March 27, 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.
Dustin Long's Bad Teeth is a wise satirical novel both heartfelt and filled with humor.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Long’s novel, with its savvy humor, intelligent satire, and rewarding prose, is wildly successful."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I want to say Bad Teeth is a comedy about people seeking connections—with a revolutionary movement, with each other, with the past, with their own feelings, etc.—but that's kind of vague, so I'll just say that the plot revolves around the search for a mysterious author, and along the way the characters encounter love, lies, loss, magic, murder, and more. The book is divided into four parts, each with its own tone, so I thought of my playlist as a double LP, with one side for each part.
Side A: Brooklyn
The Embarrassment – "Celebrity Art Party"
This is a song about a "narcissistic party," which is how the book begins too, so it seems like an appropriate opener. I like the line, "She held a book on the subject of beer in her hand." Part One is kind of like that in general.
The Feelings – "Misty Says"
"When she first met him she was not in love with him" is a great opening line for a song, but what makes this track killer, to me, are the intertwining vocals that only kick in about half way through. This song in general, though, captures the awkward, fraught, romantic relationships that characterize Part One.
The Art Museums –"Paris Cafés"
First a song with the word "art" in the title and now a band with that word in their name; Side A has an art-pop feel in general. This song seems, to me, inspired by Richard Linklater's "Sunrise/Sunset/Midnight" trilogy; both are engaged with an earnest sort of pseudo-philosophical impulse, as if the very fact of sitting in a Paris café must inspire deep thoughts. The idea of a Paris café also brings to my mind May '68, which is thematically appropriate here. I also like the line, "you couldn't help but leave her." Speaking of Linklater's trilogy, though, my one big regret about my first book, Icelander, is that I let my editor convince me to change the name of a character named "Ethan" to "Nathan."
Stick Insect – "Sexob"
I think this is a song about doing everything backwards: even the title. And the sections of Bad Teeth are backwards, alphabetically and chronologically. By chronologically, I mean that I actually lived in the places for which each section is named, but I lived in Bakersfield first and Brooklyn last. But people are making mistakes, and that's why I included this one.
Side B: Bloomington
Michael Penn – "Long Way Down (Look What the Cat Drug In)"
First of all, there's a cat in Part Two and a cat in the title of this song (and there's a scary cat in the Brothers Quay video for this song). But also this is a song about a breakup, and a breakup is important to Part Two.
Orange Juice – "Intuition Told Me So (Parts I and II)"
Side B is mostly 80's British music. The Michael Penn song doesn't fit that theme, but his biggest hit, "No Myth," was at least from the right decade. This Orange Juice song, though, starts off as something like a romantic fantasy, but then it turns into another breakup song: "Did I mention in the first verse how you would come to desert me? Now it seems I'm longing and yearning for your returning." I think Adam in the book kind of sees himself as the narrator of this song.
The Housemartins – "Five Get Over Excited"
An upbeat song with dark subject matter. Also, the Housemartins often had a political angle that I think fits with the book. And Judas is at one point compared to the bass-player, Norman Cook, aka Fatboy Slim.
Echo & the Bunnymen – "Heaven Up Here"
Again, 80's/British. This song, though, also captures the drunken feeling of Part Two, lyrically (e.g. "Given up on whiskey taken up with tequila"), and captures how everything goes wrong, musically. It's a great hangover song. In college I would listen to this song when I had a hangover, at least.
Side C: Berkeley
The Horns of Happiness – "Would I Find Your Psychic Guideline?"
This is a Bloomington band, so you might expect that this song would be on Side B, but I think this is something that Selah—a Bloomington expat who smokes too much pot—would listen to while living in Berkeley and thinking back on Bloomington. I seem to recall something about the band having moved to the Bay Area, as well.
Faust – "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl"
The repetition with subtle variation kind of speaks to how Selah feels for much of the book.
Sleep – "Dopesmoker"
All of the songs on Side C seem like "stoner" songs to me, but they all have different moods, and this is the darkest of those moods. It's kind of cheating, because at 65 minutes it wouldn't actually fit on Side C of a record, but in the abstract I like it being on here. Also, I can see it as good musical accompaniment for the sort of magic that takes place in Part Three.
cLOUDDEAD – "Bike (1&2)"
Apart from fitting in with the aforementioned "stoner" vibe of Side C, this one also has some local relevance: various Berkeley street-folk, including local legend Rick Starr, are included in the collage of sound that makes up this song.
Side D: Bakersfield
Unrest – "Make Out Club"
This is the theme for Judas's first big crush, April "The Magnificent" Amberson. It's from an album called "Perfect Teeth," and this is the song that actually mentions perfect teeth. So I guess in addition to the character fit, it fits with the teeth theme of the book. And it's a good start to a side of the album that is tonally all about indie-ish power-pop.
Big Star – "Daisy Glaze"
This is the theme for Horatio Sponge. I didn't realize it at the time, but I wouldn't be surprised if this song was in fact the genesis in my mind of Horatio Sponge. It's just incredibly on the nose, so I don't think there's much else to say about it.
Lotion – "Rich Cop, Poor Cop"
There are cops in the Bakersfield section. And there's the line in this "I decompress to teenage." And there are four sections in the book, while this song throws an unexpected five into the count-in. But mostly the music just feels right, to me.
The Boston Spaceships – "Go For the Exit"
This song is a great closer for the album that it comes from, and I think it's an appropriate closer for the book. It mentions "drunks and dealers," for instance, as well as drinking "to the future and to the past." Which is kind of the sentiment that the book goes out on. But yeah, this is just some great latter-day Pollard. "There's mystery and boredom in your eyes" is also a good line that maybe captures Judas's sentiment when he sees Caissa again after the book ends.
Dustin Long and Bad Teeth links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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weekly music release lists