January 23, 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.
Michael Christie's If I Fall, If I Die is a poignant debut novel featuring an unforgettable eleven year old protagonist.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Dark, threatening, dislocating and altogether brilliant."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
If I Fall, If I Die was entirely written under the influence of music. I usually choose something fierce and overwhelming when I'm churning out new proselike Black Sabbath or Wu Tang or Beethoven. There's nothing like a good old-fashioned cacophony to open the word-gates wide. But when editing, I turn to instrumental works like William Basinski's Disintegration Loops or Stars of the Lid's and the Refinement of Their Decline, long, moody pieces that sustain my energy, With no lyrics to infect my ear and lead the work to a place it shouldn't go. This novel was half-drawn from memory and half-imagined, so much of the music I've selected here was as important a part of my own coming of age as it was to my ten year-old character, Will. I've also chosen a few songs for Will's mother Diane, an agoraphobic, housebound experimental filmmaker, who spirals into panic at the thought of touching the doorknob and uses old folk music to soothe herself. This novel is about freedom, self-discovery and art, and the beautiful, terrible linkage between love and fear. In my life, music has been the both the instigator and the balm for all the most important transformations.
Peter Paul and Mary, s/t
There are many versions of this traditional, but I know this one best. There's something deeply unsettling about how the saccharine, matching-Christmas-sweater performance that PP&M deliver interacts with the gut-level sorrow of the song. On his first day at school, Will recalls his mother playing this on her guitar, and it happens again near the climax of the book. "Lord I'm one, Lord I'm two, Lord I'm three…"there is something about how the growing distance from home is explicitly measured that communicates a great sadness and longing for a lost world. And when you hear "I can't go home this a-way…" you realize that nobody can. Ever. Not after what the world has done to us. Will learns that becoming an adolescent means finding out that home evaporates the instant you leave it.
"The Rite of Spring"
Will claims that this piece sounds like "a heinous multi-car accident, except the cars are actually made out of orchestral instruments." And I stand by that one. It's exactly what Diane's panic sounds like. Feral. Throbbing. Menacing. At times soothing. Accidentally beautiful.
Slayer, Hell Awaits
Jonah and Will listen to music that seems to articulate the cruelties of their situation growing up in a small, industrial town, and this song is the perfect sonic expression of that cruelty. The double bass drum thudding like a herd of demonic horses is what really gets me going. This is the kind of music that's designed to scare parents, which is, perhaps, what a child is designed to do as well. So there you go.
"Black Steel in the Hour of Chaos"
Public Enemy, It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back
A brilliantly executed narrative poem about a black man breaking out of prison with a rocket launcher after being jailed for refusing to join the military? Yes please! Also, Chuck D's majesterial line: "They wanted me for the army or whatever" is the greatest use of a qualifier in lyrical history. Also, the prison break has a special resonance for our heroes, Diane and Will.
Firehose, Ragin' Full On
All you skateboard nerds out there will be familiar with this one, otherwise you'll just have to trust me. This obscure gem soundtracked one of the most influential skateboard parts of all time: Natas Kaupas' mind-melting section in Streets on Fire (yup, the one where Natas ollies up onto a fire hydrant and spins around impossibly like a top before somehow freeing himself of the spin and actually rolling away?) But it's a tremendous song regardless.
"Electric Pow Wow"
A Tribe Called Red, s/t
There is an Indigenous creative renaissance already underway in North America, and these guys are planted right on the forefront of the forefront of it. Don't be surprised when Kanyelike a headdress-sporting Coachella attendees tapping into the infectious authenticity of this sound. But don't settle for imitators. Get it from the source. This one goes out to Will's best friend in the book, Jonah.
May be a little of a no-brainer, but it's a great song. And the "cover me / comfort me" ambiguity of the lyrics really get at the puzzling duality of this terrible illness. The way that anxiety and fear can be weirdly comforting, and how we must stash our true selves away if we ever hope to grow.
"Dead Flag Blues"
Godspeed You Black Emperor, f#a#infinity
When I first heard the first tape-hiss drone of these classically trained anarcho-punks from Montreal, my mind melted. This kind of thing makes me want to wear my Canadian passport on my lapel. (Included prominently on this list: John Candy, Arcade Fire, Salt & Vinegar Chips, Alice Munro). "It went like this: the buildings toppled in on themselves / mothers clutching babies, picked through the rubble" is a lyric that predates our current fictional obsession with post-apocalyptic narratives by about 10 years or so. Here's the sound of a world ending. The only good news, is it's gorgeous.
Michael Christie and If I Fall, If I Die links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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