June 26, 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.
Reading Tom Rachman's novel The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is an immersive experience, this ambitiously written book is filled with fascinating characters as well as the author's characteristic wit.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Brilliantly structured, beautifully written and profoundly sad."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Among the casualties of this digital age is the mixtape, a tool used by ancient peoples to communicate deep sentiment and attempt seduction. My new novel, The Rise & Fall of Great Powers, leaps around in time, slowly revealing the secret past of the main character, Tooly, through scenes from her past quarter-century. Mixtapes pop up in 1999, when she finds herself in the bedroom of a college student, Duncan, who expresses his romantic longing through the medium of a 90-minute Maxell XLII cassette. Here's my mixtape for you.
The Smiths – "William, It's Was Really Nothing"
This track, with its racing pace and "rain falls hard on a humdrum town" lyric captures the exuberance and liberty and self-involved melancholy I and my friends felt during freshman year at the University of Toronto in the early Nineties. We toiled over mixtapes and handed them out like grave declarations. Only, would they get what I meant by this song or that? Would they misinterpret me? Or see right through me? Or…
Lynyrd Skynyrd – "Freebird"
Years ago, I was at a dive bar in New York with a friend. We were monopolizing the jukebox, and this was among our choices. When the solo kicked in, my friend began to air-guitar. It was mesmerizing; he performed every lick to perfection. It was one of the greatest live performances I've ever seen, and inspired a scene in my novel where Duncan leaps on his bed and performs air-guitar marvels.
Tom Waits – "Time"
Tom Waits has two distinct phases, it seems to me: the louche nightclub days that lasted until the Eighties, and the down-and-out experimental stuff that came since. In college, I favored the early songs, especially tracks like "Martha," while a friend in my dorm obsessively played the newer grungy stuff. I'll choose this track from the Rain Dogs album, which straddles the two periods – and is a fitting song, given the juxtaposed time periods featured in my novel.
The Human League – "Don't You Want Me Baby"
My book includes a scene at a 1988 house party. The music there is abysmal, including cornball Seventies schmaltz, Def Leppard and even the Ghostbusters theme. I'll improve on all of that with two works of genius, among the many that came out in the Eighties. Firstly, this New Wave classic...
Dexy's Midnight Runners – "Old"
…and secondly this, which comes from the Too-Rye-Ay album, best known for the superb "Come on, Eileen." I didn't pick that because it's so well known, and because that whole album is so good, I prefer to choose something more offbeat. This track is beautiful and sad, and its theme of age fits Humphrey, an elderly man in my novel struggling with his fading powers.
The Stone Roses – "This is the One"
Their debut album was, like the Dexy's album cited above, a stunner from start to finish. Not just a few smattered good tracks: this was perfect as an album, the whole thing together. I'll immediately contradict myself by picking just one track.
That's it for me – this selection is a hodge-podge. But, as with any mixtape, I can only hand it over and hope you understand.
Tom Rachman and The Rise & Fall of Great Powers links:
The A.V. Club review
Chicago Tribune review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fresh Air review
Globe and Mail review
New York Times review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Seattle Times review
St. Louis Post-Dispatch review
USA Today review
Washington Post review
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
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Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
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weekly music release lists