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March 7, 2014

Book Notes - Austin Kleon "Show Your Work!"

Show Your Work!

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.

Austin Kleon is an evangelist for creativity, and his new book Show Your Work! offers valuable tips on promoting your art. Kleon draws advice from a wealth of sources as well as himself, creating a wise, yet always entertaining, guide for the creative in all of us.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Some people are natural self-promoters. For others, it's painfully difficult to put their work out there. In this creatively designed pocket-sized book, Kleon offers the latter group effective strategies that allow them to share their work without leaving their comfort zone…. Kleon's advice is sassy and spot-on."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify and YouTube.

In his own words, here is Austin Kleon's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Show Your Work!:


Show Your Work! is a book I wrote for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. (Which is basically everybody.) It's the followup to my book Steal Like An Artist — if Steal was a book about being more creative by stealing influence from other people, Show is about influencing other people by letting them steal from you. These are all songs I listened to while writing the book.


Brian Eno - "St. Elmo's Fire"

When I'm writing a book, I have all these secret sentences in my head that keep me on track when I start forgetting what the book is about. One of those sentences for this book was, "What if Brian Eno wrote a self-help book?" I played Another Green World over and over while writing. Fun bit of trivia: Phil Collins plays drums on a few songs on the album. (Though not on this one.)

Phil Collins - "I Missed Again (Demo)"

Since so much of this book is about process, I got really interested in musician's demos—rough cuts of songs made in home studios as reference for later recordings. Lots of bands spend their time in the recording studio trying (sometimes in vain) to recapture the original energy of their home demos. Since his album Face Value, Phil Collins has gotten around this by using his demos as masters for his recordings. For example, if you listen to the "In The Air Tonight" demo, you can hear that the drum machine on the demo is the same exact drum machine on the final song. This demo of "I Missed Again" is very different from the final song — you can hear Collins singing nonsense lyrics, almost as if he's discovering the tune as he goes.

Doris Troy - "Just One Look"

"Just One Look" was a demo of a Doris Troy song that she recorded in the studio and shopped around to record companies. Atlantic Records liked it so much they just released it as-is. Show your work.

Fleetwood Mac - "What Makes You Think You're The One?"

After their album Rumours was a big hit, Fleetwood Mac went nuts and spent a million dollars recording their coked-up followup, Tusk. Lindsey Buckingham went particularly crazy, listened to a bunch of punk rock records, chopped his hair off, and did whatever he could to *not* make Tusk sound anything like Rumours. He cut a lot of the songs as demos at home, then tried to duplicate them himself in the studio, but he let Mick Fleetwood and John McVie play on this track. It's the sound of a man unhinged—trying desperately to struggle out of the straightjacket he's been put in by his own success.

Guided by Voices - "Gold Star For Robot Boy"

"If I waited for you / to signify the moves that I should make / I'd be on the take / Gold star for robot boy"

It wouldn't be a Largehearted Boy playlist if I didn't put some GBV on it. This song, one of the only "new" songs written for Bee Thousand (most of the others were constructed from old songs and demos), was written when Bob Pollard was a fourth-grade teacher in his late 30s, literally handing out gold stars, with his family and everybody around telling him to give up rock and roll and resign himself to his steady teaching job, with benefits and a pension. There's a whole lifetime in this song, and it's only one minute and thirty-nine seconds long.

Shep & The Limelites - "Daddy's Home"

My son was born right in the middle of writing this book, so I'd spend half the day writing and half the day watching him. Sometimes after I'd come in from writing, I'd play him this song.

John Lennon - "Watching The Wheels (acoustic demo)"

I had such a hard time balancing caring for a newborn and writing a book that I thought constantly about just quitting my work for a while to just be a dad. John Lennon took 5 years off from music after his son Sean was born to be a "househusband." But he was always writing and recording songs, many of them on his boombox. (He'd sometimes use two boomboxes together to make demos—he'd record himself playing, then play along to one boombox while recording the other.) "Watching The Wheels" is Lennon's response to people who thought he was crazy for dropping out of the rock and roll life. (You can find this demo version on the Funny People soundtrack.)

Paul Simon - "Rewrite"

God, this playlist is turning into a Judd Apatow soundtrack compilation. I heard this song when my wife and I knocked off work went to see This Is 40 at the Alamo Drafthouse during one of their "baby days," which are baby-friendly. Paul Simon might be a dick, but he can write a song. The part where he sings "I’ll eliminate the pages / Where the father has a breakdown" hits a little too close to home, even now.

Augustus Pablo - "King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown"

A year or so ago my friend Julien made me a mix of all this great dub and reggae stuff and I started listening to a local show in Austin on KOOP 91.7FM called "Jamaican Gold." What's interesting to me about dub is that a lot of the mixes are done on the fly — the musicians will record the tracks, but then they'll add effects like delay, etc., and just fly instruments in and out while they're doing the final mix down. In this way, every mix is like a performance—the process is the product.

William Bell - "Share What You Got (But Keep What You Need)"

This book is about sharing, but sharing always has its limits. I think it was David Foster Wallace who once said that country songs get more interesting if you imagine the lover in the song as the singer himself. Not sure if I agree (I genuinely love country songs), but imagine in this song if "my baby" is a substitute for "my art" or "the thing I have to do." You have to be generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.


Austin Kleon and Show Your Work! links:

the author's website
the book's video series
excerpt from the book

Library Journal review
LibraryReads review
Publishers Weekly review

AOL Jobs profile of the author
Creative Mornings interview with the author
Huffington Post profile of the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Newspaper Blackout
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Steal Like an Artist
Medium essay by the author
Scatter/Gather 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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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