January 15, 2015
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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Alex Green's Emergency Anthems: is an impressive debut poetry collection imbued with pop culture and satire.
Joshua Mohr wrote of the book:
"Green's short pieces read like secrets, someone sharing a passion, a bias, a humiliation, a love. They crash into your ears like the surf, and you flip the page, awaiting the next beauty, the next set of waves."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I get asked a lot who the first poet was that blew my mind.
In order to preserve my carefully cultivated, but decidedly shaky illusion of sophistication, my first reaction is to lie and say Hopkins or Auden or Rilke, and though I love those guys, the fact of the matter is that by the time I got to them, my mind was already blown.
By Henry Rollins.
In 1986 my friend Steve Edwards handed me a battered red paperback by Rollins called Two Thirteen Sixty One and I sat in the back of my high school physics class and read every word. When the bell rang forty-five minutes later, nothing was the same. From that moment on, all I wanted to do was write.
If Hopkins was writing about taking a walk in the park, Rollins was running through that park lighting things on fire. The freedom, the darkness, and the humor in his work really spoke to me and excited me and made me feel that not only did I have something to say, now I had a way to say it.
The line I remember most is: "Madonna…she makes me want to drive fast or go bowling." But what I really remember is the liberating realization that I was in possession of my own artistic freedom. My parents had brought me to museums, shown me weird British movies on PBS and taken me to see Shakespeare in the park, and I liked it all, but none of it rang my bell in a way that made me think I could ring it right back.
And that's what Rollins' first book did---it encouraged me to give poetry a shot.
I think the prose poem style I use was probably lifted from Rollins. He also taught me to get things done, because people who talk about the things they're going to do seldom do them.
I only mention all this because I'm about to talk about the music I listened to while I was writing Emergency Anthems and before I do, I feel I should add that in addition to Rollins, I learned more from my Camper Van Beethoven, Replacements and Jazz Butcher Conspiracy albums than I ever did from my Norton Anthologies.
I told you my illusion of sophistication was shaky.
In the years it took me to write Emergency Anthems the following songs were instrumental in helping me actually get it done.
I guess in a way they're Emergency Anthems' anthems…
You Am I—"Soldiers"
I love everything this Australian band has ever done, but this is probably my favorite song of theirs. It's got the fire of the Jam's early work and the narrative wizardry of Ray Davies. I remember one night I was trying to finish a poem as this was playing. As a result, it had a big impact. In the song there's a guy standing in the rain watching a road getting dug up somewhere in the suburbs. This explains why in my poem "South Marine Highway Love Song" you can find a guy standing in the rain watching a road getting dug up somewhere in the suburbs. How to explain the global apocalypse that the little girl is drawing at the end of the poem? Watching Road Warrior 128 times, I think. I guess that keeps the Australian vibe going strong…
Matthew Ryan—"Heartache Weather"
Matthew Ryan is a proud son of Chester, Pennsylvania and in my opinion one of the greatest American songwriters of the last thirty years. This song is taken from his blisteringly beautiful East Autumn Grin album. I love the record but "Heartache Weather" is the one I always go to first. It's a locomotive of loathing and I love it. As a nod to Mr. Ryan in my poem "Shark Nocturne" there's a guy watering his lawn, which is a cheap knockoff of the cover of Matthew Ryan's first album. The poem even clumsily mentions the title of this record. Shameless. Anyway, this is a glorious blaze of a song that I still need to hear once every few hours…
One of the best rock and roll songs ever recorded. Michael Hutchence out Jaggers Jagger on this one, slinking through the song with serpentine muscle. "Things have been dark for too long," he admits at one point and you can tell he's had enough of it. This brand of refusal is a sentiment I've always found particularly rousing. People get banged up a lot in my work but they do so with this spirit in mind. The emergency is not the end, it's the thing that's either happened or is about to happen and now it's up to them to find the signal in the rubble. ("Signal In The Rubble" sounds like the title of an episode of Homeland…)
The Thrills—"This Year"
The Thrills were a bunch of Irish guys who were obsessed with California and I'm a California guy obsessed with bands from Ireland. A perfect match. This one is from their third and final record and it's filled with a ringing promise that things are finally going to
go right. I also like the fact that the singer doesn't sound for a second like he actually believes this.
The Vaccines—"Wolf Pack"
I love this band. They made two quick records and they're both brilliant. This is a great song because it sounds like something has been loosened from the valley and is about to wreak havoc on the lowlands. It's a clarion call, a signal from the darkness. It's also the reason why a blue wolf keeps floating through my poems. Everyone thinks they've seen it, but they've only felt it. And they don't know how to explain that to anyone.
Although this sunny number has weary narrator who has wrestled with the terrors of 3am and later confesses, "It's been another long year/But you know I'm not counting…" it's a blast of optimism, a sonic celebration, an affirmation that hope not only exists, it's got just as much muscle as the dark stuff. But it's also a reminder that happiness is not a place you get to land, it's only a place you get to visit. "A good feeling," the song reminds us, "only happens now and then…"
The Rave-Ups—"These Wishes"
I've been carrying this song around with me for almost thirty years. It never leaves my head. It's utterly perfect. The narrative is a killer, but this part always gets me:
Well, I fed the cat
And I took out the trash
Put the big can in the back
Of the apartment we shared
Next to the neighbors who cared
A little too much for us
Well you worked at the bakery
While I sat home in bed
wishing all the wishes I could wish…"
I love that. I love this band. Jimmer Podrasky is as vital as Prine, Dylan, Simon and Cohen. An American treasure whose writing has been a massive influence on me. As a way of paying him back—not that I ever could—I named a poem after his band and I even namecheck Jimmer in the first line of the poem. I also mention two Australian bands (again with the Australian bands…) and an indie rock label from the ‘80s who put out some of the best albums I've ever heard. I'll leave the finding of all of that up to you.
The Drones—"Shark Fin Blues"
Graham Foust turned me on to this brilliant band and I'm glad he did. This is pure feral menace. It makes me feel like there's nowhere safe to stand. You'll see what I mean. Hint: a shark the size of a submarine.
Garageland's Jeremy Eade is one of the sharpest lyricists ever. He's smart and funny and sad in all the right ways. This New Zealand band's swansong Scorpio Righting was my soundtrack for five straight months. It's one of the best albums ever recorded. I promise you. This number reminds me of Black Francis and Paul Kelly and a late night weariness that I've been trying to capture for years. I love this bit:
"A slow sad builder,
Heart of a bricklayer,
Send me a rosella.
Send it whenever"
He also gets a mention in one of the poems, but he appears as the name of a beach where a guy goes to surf and escape his failing marriage. I think he'd be cool with that.
Gaslight Anthem—"Bring It On"
One summer I listened to the Gaslight Anthem's" American Slang and nothing else. It saved me in the same ways records like Distressed Gentlefolk and Out Of The Grey did when I was a teenager. From June until early September it was the only thing on my iPod. My book takes place in the summer and I think this record does, too. Its got boxers and fevers and lions and it's as heartbreaking as it is inspiring. It's a record about tough guys with tender hearts who aren't as cool as they pretend to be. This song has a huge chorus and I wanted to write a poem that did the same thing. I won't tell you which one it is because I'm pretty sure I didn't come close to pulling it off.
Squeeze—"Up The Junction"
One of the best sad sack narratives of all time. It starts with a romantic victory and it ends in utter defeat on every possible level one can lose on. It's sung in such an upbeat way which makes its devastation unexpected and stinging. It's a song where things just keep unraveling for the narrator until he's lost literally everything. I've loved this song forever and I wanted to write a poem about it. I did, but I had to throw 99% of it away because it was an utterly shameless rip-off. But I did, however, keep that 1%.And it's in the book.
Dept. Of Energy—"Stereo Embers"
Okay, I'm cheating on this one because this song uses my poem as its lyrics. But here's the thing: I've been sending my poems to this band's singer Robb Benson for almost 20 years now and he'll turn them into killer pop songs that are thousands of times better than the poems themselves. But this has been an integral and vital part of my writing process—I send Robb a mess of a poem and he galvanizes it into something amazing and sends it back. The way he sings my work back to me makes me realize the moments in the pieces that are really working. And I don't know how he does it, but he always finds a chorus in there somewhere.
The Crush—"Mission Viejo"
This is a cover of a Lifter+Puller number and it reminds me of the thunder of those early
Soul Asylum records. It's a furious and highly charged reinterpretation of the downtrodden original and in many ways it's the better version. It's a song about a house of cards heart that's on fire in all the right ways for wrong person. How many summers in a row did I do exactly the same thing? All of them. This song sounds like a sunset. It sounds like a broken heart in reverse. It sounds like the end of a gloriously terrible summer. It sounds like what I want all my poems to sound like.
Crowded House—"Kare Kare"
Neil Finn has one of my favorite voices in music. He's got the pop chops of McCartney
but the range and depth of writers like Fitzgerald or Tim Winton. There's something really sad behind a lot of his work and even though there's always an undeniable pop buoyancy, there's acres of swollen hearts in his stuff. "Kare Kare" captures that more so than anything he's done. A sweeping mini-epic that summons the surf and the mysteries of love that ebb and flow, this song in many ways is where my book began. "I was floating on a wave, then I made the drop/I was climbing up the walls, waiting for the band to start…" made me think a lot about Gene Clark of The Byrds. Not that it sounded like him, but those lines sounded like I imagine he felt sometimes. So I wrote "Gene Clark." And even though the poem is set in southern California, it really takes place on Karekare Beach in New Zealand. And even though it's not supposed to be her, the girl in the poem sure seems a lot like Nico…
The Jazz Butcher—"Shame About You"
I was finishing the initial writing of Emergency Anthems when the Jazz Butcher put out Last of the Gentlemen Adventurers. It's a brilliant album that's so effortlessly played, it made me to write one more poem before I turned the book in to my publisher. "Shame About You" made me think a lot about my friend Terry who was very ill at the time and it inspired me to write "Let The West Coast Be Settled." It has nothing to do with the song, but without it, the poem never would have existed. "Who feels stupid? Who feels blue?" the Jazz Butcher's Pat Fish asks. And I always think, I do, I do…
Alex Green and Emergency Anthems links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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