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April 13, 2014

Book Notes - Adam Wilson "What's Important Is Feeling"

What's Important Is Feeling

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.

Adam Wilson's short story collection What's Important Is Feeling is filled with poignant stories of young people on the cusp of adulthood that resonate with humor and humanity.

ZYZZVA wrote of the book:

"With its tales of young men and women who can’t quite grow-up, is about addiction, fear, sickness, self-doubt, family and love. But it asks us to respect its dark and damaged characters and to come feel what they feel, even if it’s for just a moment in time."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Adam Wilson's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, What's Important Is Feeling:


I wrote this stories over a ten year period, and listened to a lot of music during that time. I went through the collection story by story, and tried to find a few songs that were influential or somehow related to each piece.

Soft Thunder

Sweet Jane - When in Rome
This story is about a fictional band based on an actual band I was in during high school called When In Rome. I played guitar and sang, but like my story's protagonist, my singing left much to be desired. The only song that worked out okay was our cover of the Velvet Underground's "Sweet Jane" because the vocal calls for a mixture of talking and screaming without much in the way of melody. When In Rome played three shows. The first took place in my parents basement and was an overwhelming success. The second was an outdoor, single band festival we called Romeapalooza. If I remember correctly, we were shut down due to noise complaints. The third was a battle of the bands in our high school cafeteria. A recording of this show exists, but shall never be released to the public due to how embarrassing that would be.

Pussy Is Mine - Miguel
Despite it's misleading title, this song really explodes gender stereotypes. It's about a guy trying to will himself to pretend his lover isn't sleeping with other people. "Lie to me so sweet," he tells her, "and tell me that the pussy is mine." The same kind of willful ignorance occurs in my story between the bandmates who refuse to notice they're all sleeping with the same girl.

Rhiannon - Fleetwood Mac
Kendra, Soft Thunder's lone female band member, sees herself as a sort of young, Hungarian Stevie Nicks: part gypsy, part party girl, with a deep sadness at her core. Rhiannon is a great song. My girlfriend and I went to see Fleetwood Mac at MSG recently. We were the youngest people there, and we kept getting yelled at by the people in our row for being too drunk.

The Long In-Between:

Famous Blue Raincoat - Leonard Cohen
This song is about betrayal, New York, and melancholy. I imagine my story's narrator, years later, listening to this song and remembering the summer she spent with insane academics in a Soho loft.

Rehab - Amy Winehouse
The story is set in the summer of 2005, so it's a year early for my characters to be jamming out to Winehouse. Nonetheless, I imagine them loving this song with a confusing mix of sincerity and irony that, despite their credentials as deconstructionists, even they would have trouble unpacking. Key lyric: "My daddy, he thinks I'm fine."

Things I Had

That Teenage Feeling - Neko Case
This song is about the failure of adult romance to live up to the passion and urgency of teenage longing. In my story, the narrator's marriages have both failed because he was trying to re-live high school by dating women who reminded him of the girl who got away.

Just Be Simple - Songs: Ohia
I was very sad to hear, earlier this year, of Jason Molina's passing. This is my favorite song on my favorite of his records, and it's another great breakup song. Key lyric: "Everything you hated me for, honey, there was so much more."

December Boys Got It Bad

September Gurls - Big Star
The title of this story comes from the chorus of this song. I was worried it would be confusing, because the song is set in September, and the title has the word December in it. The story is about two laid-off bankers who dress up as hipsters to try to meet girls on the eve of the stock market crash. I thought of the girls they meet as September girls (or gurls) in the sense that they represent some kind of beginning of the school year, pre-winter idyll. The boys are December boys because winter has arrived for them in the form of the crash and there's no end to it in sight.

Super Rich Kids - Frank Ocean
Maybe an obvious choice, but I imagine these characters misinterpreting this song as a paean to wealth and consumerism in much the same way that Ronald Reagan misinterpreted Springsteen's "Born To Run" as a patriotic anthem.

Better Get It In Your Soul - Charles Mingus
This story begins with our protagonists stripping half naked on the Brooklyn Bridge in imitation of King Lear on the heath. For some reason I always imagine that this, the opening track to Mingus's masterpiece Ah Um, would be playing in the movie version of this story as they walk across the bridge.

Some Nights We Tase Each Other

Common People - Pulp
Like the woman in "Common People", Pulp's anthem of sexual slumming, the characters in my story think that "poor is cool". They get their comeuppance.

Take Off Your Sunglasses - Ezra Furman and the Harpoons
This story is set at Tufts University, where I attended college. Ezra Furman also attended Tufts, a few years after I did, and this catchy jam about a guy who's annoyed that his rich girlfriend gets to go on ski trips to Colorado while he has to work interrogates campus class prerogatives in a similar way that my story is meant to.

Singer Songwriter - Okkervil River
Another biting song about rich kid privilege. Key lyric: "You've got taste. What a waste that that's all that you have."

A New England - Billy Bragg
The narrator of my story fancies himself a class warrior, but really he's just bitter that the girl he loves dates his sleazy, wealthy roommate. Billy Bragg's Thatcher-era folk-punk is often filled with political ire, but in this love song he admits to being more interested in women than causes. Key lyric: "I'm not trying to change the world, I'm not looking for a new England, I'm just looking for another girl."

We Close Our Eyes

Don't Let Us Get Sick - Warren Zevon
I hesitated to put this song down because Jill Sobule's lovely cover of it just played over the closing credits in an episode of Girls, and now I feel like my private prayer for immortal youth has been stolen and shared with the world. I prefer Zevon's version, though, which seems to more deeply understand the futility of the prayer's impossible ask.

Put Your Hand In the Hand - Donny Hathaway
Like most Jews, the gospel spirit sometimes moves me, and by proxy, the characters in my stories. This story is, in part, about a terminally ill Jewish woman and her spiritual relationship with a Catholic priest. This song is about holding hands with Jesus.

Fifteen - Taylor Swift
Despite the fact that it's written and performed by Taylor Swift, whose ice blue eyes give me nightmares about being murdered in my sleep, this is such a good song about what it's like to be fifteen!

Living Life - Daniel Johnston
There's a speeded-up quality to the recording of this song that makes Daniel Johnston sound just the tiniest bit like Billie Holiday. I find this song devastatingly sad, and I suspect that Zachary, the narrator of my story, would too. I imagine him listening to it on repeat after the death of his mother.

Tell Me

9 to 5ers Anthem - Aesop Rock
In college I went through a serious college hip-hop phase, all that Def Jux and Anticon stuff that gave nerdy white kids permission to wear unlaced Timbs. I always thought Aesop Rock was the best and weirdest of the bunch, and I often listened to this song on my way to and from the various retail jobs I had during that time. This story is about a couple who are so tired out from their mind numbing jobs that they can't manage to raise much passion for each other.

Little Bit of Rain - Karen Dalton
I imagine the couple in this story drifting in and out of sleep while listening to Karen Dalton.

Sluts At Heart

Play a Train Song - Todd Snider
One thing I wanted to do in this story is to humanize a terminally ill character by making him into kind of an asshole. I think Todd Snider does a good job of this in "Play a Train Song", in which the character being mourned used to hit on the narrator's girlfriend.

I've Got a Thing About You Baby - Elvis Presley
As Elvis plays a prominent role in this story, I wanted to choose an Elvis song to include on this list. This is from the sessions Elvis recorded at the Stax studios in 1973, and with it's thumping bass line and duel piano/organ attack, it's the song that best utilizes the brilliant the studio's signature backing band/production style.

America Is Me and Andy:

Last Caress - The Misfits
This story is meant to be loud, short, and shocking, just like this song.

What's Important Is Feeling

Dress Sexy at My Funeral - Smog
I worked on a film set very similar to the one in my story, and for some reason this song was the anthem on set, because the lead actress was obsessed with Smog. At the end of the shoot she gave out mix CDs to the crew with this and other Smog songs on it, as well as Bowie, ELO, and some other stuff. I still have the CD kicking around somewhere. I love, and maybe even relate to the narrator of this song's desire to have his wife get sexed up for his funeral and make a speech about all the hot sex they had.

Corpus Christi Bay - Robert Earl Keen
This song is a short story in and of itself, and a good one. There's a line about throwing a rosary into the sea that is so awesomely Springsteen Goes to Texas.

The Porchies

Sleep All Summer - Crooked Fingers
I've heard these guys described as the Neil Diamond of indie rock, which I think is accurate. This story is about a guy who just wants to sleep, and it takes place in summer. I think this song is about the passage of time.

They Always Come - Dinosaur Jr.
There's a moment in this story when the character imagines himself running screaming down the highway with his shirt off. I think he is listening to this song when he imagines it. It's an angry song, and the anger feels somehow particularly Bostonian.

Milligrams

Palmcorder Yajna - Mountain Goats
Pretty much the best song about doing drugs in a sketchy way. Also, what the fuck is a palmcorder yajna?

The Hold Steady - Hornets! Hornets!
This could be the anthem for this entire book, but especially the final story. The opening line says it all: "She said always remember never to trust me. Oh yeah she said that the first night that she met me. She said there's gonna come a time when I'm gonna have to go with whoever's gonna get me the highest."


Adam Wilson and What's Important Is Feeling links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
LitReactor review
Publishers Weekly review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review
ZYZZYVA review

The Brooklyn Rail interview with the author
BuzzFeed interview with the author
Tottenville Review 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

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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