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March 19, 2015

Book Notes - Mark Kurlansky "City Beasts"

City Beasts

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.

Mark Kurlansky's short story collection City Beasts is filled with surprising and fascinating animal interactions with humans.

Francine Prose wrote of the book:

"Mark Kurlansky's fiction provides the same pleasures we have come to expect from his nonfiction. It's beautifully written, observant, and acutely intelligent."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Mark Kurlansky's Book Notes music playlist for his novel City Beasts:

My short story collection City Beasts: Fourteen Stories of Uninvited Wildlife is a group of stories of encounters with wildlife in human habitat. The theme song for the book has to be "Wild Thing," the 1966 recording by the Troggs, part of the British invasion even though the song was originally written by an American, Chip Taylor. I always thought this song was hysterically funny. I hope it was meant to be. "I think I love you, but I want to know for sure," and the soft voiced "you move me" and the recorder solo in the middle of the track.

Here is music for seven of the stories.

The first story "Odd Birds in New York" should be read to Joe Cuba's "Bang Bang." It is a story about exotic birds escaped from the Bronx Zoo and living in Central Park. Joe Cuba, one of the stars of the Newyorrican boogaloo craze was the quintessential New Yorker, a Puerto Rican who lived in the Barrio with his Jewish wife. All of his music sounds like New York—noisy and unrestrained and a little bit chaotic." Bang Bang," also from 1966 is about the cultural conflict between Blacks and Puerto Ricans but is really just about noisy New York Streets.

"Twice Bitten in San Pedro" is a story about a young baseball player bitten by a tarantula in center field in San Pedro de Macorís. Though the bite leads him to dance merengue, the music for this story should be the soft stirring ballads called bachata. That is what young people in the Dominican Republic listen to. The song for this story is "Guavaberry" recorded by Juan Luis Guerra, a popular bachata singer, in the year 2000. The song is about San Pedro de Macorís.

"Miami: The Alligator Teeth of an Unknown God" is the story of an alligator that moves into the backyard of a Chasid. He tries to get the alligator to devour his irritating wife and the music is, of course, Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild" from 1968. It is about wanderlust "looking for adventure," often remembered for the movie Easy Rider, about god knows what. The characters in my story are not born to be wild, except for the alligator of course, but are suddenly "looking for adventure." In the recording I like the way they seem to get completely lost, mid track, in a guitar and keyboard duet.

"Havana: A Murder of Crows" is about setting up a restaurant in Havana under the new regulations but only crows go to it. For this I have a 1930s bolero by Beny More, "El Congelero" which says that there are a lot of nice things in the world, such as France for example, but dancing the congelera is even better. The rhythm of this bolero can be seen any day in the way Habaneros walk down the street.

"Hunger on the Big Wood River" is about a man alone fly fishing for the last big rainbow trout of the season on Idaho's Big Wood River and being watched by a wolf. The song for this is Donavan's only memorable song, sadly his first one, "Catch the Wind" from 1965. With a simply plucked acoustic guitar and harmonica it is about hopeless desire.

"Night in Stanley" is about a frightening night with wolves in Idaho's Sawtooth Range. For this I choose "The Lion Sleeps Tonight," which was originally a South African song with lyrics entirely in Zulu. In 1961 English lyrics were added for the Tokens. What is haunting about this recording is Soprano Anita Darian. She used her astounding, strong, four octave range to sing with the New York City Opera, in classical concerts, in Broadway musicals, and in commercial jingles. For the Tokens she decided to sing her part an octave higher than it was written, which the others thought was impossible since they were already in the upper registers of falsetto. But she did it with a quality of voice never heard in R&B music and that is what made the song a haunting hit.

"Stalking In New York" is about an aging man lost in the streets and confused and a coyote equally out of place. The song is "As Tears Go By," written by Mick Jagger and Keith Richards and originally recorded in 1964 by 17 year-old Marianne Faithful. But I'm going with the later recording by Jagger with just acoustic guitar, a very unusual recording for the Stones. They were all very young and years later Jagger said it was strange that young people had written a song so clearly from the point of view of older people. But that is why it fits my story.

Mark Kurlansky and City Beasts links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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