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March 4, 2014

Book Notes - Nick Lantz "How to Dance as the Roof Caves In"

How to Dance as the Roof Caves In

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.

Nick Lantz's new poetry collection How to Dance as the Roof Caves In paints modern America with wit, wisdom, and satire. In other words, as Albert Godbarth commented on the book, as "If Rilke and The Daily Show had a love child...."

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Lantz's lyrics are by turns blunt and delicate, confrontational and full of lamentation."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Nick Lantz's Book Notes music playlist for his poetry collection, How to Dance as the Roof Caves In:


The core "How to" poems in How to Dance as the Roof Caves In concern lovers struggling through various disasters. "How to Stage a Community," the long poem at the center of the book, follows a down-and-out couple that lose everything and take a job pretending to live in a foreclosed home to help unscrupulous developers sell properties.

I love listening to music, but I can't listen when I write—the rhythm and phrasing of the song always overpower whatever I'm trying to do in the poem. But I do listen to music when I walk, which is also when I do most of my thinking about the poems I write.

"Calistan," Frank Black, Teenager of the Year
This postapocalyptic song takes place in "the valley of tar that once was L.A." It exemplifies the weird sensibility of Frank Black that I love, and the world he describes in the song is very much how I imagine the world of "How to Stage a Community," the long central poem in my book. Teenager of the Year is one of Frank Black's best albums, full of other great songs like "Superabound," "(I Want to Live On An) Abstract Plane," and "Headache." Seriously, you should be listening to Frank Black right now.

"Through the Roof ‘n' Underground," Gogol Bordello, Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony
This is another great dystopian song. Narrowly speaking, it criticizes Western capitalism: "the upperdog [is] leisurely sighing" while the "programmed robots are buying and buying." But it always felt bigger than that to me, more about rolling with life's punches.

"The Book of Love," The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs
This song balances humor, frankness, and tenderness effortlessly—it's mindblowing. Stephin Merritt's dry, unpretentious voice makes a perfect complement to the lyrics. My poems aren't songs, but if they were, I'd want Merritt to sing them.

"I Gave You," Matt Sweeney & Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Superwolf
This song had me at the line "I gave you a house, and you didn't haunt it." It makes me think of how Emily Dickinson said art is a house that tries to be haunted. The guitar and vocals in this song are so spooky. And it's a love song, sort of.

"Don't Let It Bring You Down," Neil Young, After the Goldrush
A great debate rages in the Lantz house over Neil Young: I'm a fan, my wife is not. Young's signature falsetto, which my wife can't stand, is on full display in this song. "Don't let it bring you down," he sings, "It's only castles burning": a good mantra for economic collapse. After the Goldrush was released in 1970, but the album, and this song in particular, still feels prescient, deeply relevant.

"Underneath the Stars," Peter Case, Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John
This song is about the homeless, the down-and-out, with nowhere to go at night in a city. On the page, it's a pretty sad song, but Case sings it so brightly, it's hard not to feel warmed by it.

"I Think It's Going to Rain Today," Peter Gabriel, Scratch My Back
The "broken windows and empty hallways" of this song mirror the tone of many of my poems. This song is actually by that prolific master ironist Randy Newman, though many musicians have covered it: Peter Gabriel's version is my favorite. His voice approaches the words so delicately, as if he's afraid of breaking them.

"The Desperate Kingdom of Love," PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her
When I was in high school, I wore out a cassette tape of Harvey's Rid of Me. Back in the 90s, her best work was loud and gritty, like "Rub Til It Bleeds" or "To Bring You My Love." Her best songs recently have been much quieter, like the entirety of White Chalk, or "The Desperate Kingdom of Love," which is the sort of melancholic song best appreciated while driving around deserted streets at night or sitting all alone in a dark house while icicles drip from the eaves. When Harvey sings about "the end of this burning world," you believe her.

"Hold On," Tom Waits, Mule Variations
"Oh you build it up and wreck it down. You burn your mansion to the ground." Another terrific song that sets the imagery of ruin against human perseverance. Honestly there are about a million Tom Waits songs I wanted to put on this list, like "Ruby's Arms," "Swordfishtrombone," or "Whistle Down the Wind," to name just a few.

"Rag and Bone," The White Stripes, Icky Thump
This list was getting maybe a bit gloomy, so I wanted to end with something more fun. The lyrics unfold as a conversation between Jack and Meg White as they pick through a yard sale. The song revels in its grungy scrounging, and the chorus explodes in raucous fun.


Nick Lantz and How to Dance as the Roof Caves In links:

the author's page at the publisher
the book's page at the publisher

Publishers Weekly review

PBS NewsHour profile of 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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