March 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.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Prizewinning Quatro’s highly anticipated and deeply intriguing first book, a subtly metamorphosing short story collection, shimmers with touches of Flannery O’Connor and George Saunders. Her bifurcated setting, Lookout Mountain on the border of Georgia and Tennessee, gives rise to inquiries into the opacity and intimacy of marriage, social hypocrisy, and the divide between what is verifiably real and what we imagine. . . . Cancer, addictions, the curious dismantling of a church, and the birth of a cult also fuel compelling moral dilemmas that yoke bizarreness with authenticity."
Jamie Quatro's brilliant collection I Want To Show You More has already earned her comparisons to George Saunders, Flannery O'Connor, Lydia Davis, and Alice Munro. Written in distinctive sharp prose, these stories explore faith and love, sex and death, and taken together comprise an impressive debut.
I chose songs for twelve of the fifteen stories in the collection. (Warning: if you don't like Thom Yorke, you should stop reading now.)
1. "Caught Up" – "Caught by the River," Doves
I love the intersection of sound and subject matter in the guitar intro: the sustained chord (river current) until 20 seconds in, when it drops (dipping a toe), followed by another, deeper chord drop at 24 seconds (big step in). And then the riverbank falls away entirely and the song/current takes over. The lyrics are about getting caught up in something potentially destructive—like marital infidelity, a narrative thread introduced in this piece.
2. "Decomposition: A Primer for Promiscuous Housewives" – "Everything in its Right Place," Radiohead
I love the implicit irony of the lyrics in this one, the repetition of "everything in its right place," interspersed with the lines "I woke up sucking on a lemon" and "There are two colors in my head / What is that you tried to say?" Exteriors can be deceiving, the inner life in turmoil while, on the outside, everything is in place: the office parties attended, the children carpooled, Christmas cards mailed; the ex-lover's corpse zipped up in a sleeping bag and stuffed into a playpen in the basement.
3. "Ladies and Gentlemen of the Pavement" – "Idioteque," Radiohead
Kid A is genius—a departure, at the time it was released—and this song might be my favorite on the album: techno, angular, filled with apocalyptic tension surrounding global warming and nuclear war. "Ladies and Gentlemen" is about neither of those things (though the story is set in an alternative future), but the way the song ends—electronic buzz, senseless noise—is unsettling, a disquieting non-resolution. I picture the neo-confederate soldiers gunning down the cheating marathoners.
4. "Here" – "World Spins Madly On," The Weepies
The bereaved husband, out on the boat with his children and in-laws, all of them careening along outside of the confined space in which he's trapped—I imagine this is what anyone in an acute season of grief must feel, the world spinning madly on.
5. "What Friends Talk About" – "House of Cards," Radiohead
Denial. Lots of it, here. And you go on stacking cards, knowing what you're building is tenuous, ephemeral, and ultimately uninhabitable. You don't care—the rush of the balancing act keeps you in the game.
6. "Imperfections" – "Wicked Game," Chris Isaak; "No One is To Blame," Howard Jones
Homage to the 80s: both songs about desire and resistance, close-up yearning set within and against the panorama of logic and traditional morality.
7. "You Look Like Jesus" – "Bartender," Dave Matthews (live in Las Vegas with Tim Reynolds)
Dave Matthews' plaintive vocals on this track amaze; the way he escalates, hitting higher—and then impossibly higher—notes. The song is about addiction, to an extent, but there's an interesting theological simultaneity in the lyrics: the same wine that "set Jesus free" is also "the wine that's drinking me" and came from the vine that "strung Judas from the devil's tree." I'm fascinated, always, by aesthetic moments that probe the intersection of sacred and profane.
8. "Georgia the Whole Time" – "Hallelujah," Jeff Buckley
One of the most inexpressibly sad songs ever, and of course Buckley's tragic death makes his rendition all the more poignant. "Remember when I moved in you, and the Holy Dove was moving too, and every breath we drew was Hallelujah"—that line gets me every time. To know you've lost something precious; to recognize the fact that you had it only because it's gone; it's a deeply Wordsworthian notion (see his "Intimations" Ode—perhaps my favorite poem).
9. "Sinkhole" – "Hearing Damage," Thom Yorke
I'm sorry if this one conjures, for you, CGI werewolves chasing a red-haired vampire. A shame, because it’s a good song, and because the story’s anxiety-ridden narrator could have penned the lyrics: "A tear in my brain / allows the voices in…they say you're getting better / but you don't feel any better." And then the repetition of "you can do no wrong in my eyes" – the narrator says nearly the same thing about Wren, the girl he hopes will heal him. (The song's got a great beat for long runs, too.)
10. "Demolition" – "The Veldt", Deadmau5; "Woods," Bon Iver
I went back and forth on including a Deadmau5 song. I'm not a fan. But my eleven-year-old talked me into it. He loves Joel Thomas Zimmerman, and made me listen to "The Veldt" on good headphones, then showed me the video. And—who knew?—the song is based on a Ray Bradbury short story of the same title, about a family living in an automated house called The Happylife Home. The house does everything: cooks, cleans, rocks the kids to sleep. In the story, the children create their own world telepathically in a virtual-reality "nursery," then become addicted to the room. When their parents suggest disconnecting from the house, the children lock them into their virtual world—an African veldt. Lions then devour the parents. It's a disturbing story, and eerily prophetic (Bradbury wrote it in 1950). So when I heard the repetition of the lyric "in the world that the children made"—and understood the horrific context—I couldn't help but think of the final scene in "Demolition," with the parents lying in the woods in complete stillness, twisted up in kudzu, waiting for the children to "come back from the world they've made without us." "The Veldt" has an upbeat, breathy sound—nothing eerie about the melody—so when you understand what the song is actually about, it's just…creepy.
11. "Holy Ground" – "Art of Almost," Wilco
Getting close to a dangerous thing, backing away—an "art of almost" at which the narrator of this story is particularly gifted. Incidentally, Wilco's 2011 self-produced album, The Whole Love, is worth buying in its entirety, if only for the final track, "One Sunday Morning (Song for Jane Smiley's Boyfriend)" – profound in both its musical simplicity and spiritual interrogation.
12. "Relatives of God" – "Blood of Eden," Peter Gabriel
One of my favorite Peter Gabriel songs – complete with MacBeth allusion! – but I chose it because the forgiveness and redemption implicit in the Adam/Eve narrative is central to this final flash piece.
Jamie Quatro and I Want To Show You More links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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