September 19, 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.
David Vann's novel Goat Mountain is visceral, violent, and absolutely mesmerizing in its depiction of human nature's darker side.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"This flint-hard novel, in its intensity, will likely be compared to the work of Cormac McCarthy."
Goat Mountain is set in 1978, arguably one of the greatest years in the history of rock and roll. The first album of Dire Straits, first album of Van Halen, The Who's Who Are You, etc. 1978 could also be called the beginning of the schizophrenic 80's, with the Go-Go's forming that year, and Berlin and Duran Duran but also the Dead Kennedys, Bauhaus, etc.. But you'd never imagine hearing 80's music in Goat Mountain. Only classic rock with a backdrop of the Vietnam War. Every inferno will give birth to hybrid forms.
There's no music in the novel, not a single song mentioned, and of course we listened to nothing then except perhaps for the sound of a buck moving through brush. We were intent on killing. So any soundtrack has to be an abstract attempt to match one landscape of hell with another. And there will be no women on this list, since there are no women in the novel, so that also makes it hell. Hell has been made by men.
"Dueling Banjos," 1973 version by Weissberg and Mandell, originally by Arthur "Guitar Boogie" Smith, 1955
Those opening banjo line"s from Deliverance seem unavoidable in this soundtrack. Dink a dink. It is a hunting trip, after all, a boy and three men for two and a half days on a mountainside, and things are not likely to turn out well. Everyone has a gun. And actually, my sister and I used to hop around maniacally to this song in our living room in the late seventies. We repeated the trick a couple years ago at her wedding, which may or may not have been a good thing.
Van Halen, "Runnin' with the Devil," 1978
We hunted in the shadow of Goat Mountain all those years, never realizing that the goat is the favorite form of the devil. How could we not have thought of that even once? Van Halen's guitar and David Lee Roth's voice could easily live where "colonies of demons wait to rise through fissures and canals, pressed toward the surface, slipping along molten rips until they come closer and slow and finally are caged in hard stone, held forever just short of their desire…" (quote from Goat Mountain).
AC/DC, "Back In Black," 1980
This is not 1978, but I have to include it because for me there is no power to classic rock without this title song. My friends and I broke the rear shocks on my mother's Buick to this album. When I was interviewing for professorships, having to pretend to be good and generous and smart and self-sacrificing, this was the only album that could console me. It's a misogynistic album and group, and I wish that wasn't true, because it means I can't love them as much as I want to. They offer perhaps the closest musical equivalent of what we called "buck fever," when you have a deer in the sights and are about to pull the trigger and you lose your hearing to a surge of blood and adrenaline and the pure thrill of killing.
The Who, "Who Are You," 1978
This is the central question of Goat Mountain and of all tragedy for 2,500 years. The boy pulls the trigger in the first chapter, killing a poacher hunting illegally on the land, and doesn't feel bad. How can he not feel remorse for killing? What is the legacy of Cain in us? Why do we kill? Pete Townshend seems the right one to ask the question.
Tom Waits, "Wrong Side of the Road," 1978
I need Tom Wait's voice here, and some blues, so his side of the road will do. He sings of a "hunter's cold black heart" and he'll "whittle you a pistol." He tells us to "burn down all those honeymoons" and "strangle all the Christmas carols," and this Goat Mountain is a world of only men, the rest of the world excluded, all that is good and might redeem. The grandfather becomes a kind of terrible god, and he would do all these things, annihilation and source.
Black Sabbath, "Iron Man," 1970
Black Sabbath was falling apart by 1978, releasing Never Say Die, the last album with Ozzy Osbourne, who couldn't even hit the notes. Black Sabbath sucks, but because of their name and their album names, such as Heaven and Hell and Rules of Hell, etc., it seems like I should include them here, so I'll go for Iron Man, which makes me laugh. But perhaps we can say the grandfather becomes a kind of Iron Man with his imponderable bulk on spindly legs (not a bad description of old rock stars). "Is he alive or dead?"
Judas Priest, never
I'm starting to see a pattern. Is it just the UK heavy metal bands that really suck? I can't even pick a song.
Mark Knopfler, "Brothers In Arms," 1985
I think I need something more calming. I love Dire Straits' first album from 1978, but none of those songs fit my novel, and I'd like the more soothing Knopfler song Brothers In Arms. Goat Mountain is told by a retrospective narrator, looking back at all that was lost. There's a melancholy to the song and perhaps the book.
Buddy Guy, "One Room Country Shack," 1978
Because of a reviewer in the UK who said three of my books were the same because they had cabins, the characters in Goat Mountain have to sleep on the ground. No shack, even. Only a picnic table with a piece of corrugated roofing hung above, all the sides open. Now that's the blues. And I love Buddy Guy. I've seen him live three times, and the only time I've heard a better live blues solo was when Santana joined him on stage at Slim's in San Francisco, sometime in the late eighties. But after Santana, I think Buddy Guy is the best.
Stevie Ray Vaughn, "The Sky Is Crying," 1985, originally by Elmore James, 1959
Really this is just one of my favorite songs, and blues is my favorite type of music, but if I have to pretend a connection to the book, I could say that all my books are written through landscape, and if anyone's going to cry, it would have to be the sky.
David Vann and Goat Mountain 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