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.
Marvelously dark and surprising, Patrick Hoffman's novel The White Van is one of the finest thrillers I have read all year.
The Wall Street Journal wrote of the book:
"Everything in his unpredictable fiction has the dissonant clink of alarming truth."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
My novel, The White Van, is a thriller set in San Francisco. I'm a big-time music nerd. My favorite record store is Aquarius Records in SF. Every other week, I have to take a couple hours and scour through their bi-weekly newsletter. My girlfriend, Reyhan asks me what I'm doing, and I say, Doin' the list. I also make regular internet stops at Honest Jon's, Other Music, and, for my hip hop needs, Southern Hospitality. Listening to music is probably the easiest way to procrastinate, but it also gives little boosts of inspiration.
Any way, here's my list. The first five songs appear in the book, or were in the book (before I learned I had to pay for them.) The last eight songs could have appeared in the book, or could make great soundtrack songs (in case any producers are reading this.)
"I Wear My Stunna Shades At Night" - The Federation
This song is playing on the radio in a taxicab in an early scene of my book. "Stunna Shades" was a Bay Area hit back in hyphy's heyday — listening to any hyphy track brings me right back to SF in the mid 2000's. Also, as I was writing this, I went down an internet rabbit hole and ended up watching the old "Sunglasses at Night" video, by Corey Hart: Man, that thing is crazy, it has a completely unexplained prison theme going on. Why are they in a prison?
"Ignition, Remix" - R Kelly
I only really knew the book was actually happening when we secured the rights to this R. Kelly song. When I found out, I was like, Damn, we got a real book. Then, I was like, I'm sippin' on coke and rum, I'm like so what I'm drunk, it's the freaking weekend baby, bout to have me some fun! Here is a bonus video of Michael Jackson dancing to it:
"It Had to Be You" - Frank Sinatra
My grandmother—my Nana, as we called her—used to always play this song on the piano for us. She passed away while I was working on the book. Right before she died, I told her the book was about bank robbers; she said that she always wanted to rob a bank. When we were going through her stuff, I found notebooks filled with lists of the thrillers she had read, next to the title she gave them stars, 4 stars for the best ones. Apparently, she really loved Allan Folsom, he got a lot of 4 stars (he died this year). I dedicated the book to my nana, and my aunt Patricia, who also died while I was writing it. Patricia was born with Downs syndrome. The doctors said she would only live to be 16 years old, but she made it to 70. One time, my mom and I brought my aunt to a group home kind of place, where she could make crafts and things. The director of the camp brought us into his office and asked what she liked to do. Aunt Patty looked him in the eye and said, “I like to read minds.” I made a movie about her:
"Ramrod" - Bruce Springsteen
Some times you throw in a song as a secret little nod to someone. I threw this one in because my girlfriend, Reyhan, loves her some Boss. Also, in the book, this particular song comes on the radio while a character is frantically trying to dispose of a dead body; it serves as a little contra-punta. Listen to this song, it would be the last song I would want to come on the radio if I was super stressed out and trying to dump a body.
"Throwed Off (Fuck Everybody)" - Treal Lee
I had one of my characters, a dirty cop, rapping lines from this song at one point. I had to take it out, cause I spent all my rights money on that R. Kelly jam. But the lines go: Walk round da club / fuck everybody/ Can't See Can't Walk /Fuck Everybody / Don't Give ahh Fuck / Fuck Everybody / Can't Speak Can't Talk / Fuck Everybody / Im In My Own Zone / Im In My Own Zone / Im In My Own Zone / It Got me Throwed Off. That's how that cop was feeling at that time. I ended up changing the lyrics and writing my own song for that scene, but I'll spare you and leave it out.
So, now the songs that could have been in it:
"Barbarian" - E-40
If I could hang out with one famous person from the Bay Area, it would have to be E-40. Hands down. This guy is a legend. He has an almost Georges Simenonian-sized body of work. He also has some beautiful moments of hyper realism. In this song he raps about a killer, a barbarian, but in the chorus, he sneaks in the detail that this killer wears the “same jeans for weeks.” Such a good detail. “Same jeans for weeks / out here with the zombies, freaks, and tweeks.” I'm a private investigator and when I was just starting out in San Francisco, I used to drive a little 1985 Volkswagon Rabbit GTI. I bought it from my cousin for $800, but he had put a thousand dollar stereo in the back, it had a huge bass tube. On one case I had to go to the Alameda Projects in San Francisco—“the Black Hole”—to look for a guy called Ice Man. He was never there, so I'd play basketball with the kids. One of them heard my stereo and said, “That thing slaps!” That's some E-40 slang.
"Oifin Pripestshik" - Ben Baruch
Now, this song is dedicated to one of the characters in my book, Benya Stavitsky. Benya is a Russian, Jewish immigrant. To me, he is a very tragic figure, and while Ben Baruch was Polish, and lived in Belgium and France, he sings in Hebrew and Yiddish, and he perfectly captures the core of sadness in this character.
“Run” - Black Bug
I like when movies—like "Funny Games", and "Cabin in the Woods"—start with some really heavy music. I think that's a good way to set the tone for a movie and jolt people into attention. If I had to pick a screamer, it would be Black Bug. They're from Sweden. I learned about them from Aquarius Records. The woman singing reminds me of my main character. I think they would like each other.
"Nightcrawler " - Patrick Cowley
Patrick Cowley was a San Francisco musician who died very early in the AIDS crisis. He's known for helping to invent the High-NRG style of dance music , but this album, apparently, resulted from the Fox Studios (a gay porn studio) commissioning Cowley to make a soundtrack to one of their movies (I'm stealing all of this info form Aquariusrecords.org, btw). The album is unbelievably good, and really captures what I would want my book to sound like: dark and drugged—the song I picked is called "Nightcrawler" for god's sake (which, incidentally, could have been an alternative title to my book). It is an amazing album, and very highly recommended.
"Pow!" - Tussle
These guys were my main running mates when I lived in SF. But I'm not throwing them in here just because of that. Listen to the song: they make great thriller soundtrack music, and this song could be used in any of the chase scenes in my book. There is a sub-genre of thrillers called, “Pursuit and Escape.” My book sort of fits into this genre, and this song fits into that vibe. Just as a final note, my two favorite Pursuit and Escape books are: The Big Clock, and Rogue Male, both out from NYRB.
"Le gougron" - Brigitte Fontaine
I like thinking about different artists meeting each other. In 1929 Sergei Eisenstein went to Paris to try and convince James Joyce to allow him to adapt Ulysses into a film. Can you imagine that? Or, in 1949, Truman Capote, only 25 years old, goes to Tangiers to visit Jane and Paul Bowles. Well, in 1969 The Art Ensemble of Chicago—my favorite jazz band—was staying in Paris and they got together with Brigitte Fontaine and made an album. I would give anything to teleport back to that studio and see them work together. This song is my favorite, and would make such a good song on a soundtrack. Also, take a look at Brigitte Fontaine's wikipedia page, she's done a lot. She also wrote a novel, but it's in french.
"Fuck U All the Time" - Jeremih
This one just goes on the list cause it should be on all mixtapes. It's just a damned great song. Listen to it. My friend, Alexis Georgeopoulos—a fine musician in his own right, check out Arp and Masks—hyped me to this one, and the next one, too.
"Rolling" - The Phantom Band
Okay, if the movie of the book started out with the blown out screaming of Black Bug, we need to end it on a more mellow note. This is one of my absolute favorite songs right now. I just did some internet digging and found out that this is Jaki Liebezeit's—the drummer from Can—first band after Can split up. I encourage everyone to put this song on as they finish my book. Talk about a song to roll the credits to.
Patrick Hoffman and The White Van 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