August 6, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Dean Bakopoulos's new novel Summerlong is both devastatingly heartbreaking and brilliantly funny, often in the same sentence.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Bakopoulos is very much his own writer, and it is his distinct humanity and sense of humor that make this story so emotionally rewarding. This is that rare, contemporary suburban novel with characters the reader can actually embrace in spite of their many flaws."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
My new novel, Summerlong, is a novel that's a bit manic—I think (hope) that sometimes it's really funny, and sometimes it's really sad. I think it sometimes is existential and bleak, and other times it feels deeply confident of a meaningful spirit world beyond our own. I like novels that vary in tone, because I feel like that's how life unfolds—with an unpredictable wildness. This is also a profoundly personal novel. My own marriage of seventeen years fell apart as my characters' marriage did the same thing. These are songs that got me through the writing of the novel, and are forever linked to my experience of writing and understanding it.
"If You See Her, Say Hello" by Bob Dylan
One of the achiest songs of all time, with Dylan's plaintive voice trying to veer into hate and bitterness over a broken heart, but the song keeps finding itself clinging to a delusional kind of hope. And the line, "either I'm too sensitive, or else I'm getting stoned," could definitely apply to one of the novel's protagonists, a pot-smoking realtor named Don Lowry. (If there's ever a film version of this novel, I sort of want this to be the closing credits music).
"It's a Man's World" by James Brown
One day while writing, I heard this song playing down the hall. Investigating its source, I found my then six-year-old son lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, this song blaring from his boom box. I felt sort of bad, as if somehow the ennui of my novel had gotten into the walls. But later he was dancing around his room to "Make It Funky" in a Captain America mask. He's a huge James Brown fan, which makes him the coolest first grader in town.
"Nothing Compares 2 U" by Sinead O'Connor
I think this is the best breakup song to come out of the nineties, which is when my main characters fell in love. It's a simple lament, but O'Connor's voice makes it as haunting as fuck. You get the sense that the voice behind this song is absolutely done for—how beautiful that admission of complete defeat.
"Mona and Emmy" by Frontier Ruckus
I love this upbeat tune. To me it captures the freewheeling highs that come when the Midwestern summer turns beautiful, and Frontier Ruckus's Matthew Milia writes some of the most beautiful lyrics in music today. He's a real poet. And Anna Burch's backing vocals on this tune are particularly evocative of the sublime.
"Iowa" by Dar Williams
It's hard not to think of this song when writing about Iowa, especially when writing a novel about failing love and unquenchable longing. Its memorable, soaring refrain is a simple singing of the state's name over and over. And to me, the whole song hinges on this goddamn beautiful lyric: "You were out wandering out on the hills of Iowa, and you were not thinking of me." That one cuts deep. If you ever lived in Iowa, and have had your heart broken, you'd understand.
"Turtles All the Way Down" by Sturgill Simpson
Oh man. This song. Jesus. It flashes so much understanding of why we sometimes are drawn to oblivion, while simultaneously celebrating beauty in a way that makes us believe the pressing, urgent lyric: "Marijuana, LSD, psilocybin, and DMT they all changed the way I see, But love's the only thing that ever saved my life."
"Holocene" by Bon Iver
Maybe it's a clichéd, sad-dad sort of thing by now, but I remain one of Justin Vernon's biggest fans. His music haunts this book. This song just kills me, especially the moment when an epiphany refrain comes out of the meandering, melancholic verses: "And at once I knew, I was not magnificent." Maybe this sums up the midlife crisis better than anything—the realization of your own failings.
"Boys of Summer" by Don Henley
Really? You're gonna make me explain this one? Shortly after my ex-wife filed for divorce, I heard this song come on the radio. It was two in the morning, late August. Muggy. I turned the radio up high. I was driving too fast on a dirt road that meandered along to Iowa River, the windows down. I am not exaggerating when I say this was one of the most intense emotional moments of my life, as well as one of the dumbest, and that I don't really know how I managed not to crash.
"Winterlong" by Neil Young
This song gave me the idea for the title, and it's my all time favorite Neil Young song.
"Thank You For Lettin Me Be Mice Elf Agin" by Sly & The Family Stone
This is the song I listened to when my own maudlin reveries got the best of me. It always picks me up. I have fond memories of singing it with some dear friends one night in college, at some endless party, and it remains one of the happiest moments of my life. I remember just thinking that life was beautiful and would be forever just then.
"Desperado" by The Eagles
Laugh all you fucking want, but this song is a such a great metaphor for the narcissism that comes along with self-pity—who among us has not felt as if their loneliness and heartbreak were not the most acute the world has ever known? Who among us has not been a Desperado? Anyway, sometime this past spring, at a point lower than low, I met the novelist Alissa Nutting, who was also navigating the sad end of a long marriage, and we fell almost instantly in love. A few weeks later, we were in Vegas, at an Eagles concert at the MGM Casino (for reasons too long to elaborate here) and when those fuckers launched into "Desperado" for an encore, we both burst into tears. We were the youngest people in the theater by at least a few decades, and yet we were the only ones noticeably sobbing. I suppose we'd been through some things, and were glad to find light on the other side. If Summerlong is about anything, it's about that.
Dean Bakopoulos and Summerlong links:
The Cap Times profile of the author
Friends of Writers interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for My American Unhappiness
Minneapolis Star Tribune interview with the author
Minnesota Public Radio interview with the author
Talk of Iowa 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)
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)