May 30, 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.
Samuel Sattin's League of Somebodies is a deliciously bizarre debut novel, a truly original take on coming of age that includes superheroes and dysfunctional families.
Cristina Garcia wrote of the book:
"League of Somebodies is a dazzling investigation into masculinity and hero-making. It’s also a rollicking good time, and his characters—crazy, troubled, hilarious, endearing—are unforgettable. Sattin magnificently tackles many big themes of our age: inheritance, the burdens of manhood, creating our own identities, and last but not least, love. In Sattin’s fiction, there is no such thing as a marginal character, no matter the world’s attempt at marginalization."
The distance between what a book begins as and what it becomes always impresses me. Like people, a novel never truly seems to feel complete until one day it simply acknowledges the end of a creation cycle. The basic premise of League of Somebodies relies upon a father attempting to turn his son into a superhero by essentially poisoning him with a deadly plutonium-based compound. This seems organized, and fairly straightforward. But a premise like that is never easily won, and every bit of clarity that the book achieves is built upon layers of murky history beneath, an architecturally confusing structure interred in layers of sediment. League of Somebodies' first title, a good year before it even took hold, was The Ivory Flag, and it centered mainly around a mentally unstable suburban father outside of Denver who was erecting a turret on top of his thrice repainted Tudor home. The reasons why were, essentially, so that a) his house would be taller than the tallest house in the neighborhood, which was occupied by a redneck couple with a massive pickup truck called The Kraken b) so he could build a weapon capable of destroying that massive pickup truck, and c) prove to his horrified family that he was endlessly capable of doing so. The narrative meandered back and forth through myopia. Soon enough, the whole damned thing was crumbling like Pompeii. The father ended up becoming too large of a character for the flimsy scenes to tie down, and six hundred pages of nonsense later, I was in an unending cycle of revision. Sure, the superhero concept was there from the beginning, the tongue-and-cheek savior I'd created, The Savage, who served no real world purpose other than making his family really, really uncomfortable. But I kept on digging holes and filling them with crude structures until I built something stable. Below is a playlist to symbolize that journey. Music carried me through this escapade from beginning to end. Never being one of those people who could write to pure silence, I require disturbance to remind me of how precious my concentration isn't, and that I constantly need to be interrupted in order to discover new ideas, lest I flounder for months in self-assured ubiquity.
Yo-Yo Ma Plays Ennio Marricone: Sergio Leone Suite
This is the song I'd ideally like to being every day with for the rest of my life. It's also good for picking up the pen. Writing, for me at least, is based upon a sense of high adventure, mayhem on the frontier, a wild terrain in need of taming. This Yo-Yo Ma/Ennio Marricone collaboration that acts as homage to Sergio Leone is like a cup of unfiltered excitement. It makes my heart sore and, to my chagrin, makes me think I'm important enough to drive faster on the freeway.
Koop: Waltz for Koop
The opening of this song makes me feel as if I've been launched onto mystical Viking space cruise, which, in my humble opinion, is the exact way every good book should make you feel from page one. This light deprived Swedish duo doesn't necessarily have a load of diversity to offer in terms of their repertoire, but the song 'Waltz for Koop' speaks for itself as a genuine refutation of all things pale. It just makes me remember that talent is talent, and that it's okay to do something strange. In the first chapter of my book, a boy is forced to run from a train by his father while being pelted with potatoes. Later events involve wrestling lions, hallucinogenic flight, and a giant squid. As far as I'm concerned, all opening scenes, in some way or another, should try to drop you onto the surface of something that's already moving, as opposed to demanding you push it instead. You can do more heavy lifting in chapter two, sure. But it's unfair to make a reader suffer through the opening paragraph.
Tomayusa Hotei: Katana Groove, Sunshine on Your Love, Battle Without Honor or Humanity
There are truly few things in this world that make me happier then Tomayusa Hotei. Maybe it's the well-honed Japanese-accented English lyrics to Sunshine on Your Love or the glittery, Ziggy Stardust makeup in which he makes his appearances, but he's not afraid to go hard and heavy, and anyone who doesn't like him probably also hates food and sex and sleeping in. Energetic and bellicose, Hotei lives to accelerate. Quentin Tarantino famously introduced his song, 'Battle without Honor or Humanity,' to Western audiences during Kill Bill Volume 1 (during the hotel scene when a line of doomful yakuza make their epic entrance). Since the premise of my book is based on the trajectories of hyper masculine males in a fever pitch to make their mark on planet earth, Hotei is surely their prophetic dream conduit; a rock star poet samurai astronaut all wrapped into one, hijacking the cult of quiet.
Ryuichi Sakamoto: Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, Bibo No Aozora, The Fences, Seven Samurai Ending Theme, Happiness, Birth
But then again, masculinity is also a sensitive issue. Sensitive in the manner of a mateless elk's croon, or a runt in a litter of formidable silverbacks losing the war over undemarcated territory. When I was in middle school as a 12-year-old with chubby gait and bucked teeth, a rumor was spread that I had been caught masturbating in the boy's bathroom, and thus suspended. All I'd really been home for was acute sinusitis, but that didn't matter. Middle school is hotbed of hive-born nihilism where stragglers are swept into anarchy. What began as "Sam Sattin got caught by Dean Veltry in the boy's room," for instance, swiftly turned into "The cops had to knock down the door to boy's bathroom and still Sam Sattin wouldn't stop masturbating—even when they put him in handcuffs!" Soon enough, the canard had taken on such outlandish directions that it began to involve dynamite, armored trucks, scores of semen and a SWAT team. Yea. Those were the times.
Ryuich Sakamoto reminds me that we're deeper then we think we are. Meditative and haunting, this master's songs often verge on a psychedelic form of melancholia, lulling me into darker places I might not be prone to venture otherwise. Everything he creates reminds me that even the most seemingly basic people are made up of complex and often terrifying components, and that something so simple as being absent from school with an illness can end up death threats and the transferring of districts. The main character of my book can't even finish high school, but he has a feral, autogenic intelligence that's able to impel him to accepting his terrifying destiny as a superhero. Masculinity is far less fragile then men are willing to admit, mostly because admitting weakness would mean signaling a willingness to relinquish control over society, and of course, the 'softer' sex.
Django Reinhardt: Vous Qui Passez Sans Me Voir, Nature Boy, Balero De Django
The 3 Fingered Gypsy is a guitar sifu, one of the most mellifluous masters to have lived. Listening to him makes me, a) feel alive, b) feel sad he's not alive, and c) get really creative. I've spent entire days listening to Django while writing my heart out. My book benefitted from him greatly. Django himself returned to the music business stronger then ever following a disability—two of his playing fingers were partially paralyzed and rendered useless after an accident involving a terrible fire. But that didn't stop him from owning the guitar. Sometimes disabilities can turn into strengths. In chapter four, when my main character, a malformed teenager, is forced to fight a lion at the Franklin Park Zoo, his disabilities are transformed into extreme advantages (albeit with the help of a chemical formula). All creatures are driven towards survival by what they lack. Even circumcision can be viewed as a form of encouragement. Make up for what you lack, wee man-creature. Take back what can never be reclaimed.
Queen: I Want It All, Who Wants to Live Forever, One Vision
Grandiose, royal, egoistic, and merciful, Queen is one of the loudest, most shamelessly glitterbound bands in Rock and Roll history. Freddy Mercury's moustache is, amongst other wonderful things, the ultimate imbroglio of MAN regardless of sexuality, creed, or the prejudices of small-minded mutants. The main character of my novel, Lenard, is a product of the Queen universe, an ostentatiously yet new-wave product of working class might for whom "I Want It All" is a form of worship rather than mere pursuit. Lenard and his wife Lily are immortality-obsessed, consumed with the idea of beating reality, as if life can truly be won by hitting it hard enough with a club. Queen is superhero music in its most basal form, and Freddy Mercury is a prophet for hard won justice battled for on behalf of the meek. A modern day Superman with no lack of tights and some damned extravagant external underwear.
The Goat Rodeo (Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile): Goat Rodeo, Hill Justice, No One But You, 13:8, Where's My Bow, Helping Hand, Quarter Chicken Dark
This is one of those albums that makes me feel sharper, readies me for clarity. The whole of Goat Rodeo is upbeat and complex. Each song is a narrative. The term itself, 'Goat Rodeo,' defines a chaotic event where a lot has to go smoothly in order for everything to come together. Yo-Yo Ma, in terms of the album itself, referred to the term by saying "If there were forks in the road and each time there was a fork, the right decision was made, then you get to a goat rodeo." This mellifluous blend of classical and bluegrass music does exactly that, rendering a listener amazed to the point of utter sedation by pulling together seemingly unrelated musical forms into something cohesive, functional, and beautiful. Though I can't put myself on the same level of any of these geniuses, I do think that my book, League of Somebodies, is somewhat of a 'Goat Rodeo,' threading together a coming of age tale, a superhero epic, gothic violence, and a sexual exploration in way that progresses adequately. Or at least that's what I like to tell myself.
Towa Tei: Ch. Galaxy, Lyricist, Siesta
Upbeat, digitized, and not entirely uncomplex, this zippy electronica makes for good parlor music (affording your parlor is in need of abnormality). A nice accompaniment to nothing in particular, Tei's music applies a film of frothy quirk to our blasé, poorly decorated realities. My book relies heavily upon a cautious brand of banality that overshadows a lot of what would be typical acts of super-heroism. In my own life, I've always felt that tedium and idiosyncrasy are perpetually at war with each other over the way in which the world should be viewed. The advent of narrative is bizarre in itself as a method in which to connect seemingly arbitrary events. Tei paints a landscape in playful digital psychedelics, reminding us that life often comes down to the position and verve of your viewpoint.
The Klezmatics: Golem Tants, NY Psycho Freylekhs, Di Goldene Pave, Bilovi
Because what book with Jews in it would be complete without a Klezmatics accompaniment? Despite their cheesiness, I've always loved these guys. For one thing, they enhance my Yiddish vocabulary (which is important in this day and age, am I right?). The only Yiddish words I learned growing up were those uttered daily—in overwhelming consternation—by my mother, who was endowed with, let's say, a powerful set of pipes. League of Somebodies is, for what it's worth, a Jewish book insomuch as it was written by a Jew. The Hebraic themes strewn throughout were mostly realized in retrospect, but they thrive nonetheless. The Klezmatics build off the Ashkenazi immigrant music of the forties and fifties, bringing old world into the present, which is something I understand not only musically, but culturally. History is never really abandoned by the present. It can be repressed if you try hard enough, but a collective Jungian consciousness brings it back again no matter what we do.
El Domingo: Ergastulanu
League of Somebodies can be a violent at parts—in an old world occult Mafioso sense, where body parts are removed and discarded and owls are considered bad omens. I spent a lot of time in Italy myself, both as a student and ex-boyfriend, living in a small town in the mountains of Rome, surrounded by chickens and horses and rumors. Truth be told, Italy wasn't the romantic splendor many Americans expect it to be upon arrival. I found myself consumed instead with the political realities of living in a small town in a country where the economy is on the brink of failure and xenophobia is on the rise. I spent a lot of time down in the south of the country as well, in some of the warmer, older, secretive parts where trust means something different than it does here and no one is a stranger to murder. I would be lying if I said that my book didn't draw influence from my time spent adapting to the such foreign status quos, reconciling my wishful thinking with the decaying state of modern European living. This song, Ergastulanu, 'Sentenced to Life,' typifies the inescapable sentiment of stagnation I felt upon waking up each morning to a sleepy, frustrated countryside.
Tim Cappello: I Still Believe
Okay, this is a terrible song. But it's one of those terrible songs you need to love for what it tried to accomplish: namely, legitimizing a greased up barbarian named Tim Cappello in long hair and loin cloth confident enough in his grandiose mookness to give a middle finger to all those suspecting the American Dream has even begun to fade into obsolescence. My book's main character, Lenard (and then Lantana) Sikophsky, is that middle finger, that saxophone-chapped, spray tanned digit aimed straight in the eye of deniers and apostates, screaming from the lip of its laser-cut cuticle, "I Still Believe!"
Danny Elfman: The Batman Theme/John Williams: Superman Theme, Concert Version
What would a set list accompanying a superhero story be without acknowledging some of the finest cinematic accompaniments of the genre in recent years? The newest Nolan Batman series are the best films thus far (excluding Spiderman 2, which was equally incredible), but the award for best musical score goes to that which graced Tim Burton's 1989 version of the Dark Knight, composed by Danny Elfman. John William's 'Superman Theme' for the 1978 blockbuster by the same name is just as epic. These symphonic milestones in the history of hero-cinema have truly set the stage for well-rendered cape and tights' adventures to spread across the globe. The road for my book was paved by the mainstreaming of superhero culture, and their subsequent dissection by the likes of writers like Grant Morrison, Mark Millar, and Alan Moore.
Balkan Beat Box: Adir Adirim, Cha Cha
Wild Balkan gypsy punks are useful for the stimulation of the mind. What would the world be without Klezmer desert dance party mania?
Velvet Underground: After Hours
As one of the band's more underrated tunes, I'm attracted to 'After Hours' primarily because of how misleading it is. Sung with whimsy and sweetness, a hefty darkness lies beneath Maureen Tucker's jaunty, nursery rhyme performance, disguising what seems a nihilistic flirtation with suicide. Whether intentionally or not, a good chunk of my book took on a few of these very qualities, in which the tendency to self-obliterate is masked by stilted language and bouts of optimism.
Laura Marling: Tap at My Window
When dealing with outlandish concepts and patently absurd characters, we need to be reminded of our comforts. I appreciate songs that make me feel like I need to find a fireplace, that take me out of the teeth grinding stimulation riot of day-to-day city living and put me back into a state of grounded calm. Laura Marling, and others like her, take me back to the days of my youth when I went camping in the Colorado wilderness and remembered that nature exists.
Samuel Sattin and League of Somebodies links:
CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Hobart interview with the author
Necessary Fiction guest post by the author
The Next Best Book Blog essay by the author
Writers Read guest post by the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists