May 25, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Gregory Crosby's chapbook Spooky Action at a Distance is filled with poems that strikingly balance pop culture and technology while also impressing with their lyricism, humor, and heart.
Luna Luna wrote of the book:
"It is everything I look for in a poetry collection: challenging, relatable, and intelligent. Gregory's poems beautifully intertwine lyricism, pop culture, and technology in a way that asks the right questions while capturing our culture's irony and sense of humor perfectly."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Creating a playlist for one's own set of poems presents a slight conundrum: Do you select the music that you were listening to when the poems were created? Or curate a setlist of songs to listen to while reading the poems? In attempting to decide, I found myself re-reading Spooky Action at a Distance, a chapbook written over the course of 2012, a year that was bifurcated by an unlikely and happy event: I fell in love, and that love was returned. The poems trace a movement from despair and resignation toward hope and the reviving of romance, but what surprised me as I re-engaged with them were all the songs that specific lines in the poems instantly brought to mind, only some of which were in the background during their composition. So, with a little from Column A, and a little from Column B, here's my musical Venn diagram for the chapbook.
Grant-Lee Phillips, "Under the Milky Way"
The opening poem, "I Was Gravity's Slave!", references the Milky Way, and I can't see or type that phrase without flashing back to the summer of 1989 and The Church's lovely, moody hit. Grant Lee Phillips cover of the song, from his album Nineteeneighties, is even dreamier and more lost-in-the-stars than the original.
Wilco, "A Shot in the Arm"
Out of all the pop songs about heroin (their name is Legion), this track, off of Wilco's first masterpiece Summerteeth, is the most heartbreakingly giddy and operatic. It comes at me, every time, in waves, and something about the voice of the sea in "A Fathom" brought the song to mind. I could not play this song often enough in the autumn of 1999.
David Bowie, "Fashion"
The Thin White Duke hovers over both "Fashion Forward" and "Sans Seraph," so Bowie's classic turn to the left, turn to the right, informs the tone of these poems.
Smashing Pumpkins, "1979"
"Miss November 1979," a paean to the joys and sorrows of centerfold initiations into sexuality, is held prisoner to the year in which Miss November appears. Seeing or hearing that year infallibly puts Billy Corgan's voice looping through my mind. The song always struck me as a form of nostalgia that negates itself: the transformation of that nostalgia into something richer, if not precisely timeless. "1979" has the distinction of giving me a Proustian rush not just from the year itself but from the year I put it on any number of mix tapes, 1995. From 13 to 27 is but a short step, and both seem a thousand steps behind.
Bob Dylan, "I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)"
The line "Someone always yelling JUDAS! in the hall" from "Promenade" is of course an allusion to the famed heckling of Dylan's concert in Manchester, England on May 17, 1966. A folkie fan, disappointed with Dylan's embrace of rock and roll, cried out "Judas!" to which Dylan responded, venomously enunciating each word, "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" The band then proceeded to rip into an intense "Like a Rolling Stone," but Dylan's words always put me in mind of an earlier song of ruthless rejection and hurt, and something of that song's bitter resignation is present in the poem.
Cowboy Junkies, "The Water is Wide"
"Sonnet in the Shape of High Water" is about the inundation of New York during Hurricane Sandy; the Cowboy Junkies cover of this ballad captures the feelings brought up by that flood, and for me at least, by all floods, everywhere.
Charles Mingus, "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat"
"The Cat's in the Bag, the Bag's in the River" takes its title from the classic Times Square tale of sleaze and corruption, 1957's The Sweet Smell of Success. There's something about Times Square that brings the propulsive jazz of Mingus to mind, and while I've always preferred the version of this composition that appears on Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (where it's retitled "Theme for Lester Young"), the original from Mingus Ah Um is the score I hear beneath the world evoked in the poem.
Martin Denny, "Voodoo Dreams"
I wrote "Poem in the Shape of a Voodoo Doll" to right a very particular wrong done to someone I love. You might well ask, Did it work? I couldn't possibly comment.
X, "In This House That I Call Home"
I wasn't thinking of this classic track from X's album Wild Gift when writing "The Mortgage," but it fits the sense of entrapment and freedom the poem explores.
"The Invitation" is a birthday party poem, so it's time for a birthday party track, courtesy of Beck, who I always think of as "party music," even when he's crooning about heartbreak. It also occurs to me that a birthday party could indeed be thought of as a time bomb.
The Pogues, "Sally MacLennane"
A poem entitled "Drinking Song" has no other choice than to conjure up The Pogues. I loved and sang "Sally MacLennane," from their brilliant and infinitely playable album Rum, Sodomy & the Lash, for many years before discovering that Sally wasn't a girl but a brand of stout. Thanks, Internet.
The Bird and the Bee, "Maneater"
"The Year of the Tiger Farm" directly quotes Hall & Oates early 80s hit, and The Bird and the Bee's cover, from their album of Hall & Oates covers, is a nice homage. Hall & Oates were not musicians you could admit to liking when I was in high school, and I never owned a single one of their records, but when one of their songs came over the radio, it was always a sort of pure pop joy, even when the song was as perfectly cheesy as "Maneater."
The B-52's, "Planet Claire"
Any poem that references flying saucers, as "Where the Bone is Buried" does, must acknowledge the greatest song about 1950s style aliens of the Modern Era. Resistance, as they say, is futile.
Siouxsie & The Banshees, "Trust in Me"
The deliberately knotty sexiness of "Portmanteau" brings Siouxsie's cover of this song from The Jungle Book to mind--a song so utterly sexy in Siouxsie's hands that it creates a measure of cognitive dissonance to remember the original was sung by a cartoon python.
The National, "Anyone's Ghost"
"Bronzefall" is a poem about falling in love while remaining skeptical about every passing stumble. There's often many ghosts to let go before you can reach the bottom of that fall, and letting go of ghosts is always harder than it seems. The National's track is one of the few that deserve that hopelessly overused music reviewer's adjective: haunting.
Neko Case, "That Teenage Feeling"
Another direct quote from a song, this time from Neko Case, finds its way into "And What is a Jukebox? And Where Can I Stand By One?" (The title itself a nod to both a scene in an episode of Mad Men and Joan Jett's "I Love Rock and Roll.") Neko's lyric about not giving up on romance speaks for itself, as does the poem's counter-argument.
Aretha Franklin, "(You Make Me Feel Like) a Natural Woman"
"Monogram" alludes to Aretha Franklin's "Chain of Fools," but this song, deeply lovely even if a trifle over-familiar, is the one playing somewhere in the background of this poem's birth
The Velvet Underground, "Sunday Morning"
"I'll Be Your Mirror" is the better love song on The Velvet Underground & Nico, but "Sunday Morning" is a close second, and since "And the Lamb, But Only Much Later" functions as a kind of aubade, it gets the nod for this playlist.
Donna Summer, "On the Radio," "Last Dance"
The chapbook's title poem refers to a number of childhood memories of FM radio, but Donna Summer's luminous late 70s tracks eclipse them. They're also songs that I wholeheartedly, unashamedly adore, and have ever since I first heard them. All the depredations of disco are worth it for these songs (and, perhaps, The Rolling Stones "Miss You," a song that nearly made this playlist--think of it has a bonus track). The longing embodied in these songs, and the release found in listening to them, mirrors for me the experience of finding love at just the right moment--a highly improbable occurrence, given how often love is found at the worst possible moments. Of course, the conceit of "Spooky Action at a Distance" is that love is a form of quantum entanglement, so it's not a matter of finding anything, but of being fortunate enough to observe the change when it happens--to observe, and recognize, what was true all along. Music (particularly pop music), and poetry (often but not exclusively love poems), have this rare ability: they help us in our discovery of the ubiquitous, the mundane miracles of existence and experience, the underlying unity, glimpsed for only a moment, but felt forevermore.
Gregory Crosby and Spooky Action at a Distance links:
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)
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)