May 24, 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.
Lyrical and precise in its language, Jan Richman's Thrill-Bent is a bold and adventurous debut novel from the poet.
Daniel Handler wrote of the book:
"This novel is everything I want in a road trip and hardly ever get: cheap thrills, oddball epiphanies, big laughs, chance encounters and lots and lots of great, great talk."
I won't claim to be as pathologically amusical as that cranky synesthete Vladimir Nobokov, who wrote, "Music, I regret to say, affects me merely as an arbitrary succession of more or less irritating sounds." But I don't listen to music while I'm writing or reading. I find that my outer and inner ear start to clash, which doesn't do any favors for either structure (not to mention for finishing the Sunday Times crossword). I go to hear live music often; I listen in my car and at friends' houses; I even occasionally sing with a blues/soul trio at a bar—but most of the songs that appear in Thrill-Bent happened in my memory. Score another point for the bildungsroman.
I (and, coincidentally, my eponymous narrator) grew up in the 1960s and '70s with an omnipresent digital clock radio tuned to top 40. Plus, "Jan's" best friend writes a music column for BadMouth magazine ("NYC's premier cultural crap detector"), so I got to indulge in every writer's dream: fictional band naming. Here are a few that make appearances:
Staggering Genius (clever noisepop with a Tourettic drummer and a literary edge)
Pussy Posse (big-label neo-garage band led by Leonardo diCaprio's best friend)
Pattycake (three girls on Casio keyboards covering TV theme songs)
Obscene Goo (San Francisco hair farmer/cock rockers)
Bill Withers "Make Love to Your Mind"
This is a rare-ish B-side I discovered at the Hunter, a now-defunct dive bar in San Francisco's Tenderloin whose jukebox was eclectic enough to ferry me through several years of late night conversations about post-structuralism/heartbreak. I can't remember what the A-side was (maybe "Lovely Day") but this song's uber-sexy bass-driven groove and nascent feminist lyrics about taking it slow ("Before I make love to your body, I wanna make love to your mind") compel me to scream Yeah, daddy, make me be your intellectual equal!
Joe Cocker, Jennifer Warnes "Up Where We Belong"
I think we all remember where we were when we saw Richard Gere in his dress whites sweep Debra Winger off the factory floor at the end of An Officer and a Gentleman. Because, you know, the Navy + sexual desire = the end of poverty, right? It's a fun duet for karaoke purposes (at least, better than the other ubiquitous options, "Don't Go Breakin' My Heart" and "You Don't Send Me Flowers"). Just remember to decide beforehand which of you will be the officer and which will be the gentleman.
Partridge Family "I Woke Up in Love this Morning"
One of my childhood rituals was driving to Besta-Wan pizzaria with my dad. He made me guess which of his pockets held the quarters that I coveted for the jukebox, usually to play "I Woke Up in Love This Morning" as many times as I could before the pizza was ready. I liked the part where David Cassidy sang "Went to bed with you [pause] on my mind" because I understood that the pause contained some kind of pornographic innuendo.
Irma Thomas "Ruler of My Heart"
I spent a lot of time in New Orleans in 1998, most of it with WWOZ switched on. Irma Thomas was the Queen of the Krewe du Vieux at Mardi Gras that year, not to mention the appointed "Soul Queen of New Orleans," and I fell in love with her archetypal soulful purr. The lyrics might not be quite as emancipated as Bill Withers'—but come on, don't we all suffer from a little desperately obsessive codependence once in a while?
Manhattan Strings "Mary, Mary"
Because Davy Jones isn't easy enough listening. My parents owned this album, The Manhattan Strings Play Hits Made Famous by the Monkees. I'm surprised they never noticed how scratched it got from the numerous times my friends and I fired up the bong and listened to it, howling with laughter. Upon rediscovery (on YouTube, just now) I find it's actually kind of good (and way funkier than I remembered).
Brenda Lee "Break It to Me Gently"
In poetry school there was a lot of talk about line breaks: enjambment, pacing, caesuras, dynamism, metatext, majusculation. But none of my professors ever played us the first line from this track, where Brenda Lee (by hitting the T hard on it) verbally places a big fat exclamation point IN THE MIDDLE of the titular phrase. Break it! Not even Janis can compete with this expertly executed, exquisitely agonizing, impossible metaphor.
The Breeders "Cannonball"
I needed a song for a fervent strip club lap dance scene, and I didn't want anything too cliché ("You Shook Me All Night Long" or "Girls Girls Girls"), which would be realistic but ineluctably ironic. I just couldn't get the scene right until I landed the right song. When I flashed on Kim and Kelley in the video, with their gorgeous, overenunciating mouths, the scene pretty much wrote itself. Let's be honest, no Vegas strip club DJ would probably ever play "Cannonball," but that's what fiction is for.
Deerhoof "Six Holes on a Stick"
I have no idea what this song means. And why are the holes "on" a stick rather than "in" one? All I know is that Satomi Matsuzaki sounds just like Beemo from Adventure Time, and that makes me very happy.
Jan Richman and Thrill-Bent links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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