, Talking Heads, some old-school hip hop, Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, D'Angelo).'

'Gimme Shelter', Rolling Stones (this was always first on the jukebox down the college bar in my own student days)
'So Long, Marianne', Leonard Cohen
'Once in a Lifetime', Talking Heads

'Hypnotize', Biggie; 'Ambitionz Az A Ridah', 2Pac; 'Me, Myself and I', De La Soul (disclaimer for hip-hop aficionados: being a student of the Noughties, late-eighties/early-nineties counts as old-school to Eliot)
'Talk Show Host', Radiohead (Eliot is definitely the kind of kid who would pride himself on picking a B-side)
'Dance Little Liar', Arctic Monkeys (this song was on repeat when I was writing Noughties. Seems fitting for an unreliable narrator like Eliot).
D'Angelo – 'Devil's Pie' (for the grimy), 'Lady' (for the sultry)


'Jack caught my attention in the JCR at a welcome talk, that first afternoon, when he muttered 'tune' to an old Smiths song that came on the radio (was it 'This Charming Man'? No, let's go for 'The Boy with the Thorn in his Side').'

'The Boy With The Thorn In His Side', The Smiths:

(When I read this bit back, in my head it always says 'The Boy with the Chip on his Shoulder.')


'Paper Planes', M.I.A., and 'Straight to Hell', The Clash

This is Eliot recalling his first night out as a university student at Filth nightclub. He is on the dancefloor with Ella, who he quickly falls for:

''You know,' Ella shouted as I leant my head in, 'this song samples The Clash.'


'The Clash!'

'Yeah, I love them.'

Ella smiled over her shoulder, our bodies packed together. 'The original is far superior.'


'They're such a seminal band, don't you think?'

I was doing an esoteric form of the headless chicken behind her. 'Oh yeah. Seminal. Course.''


'We exchanged films and albums, Ella lending me some Miles Davis records and a Fellini collection, politely accepting the first two seasons of The Sopranos in return.'

'In A Silent Way/It's About That Time', Miles Davis


'Kid A', Radiohead

(This is Eliot in a tutorial on Thomas Hardy, struggling to remember any of his characters' names): 'What I did have, however, was a vivid recollection of lounging about at home over the summer, reading Jude the Obscure, listening to Kid A , and contemplating how harmoniously the two came together.'


'the switched-off mobile in my pocket is burning a hole through my leg, demanding action, begging engagement. So I am not best pleased to see everyone else playing with their phones when I find them in the beer garden, participating in a brief textual interlude . . .

They r sittin round some outdoor heaters & theyve all got their phones out. Y, u might ask, given th@ its r last night all 2gether? I agree, its anti-social 4 sure, lol. But it's xepted: every1 needs a break from small talk & hard drinking @ least 1ce in a yle. & so they take a min 2 communic 8 with the absent. Or perhaps it would be more xpressive 2 say the 'absent-presences'; the absent-presences of their inboxes & sent msgs . They text 4iously with speedy C 21 thumbs & techno +vanced h&s (it's evolution baby).'

Remember when hip-hop albums just weren't complete without a telephone track or interlude? There are too many to choose from but here are two options: 'Deez Nuuuts', Dr Dre (just for the beginning); '4 Better Or 4 Worse', The Pharcyde (not so much an interlude, but the entire second verse is a prank phone call);


'Ella smiled, her lips dancing disarming potential. She lifted the carrier bag from my lap and took it over to the desk where a bottle opener awaited. The song was 'Boy Child' by Scott Walker, with its ripe plucks of the guitar and atmospheric strings . . . music from another planet. As Scott's mellifluous voice poured from the speakers, I went to the laptop.


'Boy Child', Scott Walker


'I continued to scroll. There was Joni. (We both favour her experimental jazz period over the earlier folk warblings – Mingus, The Hissing of Summer Lawns, and Hejira , with black-and-white Joni, bereted and cloaked, coming out from the cover like an apparition of painful wisdom and dare-do). There was Scott. (I'm all for the Eponymous LP s, 1 through to 4 , though Ella feels that he really hits his stride on Nite Flights and its increasingly obscure successors.) We agree on Motown, pedantically differentiating between performers and artists – The Supremes, The Temptations, and The Four Tops on the one hand; Marvin and Stevie on the other. As she said of the latter, they're uniques, stepping outside of the Holland-Dozier-Holland hit-making machine. I concur. She understands the crucial differences between Prince and Michael Jackson, and why the US 's rejection of The Kinks was a good thing, forcing the band inwards to make provincial classics like Village Green Preservation Society.

I switched to 'The Electrician' from Nite Flights. 'You don't mind, do you?'

'Of course not.''

'Amelia', Joni Mitchell
'Montague Terrace', Scott Walker
'Baby Love', The Supremes
'Aint To Proud To Beg', The Temptations
'Reach Out I'll Be There', Four Tops
'Mercy Mercy Me', Marvin Gaye

'My Cherie Amour', Stevie Wonder (admittedly, this one is early-Stevie and was co-written, but it's still a gem)
'Partyman', Prince (see Tim Burton's Batman … good scene.)
'We're Almost There', Michael Jackson (one of his earliest solo efforts. Not as well known, comparatively speaking. You can tell it was recorded not long after his voice had broken. Great song.)
'Do You Remember Walter', The Kinks
'The Electrician', The Walker Brothers


'There we were, surrounded by posters I had Blu-tacked to my wall before my balls had even dropped: Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Aerosmith, Beavis and Butthead.'

'Last Child', Aerosmith (wonderfully sleazy riff)


'Filth. People all around me, over me, on me. A spontaneous orgy or an atavistic brawl could break out with equal likelihood. Push me, pull me, tug me, grind me. I sip and I sip and I sip, to keep me going, to keep me occupied. My taste buds are blunted meagre tuned-out. Filth. Bosh.'

'Push Me, Pull Me', Pearl Jam


'Mr Brightside', The Killers

'At the foot of the descent, virtually in front of me, a scrum of lads is brightsiding
(shirts off , aloft, windmilling).'

Not a favourite of mine, but perhaps one of the only songs on this playlist that was actually a student staple when I was at uni. For the uninitiated, when this track comes on you should take your top off and twirl it in the air. Now you are brightsiding. Keep an eye out for the bouncers … they're usually pretty quick on the scene.


'This must be the most I've drunk since the night I got so pissed that I woke the next morning to find, inexplicably, that I had purchased Seal's entire back-catalogue on iTunes.'

'Killer', Adamski & Seal (what a video)


'Bizarre Love Triangle', New Order: doesn't actually feature in the novel, but a bizarre love triangle does. It was much on my mind.


'And here we are. Friends renewed just in time for the end credits. The last night of uni. The final dance. This is it. Fittingly, an absolute tune comes on. We make t-shapes with our bodies to acknowledge the fact: Sanj a capital T, laying his arm horizontally across his head, me a lowercase t, stretching my arms out to the side like a cross, and Scott (the most restrained alphabetizer of the three) raising a forefinger and laying his other hand on top in a baby t, or time out sign. So, as you can see, although we vary in opinion on the degree of the tuneage, we nevertheless agree that it is indeed a tune. (The artist? Some American rapper. The tune? Some American rap song.) Tune.'

'Gold Digger', Kanye West, or 'Nasty Girl', Notorious B.I.G. et al


'Can I Have a Talk With You', Talib Kweli and Bilal: another one that doesn't actually feature, but the lyrics are apt for much of the narrative, especially the end. Beautiful tune.

Ben Masters and Noughties links:

audio excerpt from the book

Daily Mail review
DBC Reads review
Financial Times review
Full Stop review
Guardian review
Page Views review

The Oxford Times profile of the author
Untitled Books 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)
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)
musician/author interviews
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

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