February 18, 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.
Nicholas Grider's short story collection Misadventure impresses with its innovative, often challenging, storytelling and dark themes.
Susan Steinberg wrote of the collection:
"An unforgettable and unflinching collection of dark rituals, violent accidents, and uncontrollable obsessions, Nicholas Grider's Misadventure truly amazes."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I listen to a lot of music, mostly what would qualify as "indie rock" and electronic, from the moment I get up until the moment I go to bed. I have a background in classical composition and sometimes a song, like the songs listed below, will help provide me with an architecture of a character or in which a characters moves, and I mean the lyrics less than rhythm and melody, especially rhythm; in another life I wouldn't write fiction, if I were coordinated enough I'd play the drums.
DOUBLE A-SIDE SINGLE:
Antony and the Johnsons, "I Fell in Love with a Dead Boy" –– There's a turn at the end of this song that's emblematic of how I view the psychology of a lot of the characters here; a song about being in love with the titular dead boy suddenly lifts and gets operatic and the song is suddenly addressed to the deceased love object and it's a bizarre query: "Are you a boy or are you a girl?" The eyelid-fluttering ecstasy with which this sharp left turn is delivered makes it kind of the key song for the book full of stories who misbehave without, sometimes, even much explanation, where bad things happen to complicated people. Not that the book is pitch-dark––like the end of the song, there are moments of bliss––but I'm really invested in how simple acts can lead the way to extreme events, depending on what you call "extreme."
The Knife, "We Share Our Mothers' Health" –– This is one of my all-time favorite songs because it's just irreducibly and almost emphatically strange. "Strange" for me is pretty much always a good thing, the stranger the better, and "Millions of Americans are Strange" is my stab at writing something as proudly strange as this song, something that's simultaneously complete and that doesn't add up.
Lamb, "Gorecki" –– A lot of Lamb's debut album exemplifies what's going on for the characters in the book: several things are happening at once, some of them absolutely frantic. Many of the characters in the book are quietly pushing some kind of extreme of illness or obsession, and the drum-and-bass underpinning to the sedate declarations of bliss here are an architecture for why a lot of what happens, happens: life seems sedate but is anything but.
Throwing Muses, "Pretty or Not" –– Containing perhaps the most caustically insincere apology in all of recorded music, what situates this song in the world of the characters is the way sonically that a mild-mannered mid-tempo song lurches into wrecking-ball mode for the choruses and how lyrically a lot of heavy stuff is getting knocked over without apology, just as it is inside characters' heads or in their lives. Change the gender in the lyrics and this could be the theme song to "Black Metallic," the title of which was cribbed from The Catherine Wheel.
Low, "Pissing" –– The live version of this song (on Plays Nice Places) is the sound of things bad to begin with inexorably getting worse. When the lyrics cut out all you have is the sound of Alan Sparhawk's guitar both deteriorating and getting more insistent at the same time, and the song doesn't so much resolve as just stop, they way things happen in the lives of the characters.
Mogwai, "My Father My King" –– Periodically when I'm writing I'll put this on repeat at a high volume on headphones because it's this kind of "it can't get any more extreme/sure it can!" that's what I'm reaching for even if on the surface or at the start things seem casual and free of consequence. The climax of this is what I imagine is going on in the heads of Kristy in ‘Somewhere Else Entirely," Martin in "Misadventure," and collectively in "Millions of Americans are Strange."
Joanna Newsom, "Good Intentions Paving Company" –– Newsom is an expert at something I've aspired to in my writing––she can casually announce doom in a way that makes death metal lyrics seem quaint yet those lyrics are set to defiantly pastoral and even upbeat music. The questions lurking in a lot of her songs are "Is this what I want, and is it going to last?" and it's that kind of nervous uncertainty presented casually that I've aimed at in stories like "Escapology," "This is Not a Romance" and "Cowboys."
Shudder to Think, "X-French Tee Shirt" –– The elongated howl of a refrain this song locks into at the end is another shade of what I'm aiming for: a mania that's maybe desperate, seemingly without end, and partly ecstatic although, or because, nothing makes sense.
The Breeders, "The She" –– There's a completely unapologetically faltering major third/minor third guitar lick exchange midway through this where the song almost falls apart that I think of as awkwardness rendered as sound; it's key not only that the worlds of the stories are awkward, but that the awkwardness isn't a crisis, just business as usual. There's plenty of awkwardness in the book, but I'm thinking especially of "Escapology" and "Somewhere Else Entirely."
Fuck Buttons, "Stalker" –– I specifically think of this as the soundtrack to "Disappearing Act" not just because of the title but because of the way it starts energetic and gets almost oceanic by the time the song's mostly through, as if you're being pushed toward some conclusion you're not sure you want to know about; it's a feeling that's also present in "Clean and Friendly" and "Push Push Push."
Tricky, "Christiansands" –– Most of the time I will bet multiple farms on the truth that this is the best love song ever written, precisely because it's equally uncertain, menacing, and pragmatic. The narrators in the book often chase a kind of love, or find it, but if they do, it isn't romantic, it feels exactly like this: "You and me? What does that mean? It means we'll manage, I'll master your language, and in the meantime I'll create my own."
Xiu Xiu, "Bishop, CA" –– One of the most harrowing songs I've ever heard because of a specific progression it makes: the first half is skittery and baldly presents horrifying lyrics in genuine Xiu Xiu fashion, but this isn't followed by a scream or a collapse, but some very hushed and nervously pretty refrains of "walla walla hey" that sound like the song's characters', and some of my book's characters', attempt to plaster over something that must be brought to light.
Forest Swords, "Anneka's Theme" –– And finally, the whole album's great but if the book itself had a kind of theme song, it would be this, especially the way the slow rhythm is hesitant and insistent at the same time; I am most interested in creating characters, and not content individuals but people torn between compulsion to act and fear of the unknown.
Nicholas Grider and Misadventure links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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