January 10, 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.
Once again, the Flannery O'Connor Award has impressed introduced me to a writer of exceptional talent. Hugh Sheehy's debut short story collection The Invisibles explores the darker sides of human nature and loneliness, and the lives his characters inhabit will seep from the page into your thoughts and dreams.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"A little violence goes a long way and the lurking fear at the heart of these stories elevates them beyond the merely promising to reveal a wicked new talent."
In general, the relationships between the music I listen to and the stories I write do not boil down to one-to-one equivalences between song and work or piece of song and piece of work. Rather, music shapes and informs the atmosphere in which I work in a more general way. It makes more sense in my case to offer a cross-section of what I listen to, as opposed to a series of discussions about influence at the more atomic level of individual stories.
Catherine Wheel, "Black Metallic;" Twenty-four Gone, "Girl of Colours"
I'm an American writer, so it should come as no surprise that my voice contains sentimental tones. I grew up in Toledo, which is more of a satellite of Detroit than it is characteristic of other cities in Ohio, and these songs played often on the Michigan radio station I listened to during the long and casually misspent years of what I now gather was a pretty standard sexual awakening. These treasures of the shoe-gazing genre are as sentimental as they get, but so was I when they got airplay, and I'd feel ashamed for omitting them here.
The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody"; Ween, "Object"
The Righteous Brothers's version is the alpha and omega of torch songs, beautiful but also so alarmingly creepy that pretty much all the hetero-identifying male singers to step up to the microphone since have been too cautious to surpass it with a sincere expression of erotic desire, which goes beyond a lust for the physical (though don't tell Trent Reznor that). Ween's psychopathic love song is simply a knowing echo. I love these songs a great deal. Both remind me how dangerous and lovely each person can be, which is fun to think about if you make up stories about people doing terrible things to entertain yourself.
Brian Eno, "Thursday Afternoon"; Mogwai, Hardcore Will Never Die But You Will; Slowdive, Souvlaki
Atmospheric music is the only music I ever listen while writing, and I only listen to it then when I've been writing all day and feel sapped of energy and in need of something to hypnotize me so that I might push on to write pages that are at least draft-worthy. Unlike so many of my literary heroes, I write sober, unless you count my habitual coffee overdose, and when my caffeine tolerance spikes, albums like these can prop me up for hours.
Tomahawk, "God Hates a Coward" and "Flashback"; Saint Vincent, "Your Lips Are Red"; Emilie Simone, "Song of the Storm"
I'm a rock and punk listener at heart, and I like to spend a certain amount of my free time listening to loud music and being physical, whether that means exercising or playing some kind of sport or just moving my body (dancing, sure, but cleaning the house, too). I also have a weakness for shows where people don't mind being pushed around or pushing back, though all in a spirit of togetherness and play. I'm now old enough that it's rare to have a chance to play football or find the time to go to deafening concerts with what friends still like that kind of experience, and there's a growing shortage of bands who don't take themselves and their silly images and words too seriously. These are songs--though I could list many others--that showcase the best of what loud rock and roll has to offer: the expert manipulation of instruments and experimental technique to make a sound that places an exclamation point beside the acknowledgement of being alive. That feeling--that intense experience of existing--should be an essential part of your story, which means it should be in every sentence.
Funkadelic, Maggot Brain; The Knife, Tomorrow in a Year
Sometimes the only way for me to move forward on a writing project (or any other engagement) is to get some time away from the state of mind I've drifted into. There are moments when I think I might benefit from trying transcendental meditation as a means of gaining a greater comprehension of the stories I am trying to write, or to get a clearer look at the project to which they all belong. Maybe a few years will reveal I've been headed that way all along. For now, though, albums like these, which strike me as being constructed largely around a progression of image-inspiring sounds, provide rewarding getaways, whether I am on the road, enjoying the stillness of an empty home, or falling asleep to an onslaught of dreams.
The Kinks, Picture Book (Box Set); Mr. Bungle, "California"; Blur, "Boys and Girls"; Wu Tang Clan, "Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)"; all of the Talking Heads; too many others to list here
Look. At the end of the day, you are going to need music to play at the big party you are going to throw.
Hugh Sheehy and The Invisibles links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
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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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