July 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.
Jens Lapidus brings to life Sweden's multicultural underworld, in all its gritty and brutal glory, in his novel Never Fuck Up.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"A grand-scale portrait of Stockholm's criminal world that shares James Ellroy's hyperrealism and Richard Price's blend of atmosphere and sociology."
My ambition is to capture a version of Sweden that is rarely seen either in the news or in other crime fiction. Sweden's underbelly, the streets – that is what interests me. When you scratch the surface, what you find is organized crime, crooked cops, and a national trauma that affected my country in the same way that the assassination of JFK or MLK affected yours. Stylistically, music is one detail I use among many to render this world.
What music best reflects society's startling backside? The music from Sweden's darker side must reflect certain people. It must reflect an attitude toward the world. In Never Fuck Up, national music icons are mixed with gangsta-rap. The Sweden in my book is a country that draws inspiration from the entire world.
Snoop Dogg – "Still A G Than"
Mahmud al-Askori is one of the protagonists in Never Fuck Up. His family is originally from Iraq but he grew up in a housing project outside of Stockholm. His circumstances force him into a life of crime; he becomes a dealer, among other things. One night while high on coke, he drives a borrowed car and listens to a few beats from this song. He is unhappy with his life and compares his situation with the lyrics in Snoop Dogg's classic.
What has gangsta-rap meant for Swedish gang culture? Everything, in many ways. The aesthetics of our local gangsters are the same, even though, naturally, what we have is a milkier version of the gangs in southern LA. Above all, it's about non-whites saying for the first time: we do our thing and we're proud of it! That attitude was absent from Sweden twenty-five years ago.
Ulf Lundell - "Jag vill ha dej"
Ulf Lundell is Sweden's Bruce Springsteen. The working class hero, the male audience, the banal yet profound lyrics. In Never Fuck Up, a homeless junkie is humiliated and robbed by the book's second protagonist, the cop Thomas Andrén. When Thomas leaves the scene, the roughed-up junkie rushes to his car (which is as run-down as its owner) and drives off with Ulf Lundell's Oh, la, la, la, jag vill ha dig blasting from the stereo. That song is a middle finger pointed up – at Big Brother, at the social order, at the power structure. The artist Ulf Lundell is loved by a lot of people who are considered the very bottom of society – or its foundation, depending on who you ask. But he is and continues to be a Swedish icon.
Bob Marley - "No Woman, No Cry"
Mahmud has problems. He is in debt to one organization, which in turn forces him to do dirty jobs for another organization. He needs to relax, he needs to escape. In one scene, he visits friends at a place they call Sunny Sunday. They lounge on pillows, smoke up, and listen to Bob Marley. In the 60s and 70s, weed was big in Sweden, but it almost disappeared during the 80s and 90s only to return with full force around fifteen years ago. And nothing is imported anymore; Sweden is self-sufficient when it comes to weed (which has to do with the development of advanced plant lighting). Despite this, compared with the rest of the Western world, Sweden has always had extremely harsh drug policies. Being high on cannabis is severely punishable by law. And so, many people see smoking up and listening to Bob M as a provocation equal to not rooting for Sweden in the soccer World Cup.
Jens Lapidus and Never Fuck Up links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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