May 29, 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.
Taiye Selasi's Ghana Must Go is an eloquently written and powerful debut novel about the lives of one African immigrant family.
The Economist wrote of the book:
"Ms Selasi has an eye for the perfect detail: a baby's toenails 'like dewdrops', a woman sleeps 'like a cocoyam. A thing without senses…unplugged from the world.' As a writer she has a keen sense of the baggage of childhood pain and an unforgettable voice on the page. Miss out on 'Ghana Must Go' and you will miss one of the best new novels of the season."
1. "In a Sentimental Mood"
Perhaps it's because I was raised by a music-loving mother, perhaps because I studied piano, cello, music theory -- whatever the reason, my approach to prose is informed by my sense of sound. For me, stories are melodies, notes stories, melodies narratives. No piece of music makes this point more clearly than Coltrane's. Those first seven notes of "In a Sentimental Mood" hit my ears like words. I shall never tell stories as well as Coltrane's alto sax, but it's my greatest joy to try.
2. "Utrus Horas"
Alas, I can't listen to music while writing -- feels a bit like trying to compose music with the radio on -- but I'll often play one song nonstop in the hours between bursts of inspiration. "Utrus Horas" stayed on repeat for weeks while I was writing Ghana Must Go. Orchestra Baobab's 1982 Pirates Choice is a flawless album, "Utrus Horas" the ultimate feel-good song.
3. "Fool for You"
You know perfect music when you hear it. The first time my bestie (and consummate DJ) Jamin Gilbert played this Cee-Lo track, I sort of lost of my mind. Pure sexy. But then the unimaginable happened: I heard perfection perfected. Alice Smith's cover is everything: gorgeous, rough, raw, smooth. It reminds me that there's nothing new under the sun, no new stories to tell, yes, yes, yes -- but always a way to use one's own voice to create a singular shine.
4. "Sing, Sing, Sing"
Whenever I'm stuck I blast this song and dance around my flat. The drums, the horns, the honey-thick sound: I just get happy when I hear it. I can't sing, I can't swing, but somehow I dream of starring in an after-hours cabaret. No matter how frustrated I am with my fiction, I never fail draw life from my fantasy show.
5. "Summertime (Take to the Sky)"
If I had to pick a favorite song, it would be "Summertime." I have an endless collection of covers, including the amazing ones by Janis Joplin and Yuchida and the Flowers. But, for my money, Kat Edmonson takes the cake. You feel her singing as much as you hear it. That moody piano, those lazy chord progressions feel a bit like water; you feel it in your chest somehow. It makes you want to make art.
In general, Meleni Smith is as much poet as songwriter; her music reminds me—a bit nostalgically—of the best of the R&B of my youth. This song is where I come for calm: after a hard day, or a perfect one, Smith's lyrics are the ideal accompaniment to wandering thoughts, full-bodied red, abating doubts.
7. Prelude in C Sharp Minor
The first three chords of Rachmaninov -- especially as played by Sergei himself -- seem to announce the death of a man, a minor key "Kweku is dead." That the piece then gives way to such gentle sounds -- full of longing, questioning, even vulnerability -- thrills me to no end. This is how I try to write, what I like to hear, to read: heavy followed by featherweight, pathos by softness, by silence.
Taiye Selasi and Ghana Must Go links:
The Diane Rehm Show interview with the author
Ebony interview with the author
Globe and Mail profile of the author
Irish Times profile of the author
The Leonard Lopate Show interview with the author
Scotsman profile of the author
The Takeaway interview with the author
Tell Me More interview with the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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)
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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