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July 19, 2013

Book Notes - Jordaan Mason "The Skin Team"

The Skin Team

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.

Jordaan Mason's The Skin Team is an incendiary novel, impressive in both style and its poetic language.

Dennis Cooper wrote of the book:

"Reading The Skin Team, you would never suspect how difficult it is to write even fairly about such things, much less with Jordaan Mason's radiant emotional grace and super-deft detailing and flawless style. This novel is something very rare, and it's about as beautiful as fiction can ever be."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Jordaan Mason's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, The Skin Team:

ifShe passed the cigarette back to me and said: Well, what are your desert island records. Like that was such a casual question, like she really wanted to know.

I said: Sarah, I don't listen to music, just energy, and you know that.

The Skin Team is a book about the noise of the earth, the hum of wires and the buzz of insects, highways full of cars, forests full of children lost in the dark—the absence of music, but the memory of it. The book is a destruction of identity as something solid, and that includes the material things that make up identity. That being said, the book is about teenagers, so music infects the edges of the narrative. No amount of untangling the self from the songs is entirely possible; no matter how much I tried to strip away from the characters, they clung and clung. I didn't listen to music too often while writing, but when I did it tended to be on the softer side, things that were stark and dreamy. These are all songs that were important to me when I was a teenager, and therefore they ended up in finding their way into or onto the page somehow, one way or another.

Simon and Garfunkel - 'I Am a Rock'

A song from my own childhood. My parents had Simon and Garfunkel on the stereo a lot. In the seventh grade, we studied the poetry of Paul Simon in English class, and my teacher Mr. Fyke (RIP) brought in this LP for us to all sit and listen to as we read along. What had been very familiar suddenly transformed; in many ways, I came to see this song as a marker in a turning point towards puberty. When I started to picture what songs Sarah would listen to, this immediately came to mind. She walks around singing it, writing pieces of it in her diary: I touch no one and no one touches me.

Red House Painters - 'New Jersey'

One of the boys passes out in a field singing this song to the other. This is the kind of song that makes me want to pass out in a field.

Low - 'Violence'

Language as something to be destroyed, to be torn apart. Violence as a productive act. The dictionary as just a collection of words, as a novel without narrative.

Smog – 'The Orange Glow of a Strangers' Living Room'

He would say things like: I'm scared shitless. This is a line that repeats a few times in the book, and it comes from this song. Bill Callahan is the authority on teenagers and horses, so naturally his records looped on my stereo during this time.

Bobby Vinton - 'Mister Lonely'

There is a horse in this book named after this song. Horses don't have funerals, but if they did, I imagine this would make a nice send-off.

Jackson C. Frank – 'Milk and Honey'

A song about singing when singing is a difficult thing to do, but a good reminder of why we sometimes need to find a way to do it.

The Smiths – 'This Night Has Opened My Eyes'

Why this night and not any other night? He said he'd cure your ills, but he didn't and he never will.

Real Live Tigers – 'So Quietly'

In retrospect, I can't help but notice that I wrote a book about the destruction of songs during a time in my life when I was surrounded by music. I was touring and singing songs for people for about four years straight, and it was during this time that I wrote The Skin Team. My friend Tony, who I had toured with many times, wrote this song about living a simpler life “with no songs.” Singing songs made me realize the baggage that comes with them; I occasionally related to the sentiment of wanting to shed them. I think writing this book turned into a form of catharsis for that—a way of finding the silence again, a way of finding the words within it.

Sufjan Stevens – 'Redford (For Yia-Yia And Pappou)'

I visited my hometown (which basically serves as the geography of the book's narrative) in the summer and went for a bike ride one night through the woods. I had some old mixed CD from high school that I was listening to, and this was the last song. It came on just as I moved onto one of the paths deep in the brush beyond the streetlamps, and I was racing through, and there were fireflies everywhere, swarming. I had seen fireflies many times growing up, running around in the fields catching them, but I had never seen as many as this. They were the only light and they were all around me. I have tried very hard to capture this experience through language but I can't fully describe it. This song always brings me back to that feeling again, though, and reminds me how quickly music becomes memory. A lot of the language in the book attempts to grapple with that transformation, and what it means to go backwards from that.

Leonard Cohen – 'One of Us Cannot Be Wrong'

Sarah sings part of this song near the end of the book: the room just filled up with mosquitoes; they heard that my body was free. Cohen is a big influence, and this song has always been a favourite.

Yo La Tengo – 'Night Falls on Hoboken'

This song reminds me of warm summer nights, of sneaking out of the house, of wandering around, of remembering more than doing, of wanting more than having, of restlessness. I had this one on a loop a few times as well. In a perfect world, this would be the song I would always find through static on the radio in the middle of the night on the hottest day of the year.

Slowdive – 'All of Us'

The collapse of identity, the loss of distinction in words, in bodies. I went back and forth between writing The Skin Team as a novel and as a film script, and although the book ended up taking a shape that wouldn't fully transfer into a movie, this was the song I always imagined would play during the end credits.

Jordaan Mason and The Skin Team links:

excerpt from the book in Red Lightbulbs
excerpt from the book in The Scrambler
excerpt from the bookin NOO Journal
excerpt from the book in Unsaid

Actuary Lit review
Heavy Feather Review review
The Lit Pub review

The Brock Press profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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)
musician/author interviews
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

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