August 15, 2014
Book Notes - Various Authors "Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade"
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.
Ecotone has long been a vital literary journal, a point further impressed by tAstoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade, a book that celebrates its first 10 years. The stories in this anthology follow the Ecotone credo of "reimagining place," and include gems by Lauren Groff, Ron Rash, Kevin Brockmeier, Edith Pearlman, and others.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"The breadth of the selected tales creates a satisfying and often enthralling collection that perfectly celebrates Ecotone's first decade."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
In their own words, here is the collaborative Book Notes music playlist for the anthology Astoria to Zion: Twenty-Six Stories of Risk and Abandon from Ecotone's First Decade:
Ron Rash, "Burning Bright"
"Wild Horses" by Gary Stewart
"Wild Horses" is a song Marcie would definitely respond to, though it would be the version done by Gary Stewart instead of the The Rolling Stones original. Stewart, using only an acoustic guitar and his high voice, takes the song to another level of pathos.
Steve Almond, "Hagar's Sons"
"Lonely Planet," from the album Dusk, by The The
This is some kind of a strange stoner Mersey gospel song. It has nothing to do with anxious Jewish monetary researchers or mysterious sheiks or 9/11. But it kind of captures the exalted mood that prevails in the story, the sense that destiny beckons to some of us and, with the least ascent, sucks us through time and space into our own loneliness. The refrain ("If you can't change the world, change yourself") lands on our hero, Cohen, pretty squarely.
Kevin Brockmeier, "The Year of Silence"
"3:47 Silence to Facilitate Programming" from the 1987 cassette release of The Dreaming by Kate Bush
"The Year of Silence" describes what happens when a city succumbs to a mania of noiselessness. The world it proposes might be thought of as the inverse of the modern condition as Aldous Huxley described it: "The twentieth century is, among other things, the Age of Noise. Physical noise, mental noise, and noise of desire—we hold history's record for all of them. And no wonder; for all the resources of our almost miraculous technology have been thrown into the current assault against silence." What would happen, the story asks, if we employed all our technologies to eradicate sound? Who would we become, and would we better for it?
Rebecca Makkai, "The Way You Hold Your Knife"
"They Can't Take That Away From Me" by Billie Holliday
My story's title comes from the Billie Holliday version of "They Can't Take That Away From Me," and I can't imagine choosing anything else.
George Makana Clark, "The Wreckers"
"Bully in the Alley" by Three Pruned Men
While writing "The Wreckers," I struggled with Roland's voice. There are no audio recordings from the early nineteenth century, and letters from this period struck me as too mannered to accurately represent a soldier's rough speech. Instead, I relied on traditional barracks and sea songs. "Bully in the Alley" by Three Pruned Men best captures the boisterous, freewheeling language that I was going for in the story.
Benjamin Percy, "The Tree"
"Every Breath you Take" by The Police
One of the creepier love songs ever written. It's about more than longing—it's about romantic obsession, a dangerous sense of ownership—and that's the vibe that informs my story about a tree that falls in love with a girl and views her growing up as a betrayal.
Brad Watson, "Alamo Plaza"
"Biloxi" by Ted Hawkins
Ted Hawkins's raw vocals and longing memories of this place are perfect for this story set just between Gulfport and Biloxi, on the Mississippi coast, back in the '60s.
Brock Clarke, "Our Pointy Boots"
"Shoe Money" by Ass Ponys
I was living in Cincinnati, Ohio, when I wrote this story, and one of the greatest Cincinnati bands, one of my favorite bands, period, was the late, great, Ass Ponys. And one of my favorite songs by them, a song I listened to a lot during the time when I wrote this story, is "Shoe Money," off their album The Known Universe, in which funny things happen—someone misspells Satan's name, Satin, while defacing a graveyard—and yet the narrator keeps insisting that things aren't funny at all, and he says this, sings this, with such sad desperation that you're not sure how you're supposed to feel about what's going on in the song—funny or tragic?—which is exactly what I want the reader to feel while reading my "Our Pointy Boots."
Miha Mazzini, "That Winter"
"The Sloth" by Fairport Convention
A song I fell in love with when I was a kid. When I was preparing to write "That Winter," I found myself browsing old LPs until I put this one on the gramophone. It's about the starting of the war, while my story is about ending it. The first is much easier to do, of course.
Daniel Orozco, "Only Connect"
"In My Time of Dying" by Led Zeppelin
In my story, two drug dealers—Costas and a younger man referred to as "the boy"—drive to Astoria, Oregon, listening to an unspecified Led Zeppelin CD, the boy "slapping John Bonham's drum work on the dashboard and screaming the lyrics out the open window into the rushing night." The CD is Physical Graffiti, and the song they are listening to is "In My Time of Dying," which seems kind of emblematic of the boy's self-destructive live-fast-die-young behavior, though that was not my intent in picking it. I picked it because I wanted him to be banging on the dashboard to something, and what could be more dashboard-bangable than Led Zeppelin? And which of their songs could be more magnificent drumming-wise that "In My Time of Dying"?
Douglas Watson, "New Animal"
"That Don't Make It Junk" by Leonard Cohen
Leonard Cohen's 2001 album Ten New Songs was a frequent companion of mine around the time I wrote "New Animal." It helped me feel close to my mom, who had died the year before. It wasn't just that she had loved Leonard Cohen and that album in particular. It was that the album was right there where I was, in the same kind of mood. "That Don't Make It Junk" isn't necessarily my favorite song from the album, but it does, more than any other song I know, meet darkness and futility with a wink and a shrug—an attitude my mother would have approved of.
Maggie Shipstead, "Something Like the Resurrection"
"For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti" by Sufjan Stevens
This song is off Stevens's Michigan album, which seems appropriate since "Something Like the Resurrection" is set in a house on the shore of Lake Michigan not far from Petoskey, where Stevens grew up. My grandparents retired in the area, and my extended family still convenes there sometimes in the summers—it's a beautiful part of the country. My story's central character, Agnes, is a widow who has summoned her children to her in anticipation of her death, and the song's final repetitions of the line "I did everything for you" managed to sound both nagging and resigned, much like Agnes herself.
Shawn Vestal, "Winter Elders"
"Blank Maps" by Cold Specks
I love Cold Specks, for the beauty of Al Spx's husky, powerful voice and for her brilliant, poetic coupling of the sacred and the profane, as in the potent chorus of this song: "I am I am, I am I am a goddamn believer."
Bill Roorbach, "Broadax, Inc."
"Moanin'" by Charles Mingus
"Moanin'" is a wild ride, from the lowest bari sax notes you'll ever hear to a big band funk-bop cacophony, and back again. In terms of "Broadax, Inc.," I see this song in all its layers of complication as the workings of Broadax's mind, which is why I pick it now. But I listen to this song whenever I want to get pumped and energized, truly inspired. Even sitting at my desk, these notes give me the feeling of falling out of an airplane into a maelstrom. I laugh when I hear it—I laugh every time. It's playing right now because I had to look up the link for this post. I'm laughing. The other thing is that Mingus's "Moanin'" is a massively thoroughgoing arrangement and cover of the old Art Blakey standard. It's really fun, almost archeology, to go in and find the ruins of the old edifice under the new, spectacular.
Cary Holladay, "Horse People"
"Soldier's Joy" by Nitty-Gritty Dirt Band
There are many variations of this rousing old English tune, which traveled to the Southern mountains. The characters in "Horse People" would have heard it played on banjoes and fiddles at country dances. Nelle Fenton might think it was too backwoodsy, but her husband, Richard, would love it. A staid miller and county judge, he had a lighthearted side. I think he could persuade Nelle to join him for a reel when "Soldier's Joy" got to playing.
David Means, "The Junction"
"Cold Irons Bound" by Bob Dylan
A chugging railroad beat with a lonely soul singing a lament in the center, static, unmoving, twenty miles outside of town. The future is gone and the past is long past. The only stories left are the stories you tell yourself. I don't think this song directly inspired me to write my story, but it seems—at least to me right now, in retrospect—that it did.
Lauren Groff, "Abundance"
"Nocturne Number 3" by Frédéric François Chopin
I'm an obsessive, and was listening to this one CD of Chopin's Nocturnes on repeat for a month. Why? No idea. I have the piano skill of a toddler with chopsticks for fingers, but I'm good at closing my eyes and imagining ability where there is none. I was aiming for the tempo of this particular Nocturne in "Abundance."
Ben Stroud, "The Traitor of Zion"
"Sleeping Bear, Sault Saint Marie" by Sufjan Stevens
This song always makes me think of the part of Michigan where "The Traitor of Zion" is set—Sleeping Bear Dunes is very close to Beaver Island (Sault St. Marie is much farther away).
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