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March 30, 2015

Book Notes - Todd Hasak-Lowy "Me Being Me Is Exactly as Insane as You Being You"

Me Being Me Is Exactly as Insane as You Being You

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.

Todd Hasak-Lowy's Me Being Me Is Exactly as Insane as You Being You is a mesmerizing YA novel told innovatively through lists.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"As Darren struggles to gain some form of control over events in his life and negotiate his preconceptions about homosexuality, Hasak-Lowy maintains a sweet, acerbically funny, and often painfully honest tone."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Todd Hasak-Lowy's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Me Being Me Is Exactly as Insane as You Being You:

Top Ten Ten-Second Stretches Of Ten Top-Ten Worthy Songs

I wrote an entire novel in lists, for reasons that remain only somewhat clear to me. Whatever the case, this novel contains not a single "top ten" list, because that kind of list would have broken the list-making and (in particular) list-titling rules I followed while working on the thing.

Which isn't to say I have anything at all against top ten lists.

I also noticed, when discussing this book's format with people, that most folks associate list-making with obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior. With these two things in mind I've put together one more list, a decidedly obsessive-compulsive top-ten list.

It's not a list of my top ten songs, which would be too obvious. Rather, it's a list of ten of my favorite ten-second musical stretches from ten songs that would get serious consideration if I were putting together a regular Top Ten Favorite Songs list.

I don't know about you, but I prefer to get to know a song well enough to inhabit it (and for it to inhabit me). That way I know precisely what's coming, and I can prepare myself to feel a very particular thing for a very finite period of time. When I (re)play a song it's often in order to feel this specific thing, even if I'm only going to feel it for a short time. And so this list is a list of moments I feel very, very strongly.

The other strange thing this list draws attention to just how liquid and slippery music is. A good song is always somehow passing you by. Maybe that's why people like the groove, the beat, the one part of a song that repeats itself for the duration. It's possible to spend a few minutes or more in a good groove. Whereas these moments, these fleeting, greatest moments, as much as I love them, I just can't hold them.

But that's how music is. Its coming is its going. It's not like a breathtaking painting you can face for as long as you like, getting lost in the thing while a whole afternoon passes outside the museum. It's not like a sublime passage in a book that you can read as slowly as you like, just staring at the words late at night in bed. Sure, hip-hop artists sample these kind of moments in order to repeat them again and again in their own song, thereby turning such a moment into part of the groove, but then the moment's not the moment anymore, it's something else. Maybe there's a lesson in here somewhere, who knows.

Anyhow, here's the list, in no particular order:

Dire Straits, "Sultans of Swing," 4:18-4:28

You probably think I've included this song to single out some delightful chunk from one of the two astounding guitar solos Mark Knopfler plays in this number. But no, my favorite moment in this song, which I listened to over and over while delivering hundreds of pizzas from 1985-1987, is this absurdly cymbal-rich drum fill, played by the awesomely named Pick Withers, a fill which occurs in the middle of the wonderful plateau between the two guitar solos. Everything is charged by this point in the song, and this fill somehow both releases and creates more energy in the lead up to Knopfler's final solo, a top ten moment in its own right.

Wilco, "Poor Places," 2:38-2:48

This stretch of "Poor Places," in particular the five-note guitar figure you hear at around 2:44, is the key moment of this song, which I think of as the climax of the entire album, which, like a lot of people, I think of as the high-point of Wilco's discography. What I find doubly fascinating about these five notes is that they're played like this only once, despite their collective awesomeness, which the band obviously knew early on. How do I know this? Well, compare this final version of the song to the earlier demo, in which this figure is played over and over again. No doubt that in this final version, where the band somehow found the self-restraint to play them just once, these five notes pack a much greater punch.

Jeff Buckley, "Last Goodbye," 3:00-3:10

Another list: "Artists with essentially only one studio album, but that album is more or less perfect." Because it's true, "Grace" is a masterpiece. On this song, everything comes together, "everything" meaning the backing band and Jeff's other-wordly voice. And here, at the end of this forty-second, crescendoing instrumental bridge, which Buckley coos over, he goes up extra high on a final five-second long note, while the drummer (I borrow the following technical term from music theory) brings it in a serious way. If you don't get goosebumps here, it's time to see a professional.

Fiona Apple, "I Know," 3:45-4:05

Twenty seconds, I realize that. But it's a slow song, so twenty seconds it will have to be. This track, the last one on an album that overall has a very different sound, is easy to miss, but it's a whopper. Apple's specialty is detailing—darkly, bitterly, sardonically—a certain unavoidable dysfunction in human relations and the pain that comes with that, especially when you're too sensitive for this world, which, by all accounts, Apple most certainly is. And yet this song, which has the feel and sound of a standard, finds her speaking, or singing, from a very different position. It's a love song, a forgiving one at that, and the way she delivers her glorious, generous lyric make me long to be the "you" she addresses, the "you" she loves unconditionally. Near the end of this track, after the wonderfully assonant "pry open/hoping for encore," her delivery reaches its almost unbearably expressive climax.

The Beatles, "Tomorrow Never Knows," :04-:16

Sometimes the best thing about a song is simply its very existence as a unique, free-standing sonic universe. And the great pleasure of listening to a song like that is just entering this universe, is being welcomed by the song into itself. This song, the last track on "Revolver," represents a quantum leap in rock and roll (if it could even be called that by this point), and I'm still amazed by the inaugural force of the drums and the bass here. Only sixteen seconds into the tune, after Lennon has sung his first line—"Turn off you mind, relax, and float downstream"—you find yourself in another realm entirely.

The Beatles, "Here Comes The Sun," 1:01-1:29

Yes, I know, this one is also longer than ten seconds. And it's not the only way I'm cheating here. This stretch refers not to the time of the song itself, but to the time of a video on youtube in which you can hear (along with George Harrison's son, Dhani, George Martin and his son, Giles) a guitar solo that never made it into the final track. The solo, which would have appeared at the 1:30 mark of the tune as we all know it, absolutely changes the feel of the song, and I now hear the solo in my head every time I listen to the official version. What I love about this solo, in addition to it being a quintessential Harrison solo in terms of its masterful simplicity (the song is arguably better with it), is the way, for me at least, its very existence opens up a heady "what if" question: what if this solo made it into the official recording? For some reason, this kind of question seems to matter when it comes to The Beatles, as there's something about their unparalleled body of work for which the notion of definitiveness is crucial. Their command of the studio makes every one of their decisions seem almost pre-ordained, such that an alternate path of this sort makes my head spin. It's like learning that Shakespeare wrote an alternate ending to Hamlet.

Joni Mitchell, "Hejira," 5:27-5:37

There's a problem in my household right now. I've gone down a Joni Mitchell rabbit hole, but no one else in my family cares for her too much. Which kills me, because I'm realizing she's a true genius. Mitchell's song "Hejira" is, like the rest of the similarly titled album, moody and ethereal and maybe not everyone's cup of tea. But it feels like an entire world to me, and when she repeats the opening lines of the title track ("I'm traveling in some vehicle/I'm sitting in some café/A defector from the petty wars/That shell shock love away") at the five-and-a-half minute mark, that is, after you've been steeping in the song for some time, it creates the paradoxical effect of having you remember—and long for—the song you're still listening to.

Novos Baianos, "Acabou Chorare," 3:37-3:47

I wouldn't be opposed to being reborn as a member, even a marginal one, of this Brazilian outfit. Not only is their music joyous, but a video of them playing the opening track from this brilliant 1972 album has me thinking they were among the happiest people ever to inhabit our planet. And yet the title track (translated as "No More Crying") sounds like a gentle, restrained, and even bittersweet lullaby. The lush, tender vocals here make a pretty good case for Portuguese as the most beautiful of all languages, but it is potent arrival of a second acoustic guitar near the very end—when an emotional tension, mysteriously hidden until this moment in this song, is finally released—that I'll never get enough of.

Bob Dylan, "You're a Big Girl," 3:22-3:32

There's a good chance that Dylan is the finest lyricist of the last fifty years. And there's also a good chance that Blood on the Tracks, is his best and/or his most brilliantly produced album. So perhaps that's why this moment in this song— when Dylan relinquishes his complex, consummate poetry for a simple, direct "I'm going out of my mind" followed by a raw wail—hits as hard as it does. Dylan is a slippery shape-shifter of an artist, but here, perhaps more than anywhere else in his entire catalog, he expresses his pain as his own, with no indirection whatsoever.

Bill Evans, "Lucky to Be Me," 3:14-3:30

I'm not sure anyone can make the piano sound as beautifully sad as Bill Evans. The undertone of melancholy in his playing is so consistent that even his happier tunes seem to cut both ways. This track, in part because of its title, expresses this tension perfectly. The subtly uplifting final seconds (I assume it's a coda) of this often plaintive song find him in some impossibly open—indeed wise—space containing both happiness and sorrow. As this song ends I get a strange feeling that everything is possible—or that everything simply is—pain, joy, loss, love, all of it is real in essentially equal portions. I'm not sure what to call that feeling, but gratitude is my best guess.

Todd Hasak-Lowy and Me Being Me Is Exactly as Insane as You Being You links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Publishers Weekly review

Adventures in YA Publishing interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for 33 Minutes

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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