September 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.
Jeff Jackson's Mira Corpora is a masterfully written debut, an often brutal coming of age tale as unsettling as it is brilliant.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Through an often sordid and savage phantasmagoria, Jackson, also a playwright blurs the boundaries between the real and the imaginary, creating an unsettling allegory of growth into adulthood."
Mira Corpora is saturated with music. The narrator encounters a trio of teenage oracles who perform a concert in a decaying mansion. He's given a cassette tape featuring music by a damaged singer who's gone into hiding in the projects. And he and his friends try to steal instruments so they can start their own band. During the five years it took me to write the novel, I started the jazz website Destination: OUT with a friend and wrote about music for various publications. Songs were swirling around me the entire time and the ones that seeped into the fabric of the experience fell into many different categories.
Song that got me into the sort of trance state that was helpful to write this novel: Terry Riley, "Persian Surgery Dervishes"
This 1971 recording features minimalist master Terry Riley solo in concert with nothing more than an electric organ. Using loops and delays, he creates a mesmerizing tapestry of pulsating sound that's meditative and modernist. It coaxed me into a mindset where I could get out of my own way and be a better conduit for the story.
Song that reminded me how the grain of the voice matters as much as the song itself: PJ Harvey, "The Faster I Breath, The Further I Go"
This little known song features Polly Harvey's voice masked by a scrim of electronic noise. I was fascinated by how her powerful vocals often seem more compelling because they're fighting through the distortion to be heard. Throughout Mira Corpora, I had to keep reminding myself that the narrator's voice mattered as much as what was happening to him – and that sometimes obscuring his tone could make it more powerful.
Song that embodies a vibe that's slightly unhinged and debauched – but still emotional and yearning – which permeates the book: Alex Chilton, "Can't Seem to Make You Mine"
There are many great covers of this nugget by The Seeds, but this yelping version by Alex Chilton is my favorite. Like the reclusive rock singer in my novel, Chilton had fallen into obscurity and was deep into various addictions, but he was still able to unleash a feral performance. I like the idea that he made this garage classic his own while nobody was paying attention.
Song of headlong urgency and non-stop propulsion that inspired me to make sure there were plenty of reasons for readers to relentlessly keep turning the pages: Futureheads, "Hounds of Love"
This revved up Kate Bush cover is the best thing the Futureheads ever did. They sweep you up in its momentum so there's no time to question the odd lyrics about throwing shoes in lakes and walking on water. This was inspiring because there are surreal moments throughout Mira Corpora – including a section set in an abandoned theme park in the woods. I don't want people to pause and question what they're reading, but to keep surging ahead. This song was an object lesson in how to achieve that. I just needed to hit repeat.
Song that captures the disembodied feeling of staring down the end of the world with a sense of passionate resignation: Young Marble Giants, "Final Day"
While I wanted to keep the story moving, there were also moments when the narrator needed to detach from bad situations and discuss them as if he wasn't entirely there. This serene song about the apocalypse struck the note I wanted to hit. I love how it embeds deep feelings in apparent blankness and how its words are poetic in a matter-of-fact way.
Song that evokes my despair the novel would never be finished and my obsessive need to keep pushing through: Andrew Hill, "Compulsion"
Mira Corpora went through countless drafts. I ended up cutting over 100 pages, combining 30 short chapters into five longer ones, and moving the novel's opening to the end. During this period, I was getting deeper into jazz and this track by pianist Andrew Hill was a particular revelation. Its churning rhythms and fractured structure evoked my occasionally desperate writing process and served as proof that beauty could be wrung from seeming chaos.
Song that sums up everything: Sleater-Kinney, "Everything"
There's a power to punk rock's negations, but there's something even more thrilling about Sleater-Kinney's demand for everything, all at once, right now. Like all their songs, this B-side from The Woods is a demand on both the world and themselves. Carrie, Corin, and Janet seemed to work at a higher and keener emotional pitch than their peers. If I can rarely attain that pitch myself, their music serves as a benchmark to strive toward. For me, they're a constant reminder of the creative intensity you can still summon in this age of easy irony. I could never repay what their music has given me over the years, but I hope everything I write will be stamped by the all-or-nothing aesthetic that they so completely embody.
Jeff Jackson and Mira Corpora links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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