June 11, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Aleksandar Hemon's novel The Making of Zombie Wars is one of the funniest books of the year, and also one of the most profound.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"This funny, free-flowing, gloriously imperfect book has the impression of an important writer in transition, of moving from the dead toward the living, of trying to have some fun despite this land so crowded with the lost and the lamented. In the end, we are all fighting our zombie wars, and we all need stories to keep us moving."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
"Reasons to be Cheerful (Part III)"—Ian Dury and the Blockheads
I'm a huge fan of "Sex and Drugs and Rock ‘N' Roll" and "Hit Me with Your Rhythm Stick" and many other Ian Dury songs, but this one is his greatest. As the choir (of depression) opens with a chant: "Why don't you get back into bed?", Dury starts listing random reasons for not doing so, which include: summer, nanny goats (which for years I heard, even more exhilaratingly, as “many goats”), plus the juice of a carrot, the smile of a parrot, a little drop of claret and John Coltrane soprano. No tune better expresses the joy of music and living.
Ian Dury lists Adi Celentano as one of the reasons to be cheerful, and I fully concur. This tune is a marvel, and ridiculous: over a compulsively catchy riff, Celentano sings in nonsense English (and shows he's the Shakespeare of gibberish) One of the lines is: "Poke something!" and it brings tears of joy to my eyes, each time, without exception. And this clip heals all pain: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FcUi6UEQh00.
"Adir Adirim (Nickodemus Remix)"—Balkan Beat Box
I love BBB and their fusion of musical traditions that seem distant, but are not, at all. Somehow, BBB pool all the bubbling energies of Balkan, Brooklyn and the Middle East into pure danceability. I challenge you to listen to this and not move your body. When I listen to this while biking, I must clap my hands, always risking a crash.
"Better Git It in Your Soul"—Charlie Mingus
Like many reared in socialism, I have dictatorial fantasies, including a list of things that would be banned by decree as soon as I assumed power. The first thing to go would be smooth jazz, while Kenny G and similar terrorists would be put away forever. Charlie Mingus, on the other hand, would be worshiped in state-funded temples, while Better Git It in Your Soul would be the national anthem. The brilliance and energy and intelligence of this tune would provide daily inspiration for all the people of Hemonistan.
"Back to the Future (Part 1)"—D'Angelo
I love the catchy layering of the tune, as it starts with the riff, then the drums kick in, then the bass and D'Angelo's sexy voice, and by the time the strings come around it's all flying and I'm shaking my fucking booty like there's no tomorrow, and I'll go anywhere with it. Black Messiah indeed.
"Vowels = Space and Time"—Grimes
It is not entirely clear to me what effect Grimes' voice has on my senses. I recently listened to this tune while walking through the Oslo airport and was so affected by this bout of beauty that I had a compulsive need to twirl and dance. Didn't do it though, sadly.
"Blind"—Hercules and Love Affair
Antony's voice (sans the Johnsons) over the powerful disco beat, the high personal drama and the history of gay culture inscribed in the very rhythm—the perfect combination allows the brain, the heart and the body to be moved simultaneously.
Few can funk it up like Prince. This tune is lewd and out of line and just fucking exhilarating. The beat smacks you, then there's a very cool solo, then the choir kicks in with: "Sexy motherfucker shakin' that ass, shakin' that ass, shakin' that ass!" and the trance is on and the brass picks up and you're either dead or on your feet. We listen to Prince a lot in my house, and my girls (3 and 7) love him. They haven't asked any question about the meaning of this tune yet.
"Bent Sahra"—Rachid Taha
Rachid Taha is a genius in his ability to fuse rock and electronic sound with Algerian/Arab music. In "Bent Sahra," Taha's own angry voice is in dialogue with a female one, which is occasionally ululating. What they call world music is often not far from smooth jazz—"Bent Sahra" is the exactly opposite and is therefore perfect music.
"Egbe Mi O (Carry Me I Want to Die)"—Fela Kuti (with Ginger Baker)
Fela is one of the greatest of all time. I have scores of his recordings, and I can never have enough. This tune is from a Live!, an album he recorded in 1971 with Ginger Baker, who moved to Nigeria around that time. Ginger Baker and Tony Allen playing together results in so much intricate, movement-producing syncopation that the rhythms of your heartbeat are bound to change, carrying you as far from being dead as can be.
"Your Love Is Killing Me"—Sharon van Etten
As the tune unfolds with operatic brutality, Sharon van Etten's voice stays anchored in pain, soaring occasionally, only to come back down. Sadness in the aftermath of breakup is the corn syrup of popular music. Only great artist can actually bring it off. This tune brings tears to my eyes.
"Digital Witness"—St. Vincent
I'm a sucker for odd beats and syncopation. I love St. Vincent, but this tune is my favorite because it has that rare quality in its pumping beat of being disorienting.
"The Thrill of It All"—Roxy Music
There was as stretch during my writing of The Making of Zombie Wars when I'd put the 7 Roxy Music albums I always have in my phone on shuffle and bang at the computer as it were a mistuned piano. "The Thrill of It All" is my favorite Roxy tune, and one of the all-time greats. The Ferry falsetto over the barrage of drums, guitars and strings is indeed thrill-inducing. Back when I was young I used to play this tune to wind myself up just before going out to party—it was all the high I needed.
Aleksandar Hemon and The Making of Zombie Wars 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)