January 31, 2013
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.
Benjamin Nugent's debut novel Good Kids is a humorous and sensitive portrayal of love in all its forms.
The Philadelphia City Paper wrote of the book:
"Fascinating modern families and believable characters emerge from Nugent’s brisk, lively prose, transcending the typical will-they-or-won't-they, who-will-they-end-up-with? limitations of stories about affairs. The span of time reveals growth, which cannot be achieved without pain and loss, in an intimate and humorous style that smoothly integrates larger musings about white guilt, modern music and TV, parenting, nature vs. nurture and loyalty in an unpretentious, undidactic way that invites genuine empathy."
The thing I like best about music is listening to the musicians listen to each other. A good band is usually a good band because the musicians are paying closer attention to their colleagues than they are to themselves. I find it moving when people engage in that kind of self-effacement, letting themselves become part of a rickety, poorly-maintained machine.
One of the characters in my book, Josh, wants to envision a rock band as a replacement for a family. It's a slightly problematic substitution. But also the best available. Another way of looking at it: a good band is a dream of an ideal family, an ideal relationship, where everything is in sync, nobody is beating or overfeeding anybody, and the group is sovereign over the individual.
Quasi, "The Poisoned Well"
"You won't live long/But you may write the perfect song," Sam Coomes sings on this tune, with devastating civility. "We went through hell/ Just to get to hell" he adds, in case you thought maybe this was some kind of lighter-in -the-air eulogy. Sometimes I think he's talking to Elliott Smith, his ex-bandmate, and sometimes I think he's talking to Janet Weiss, his ex-wife. Sometimes I think he's talking to both. At any rate, there's a YouTube video of the three of them playing the song flawlessly, Smith on guitar, Weiss on drums, Coomes on keys. That combination of ruthless bloodletting and seamless cooperation screams "family" to me.
The Damnwells, "I Am a Leaver"
I've always fallen hard for songs in which the lyrics suggest the singer is depressed about the course of his life but the music suggests he's happy, on some level, to be a satanic fuck-up. I think most novels and memoirs are kin to that kind of song; they invite us to revel in somebody's mistakes. I thought of this song while I was writing my final chapter, when my protagonist is starting to love his bad decisions. At the end, the singer, Alex Dezen, shouts a refrain: "I am a liar, can't you tell?" And he sounds like he's discovering a capacity for honesty in the course of singing it.
Rufus Wainwright, Loudon Wainwright III, Martha Wainwright, Kate and Anna McGarrigle, "What'll I Do?"
In case you don't know the story, Kate McGarrigle and Loudon Wainwright III begat Martha and Rufus Wainwright, and Rufus begat at least one beautiful song addressed to Loudon about Loudon splitting. Here, they all sing together: "What'll I do/When you are far away?" A busted up family tries to stitch itself back together by revisiting the moment everything went to hell.
CocoRosie, "Terrible Angels"
One of the things I envy about musicians is that they can be a little sloppy and it's genius. I guess the torment of music-making is that if you think too hard you suck, and the torment of prose-writing is that if you're sloppy you suck. The hesitant guitar picking combines with the death-groans of battery-powered toys on this track (I just lapsed into music-review language) to create the sweetest sadness. Family angle: I hear they're sisters, but I kind of think they met at Vassar.
Daniel Johnston, "True Love Will Find You In the End"
If in my lifetime some novel is able to so much as snatch at the hem of this song's garment maybe I'll be happy God put a pen in my hand and not a microphone. But I'm sure that no novel will ever come close. I think part of the reason I wrote a novel about a musician is that part of me wishes I was one. It gave me a way of falling in love with my protagonist.
When I first started Good Kids, long before I had a name for it, or knew what it was about, back when I was just scrawling out some mysterious pages about some primordial proto-characters, I listened to this song on repeat. For a long time it was Number One on my iPod's Most Frequently Played list. First I listened to it because it sounded like falling in love, specifically like two boys (the ones singing) falling in love with the same girl: "We liked to watch you laughing." Then I listened to it for the chorus: "A family of trees falling." A friend was listening to it a year later, and she turned to me and said, "This song is your book."
Aimee Mann, "Nothing is Good Enough"
The subject of this song is the moment of clarity that comes when the narrator (I think of all songs as having narrators) is peeling herself off the floor, thinking, it's possible that life will actually be more comfortable without this significant other repeatedly knocking me down. But it's also got that Beyonce I-recognize-that-you-are-a-worthless-douche-and-yet-it-pains-me-to-kick-you-in-the-nuts-like-this thing. I think that kind of ambiguity about breaking up with someone is central to many, many novels. It was certainly central to mine. On the bridge, Mann sings, "Ladies and gentlemen, here's Exhibit A," and it only gets more ecstatically prosecutorial from there.
Benjamin Nugent and Good Kids links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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