February 8, 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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Michael Heald honestly explores the challenge of balancing youth and adulthood of our twenties with clarity and self-deprecating humor in his essay collection Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension.
Vanessa Veselka wrote of the book:
"Michael Heald is raw and funny, hopeful about all the wrong things, afraid of what might actually save him; he transcends everything but his own agonizing perception of self."
Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension is basically a mixtape with dialogue. There's also a few weird sex scenes and some stuff about anxiety and sports. But music is central. In fact, three of the essays are built around these four songs—
"Malediction" by Stephen Malkmus
"Time to Pretend" by MGMT
"Phantom Lady" and "Winter Blind" by Radiation City
—and I lean on maybe a dozen other songs over the course of the book. So I'm glad for this opportunity to recognize a few I overlooked.
"Mr. Brownstone" by Guns 'N Roses
In first grade art class I drew a picture of Axl Rose standing in front of snowcapped mountains wearing a football jersey. Mrs. Abbott's assignment must have been something like draw your three favorite things. At the time, my three favorite things were football, snowball fights, and GNR. Despite the football jersey, Mrs. Abbott thought I'd drawn a girl. I'm guessing it was the mountains. In an effort to toughen the picture up I wrote some of the lyrics to "Mr. Brownstone" on the clouds above Axl's head. "I get up around seven," I wrote on one cloud. "Get out of bed around nine," I wrote on another. To Axl's forearm I added the skull tattoo. In block letters above the clouds I printed the letters A-X-L. I raised my hand again. Now Mrs. Abbott would know who I had drawn. A few years later I found out that Axl loved football jerseys too.
"Rape Me" by Nirvana
I was having some attitude issues and so my parents sent me to a month-long sleep-away camp the summer after seventh grade. A friend from back home referred to it as "Mexican Princess Camp" because apparently a Mexican Princess had gone there once. Most of the kids in my age group had been going there their entire lives but they didn't know anything about a Mexican Princess. The camp was on an island just a few miles from Canada. We slept in teepees and were at the age where our counselors didn't really care what we did with ourselves. The teepee arrangements were fluid, and determined by the campers, and basically reflected your popularity. Somehow I'd positioned myself in one of the best teepees. One day a bunch of us were down on the beach watching this kid Max try to ollie on a piece of plywood. Everyone liked Max, because Max didn't seem to care about being liked. All Max seemed to care about was getting better at skating, even though there wasn't any pavement for miles. This one day he was lurching around on his little piece of plywood while the rest of us were listening to In Utero through somebody's Discman headphones, arguing about whether or not the song "Rape Me" was about masturbation. "I'm not the only one, aaahhhh," etc. We could not reach a consensus on the meaning of "Rape Me." The next topic was, had anyone masturbated while at camp? Most of us agreed that this kid Vince Struble probably had. Vince Struble was always talking about eating girls out. He made it sound like you actually ate something, like chewed and swallowed. He made it sound awful. "But it's not just Vince Struble," I said. "I bet we've all masturbated at camp. Not only that, I bet that everyone here has masturbated at least once in the past 24 hours." 24 hours later I found myself living in a teepee with Vince Struble and the other loser in our age group, a really tall guy who scared everyone because his acne looked contagious, but when you got to know him turned out to be okay.
"Everybody Here Wants You" by Jeff Buckley
"Has anyone ever told you you look like Jeff Buckley?" she wanted to know. I was wearing a V-neck under my flannel and my curls were falling into my face just right. We were at a Valentine's Party and she was drunk and French and had just finished drawing an angel on my arm. I'd been trying to look like Jeff Buckley for the past semester but this was the first time anyone had noticed. "I get it sometimes," I said, shrugging, "but don't really see it." She kissed the angel on my arm. "I have the album in my room," she said, "let's make the comparison." A month later it was clear to both of us that Jeff Buckley was the only thing we had in common. She was writing her thesis on Samuel Beckett, but I hadn't developed feelings for him yet.
"Call to Memphis" by the Pixies
Every letter-writer's theme song. "I feel strong, I feel lucky, trying to get to you." I mean come on.
"Everything Hits At Once" by Spoon
April and I had been avoiding each other since the break-up but Spoon was playing a secret show and Spoon was our band. The time had come to buy the one-way ticket that would take me away forever and it seemed impossible without seeing her first. We arranged to meet outside the club after work. She showed up with a bottle of Bushmill's. She looked skinnier, unhappier. We finished the whiskey on the sidewalk. There was no opener, just Spoon. We squeezed our way up to the stage. The crowd was pressing us together. "Do I look different?" I asked. She shook her head. "You know I'm leaving," I said. "I can't hear you," she said. The drummer was staring at us. It was one of the things we loved most about the band, how big his eyes would get. Her hands went into my hair. Here came our favorite part of the song. "I could still change my mind tonight," it went. "I gotta change my mind tonight."
"Dream Lover" by Big Star
But still I moved to Nicaragua where the plan was to write a novel about a guy who moves to Nicaragua because he's killed someone. Over the course my year there I wrote many hundreds of pages about many kinds of things including—but not limited to—starting a magazine, getting caught in the crossfire of the Iran Contra war, and having very dirty but not necessarily enjoyable sex. I kept putting off the murder scene. I spent many pages describing what my murderer and his victim were wearing, and drinking, and listening to. They were listening to "Dream Lover" on repeat. I also happened to be listening to "Dream Lover" on repeat. The moment when Alex Chilton murmurs (presumably to himself), "Play it for me guitarist," was the moment my murderer (also named Alex) brought the knife inside his victim. None of it really made any sense, but for a little while there I felt like a genius. Living abroad may have had something to do with that feeling. I imagine that every expat writer feels like a genius, at least for a while. You're either writing your novel or drinking with strangers. Eventually you might even learn how to roll your "r's." I recommend giving it a try, but not for too long. "Dream Lover," on the other hand, doesn't have a "best by" date.
"The Kings Were Good" by Point Juncture WA
It's such a Portland story. I moved back to my hometown from the tropics. I watched my novel die a slow, agonizing death. I got a job I needed but didn't want. A sublet I needed but didn't want. Growled at this city that didn't feel remotely like mine. Began looking for a more permanent living situation. Found a place on Craigslist. Unwittingly moved in with 40% of what would become my favorite Portland band. I've seen PJWA play at least twenty shows over the past four years. I've raised my fist when Victor stands up during the buildup on "The Kings Were Good," crosses an arm over his chest, and belts out, "When I first met you, I was half as smart, you were twice as cruel." I've marveled at Amanda's drumming and Skyler's drummer face and Courtney's bookish cool and Wilson's refusal to look anywhere but at his bandmates and the general adoration they have for each other. But I'll never forget the envy I felt at my first PJWA show. They were playing outside city hall, the kickoff show for the PDX Pop Now! festival. At one point The Thermals joined them on stage. And people knew their songs. People were getting down. But it wasn't the fact that they had fans that bugged me. It was the fact that they loved their own music. I could just see how much they loved playing with each other. And I thought to myself, I'll never love doing anything as much as they love doing this. It can be hard at first, having talented friends.
"Second to None" by Phoenix
"Tell me what's the difference if we go back to normal again." What does that even mean? Who cares? The morning after Phoenix played the Crystal, I quit my 9-5. I'd been up till 4am drinking and smoking weed with my roommates and with the sudden clarity of a commuter still high from the night before, I knew I was finished with the life I'd been living. It's all been very clear since Phoenix played the Crystal. I know it sounds absurd, but why else are we going to shows?
"Perfect Day" by Lou Reed
For months I'd been texting Lisa Wells bits of overheard conversation, lines of poetry, slang. Usually she wouldn't bother responding. Occasionally she might say, "K that one's not terrible." Her book was coming out in less than four months, and we still needed a website. A logo. A name. It was a bright February morning and I was driving through the old neighborhood with my iPod on shuffle. For once, I wasn't particularly anxious about how much was still up in the air. Just in time for my 30th birthday I was finally starting something. I drove up the hill and past the old house to that spot where you can look out at the mountain and as usual felt nothing. But then those familiar chords came on, and Lou's cute mispronunciation of "Sangria," and that huge chorus. For once the song didn't remind me of Trainspotting. I pulled over. "Perfect Day Publishing?" I texted Lisa Wells. "I like Perfect Day," she texted back.
"Compass" by Okay
I'd resigned myself to never seeing Marty Anderson on stage. Okay is Marty's home-recording project. He writes songs about love and loss that are shot through with the kind of kaleidoscopic longing that makes you feel weightless. It's the kind of music you put on at 2 a.m. when you realize that the girl you can't stop talking to is actually going to spend the night. I've fallen in love at least once to his music. "Compass" in particular absolutely destroys me. "Look around at who you have tonight. Look who found your little soul." But the more I listened to his music, the more I started to beat myself up, that I'd missed all the publicity when his double album dropped in 2005. Marty suffers from a debilitating case of Crohn's Disease that keeps him hooked up to IV drugs on a daily basis and makes touring impossible. He lives in the Bay Area, but I didn't hear his music until after I left San Francisco. If only I was still living in the San Francisco, I sometimes thought to myself, I might see Marty … eventually I did some online detective-work. Couldn't find any evidence of his having performed since 2008. But Okay was still something I thought about a lot. And so when the second Perfect Day book came out a year ago—Martha Grover's essay collection, which was largely about dealing with chronic illness—I found myself writing to Marty's record label about the possibility of setting up a show in San Francisco while we were on tour. I had zero expectations of hearing back. And then, two weeks later, this email arrived: "Hi there. This is Marty Anderson from Okay. Cory Brown from Absolutely Kosher put me in contact. Just ordered Martha's book. Looks interesting. Interesting enough to where I would love to play with her when she comes through on the 22nd of Feb. If this is still a possibility of course ... I haven't played in a few years actually, and could probably only get together a solo set—maybe have a backing singer. But if that would suffice, then I would want to try to do it." And he did.
MIchael Heald and Goodbye to the Nervous Apprehension links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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