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May 16, 2014

Book Notes - Jacob Bacharach "The Bend of the World"

The Bend of the World

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.

Jacob Bacharach's novel The Bend of the World is a literary debut that defies genre categorization, and is one of the most entertaining books I have read all year.

LitReactor wrote of the book:

"The Bend of the World is a terrific read – funny, disturbing, endlessly entertaining."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Jacob Bacharach's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, The Bend of the World:


Like most writers, the honest ones anyway, I think about writing a lot more than I actually write, usually while I'm cooking, and I tend to cook to opera. I played the violin growing up; I still play from time to time, though not very well. I've always loved those sorts of music that we now smash under the classical label, but I tend to appreciate music omnivorously, without any particular plan, which is also how I read and how, I hope, I write.

Well, I've said elsewhere that The Bend of the World is not an especially autobiographical novel, but let's just say that my social life and the life of Peter, the book's narrator and main character (I won't say protagonist) would surely overlap. Our taste in bars is similar, and we may go to some of the same parties. We'd probably know each other to see each other. Anyway, The Bend of the World has a pretty particular soundtrack in my mind, a series of songs and pieces that should be playing in the background, scene by scene.

Little Feat, "Trouble" covered by Inara George on Rock and Roll Doctor: a Tribute to Lowell George
I don't like to think about books in overtly cinematic terms, but the opening of The Bend of the World has—I hope—the quality of an establishing shot. "It was a wet February in Pittsburgh, spring, early and with-out warning, and twice in one week UFOs had been spotted hovering over Mount Washington." The next few paragraphs, the whole of the first brief chapter, describe a weird city at a weird moment: UFOs, a mayoral scandal, a friendship on the brink. "Trouble" is a great bit of writing by Lowell George, who's appreciated as a Southern rocker but underappreciated as a great American songwriter and genuine weirdo, and this cover by his daughter from a mid-90s tribute album is a great, sweet, incongruous take on a song about all the trouble to come.

Matt and Kim, "Daylight"
I don't often go to shows, largely because I'm an old man at heart and all that noise. But I did, purely by chance, happen to be drinking in Pittsburgh's—and America's—best and most important dive bar, Gooski's, back in the mid-late 2000s, and these two were playing a show in the back room. Who doesn't love a rad woman drummer? These sorts of jumpy little pop numbers litter hip America like parking-lot cigarettes after a concert, but this one transcends its genre, and its intimation of a world of impossible fun is the perfect background for summer day-drinking with a gang of pretty hipsters, which is where and when Peter meets his future sort-of-kind-of girlfriend for the first time.

Couperin, "Les Barricades Mysterieuses" played by Elaine Comparone
Later, though, when Peter and his new lady, Lauren Sara, end up back at her place, their not-quite-first date takes a sillier turn. I won't give it away. A radio is playing classical radio in the background, and I imagine it's playing this extraordinary piece by one of the Baroque era's most extraordinary and most extraordinarily weird composers. I've never seen my favorite version on an album, but it is, of course, on Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ffPVFTmK48.

Britney Spears, "Oops I Did It Again," covered by Max Rabbe & Palast Orchester
The distant music of a highbrow museum opening in which "a Swiss-German artist reenacts the aesthetics of atrocity or something" . . . Max Rabbe is a cabaret performer with a Weimar schtick. He's performed a couple of times in Pittsburgh, and he's as compelling as he is odd. His orchestra is tight, too. This Kit Kat Klub cover of "Oops I Did It Again" is so inspired that it makes you wonder if Britney herself wasn't born to the wrong age.

Dolly Parton, "Jolene"
Late-night drinking, some games of pool, a few drugs, and a jukebox—nothing out of the ordinary at the Order of the Owls Nest #93.

The Witches Sabbath scene from Boito's Mefistofele
Mefistofele is sometimes considered a second-rate work, and Boito is better known as a librettist and Verdi collaborator, but I've always preferred this operatic setting of Faust to Gounod's more famous version. Like The Bend of the World, it involves a surprising amount of time travel. This is the final scene of Act II, and in BoTW, Peter is in attendance with his parents, although the show is cut short for Peter when emergency calls. There aren't many full recordings, but the Hungarian State Orchestra on Sony Classical is very good. At the end of the scene, Faust has an image of his beloved Margherita with her throat slashed. It foreshadows future events in my book as well.

Death In June, "She Said Destroy"
Peter's best friend, Johnny, may be the only gay guy in Pennsylvania whose favorite tee-shirt features the band, Laibach. I imagine him holed up in his apartment, dosing, playing Wolfenstein 3D, ordering pizza, and listening to death metal and apocalyptic folk. Douglas P and this band have courted controversy by appropriating Nazi iconography in their performance—this, presumably, is why Johnny likes them so much, as he, too, is obsessed with the occult history of the Third Reich.

Bob Dylan, "The Man in Me"
Peter and his girlfriend love The Big Lebowski almost as much as I do, and even get stoned and watch it together instead of going out on date night.

Erykah Badu, "The Healer"
One of my favorite characters in The Bend of the World is the Rebbe Mustafah Elijah, a vaguely messianic character who combines Chemtrails, Black Israelism, gnostic hocus-pocus, and 12-step sobriety into a potently otherworldly religion. Badu's New Amerykah Part One (4th World War) is exactly his esoteric groove, and this track is on repeat in his backroom conspiracy bookstore.

St Germain, "Rose Rouge"
There was an era in the early 2000s when people started adding prefixes to the word "lounge" and the soundtrack of everyone's cool life was crypto-European electro-lounge, most of it the forgettable mush that you hear in a bad shoe store. But St Germain was a neat group; their album, Tourist, had some great tracks, this one in particular, repetitive and vaguely hypnotic. Mark Danner, a fortyish lawyer in The Bend of the World, would be a big fan, and you'd definitely hear it at his dinner parties.

Donizetti, "Quando, rapito in estasi" from Lucia di Lammermoor
Opera again, this time the background to a promising drive out to a doomed party. You could do worse, and probably not better, than the classic Callas recording on EMI.

The Hidden Cameras, "Golden Streams"
There is a recurring joke in the book about the particular . . . musk of that most elusive of species, the Sasquatch, not to mention his sexual proclivities and while Peter and Johnny are stumbling through a wild, orgone-powered art party and the mysterious woods along the Allegheny River north of Pittsburgh, you should imagine this unexpectedly sweet ode to its own title.

Billy Strayhorn, "Lush Life"
I won't say anyone really finds love in the end of The Bend, or much of anything, really, but maybe, just maybe, a couple of them are almost ready to go out not quite so often . . . Find the 1964 live performance by Billy Strayhorn himself.


Jacob Bacharach and The Bend of the World links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
LitReactor review
Publishers Weekly review

Pittsburgh City Paper profile of the author
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 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

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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