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July 10, 2014

Book Notes - Craig Davidson "Cataract City"

Cataract City

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.

Craig Davidson's novel Cataract City is impressively dark and witty, and masterfully told.

The Toronto Star wrote of the book:

"Dark humour punctuates Cataract City, lifting the blood and guts and regret that permeate its pages into an elegy for lost dreams and innocence…"

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Craig Davidson's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Cataract City:


I have a habit—perhaps a bad one—of listening to the same song over and over ad nauseam when writing a particular scene. The song is the soundtrack of that scene. I don't know if other writers handle their own writing the same way; I've talked to writers about a great many things, but I've never raised this weird peccadillo of mine. Depending on how long the scene takes to write, I can be listening to the same song for days. Which might sound like the act of a lunatic. Maybe so. The physical sensation is not much different than eating too much candy: I'm kind of sick of the song by the end. That's not the song's fault. If there was a radio station broadcasting the same song on a continuous loop for days,and you were trapped in a room listening to it, chances are you'd be sick of the song, too, no matter how much you enjoyed it at first. Thankfully after a few weeks/months/years I'm able to return to these songs with fresh ears and love them again. And I recommend them to anyone, of course, though not in the epic binges I'm prone to.

"Comin' Home" by City and Colour
More than a few songs on this list share two commonalities: they're by Canadian bands and they deal with what it's like to love and hate the place you're from in pretty equal measure. City and Colour, fronted by fellow St. Catharines native Dallas Green, is one of my favorite bands. Cataract City is set in and around Niagara Falls, so his music was an appropriate regional soundtrack. The song features the line, "I've been to Lincoln, Nebraska/And hell, y'know it ain't worth shit," but I'm sure Dallas didn't really mean that. Nebraska sounds like a decent place.

"Nautical Disaster" by The Tragically Hip
If you were a teenager in Canada in the late-aughts to early nineties, chances are you listened to a lot of Hip songs at bush parties, keggers, and basement blowouts. They were the primo accompaniment for any road trip. You'd listen to those old tapes until your feral Walkman ate them, chewing up the tape, at which point you'd cry "Ah, shit!" and frantically rewind the tape onto the spool with the nearest pencil. Ahhh, nostalgia. The Hip. Pure awesome, pure Canadiana. I could've gone with "Bobcaygeon" or "Wheat Kings," but "Nautical Disaster" probably got the most play over the course of this novel.

"Left and Leaving" by The Weakerthans
Another Canuck band. You may be sensing a theme here. I was drawn to this song—the lyrics of which form the novel's epigram—because distills one of the main themes of Cataract City: you always come back to those streets you know. You can spend your life stressing against those streets, against your hometown and the people in it. We leave, thinking that anywhere must be better than here … but in time a lot of us follow our blood back down those old roads. You think it must be better somewhere else only to discover it's pretty great just where you were. And anyway, our hometowns build us and hold us in ways we can't always fight.

"I Wanna Get Better" by Bleachers
This was a late add to the playlist, during some last-minute edits. Man, this song got listened to. Over & over & anon. Like a bottle of Baby Duck and a bubble bath, it got me in the mood … okay, neither of those things really get me in the mood, more like a six-pack of Keiths and brisk walk, but you take my point I'm sure. Some songs just act as creative lubricants, fostering a mood or a headspace that helps activate the correct synapses. I became utterly sick of this one, but again, that's not the song's fault at all.

"Sæglópur" by Sigur Ros
Welp, I have no idea what they're singing about. And it matters not a whit. Love this song. Love this band. Trippy vocals, great symphonic sound. These Icelandic post-rockers have became a favorite of film directors, as their music makes a perfect accompaniment for scenes of soaring grandeur, cosmic wonder, and the like. I've never heard another band like them.

"Battle Without Honor or Humanity" by Tomoyasu Hotei
Otherwise known as "that song from Kill Bill when O-Ren Ishii and the Crazy 88s enter a Tokyo nightclub." Otherwise known, to me, as the perfect accompaniment to any fight scene. So this is why, whenever I'm sitting down to write a scene involving fisticuffs, I've got to cue up this bad boy.

"Holocene" by Bon Iver
Haunting stuff. This is another one of those "digs into your skull and pulls out the feelings" songs … which is I guess the same way most songs should impact a listener. It's evocative of childhood for some reason; I suppose the fact I've seen the video helps with that, the sweater-clad boy romping over the cliffs of some cloud-scudded isle. I also listened to a lot of "The Naked and Famous" by Young Blood; it stirred that same nostalgia for a lost time in my life.

"Harrison Ford" by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
Hipstery-twee name aside (they're from Wisconsin; shouldn't they know better?), anyway, I love these guys. I listened to their album on a long airplane ride from Toronto to Birmingham, UK. They were one of the choices in the in-flight song menu. I'd never heard of them before, as my musical education atrophied somewhere around 2001. But they're fantastic and this song has high re-listen value, which is key for a person like me who basically murders songs through excessive listening.

"Konstantine" by Something Corporate
This is my lucky rabbit's foot, the song I must listen to near towards the end of every book I've ever written since I took up a pen. Love the band, love the piano-heavy sound. I'm always compelled to cue this one up over the last few pages and just ride it out to the end of the narrative. It happened with Cataract City and I imagine the same thing will prevail for the next book, and the one after that.


Craig Davidson and Cataract City links:

the author's website
the author's blog
the book's Wikipedia page
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Financial Times review
Globe and Mail review
Independent review
Kirkus review
National Post review
Publishers Weekly review
Quill and Quire review

National Post 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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