June 29, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jonathan Papernick's novel The Book of Stone is a smart and engrossing literary thriller.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"This intelligent and timely thriller is told through a Jewish prism, but Papernick's persuasive insights into the nature of fanaticism and its destructive consequences could be applied to any ideology."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
My new novel The Book of Stone deeply explores loss and faith and belonging after twenty-five-year-old Matthew Stone's father, a legendary Zionist and controversial judge dies. This is a dark novel about redemption, the heavy burden of the past and the lure of terrorism as an equalizer. The novel is set in pre-9/11 Brooklyn and my grieving, troubled narrator is desperately in search of some sort of direction to make his life meaningful. I often listen to music before writing, and sometimes while I write, though this novel took me so long I really can't remember any of the influential music I listened to. I tried to piece together a playlist as if my novel, which is quite cinematic, were to be made into a film. These sixteen songs I believe encapsulate some of the moods and tones of this complex and disturbing novel.
"Let Me On Out," by The Raveonettes
The novel opens with Matthew Stone the narrator, on the roof of his Brooklyn apartment house considering jumping to his death. His father has just died and Matthew is full of regret because he was always a disappointment to his father. From Matthew's vantage point in Fort Greene much of Brooklyn and the entire Manhattan skyline is visible as he ponders his life and whether to continue on. This song is a slow, melancholy wall of distortion which echoes Matthew's confusion. It is a moody song that perfectly captures Matthew's tortured psyche.
"It's Catching Up," by Nomeansno
In an early chapter of the novel, Matthew Stone is approached by an FBI agent at a Brooklyn bar asking questions about his father, a controversial judge who just died. Matthew has been estranged from his father his entire life and feels terrible guilt that he was somehow responsible for his father's undoing. He is well aware that answering any of the FBI agent's questions would be tantamount to betraying his father once again, so he runs out of the bar believing he is being pursued. What I like about this song is not just the literal aspect of the FBI agent catching up, but also about Matthew's father's past catching up with Matthew. The song is aggressive and full of jazzy hard-core chaos which reflects his confusion as he jumps drunk into his father's car to flee the FBI agent. He is so disturbed and disoriented that he believes he sees his father's disapproving face in the rearview mirror of the car. I love the lyric "give me asylum, let me in," which works really nicely as he ultimately ends up passing out in front of his father's now empty apartment.
"Phosphene Dream," by The Black Angels
This is the perfect trippy mind-fuck of a song that comes as close as I can imagine to capturing Matthew, pinned to his mattress, out of his mind on his dead father's leftover morphine. In his mind he slides back into the past, a time before his mother ran out on the family, and now she has returned, but Matthew cannot distinguish the past from the present and the ominous voice of the Black Angels' singer chanting monotonously "Oh the phosphene dream, the phosphene dream," is nightmarish in its insistence against the backdrop of disembodied screams and juddering guitars. I recently had a well-known book reviewer and critic ask me if I still take drugs, and I see that as a huge compliment despite the fact that he should know better than to ask that of a fiction writer. I have never taken serious drugs and I probably could not have written this scene without this song which, when listened to in headphones in the dark really is quite terrifying and disorienting.
"In My Room," by The Beach Boys
The Beach Boys voices are almost angelic in this song as Matthew shuts out the harshness of Brooklyn outside his window for three days straight as he immerses himself in his father's books. This is the first time since the death of his father that he feels he can understand his father, this powerful, influential man who he disappointed. He feels he can see a path forward to redeem his father and himself. A certain clarity comes during these marathon reading sessions and the accompaniment of this song suggests something resembling peace of mind.
"Im Telech (If You Go,)" by The Idan Raichal Project
I like this song because of its tenderness and fragility and the fact that it is sung in Hebrew. This is the first time the reader learns that Matthew had an Arab girlfriend while living in Jerusalem and that his father disapproved of her and tells him he has no choice but to leave her. Matthew loves her deeply and resists, but the reader can see his will breaking down. I like the idea of his girlfriend Fairuza, an Arab, but not a Muslim, but rather a Christian, singing to Matthew about what will happen if he goes.
"Big Shot," by Dr. John
Matthew believes he finally has the opportunity to begin to redeem himself in his father's eyes because he holds important information that his father must be his former best friend holds. This song is sassy and upbeat, and though is out of step with Matthew's mood, it does hint at a certain possibility for lightness, to unburden himself and if not dance, at least start to move in the right direction towards normalizing his messed up life. Doctor John's voice is perfectly filthy and untrustworthy and I think that matches nicely with the deceitful Rabbi Seligman.
"Kol Nidre," by Neil Diamond
I wanted to include a song that encapsulates the awesomeness of the Jewish High Holidays and I find Kol Nidre to be really haunting and beautiful and terrifying. I find absolutely nothing terrifying about Neil Diamond except perhaps his wardrobe.
"The Only One," by The Black Keys
Matthew is smitten. Dan Auerbach's falsetto smites me. Every. Time.
"Hava Nagila," by Dick Dale
Jewy but totally rad. Dick Dale can get a corpse's heart pounding with adrenaline. If this was a movie, this would be the obligatory montage scene.
"Stay Don't Go," by Spoon
This song is sex. Or at least desire. That kind of desire that never ends well. We've all been there. It's a helpless feeling but we press on because we are so full of wants.
"I Wanna Destroy You," by The Soft Boys
"Song of the Palmach"
A rousing Zionist march that never fails to make me stand up straight.
"There's a War Going on," The Brian Jonestown Massacre
This song so obviously cribs from "House of the Rising" by the Animals but is full of feedback and fuzz and chaos and confusion and it does a wonderful job at illustrating how Matthew's confused mind might look as he needs a group of Jewish extremists bent on setting up a terrorist attack against Arab dignitaries in Brooklyn. The song is heavy and intense and threatens to blow out the speakers – it sounds like it was recorded at 11. It is hard to think clearly while listening to this song, but you feel the heaviness of the song rattling your bones. It is stirring at the same time I can imagine Matthew's heartbeat speeding up as he understands it is his obligation to join this group and help carry through what he believes to be his father's final wishes.
"It Is Not Meant to Be," by Tame Impala
It's no fun to be on the outside looking in. This song still offers hope with its up tempo beat and Matthew Stone is determined to do whatever is necessary to join the group of radicals bent on destruction.
"Reach for the Sky," (live and acoustic) by Social Distortion
My heart is bursting just hearing Mike Ness's voice. I love this song so much; it is sentimental, and aspirational and sad and says everything about Matthew Stone's failed attempts to make good. And, "tomorrow may never come."
"Get Out Get Out Get Out," Jason Molina
The ultimate song of regret. "I live low enough so the moon won't waste its light on me," says it all. Jason Molina's voice is haunting, chilling and it is clear now that Matthew has lost every chance to get out of the mess in which he finds himself immersed. Molina's voice is so full of pain, his voice breaking as we understand that life as we know it is over.
Jonathan Papernick and The Book of Stone links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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