September 5, 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.
Mark Chiusano's collection of linked stories Marine Park is subtle and compassionate as it explores the often overlooked Brooklyn neighborhood of the same name.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Chiusano's impressive prose and topical range suggest the onset of a promising literary career worth keeping an eye on."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I grew up in a house where the radio was always on: WQXR, New York's classical music station (host Midge Woolsey babysitting me like a second aunt) while indoors; in the car, the same when my father was driving but 106.7 Lite FM with my mother in the driver's seat. Only when my brother and I began to drive did we force the dial to Z100, New York's #1 Hit Music station. Besides radio, our most reliable way to find out about music was through movies, which even today still feels to me the most exciting place to hear a new song. Old enough to drive, we were old enough to get to our own concerts too—and Brooklyn in the summertime is just about as good as it gets for free music. Today it's easy enough to stream whatever music you're in the mood for, but that's a whole different story. For the beginning of this collection, let's go all the way back to radio…
Holst's "The Planets: Jupiter"
Besides the fact that I think WQXR played this at least once a day every summer from around 1995 to 2003, this was the first classical piece I could identify, sitting down and listening to it as carefully as a kid could whenever it was on. It has all of the curiosity and grandeur of childhood in it, paired perhaps with "Mars," the darker side of the story. For some reason, "Jupiter" always reminds me of snow, the quick flares of the trumpets—which would make it a good soundscape for the first story in the book, "Heavy Lifting," about two young brothers walking around their neighborhood shoveling people's stoops.
"John Henry," Aaron Copland
Spike Lee is one of my favorite documenters of the New York City neighborhood and street—his ability to make his settings as dynamic as his characters, each of their eccentricities playing off on the rest, is astonishing. I tried to pay homage to that large-cast and big-stage feel in the story, "Haircut," about a man returning to his old neighborhood to get a haircut from his regular barber, who reintroduces him to old neighborhood heads. The opening credits from Spike Lee's "He Got Game" pretty wonderfully use the clanging classical sound of Aaron Copland's "John Henry" along with scenes of basketball from around the country, rural and urban. I think it's the type of thing Andrew, the character in "Haircut," would appreciate as he drives from basketball court to basketball court.
"Fight the Power," Public Enemy
To finish up the Spike Lee theme, "Ed Monahan's Game" is the partner story to "Haircut"—following the societal outcast Ed Monahan, one of Andrew's old basketball acquaintances, on his rounds over the course of one day. If anyone has Rosie Perez's sheer energy along with Public Enemy's sound in their head while they go about their business, it's Ed Monahan.
"Lazy Mary," Lou Monte
One of the stranger stories in this collection is "Vincent and Aurora," about an elderly Italian-American grandfather and grandmother who are living quiet lives out on the edge of Marine Park by the water, except that actually they're caught up in…let your movie-fed knowledge of Italian-American stereotypes fill in the blanks here. The thing about Italian-Americans is that, for the most part, we love our stereotypes, and Vincent certainly hums this half-English, half-Italian Shea Stadium favorite while he goes about his work.
"Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five
When I was just about halfway done with this collection and had written nothing much more than love stories, I was planning on calling it "Nobody Here But Us," a terrible title which comes from the great song, "Ain't Nobody Here But Us Chickens," a strange and catchy blues piece that, like most good American music, comes with its fair share of racial complications and appropriations. It's the type of song that might have been a warm-up in a Celebrate Brooklyn concert while I was in high school; also the type of song that Lise would have danced to in the story "Shatter the Trees and Blow Them Away," about two WWII era nuclear scientists who fall in love in the shadow of the atom-bomb, around the time when the song was being recorded.
"Firework," Katy Perry
Back to the radio era again, this time with the younger generation in firm control of the dial. The story "Attached" is about two brothers going for a nighttime spin around Marine Park with Z100 blasting through the speakers. Katy Perry certainly made an appearance. If they had made it all night they would have caught the beginning of Elvis Duran and the Z Morning Zoo.
"Dance Yrself Clean," LCD Soundsystem
"To Live in the Present Moment is a Miracle," follows one of the characters in Marine Park out of his natural Brooklyn environment, to visit a friend who's attending college in Boston. I imagine he certainly didn't drive there—the bus is incredibly cheaper—so barring an iPod the first song he might have listened to would be the college dance-party staple "Dance Yrself Clean," streamed from someone's laptop off YouTube. One can only hope there were no commercials. Someday this song will be covered on WQXR and my life will be complete.
Mark Chiusano and Marine Park links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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