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June 24, 2015

Book Notes - Jonathan Galassi "Muse"


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.

Jonathan Galassi's debut novel is a compelling and moving insider's account of modern publishing.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"Muse—much like John Updike's early Bech books—leaves insiders with a knowing portrait of the publishing world before the digital revolution, and gives outsiders a gently satirical look at the passions and follies of a vocation peopled by 'fanatics of the cult of the printed word.'"

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Jonathan Galassi's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Muse:

Muse is a comic novel that serves up an alternative literary history of the last fifty years through the story of two old publishing lions and their shared obsession with the greatest and most popular poet of their generation, the elusive Ida Perkins (1925-2010).

Some of Ida's most-loved poems were made into wildly popular songs by great stars of the Sixties and Seventies, (and she was married, briefly, to the iconic jazz saxophonist Trey Turnbull, self-exiled in Paris). Yet Ida’s musical taste confounded many of her coolest fans, who didn’t really know what to say about her sometimes embarrassing enthusiasms. Often, they were forced to simply look the other way.

Here are a few of the sounds that shaped (and were shaped by) Ida and her work over more than sixty years:

Frank Sinatra, "Fly Me to the Moon," “I’ve Got You Under my Skin,” and, yes, "New York, New York."
To many, Ol’ Blue Eyes’ nonchalant, smoky-voiced elegance came closest to capturing the ease and glory of Ida’s early lyrics, though others thought it was Ray Charles who spoke most deeply to Ida.

The Rake's Progress, Igor Stravinsky, lyrics by W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman
Ida was there at the historic premiere of modernism’s greatest opera at La Fenice on September 11, 1951, with Stravinsky at the podium and Robert Rounseville, Elizabeth Schwarzkopf, and Jennie Tourel in the cast. Her date was her admirer the great Italian poet and music critic Eugenio Montale, whose ecstatic review appeared in Milan’s Corriere d’informazione.

Doris Day, "Che Sera, Sera” (1956). Unaccountably, Ida loved to hum this saccharine medley, perhaps because its message reflected her nonchalant outlook on life.

"Since I Lost My Baby," The Temptations (1965)
Ida was a rabid Motown devotee and tried, unsuccessfully, to get Martha and the Vandellas to record “In Your Face,” though Jackie Wilson, The Four Tops, Smoky Robison, and Stevie Wonder all did covers of Ida songs over the years. For a period in the late sixties and seventies, Berry Gordy had Ida on retainer as a lyricist consultant, and it’s rumored that she wrote most of Diana Ross’s cheesy 1970 farewell-to-the-Supremes anthem, “Some Day We’ll Be Together.” Ross, for her part, had an impeccable collection of Perkins first editions, and Ida was often a guest at Diana’s house in the Swedish archipelago after she married Norwegian shipping magnate Arne Naess in 1985.

"Broken Man" (1966)
Ida's most famous song, originally recorded by Joan Baez, and performed by Carly Simon and Carole King in a duet at Woodstock. It has been recorded by more than twenty artists including Kenny Rogers, Tina Turner, Donovan, U2, and most recently Beyoncé, whose “Broken Down Man (Surfboard)” went platinum in 2016.

"The Ida Sessions" (1967)
Trey Turnbull's "smoking" interpretations of ten of Ida's best-loved lyrics, including “Marginal Discharge,” “In Your Face,” and, of course, "Broken Man,” won him a Grammy in 1968, the year they divorced.

Stephen Sondheim, "I'm Still Here" from Follies (1971)
Ida reportedly could do a very convincing rendition of this Broadway classic, and in her later years regarded it as her personal anthem.

Sting, "Every Breath You Take" (1983)
This pounding classic of sexual jealousy always brought a smile of wicked satisfaction to Ida’s face.

Nirvana, “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Kurt Cobain was one of Ida’s last passionate enthusiasms. The feeling was mutual, and he visited her in Venice several times before his untimely death in 1994.

Nora Jones, "Don't Know Why I Didn't Call”
Ida reportedly played Nora’s 2002 debut album, Come Away with Me, constantly in her last years as a virtual shut-in in Venice’s
Palazzo Moro.

Paolo Conte, various recordings
The ironic Conte was Ida's favorite musician during her Venetian years, though she also had a debole for the most saccharine Italian pop, starting with Gino Paoli’s “Sapore di sale” (1963).

John Adams, Barefoot Contessa (2018)
Ida, of course, never lived to hear Adams' haunting yet widely excoriated bio-opera, which premiered at Covent Garden on Ida’s birthday, November 4, 2018 with Joyce Di Donato as Ida, Yonghoon Lee as Paul, and Nadja Michael (Maxine).

Jonathan Galassi and Muse links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book

Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
Miami Herald review
National Post review
New York Times review
New York Times review
Washington Post review

BookPage interview with the author
Globe and Mail interview with the author
New York Observer profile of the author
Publishers Weekly profile of the author
Studio 360 interview with the author
Tweed's interview with the author
Wall Street Journal 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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