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April 16, 2014

Book Notes - Jaime Clarke "Vernon Downs"

Vernon Downs

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.

Obsession and celebrity are the themes of Jaime Clarke's impressive and fascinating novel Vernon Downs.

Matthew Specktor wrote of the book:

"All strong literature stems from obsession. Vernon Downs belongs to a tradition that includes Nicholson Baker's U and I, Geoff Dyer's Out of Sheer Rage, and—for that matter—Pale Fire. What makes Clarke's excellent novel stand out isn't just its rueful intelligence, or its playful semi-veiling of certain notorious literary figures, but its startling sadness. Vernon Downs is first rate."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Jaime Clarke's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Vernon Downs:

Most people assume Vernon Downs is about the writer Bret Easton Ellis, but in truth the main character is Charlie Martens, whose girlfriend abandons him. He clings to the knowledge that Vernon Downs (based on Ellis) was his girlfriend Olivia's favorite writer and contrives to meet Downs in the hopes of winning Olivia back, or so he tells himself. In order to evoke the sad state of affairs Charlie finds himself in—and the sad, doomed journey he undertakes—I created a playlist on my computer called the Sadness Suite, which features songs that, in one way or another, fetishize sadness. A couple of albums fit the definition and I listened to them on rotation so many times that they're a permanent fixture of my subconscious: Sigh No More by Mumford & Sons, So Tonight That I Might See by Mazzy Star, Ophelia by Natalie Merchant, everything by Evanescence and Florence and the Machine. But here are the individual tracks (with some annotation) that put me in the right sad, ruminative state needed to create Vernon Downs:

"Verdi Cries" by 10,000 Maniacs
A lot of the songs on this list are piano songs. I learned to play the piano when I was a child. I don't play anymore. You get the idea.

"Here Without You" by 3 Doors Down
Absence and longing perfectly limned.

"The One That Got Away" by The Civil Wars
First thought when this song comes on: the dude in this band looks like Johnny Depp. Second thought: great kiss off song along the lines of "The One I Love" by R.E.M. But what I'm left with is the sense that even though we know we shouldn't, we do. Over and over.

"Fix You" by Coldplay
Everyone loves to knock Coldplay, but as my wife and I say about The Beatles, "They know what they're doing." The point of view in this song, particularly, was useful in creating mood.

"St. Robinson and His Cadillac Dream" by Counting Crows
The Counting Crows put me in mind of my youth in Arizona—I once walked by a house in Tucson, where I attended the University of Arizona, and "Mr. Jones" blasted from the windows concert loud—but also the narrative in this particular song was relatable viz Charlie and his life. Also, the lyric "In a house where regret is a carousel ride/We are spinning and spinning and spinning" is illustrative.

"Pictures of You" by The Cure
Also the "Untitled" track from this album, which is a song that once meant a great deal to me.

"Precious" by Depeche Mode
The lyric "Things get damaged/Things get broken" perfectly describes the principle theme in Vernon Downs. And possibly in all books.

"When I Needed You" by Erasure
A sad song about childhood. In truth, it's too sad and I eventually removed it from the playlist because the sadness was distracting.

"You Found Me" by The Fray
Another piano song.

"No Son of Mine" by Genesis
This song about leaving home would probably be one of Charlie's anthems.

"Hey Jealousy" by Gin Blossoms
The Gin Blossoms became a national band while I was in college in Arizona, local boys made good. The helplessness of the narrator in this song, along with his wistfulness, always puts me in mind of that divide between adolescence and the imminent mistakes of adulthood.

"Here is Gone" by The Goo Goo Dolls
Great song about the fleeting nature of the moments in our lives. "I thought I lost you somewhere/But you were never really there at all" is a sentiment Charlie comes to know too well.

"Young and Beautiful" by Lana Del Rey
Another piano song. A haunting meditation on youth. With the added bonus of being on the Gatsby soundtrack, a film based on the book that brings its own truckload of influence.

"How Far We've Come" by Matchbox Twenty
Just love the hook of "Let's see how far we've come." The depth of emotion is in your personal answer to this call and response.

"Nightswimming" by R.E.M.
The ultimate piano song. It's one of those rare songs that make you believe the moments described are actually memories from your own life.

"Run" by Snow Patrol
Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" put to music. And one of the saddest musical goodbyes I know.

Jaime Clarke and Vernon Downs links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Harvard Crimson review
PopMatters review
Three Guys One Book review
Tweed's review

ArtSake interview with the author
GrubStreet 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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