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August 4, 2015

Book Notes - Jonathan Weisman "No. 4 Imperial Lane"

No. 4 Imperial Lane

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 Weisman's No. 4 Imperial Lane is an ambitious and dazzling debut novel, a coming of age story that brings to life late '80s England.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Weisman's prose is clear and evocative with plenty of detail but no unnecessary flourishes. A fresh, enlightening book, complex, emotionally resonant."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Jonathan Weisman's Book Notes music playlist for his novel No. 4 Imperial Lane:

My debut novel, No. 4 Imperial Lane, is set in a time and place that for me was simply saturated with music. My girlfriend (yes, I'm nearly 50, yes, I have a girlfriend my age) calls it college bullshit, but to me, it is still something of a musical pinnacle.

The novel moves back and forth in time between a present that is Brighton, England, in the late 1980s, and a past, mainly Portuguese Africa, in the early 1970s. Music is a contrast. As the narrator describes his life in Thatcher's Britain, music is everywhere. But the story he tells in Africa is devoid of music, not because Africa is devoid of music -- far from it -- but because the European characters in Africa are so out of their element. They wouldn't know the music around them. It would be as strange as they were, in Portuguese Guine (now Guinea Bissau) and Angola.

When the narrator, David Heller, arrives in the U.K., he thinks he's pretty cool. An Atlantan, he listens to early R.E.M. -- "Radio Free Europe," "Perfect Circle," his favorite album, Reckoning -- "Pretty Persuasion," "7 Chinese Brothers," but he can do Britain too -- Psychedelic Furs' "The Ghost In You," "Love My Way."

At one point, his British girlfriend catches him crooning to U2's "Bad." In disgust, she asks how Bono can exert himself in public like that.

As Americans do abroad, and as boys do with girls, David sinks into Maggie's taste. The four pillars of her existence are Julian Cope, New Order, The Cure and the Cocteau Twins, and what she would call their progenitors and pretenders. For New Order, of course, that would be Joy Division -- "Love Will Tear Us Apart."

For Julian Cope, it would be The Teardrop Explodes -- "Passionate Friend."

The Cure emerged from Siouxie & The Banshees, Siouxie Sioux's version of "Dear Prudence" drifting out of the turntable.

The Cocteau Twins let loose Dead Can Dance, "Carnival of Light" from their first album, "Enigma of the Absolute" from their second, Spleen and Ideal. This Mortal Coil, the 4AD compilation band, moved Maggie to tears with "Song of the Siren."

But it was the four pillars that propped up David's life. The Cocteau Twins' Head Over Heels had an edge to it that Treasure lacked. "When Mama Was Moth," "In Our Angelhood," "Multifoiled," "Musette and Drums," those were the songs David and Maggie made love to. Not that Treasure was so frowned upon. "Donimo," the last song on the album, will live forever.

The Cure's Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me had just come out, but that was for wankers. "Head on The Door" gave some inkling of the pop that was coming, but "In Between Days," "Six Different Ways," "Push," "Close to Me," "A Night Like This" and "Sinking" had that mix of infectious melody and brooding goth.

New Order's "Blue Monday" and "Bizarre Love Triangle" still got the kids on the dance floor, but outside the clubs, Maggie never grew tired of "Ceremony," "Procession" and "Your Silent Face."

But Julian Cope was her true love -- and would have to be David's if he were to stave off the jealousy. They bopped down Bright's Grand Parade to "Sunspots" and "Holy Love," sang along to "The Greatness and Perfection of Love," air guitared to "Strasbourg," and grew morose to "Head Hang Low" and "Me Singing." "Kolly Kibber's Birthday" was a favorite of David's. Maggie loved "An Elegant Chaos."

On the side, he listened to The Jesus and Mary Chain, but mainly the melodic songs, "Just Like Honey" and "Sowing Seeds." His British friends said they only made one decent album, Psychocandy, but he liked Darklands well enough, "Happy When It Rains" and "April Skies" in particular. He was an American, after all.

He loved a few one offs, That Petrol Emotion's "Big Decision," for instance, or Age Of Chance's version of Prince's "Kiss."

When, in the book, he and Maggie split, much of that music washes away as well. He broods through the rest of the novel, and falls in love, not to music, but to poetry and Shakespeare. Still, as Julian Cope would jabber, the music lives on. "Hear it ringing in my ear, their secrets sacred as sequins, and weighing you down, down, down."

Jonathan Weisman and No. 4 Imperial Lane links:

Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

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
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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