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June 15, 2015

Book Notes - Christian Kiefer "The Animals"

The Animals

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.

Christian Kiefer's The Animals is both exquisitely crafted literary noir and thriller in the utmost sense, a marvelously dark and thought-provoking work.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Eloquent and shattering, this novel explores, in gritty detail, how penance sometimes does not lead to redemption, a modern take on the story of Eden. Kiefer is a master wordsmith, and his dense and beautiful language intensifies the pain and isolation of the main character… Devastatingly beautiful. This novel embodies why we write and why we read."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is Christian Kiefer's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Animals:


Music plays a big role in my second novel, The Animals, not only as an integral part of my writing process but in terms of how the characters define themselves. Part of the story takes place in rural Nevada and in Reno in 1984 and the two young protagonists spend a lot of time listening to music while driving around the desert. Music has a certain primacy when you are young and achieves a level of importance that it may never have again (unless you turn into a musician, which flips all the rules).

Largehearted Boy readers may also recognize my name as a musician as well and judicious search of the Largehearted archives will reveal traces of that output stretching back 10 years or so. To that end, I made a soundtrack record to this book, something I threatened to do with the first book but which never really came together. This time, I called in some of my friends and some folks I've admired for a lot of years and asked if they'd help me make a record that would explore the sonic topography of the book. Anyway, it's called What You Have Come for Is Death and is out from the Hired Hand imprint of Jealous Butcher. So there.

Here are some sounds, various and sundry.

Boxhead Ensemble, "Justin's Theme"

Boxhead Ensemble remains my go-to for writing music. Michael Krassner and company have been doing the best ever sonic landscapes since 1997's soundtrack to Braden King's film Dutch Harbor: Where the Sea Breaks Its Back. "Justin's Theme" comes from another Hired Hand recording, much of which comes from a film about the professional bull riding circuit. These are beautiful, melodic sounds that keep on giving long after the bull has tossed you to the dirt.

Van Halen, "Jump"

The Animals flips between Reno 1984 and North Idaho 1996. In the first of the Reno chapters, our protagonist, Nat Reed, sits in his shitty Datsun waiting for his buddy Rick to come out of prison. In the tape deck: the new Van Halen. "Jump" seems particularly apropos for these characters since they lack the kind of foresight to understand the repercussions of their actions. Go ahead and jump, fellas.

Bruce Langhorne, "Opening"

Tim Rutili of Califone once told me that Langhorne's The Hired Hand soundtrack was (is!) the greatest soundtrack ever. I hadn't heard it at the time but now that I have, it's hard to argue with Tim's logic. An outstanding album of cracked folksongs that I listened to over and over again while writing the book.

Rush, "Tom Sawyer"

Rush is the band that introduces Nat and Rick to the Biggest Little City in the World, providing the impetus for their first drive from Battle Mountain to Reno. The event in question is Rush's show at the Reno Coliseum for their new album Moving Pictures. Again, the lyrics—at least obliquely—comment on the characters. A modern day warrior / mean mean stride / Today's Tom Sawyer / mean mean pride.

Greg Malcolm & Tetuzi Akiyama, "So We Go"

Tetuzi Akiyama is one of my very favorite musicians and I could have picked any number of tracks for this line-up. Nonetheless, the opening track from Malcolm and Akiyama's Six Strings is one of my favorites: a slow twanging acoustic track mostly devoid of rhythm, its melody lines snaking into and out of a ringing silence. It's a track about distance and time as much as anything else. When it gets up a head of slow steam after a couple of minutes and starts chugging, the listener can't help but be buoyed along.

John Lee Hooker & Miles Davis, "Murder"

The soundtrack to Dennis Hopper's 1990 film The Hot Spot is a longtime favorite. This cut features Hooker's gently chorused blues guitar and moaning voice with Miles's lonely trumpet blowing over the top. Holy shit. Hooker and Miles. Come on, people! You need to hear this!

Ry Cooder, "Paris, Texas"

Essentially a cover of Blind Willie Johnson's "Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground," Cooder's playing here is, nonetheless, remarkable in its grace and restraint. Sometimes, when working hard on the book, I'd just listen to this one track over and over again. There's a moody loneliness here that is hard to shake loose of.

The Eagles, "Hotel California"

I grew up listening to the Eagles and have always loved their harmonies. There's a moment in the book when my protagonist is remembering his deceased older brother. Everyone's stoned and their out in the desert at a bonfire party and "Hotel California" is playing from someone's boom box. On a dark desert highway, cool wind in my hair… If that doesn't set a scene, I don't know what does.


Christian Kiefer and The Animals links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review

Omnivoracious interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Sacramento Bee profile of the author
Sacramento News & Review interview with the author
ZYZZYVA 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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