February 11, 2014
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.
Bill Cotter's The Parallel Apartments is a novel filled with innovative language and dark humor.
Scott Hutchins wrote of the book:
"Four generations of Austin women—or five or three, depending on how you count—rivet our attention in this ribald and absolutely compelling novel. Both playfully absurd and absurdly playful, The Parallel Apartments is full of fresh language, exact observation, and—best of all—an underlying and genuine tenderness."
I get a lot of thinking done when I'm driving, and much of that thinking is about fiction, sometimes about what I'm reading, but mostly about what I'm writing. For whatever reason, the act of driving excites the problem-solving suburb of the brain, and while (say) heading to the vet for costly specialized diabetic cat vittles or to the grocery store for cheap wine and candy bars or to my sisters' house for chicken curry or just driving nowhere with the act itself the purpose, I can sometimes solve plot problems, cut through character entanglements, smooth out issues with pace, or just think up better ways to say something. As driving accompaniment, I like to have a themeless mixtape of some kind playing, usually loud. (This makes me a menace on the road, though so far neither collision nor citation has resulted (though I get honked at a lot).) The songs listed below have at one time or another found their way onto tapes I would listen to while thinking of ways around the many obstacles that bloomed up on the road to finishing The Parallel Apartments.
"Merriment," Vic Chesnutt
In this typically adagio composition, Chesnutt sings "Fella hanging from a clock; someone falling from a dock," a couplet that haunted me through the earliest stages of the book. Though no dock-fallers or clock-hangers can be found in the text, these desolate images, which I picture in a single mental frame—imagine the Zytglogge clock tower perched on a huge landing pier—informed the state of mind of the main character, Justine, at a particularly despairing moment in her life.
"Slideshow at Free University" Le Tigre
In a principal scene in the book, Justine interrogates a man she suspects of adopting her as a child, who then, for obscure reasons, returns her to her birth parents. The scene takes place in a vast lecture hall at a university, where the man, a professor of semiotics, stands on the proscenium while he tries to explain himself. Though it is not explicitly mentioned in the scene, in the background I imagine there to be a big pull-down screen pulled down, on which Le Tigre’s slideshow, about the nature of art, is being projected.
"A Little Less Conversation" Elvis
There is some driving-around in this book; numerous scenes take place in cars. One in particular, in which three characters are returning from a less-than-successful trip to a kind of healer, there is a depressed lull in their usual banter. Though I wound up taking it out—-it seemed over the top—-the song playing on the car radio was Elvis’s minor 1968 hit.
"Somebody Loan Me a Dime (I want to call my old-time-used-to-be)" Fenton Robinson
A vividly lonesome song, one of the few I’ve listened to over the last 25 years that I've never felt I’d outgrown; it has remained painfully current, and I tried to cast its mood over a couple scenes in the novel. I don’t think I succeeded—the feeling of abandonment in the song is inimitable.
"Dirty" Cristina Martinez, Jon Spencer, & Solex
I wrote a good chunk of the novel sitting in Epoch, a coffee joint soundtracked by the employees’ mixtapes, where I would order a triple latte with four sugars and a Topo Chico, then sit wherever a student wasn’t, open the laptop, and either write or doze or stare at the screen, for three hours. One late-summer afternoon, while deeply mired in a stare-at-the-screen mode, a tune came on about a paranoiac afraid "they" could see him in his own house, the refrain of which is sung to a funk melody worthy of Parliament. I ran up to the bar, where a barista gave me a "Duh, where have you been?" when I asked the name of the band. I sat back down, and was unexpectedly granted, by whatever force grants these things, the ability to write again. I bought the whole damn album.
"I Walk on Gilded Splinters" Dr. John
I don’t really know what that means, but the imagery was stuck in my head through a time in the evolution of the book in which I did very little writing—a fairly aggressive doldrum plucked out of me the desire to write for two of the five years it took to produce the book. At least I got a lot of reading done. I listened to a lot of music, too, and this murderous song featured among the most memorable.
"Bionic Sasquatch" April March and Steve Hanft
I like wine, especially when writing, and have drunk my fair share of flagons. There are a bunch of places to buy wine in the neighborhood—Twin Liquors, H-E-B, Walgreens, Centennial Liquors, Valero, a few others, but I like to buy it at a local overpriced mini-grocery that doesn’t always rotate their stock, a practice that rewards one with a pint of spoilt half and half every now and then. Why do I go? The cashier looks just like April March.
"Quiet as Kept" Trombone Shorty
My first novel was set in Boston and New Orleans; the present in New York and Austin, though a minor plot thread is set in New Orleans in 1969, just after Camille skirted the city and destroyed the coast of Mississippi. It was nice to go back and visit that city again in fiction. The Book Notes I wrote for Largehearted Boy of the first novel, Fever Chart, included Sexy Death Soda, Guitar Wolf, Marc Ribot, and Bob Log III, but I hadn't yet learned about Trombone Shorty (who was not born till 17 years after Camille!). However, he figured persistently in the back of my mind when writing the New Orleanian parts of The Parallel Apartments.
Bill Cotter and The Parallel Apartments links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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