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June 17, 2015

Book Notes - Ayize Jama-Everett "The Liminal War"

The Liminal War

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.

Ayize Jama-Everett's novel The Liminal War, a fast-paced literary thriller that just happens to feature superhuman powers, brilliantly defies genre categorization.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"An engaging sequel that sets its likable cast of characters against a fast-paced sequence of dangers while making an admirable effort to offer a more diverse vision of the superpower narrative."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Ayize Jama-Everett's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Liminal War:


By the time I leave for work I've listened to at least five songs.. If I'm not listening to a book on tape, I've got music on for the entirety of my commute. When I cook dinner, when I'm reading, in bed, there's always music on. I don't listen to the radio except for NPR. My musical taste has been cultivated and curated by years of DJing, travel, and a host of unmet emotional needs. I form emotional attachments to songs the way others make friends. So when I was invited to submit a playlist for largehearted boy, I was overjoyed. Now I could share the linear notes for my novel.

Liminal people had a more longing desert feel, alone Bedouin with a guitar in the middle of the dunes mourning for his lost love. In The Liminal War, we're introduced to Mico, a DJ/Guru/world traveling/ time hopping vassal for a tuber God of connections. The Liminal War is an urban guerrilla time jumping tragedy, and so its louder and more disparate than the first novel.

We start with Phoebe and Nanci's "Notorious" because they come out of the Congo Natty crew and I had a chance to meet and chill with the original Congo Natty when I was a mere youth and the experience blew my mind. Him, along with Don Letts establish the UK jungle legacy for me. It's a diasporic music that interprets the same break beats and riddims that Hip-hop did but with a unique flow. The chorus could come directly from the lips of Mico: "I could have been one of the most notorious, I got saved by the king, and his grace is so glorious. I could have been one of the most devastating. I got save by the king and his love was everlasting." It's just a banger!

At the heart of the main character, Taggert, is the Blues. And while it will be presented in multiple forms throughout the book let's start with the dirge that is William Elliot Whitmore's "Cold and Dead." A better DJ than I will one day understand what happens if you put a beat behind this buckshot, but in the meantime, the a capella version does enough damage to any feelings of accomplishment and glee to be well worth a listen,

"And my lips will utter praise until the end of days for the space that cannot be filled. No, the sun will never shine, on this cold dead heart of mine. I will be your roof, your shelter from the storm, your footing against the wind. I'll mend for you my dear those hopes that have been torn. And I hope our paths will cross again."

In many ways this is the essence of Taggert, the ignorant striving to help against the certainty of defeat.

There is the chance that the struggle is not in vain. This is captured with stunning excellence by Antony of Antony and the Johnsons in "Hope There's Someone." Here we have an acknowledgment of the futility of the struggle against death but a strong desire to fight it

"There's a man on the horizon wish I would rest my head/If I fall to his feet tonight will he allow to rest my head? So here's to hope I will not drown or paralyze in life."

They say good characters come from good conflict. How the character deals with the conflict personifies in a way that no dialog or costuming can. The Old Dirty Bastard, AKA Osiris, AKA, Big Baby Jesus, AKA, ODB (RIP) was a consummate character because of the way he handled the conflict of life. With no father to his lyrical style, he took on the moniker of bastard and made it his own. He gets a bigger shout out in the next book, The Entropy of Bones, but I'll include him in here for all the bastards, I like it raw! Here's ODB's "Shimmy Shimmy Ya."

Cover artist and southern John Jennings once told me that the South was haunted. That's how I approached writing about the south and nowhere is that tone more evident than Neneh Chery's cover of MF Doom's "Accordion." Yeah, read that again. She takes a song that's under two minutes long and with this video turns it into spooky town USA anthem.

While Neneh Cherry's tune gets the sense of the old blues lands that I'm writing about, there's nothing like the real thing. While this song, "Trouble Will Soon Be Over," is the perfect cross section of spiritual and secular blues, it's the imagery of this video from Martin Scorsese's Blues series that captures the sentiment best. Yes, these troubles will soon be over. But for Taggert and crew, more are sure to come.

The authenticity of this track, "When That Great Ship Went Down," knows no bounds for me. I include it as part of the Blues tracks necessary to envision the south I was writing about. William and Versey were Depression-era Black Guitar Preachers. Sit with that for a second. The song is an almost gleeful rendition of the sinking of the Titanic. Keep in mind Black people were not allowed on the Titanic and it was touted as a modern day miracle. This was the fall of the White miracle and they got to sing a jump up song about it. What I love most about the tune however is Versey Smith on percussion and back up vocals, almost catching the Ghost screaming out in counter rhythm to her husband's more traditional recounting. Yes, sometimes we sang at the tragic arrogance of our oppressors. But even then we sounded amazing.

This here is what I call a banger. Whenever it's on, I can't stop rocking to it. The character Bingy man, a born and bred Rastafarian, would hate the fact that he loves this song as it doesn't represent rasta values, but it does represent the life of the Kingston toil and for that it get an add. I envision it as the sonic crossroad where Prentis, Mico, Bingy, and Tamara can all meet. "Bad Boyz," by Shyne, featuring vocals from one of the Original Dons, Barrington Levy.

Spaceape (RIP). He's got the vocals on this doom invoking track from Uk mystery DJ Burial. His voice, his tone, and inflection are the basis for the character Bingy man. If you want to know what the character sounds like, listen to this one. But if you want to know the psychology of the villains of the tale, pay attention to the words.

"Shifting gears focus upon intensity. Wait, big people a talk, no bother try fuck with I man clarity. Mind stop slipping to familiar tracks, bending, warping interfering with the facts. Sensory language leaves us with no habit for lying, we are hostile aliens immune from dying."

The faithful dedication of the downtrodden to survive, and perhaps thrive, is not a heroic tale. The cult of the hero is the cult of the dead. It's a toil, a steady beat, a grind, a hustle that survives against the banal struggle of downpression. To be able to survive with a smile, and a jump inyour step is the communal accomplishment shared among family. Jr. Gong (AKA Damian Marley) articulates this vibe on "Old War Chant," one shared by Mico and his Manna worshiping crew in The Liminal War.

"You use to brag how you kill and laugh
How you wicked and a rip out men heart
Carry dead man gwan thing of a wharf
Well I Jr. Gong a show you say you soft
Now Jr. Gong no matter how you brawd or you big
We naw show respect if you don't love how you live
Everyday you get up you tek on, you naw give
Big up Raggamuffin you respect, him solid
Back to the issue wey wi di a deal wid"

"Christiansands" off the appropriately titled Pre-millennium Tension allowed me to show my friends in the states what I thought was so great about the UK in the '90s. I will forever love Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird for their show one year during Comic-con. In any event, this is the tone of the magical minor chord of LDN for me; this is the mist that Taggert walks though, the bass tubes Prentis hides in, the streets that hold the secrets of Tamara Bridgecombe. Christiansands is the ether of my London. Doubt it. Peep the video. Tricky and Martina own a Slick Rick sample and turn it into a chanson of isolation, desperation, and dreaming.

"My defenses becomes fences, now I'm stumbling, I change my face, and if you think I fake up, wait around until I take off my make up."

In The Liminal War, time travel is real but not without personal, spiritual, and global consequences. But one good thing about going to 1971, you'd get to meet my spiritual momma, Janis Joplin. I'll make it plain, if you can't get with Janis when she's singing you don't know what its like, we probably aren't going to be friends. Her voice is the fading echo of '60s hope, already nostalgic by 1971. And no, Janis, they didn't know what it was like to love someone the way you loved us.

The other part of the '70s for me is Jimi. Understand that until I was nine years old I was convinced that Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix had a love child when they were both dead and that I was that spirit made carnate. Poppa Jimi almost made it in the book but I didn't think I could do his vocal tone, his life, his swagger justice. I wasn't interested in the Woodstock Jimi, not the setting his guitar on fire Jimi or the feedback Jimi--though I have dreams of what would have happened if he and Miles had collaborated on Bitches Brew as was the plan before his untimely death--but the Blues man Jimi. The Jimi that went to the crossroads, that sojourned down south and learned from the original cats what it meant to own the blues. Jimi on this 12 string is a beast but his voice is the Angel soothing that creative monster. Not dead a full year in 1971, Jimi would have been playing all over the UK. Poppa Jimiā€¦

Doing research for this book took me deep into U.K British culture in the '60s and '70s. I'm indebted to the BBC documentary Windrush, which did a great job giving me visuals for the time. Paul Gilroy (RIP) hipped me to the Black Atlantic experience decades ago through lectures and interviews. The music, however was remarkably familiar. Growing up Black and in New York, the radio station WBAI was on a mission to keep the African diaspora informed of each other's going ons. So I grew up with Desmond Dekker's Israelites and the rest of the mighty Trojan sound. This song in particular is named in the novel as a trio of badasses stalk the 70's streets of Notting Hill.

For me, this is what it sounds like when those of African descent try to travel back in time. Ibeyi (Yoruba for twins) are new on the scene but DJ Don Cuco sure has hell isn't. Together they craft a three step spooky instructional manual on how to link the past and the future with this praise song to the god of the everything in between.

My globetrotting characters make a stop in Somalia as well. I thought about including some traditional Somali music but as Somalia grows I thought better of it and decided to add someone emblematic of that change. K'naan. The song is perhaps a bit dated now, but the message is still strong.

Probably the hardest decision of this playlist is trying to figure out which Bob Marley to choose, as he makes an appearance. Like Taggert, Bob Rasta was saved from college douchebags for me by a beautiful girlfriend in college (Yes, she is the model for Yasmine.). I'd grown up listening to him due to my mother and the Caribbean zeitgeist of NYC back in the day. But who pays attention to lyrics as a child? It was only laying in bed with a beautiful girl with no connection to the Rastafari or Jamaica that I was able to hear the third world struggle Bob Marley put forward. I was reading Freire, Fanon, and Foucault, when I could have just been paying attention to Bob Rasta.

In researching the book I read more than few accounts of his life, my most favorite being Catch a Fire. I highly recommend it. In the end, as this book and the man share a desire to liberate the imagination of those suffering from societal oppression and blending that which isn't usually blended, I decided to include the song "War" on this playlist. It's a selection of Halle Seliasse, emperor of Ethiopia's plea to the League of Nations to deal with Mussolini before he got out of hand. When Marley performed it live, he'd always say the first part before he stared singing:

"Until the philosophy that holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned...WAR"

Rule #1 of the dance floor, keep people dancing. It's a quality I didn't want my spiritual DJ to lose. "Express Yourself" by Nicky da B is a butt shaker that I had to play whenever I was thinking about scenes involving Mico DJing. I wanted that energy surrounding him. RIP Nicky da B. Black queer kids die too young.

The same rules apply with this tune, "Tarantula" by Pendulum. It's that jump up wild energy that infects you long after the last note is played. That's what Mico does. Infects you with music.

This is the jam that plays in the quiet moments between the barely articulate lovers Taggert and Samantha. Not that they can't speak, but they are much more comfortable with actions. Lianne La Halvas is that up and comer that I bow down to. And Shlohmo knows how to remix everyone to sound like their best self. It's rare I buy an album off a single. This is that rare case, "Forget" by Lianna La Halvas, remixed by Shlohmo.

This last one isn't hard. It's in the book, it's in my soul, it's in the south, it was in Bob Marley's ears, as well as Jimi's. Probably one of the most written about and discussed Blues men and songs of all time, "Hellhound on My Trail." My offering is the slightly slowed down version that some may not be familiar with but I suspect is a more accurate representation of what the man actually sounded like. Robert Johnson. Again, died too young.


Ayize Jama-Everett and The Liminal War links:

excerpt from the book

A Bookish Type review
Kirkus review
KQED review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Tor.com interview with 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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