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December 20, 2013

Book Notes - John Dermot Woods "Activities"


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.

John Dermot Woods' comics collection Activities is poignant and unsettling, and much like a good short story collection these tales resonate long after the book is closed.

Benn Ray of Baltimore's Atomic Books wrote of the book:

"John Dermot Woods has a remarkably agile illustration style that well serves this collection of comics stories – each reading and feeling as sharp and poignant as any prose short story – with the ending leaving the reader to meditate on what they've just consumed. Woods takes the seemingly commonplace, a found shoe, a dead cat, a game of king of the hill, and takes them to unexpected and remarkable places."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is John Dermot Woods' Book Notes music playlist for his comics collection, Activities:

Activities is a series of comics and drawings about the desperate time we spend filling voids, and, hopefully, at times, it stares right into those empty spaces. The book tries to understand that desire we have to feel pain, to celebrate loss, to thrill in hurting from the knowledge that something that we love can never be recovered. It's not about schadenfreude; it's about the vitality we feel in the presence of our own pain. Why do we want to think, again and again, amount the moments we learned our fathers died, or those times when a friend or a lover reminded us each that we are most essentially alone, or the fact that the love of our children can best be exemplified by imagining the shocking loss of them and the ensuing collapse? The answer probably involves the fact that this pain is a reminder that we haven't been defeated yet. But, until I've got something more solid, the best I can do to answer is to draw these little cartoons. These songs might go nicely with my stories:

"Polar Bear" by Ride
When you hit something so directly on the nose, you can't help but look down and your shoes while saying it (and maybe drown your words with guitars). "She had dust on her hands from the sky." There are a lot of women with sky-dusted hands running through these pages.

"Scary Kids Scaring Kids" by Cap'n Jazz
This probably would have been a better title for my book. My kids have their arms removed, their parents taken, and their pants stolen. (But some go on to learn a valuable skill, like playing a musical instrument!)

"Have a Day/Celebratory" by Polyphonic Spree
It could be any Polyphonic Spree song really. Their music feels like staring at the grinning face of the saddest man in all of Texas. The more exuberant they sound, the more desperate it gets.

"Paris 1919" by John Cale
"You're a ghost, la la la la la." That's a good writing prompt.

"Fallin'" by De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub
Sometimes my line (my poor Watterson-imitation line) in its lightness feels disrespectful of the tragedy it describes. "Fallin'," though, embraces laughing through failure. De La Soul finds a way to celebrate being washed up. Maybe that's why they're still around twenty years later. (It should be noted that this song is from the infamous Judgment Night Soundtrack, an album I largely blame for sending popular music into the nu metal wilderness for the better part of a decade.)

"Kennel District" by Pavement
I like Spiral Stairs. He says, "I wanted to stay there...why didn't I ask?" You've either done something wrong, or you're a super hero, if you don't ask yourself the same thing on a regular basis.

"Awake to the Terror" by Brian Connell
Brian wrote a series of songs in response the comics in the "Recognitions" section of my book. My comics are collages collecting found text. His songs, though, are fully realized in their coherence. This song hurts.

"For Want Of" by Rites of Spring
Guy Piccioto was so guiltless and unabashed when he made those Rites of Spring records. He set a uniquely tough bar to jump over. It you fall short, you look pretty silly (and young men keep doing it, year after year).

"When You Sleep" by My Bloody Valentine
My Bloody Valentine is the other side of Picciotto's coin. In every way that Rites of Spring approached pain with directness and clarity, MBV described the abyss with with a sublime cloud of opaqueness. The elements of an MBV song can't help but run into each other and infect each other until they create one awesome miasma of sound.

"Car Wash Hair" by Mercury Rev
Sometimes you can't stop the beauty from coming through. You just gotta run your hands through that car wash hair.

"Temptation" by New Order
A desperate plea to remain afloat. An anthem about the exhausting struggle to just hold onto what you already have seems like the right way to play us out.

John Dermot Woods and Activities links:

the author's website
the author's Tumblr
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Everyday Genius review
The Fiddleback review
Johns Hopkins Magazine review
Small Press Book Review review

Adam Robinson 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

Online "Best of 2013" Book Lists
2013 Year-End Online Music Lists

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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