July 15, 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.
Sean Wilsey's essay collection More Curious covers a diverse selection of topics, and is an insightful and witty portrait of modern America's highs and lows.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Wilsey (Oh the Glory of It All) makes curiosity the unifying aesthetic and raison d'etre of this eclectic collection of essays on places and people, hobbies and grief, and the comedy and poverty of the United States."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I always put on music when I'm writing. Often it's the same song over and over. I've never thought it had any connection to what wound up on the page. But a quick run through More Curious (my forthcoming book) shows that I'm wrong.
1. Introduction: The book's introduction is largely about introduction, first meeting, the idea of commitment. I wrote it while listening to "Runaround Sue” by Dion and the Belmonts (betrayal), "More Than You Know" by Lena Horne (true love), and, possibly my favorite song of all time, the majestically groveling "Plea for Tenderness" by Jonathan Richman.
2. The Republic of Marfa is about the town in Far West Texas (where I now live). As I wrote it I was living in Manhattan and in an 100% Beastie Boys phase. Which meant I was obsessively listening to "Hello Nasty.” To me, and despite the genius of Paul's Boutique, this is their greatest album. The weird thing: unbeknownst to me I was actually living in the same building where the album was recorded—262 Mott Street—and not only was I living in the building but the desk where I wrote this chapter was directly above their studio. In fact, to be precise, and I can be very precise, as I lived there for seventeen years, the spot where I was writing was 34 feet above where they are standing, as I discovered when they released this video:
It's possible that Mix Master Mike rang my apartment in order to get in. I used to buzz people in all the time.
3. No Work for Me: Since this piece is about volunteering at a support center for families of 9/11 victims it's hard to really soundtrack it. That said, I was in fact listening to MC Paul Barman's ep "It's Very Stimulating” (sample lyrics: "My pissed off Jimbrowski/Turned three colors like Krzysztof Kieślowski/ It said, 'A hand job's a man's job/Yo job's a blow job'"), which, having been produced by Prince Paul, contains amazing music, and is so absurd and hilarious that it helped me escape from the horror of what I was writing about. I was also deep into "Ágætis byrjun” by Sigur Rós, which I still listen to all the time. No idea what Jonsi, the singer, is actually saying, not least of all because the lyrics that aren't in Icelandic are in a made-up language called "Hopelandish.” That seems appropriate.
4. Using So Little. This is about skateboarding and I pretty much played "Slow Hands,” by Interpol, on repeat as I wrote.
5. Some of Them Can Read: This is about rats. And, in fact, I was listening to Public Enemy. Mainly "Get Off My Back” and "Louder Than a Bomb.” A skater's cry: "Yo I ain't no milquetoast!"
6. The World I Want to Live In was pretty much pure fun to write, being about soccer, and involving virtually nothing in the way of painful personal experiences. I was still in an operatic rock phase and listened to a lot of Mogwai and Godspeed You Black Emperor; not bands that have particularly held up in my estimation. I was also way into "Look at Miss Ohio” by Gillian Welch.
7. Scanning Updike I wrote in about two angry hours while listening to roaring Mogwai.
8. While writing Travels with Death I listened to acres of music. It is the central essay in More Curious and it took forever to write. Years. So I'm just going to mention one song: "AEIOU Sometimes Y” by Ebn Ozn. A song that always makes me laugh. And it does contain this somewhat germane line, dropped into the song's narrative apropos of nothing: "All artists potentially are the victims of their desire to be unique."
9. NASA Redux: "When You're Hot You're Hot” by Jerry Reed. This came on the radio in Houston as I was driving back from a day interviewing people at mission control. I Shazamed and subsequently played it as I wrote.
10. Aldrin's Watch I cranked out while in a big Airborne Toxic Event phase. "Sometime Around Midnight” takes the grandeur I was attracted to in Sigur Rós and Mogwai and makes it personal (or at least comprehensible). I still love this band and this song.
11. Always Be Cleaning: I was completely stymied by the seemingly-simple assignment to write about making/cleaning up breakfast with my kids. Mostly I was baffled by how to avoid cuteness and incorporate post 9/11 dread (still lingering in my subconscious). For whatever reason The Fine Young Cannibals' "Johnny Come Home” came in handy. Despite finding many connections so far in this soundtrack investigation, I see none here.
12. Danny Meyer Bit His Tongue, being a profile of restaurateur Danny Meyer, involved a surreal reporting junket to Miami, which (for me) meant execrable Euro disco music, which I love. In this case "Oh Suzanna” by Yamboo and Vengaboys' "We're Going to Ibiza.” This is the sort of music on-leave Israeli soldiers must listen to when they're dancing with machine guns dangling between their legs in Tel Aviv discos.
13. The Objects of My Obsession: I was largely playing "My Own World” by Eleanor Friedberger while writing this. That woman understands creative hermeticism: "I was taking my pulse and writing a diary/Looking at foods for their dates of expiry."
14. Marfa, Revisited: Napster was massive during a fair portion of the period covered in this piece and I indulged in downloading all the one-hit stuff for which I'd never been able to countenance entire-album-purchases to acquire. Ridiculous gems: by Vengaboys and Ebn Ozn!
And as I wrote *this piece* I listened to all these songs again.
Sean Wilsey and More Curious links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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