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October 29, 2013

Book Notes - Jeff Somers "Chum"


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 Somers' Chum is a dark and comic mystery novel smartly told through several narrators.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Combining elements of Jonathan Tropper, Tom Perrotta, and Augusten Burroughs, Somers' incisive, pull-no-punches examination of adult friendship is refreshingly witty. Tautly paced and expertly assembled, Chum is a darkly comic, deeply insightful, and wildly original novel."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes.

In his own words, here is Jeff Somers' Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Chum:

Chum is a book that is inspired and colored by booze. Was I frequently drunk and unhappy when writing it? Sure, yes. That's stipulated, because I am a writer and therefore I am frequently drunk and unhappy in that curious Möbius Strip way of life where you can't tell if you're drunk because you're unhappy or unhappy because you're drunk and after a while the question itself stops meaning anything and the answer is just yes, yes, sure, stop asking me. Which is kind of the damp, sweaty feel of the book, too. If I ever do public readings of this I will have to be stinking drunk beforehand. As usual.

I started work on this book so long ago I couldn't tell you with any accuracy what I was actually listening to when I was writing it. Also see: The drinking, and the affects of alcohol on memory.

But! I do have a soundtrack in my head now when I read the book, my own words staring back at me like strangers, things someone else wrote long ago for different reasons than the ones I make up to replace my missing memories, lost time, wasted years. This, then, is that soundtrack.

"Your Time is Gonna Come" by Led Zeppelin

This is the credits sequence song. This is the song that plays in my head when I am simply thinking about Chum as an object, as a discrete work. This is the song I would want playing in the trailer for the movie made from this book, even if it totally and absolutely bankrupted the budget and there subsequently could be no actual film because we'd spent all our monies on this song. It's this huge-sounding song that's actually kind of small and folksy, which is the sort of thing geniuses can pull off.

"Pervert" by The Descendents

This is the theme song for one of the characters in Chum, Tom Wallace. Tom is easily one of the most enjoyable characters I've ever gotten inside of. He's so cheerfully debauched and evil, and yet hilarious. In fact, Tom is so cool he deserves a second theme song, which is

"Flower" by Pansy Division

"Flower" by Liz Phair is a powerful little song in its way just for the ballsy way it combines her off-key feminine singing voice with childish chant-along cadences and filthy, filthy lyrics. Then Pansy Division came along and turned the song out like a three dollar hooker and made it truly subversive, I think. It's here mainly because the line you act like you're fourteen years old / Everything you say is so obnoxious, funny, true and mean really does describe Tom in many ways. Obnoxious. Funny. True. Mean. We should all aspire to these things.

"Armageddon Singalong" by Unwritten Law

Finally, we have two thirty-second songs that capture my mod when I wrote this book. The first, "Armageddon Sin" by Unwritten Law has this crazy energy – I'm a freak in a land of hypocrisy indeed. This is perhaps the perfect song. One more second and it would too long, one second less and it would be a novelty. This is the song we would play over the montage sequence of drinking and evil in the nonexistent movie we bankrupted in order to buy the rights to "Your Time is Gonna Come" above.

"To All the Kids" by Vandals

And then another thirty-second song (both of these are off the excellent compilation Short Music for Short People which is like 5,000 songs half a minute long). This song is so genius it hurts. It works for Chum because it captures that sense that despite your careful grooming, stylish clothes, and trend-chasing, you're still basically an asshole, and god bless. Let's close with the lyrics, which everyone should have tattooed somewhere on their bodies:

To all the kids with
Headgear and braces and freckly faces
Glasses and acne and foster care families
Eating disorders who sit on the corners
Bikes with a basket and pants with elastic
Retards and spastics and Star Trek fanatics
And guys in gymnastics with lives that are tragic
Chess club contenders with speculative genders
Friends they imagine with matching pajamas
(God loves us all)

Jeff Somers and Chum links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
the book's website
video trailer for the book

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Electric Church
My Bookish Ways interview with 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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