August 22, 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.
Ethan Hauser' weaves the troubled lives of several suburban Boston residents together in the face of a great storm in his debut novel The Measures Between Us.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Hauser's finely crafted first novel entwines the lives of various characters with their inner struggles. As the connections between these disparate elements are slowly revealed, Hauser's characters find they can no longer ignore the truth, leading to moments of clarity that ring hauntingly true."
I'll start by echoing something Adelle Waldman said: I was ridiculously excited to be asked to do a Largehearted Boy playlist. This is for many reasons, but mostly because I can't write without listening to music. It's on in the background, always, at various volumes, from moderate to piss-off-the-neighbors, no matter the time of day or night. I think that just about everything I've ever written—from my first short stories to this novel—has had its own soundtrack.
That said, I don't remember precisely what I was listening to when. Likelihoods. That's how I think about the songs that follow. In all likelihood they were playing while I wrote and rewrote my novel and stared out the window and rewrote some more. And I return to them still, along with other inspirations, while working on the next.
"If You See Her, Say Hello" by Bob Dylan
Years ago I was on a road trip with two good friends and we were eating breakfast at a diner in Georgia, hungover or maybe still a little drunk or maybe both. One of the friends said: "Beatles, Dylan, or The Stones?" And then we proceeded to have the kind of deeply asinine conversation that guys have when there are no girls around to try to impress — because ranking rock groups does pretty much the opposite of impress girls. Anyway, I don't remember where I placed each — like I said, we were hungover or drunk and likely hadn't slept very much, or at all — nor do I recall what my friends said. But I do know that this is one of the saddest songs I know, and it's on the album that two characters in my book are listening to after getting devastating medical news.
"Indian Love Song" by Dirty Three
I know a lot of writers who need absolute silence, or can't listen to any music with words when they write. I'm the opposite; I can't listen to anything without them. (I don't even really hear them, they're just another part of the melody.) Dirty Three is an exception. Their songs are like miniature, revelatory epics and they sound like there are words amid the noise but just hidden somewhere, about to bleed through.
"Revival" by Soulsavers
Mark Lanegan has one of the great bombastic voices in rock. It sounds like he's singing about the apocalypse, or something very dramatic and religious and mythic, even if he's not. Not that I would know — because, you know, the whole deaf-to-words thing.
"The Oncoming Day" by The Chills
A criminally unknown band (and that's as close as I'll get to music criticism, so you can start reading again now). For a couple years I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I thought if I listened to one song over and over again, I would somehow learn to play it, basically by osmosis. This was the song; the guitar was bought when I was roadie-ing for a friend's band (i.e., bothering them). The Gibson Melody Maker remains unlearned.
"Paradise City" by Guns N' Roses
I'm not a big writing-rituals person. No specific times of day, precious pens, Moleskine notebooks, or always-face-north for me. Strangely, though, the few times I've been to artists' colonies, I've lapsed into routines. During one residency, I'd write all afternoon, then stop an hour or two before dinner and have a drink and listen to Appetite for Destruction. Then, at the big communal meal, I'd apologize (not unproudly) for the volume of the music, because the artist in the studio closest to me definitely had some imported stationery.
"Everyone Choose Sides" by The Wrens
Another song from those ritual days. The title's hard to argue with.
"I See a Darkness" by Johnny Cash (with Will Oldham)
The third part of the ritual. In retrospect, those last Johnny Cash albums, the Rick Rubin ones, all sound like elegies. One last beautiful heave from a legend who knows exactly where he's been, what he's seen, and what he still wants to do in the few years left.
"Nothing But Heart" by Low
Such a simple-sounding song that when I heard it, I thought: No one's done this before? And no one had. It builds and builds, carefully and seamlessly, into this huge, hypnotic thing. It's almost like a science experiment, the level of precision, the adding to and the taking away. This is the kind of architecture I crave in my fiction (my own and others'), so my hope is that I learn choreography from songs like this, which often achieve it so much more gracefully than sentences and paragraphs can.
"Downbound Train" live 2004 cover at Popstad by The Cardigans
A Springsteen song, plus a male and female vocalist trading off verses. I'm a sucker for both, so this is pretty much heaven. The only bad part is that it's over too fast. Hit repeat.
"Dream Baby Dream" by Bruce Springsteen
It's another cover, of a Suicide song. I really should've put a Springsteen original yet I couldn't make myself choose only one — and if I'm being honest, this is the Springsteen "song" I listened to most while I wrote the book. Besides, I figure, by some weird math that a Springsteen song by someone else and Springsteen himself doing a cover somehow adds up to, well, something. Unadorned and mesmerizing and deeply, deeply felt, just the way it should be.
"Back in Baby's Arms" by Patsy Cline
A song that actually ended up in the novel, by name. Two characters are listening to it and singing along in the car, while a third is outside, a few yards out of view, deciding with what to do with a crippled deer. Aside from being a huge Patsy Cline fan, I was interested in the contrast between such an upbeat song and the violence just out of reach.
Ethan Hauser and The Measures Between Us links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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