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April 23, 2015

Book Notes - Matt Sumell "Making Nice"

Making Nice

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Matt Sumell's remarkable debut novel Making Nice is a collection of linked stories that feature an unforgettable young narrator.

The Guardian wrote of the book:

"Making Nice has an anarchic humour and a goofy, ingenuous humanity that makes every page feel new.... In its rampage to nowhere, Making Nice achieves the remarkable feat of making it feel better to travel hopelessly than to arrive."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Matt Sumell's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Making Nice:

Oh man. Initially I came up with this stupidly complicated plan where I was going to choose like, three songs for each of the twenty linked stories in Making Nice, which if my math is correct equals sixty songs, which is at least forty too many. I scrapped that quick and considered asking some writer friends to each pick a song that reminds them of Alby, the still grieving, overly emotional, highly reactive, occasionally violent half-an-idiot narrator of the book. Then I thought no way, man, get it together, you're mentally ill. So instead, here's just twenty songs for just twenty stories, each of which in some way makes me think of Alby. The only other rubric here is the one I use for all art…does it makes me feel anything? These do.

"Be Aggressive" – Faith No More
Never mind that this song concerns itself with sucking dicks. Like so many of the religious right-wingers out there, let's select only what parts of the text suit our biases and ignore the rest. Here goes: The ordering of the stories in the book was particularly tough to figure, but if the task at hand is for Alby to finally learn how to make nice, why not start with him at his not nicest? Of course the concern was-and-remains that it will turn off some readers, so option A was to find a story that was a little more commercially appealing. But that didn't feel right, so we went with option B, because being aggressive felt righter. Force counts, folks. Go! Fight! Wiiiiiin!!!

"You Think I Ain't Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire" - QOTSA
Consider rollercoasters: the thrill of them is not their speed—I mean, you get speed in a car, or an airplane, and we all know what that feels like: like nothing at all. The thrill of rollercoasters is due to acceleration; their ability to accelerate us downward one moment and upwards the next, left one moment and right the next, right? Their ability to alternately produce the sensations of weightlessness and weightiness. Of course I have very little idea of the actual science of what I'm talking about, but this is common sense stuff: the thrill is in the changes, man. Fast, slow. Left, right. Up, down. It's all in the switches. The volume jump at the beginning scares the shit out of people who've cranked the volume on their stereos/headphones, and the go-go-go-stop-and-go of this song at the 2:37 mark not only increases emotional G-force, it also reminds me of Alby's explosiveness.

"With My Own Bare Hands" – Ween
For me it doesn't get much better than good old Gener and Deaner, and every time I hear this one I think of Alby at the start of Little Things, laundry-listing all the things he could potentially do with his arms: Lifting, carrying, digging, feeding cows PCP so they revolt with unexpected and tremendous violence—anything….Opening every jar for every lady. Helping. I felt like helping. I felt like I could help. Of course that personal pep talk is quickly undone by Alby's inability to save the people and things he loves the most, but man is it more fun to think—and hear—otherwise. And while I'm at it, here's another fun thought: the inevitable Ween reunion!

"Birdsong" – Tomahawk
Bird chirps + aggression + rape-y lyrics. If this isn't Gary's mood music for butt fucking seagulls than I don't know what is. And I don't. But if I'm best guessing, Patton's post-Faith project gets it.

"Troubles, Troubles" – Clarence "Frogman" Henry
Musical joyousness in the face of overwhelming despair. The two just shouldn't add up but somehow do, maybe because confounding expectations is the just about the best thing you can do with them. Either way I love this song, same as I love the advice Mark Richard gave me back in my U.C. Irvine days: "Just make ‘em laugh and break their fucking hearts." Also, I've been trying to buy a house in New Orleans for years now. Love that city!

"Last Night In Town" – The Twilight Singers
While this isn't my all time favorite from Dulli it's right up there, and what I'm digging most about it is the reaching-but-not-quite-ness of the vocals, an off key-ness if that's even the word. But there's something in that for me, in the almost-but-not-quite-ness, in the failing-to-get-there of it that breaks my dumb heart every time and somehow makes the song even better. It makes it human and it makes it great and it makes me think of Alby, who is trying and failing to honor his mother's dying wish for him: that he finds a way replace his aggression with empathy. It's not in his nature, of course, but he's trying and he's trying and he's trying, and—like force—trying counts, too.

"Everything's Gonna Be Alright" – Naughty By Nature
Sure it is. But sometimes you have to tell yourself that anyway.

"No One Loves Me and Neither Do I" – Them Crooked Vultures
I'm a huge QOTSA fan, and it seems to me that Josh Homme's singing and writing—both there and here—shares something in common with Making Nice, most especially in terms of how it expresses and "performs" masculinity. It's easy to write it off as just machismo or bro-dude-ness or whatever you want to call it, but the truth is it's way more complicated than what some people want to give it credit for. Beneath the hard surface, there's a slippery, elusive sensitivity. There's a vulnerability at work. There's a lot of pain in it. There's grief. There's humor and there's beauty. And yeah, there's aggression, but rarely is that aggression limited to one way. There's a lot of self-aggression at work, to the point it acts like an autoimmune disease. Alby's heartbroken, and he's angry that he's heartbroken, and then he's frustrated that he's angry that he's heartbroken. One feeling attacks another, one thought another, so the whole grief-and-suffering thing gets complicated fast. One thing's for sure though: he's as hard on himself as he is everybody else.

"Frontier Psychiatrist" – The Avalanches
That boy needs therapy. No shit.

"I Go To Extremes" – Billy Joel
If you think I didn't seriously consider comprising this entire playlist from the discography of Mr. Long Island himself, think again. I mean, the fact that The Piano Man was once so distraught that he tried to kill himself by drinking furniture polish (and later joked that he ended up "farting Lemon Pledge for a week") is reason enough. He also drove his car into a house and has publicly struggled with booze for decades. If I didn't know any better I might guess that Mr. Joel and Alby are somehow related, at least in terms of what they share—they're both highly reactive. Lots of extremes here: sadness, anger, intoxication…which may not be a feeling but can definitely be an extreme.

"We Know You're Drunk" – Mule
Speaking of intoxication, when you're suffering your time horizon shrinks. You stop thinking long term and start thinking about relief, at any cost, sooner the better. You get impetuous. You get reckless. You get drunk.

"BoilerMaker" – Jesus Lizard
Then you get drunker. Though it hardly seems possible, Yow's voice has even more grit and swagger than P.W. Long's, and I can't decide which I dig more.

"Beef Flavored Island" – Pleaseeasur
So I was sitting around The Casbah down in San Diego drinking vodka sodas waiting for Neil Hamburger to come on, when these two maniacs took the stage and had me laughing so hard I almost vomited. Between the absurdist lyrics and the accompanying overhead projector performance—I'll never forget it. And I'm grateful, because for me and for Alby there's real consolation in laughter, because laughter subverts the inevitable pain of being alive. It's the great, saving thing, and the only way I know to combat grief.

"Her Strut" – Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band
Sometimes—as Dulli said about Black Love—"guilt takes a backseat to lust." What he didn't say is that often lust gets left at spectating, so here's one for Alby and the dog-walking Hi Jeans from the story I'm Your Man.

"No Pussy Blues" – Grinderman
And here's one for where that story leaves him.

"Crime Scene Part One" – The Afghan Whigs
Stanley Elkin once said that "Writing is revenge against your bullies." But how do you take revenge on heartwreck? I've got a few ideas, but all I know for sure is that it resonates when Dulli croons on about sticking it to his enemies, then asks, "Do you think I'm beautiful or do you think I'm evil?"

"I'm Evil, Jack" – The Frogs
The fun answer.

"Fallin'" – Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul
Of course, after every blowup is the inevitable comedown. The regret. The realization that you've got loose circuits. So loose…

"Wheels" – The String-a-longs
One time, in the passenger seat of my father's car, we were just rolling through the neighborhood all slow-like when this song came on. I watched my Dad drive as it played, and after about a minute I jumped out of the car and walked home.

"Miles Iz Dead" – The Afghan Whigs
If it's not obvious by now I'm a lifelong Dulli fan—from the early Whigs to The Twilight Singers to The Gutter Twins to the solo stuff and back—and here, ladies and gentlemen, is your parting shot. Thanks for reading.

Matt Sumell and Making Nice links:

the author's website

Guardian review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
Los Angeles Times review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
The Rumpus review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Wall Street Journal review

Neon Tommy interview with the author
Paris REview interview with the author
Weekend Edition profile of the author

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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