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September 24, 2015

Book Notes - Joshua Clover, Jasper Bernes, and Juliana Spahr (Commune Editions)

Red Epic We Are Nothing and So Can You That Winter the Wolf Came

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.

Commune Editions is a new press dedicated to poetry as companion to political action, and its first three books (by the founders of the imprint) brilliantly explore this ideal.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In their own words, here is Joshua Clover, Jasper Bernes, and Juliana Spahr's Book Notes music playlists for their poetry collections and press Commune Editions:

A compilation of songs for the newly launched Commune Editions: purveyors of poetry and other antagonisms based in Oakland, CA, but distributed nationally by AK Press. Their first 3 releases are from the press's founders Joshua Clover, Jasper Bernes, and Juliana Spahr.

Joshua Clover author of Red Epic (April 2015, Commune Editions)

"Paper Planes" by M.I.A.
The artist sometimes known as Maya is really the unknowing co-author of Red Epic, which was begun right when her first solo disc came out and written under the deep sky of her sounds, one album after another. I aways said that Kala was the soundtrack to Mike Davis's book Planet of Slums, globalization punk. "Paper Planes" is not tightly woven into the album's fabric. That's what lets it pop out, try to stand for everything. It peaked in late September of 2008 in the midst of an exhilarating, terrifying series of collapses, one massive financial institution after another. That moment and all its tonalities are the start of the book, in the poems "Years of analysis…" and others. It felt like some fraction of exported misery making its way home to roost — that even if the surface was calm in my city we were living the disaster of the world, that our gilded age was built on a distant plunder and it wasn't lasting and these great upheavals were coming. For a month or a year "Paper Planes" succeeded in standing for that sensation. Those shell cartridge clicks. I remember some kids, like, twelve-year olds, having a party on their porch and playing this song, I could barely hear it but I could see them from my desk window throwing their hands in the air during the chorus, fingers pointed like blamblamblamblam. Nobody has ever captured the great world-system whirl of sounds, affects, genres, disasters like M.I.A.

"Show Me Love" by Robyn
As with M.I.A., one song has to stand for the huge amount of Robyn I listened to during the writing of the book. She's a rare case, a teenpop star who transformed into an indie axiom. I love both Robyns, love how her contempo hipster catnip started as a test run to see if Britney Spears was possible. "Show Me Love" is a single from that period, before she dipped. Later after she made it back from nowhere, she started performing a stripped version in concert, nothing but her vocal, a one-finger keyboard part, percussion tapped very gently on her chest. I probably listened to this version a thousand times, along with her great trilogy of "Dancing On My Own" and "Call Your Girlfriend" and "With Every Heartbeat." The last poem in the book, "Questions of the Contemporary," turns elegiac regarding the long period of the book's composition, as I suppose is inevitable. "The next M.I.A. will it be terrible again. The next Robyn will it be great again. Fall 2007 spring 2005 we shall not look upon their like again." I was thinking about the way even the most entrancing artists, they run out, they lose the hardwired connection to the tears of the world. And how sad that makes me.

"Paid In Full" by Eric B. and Rakim
Commune Editions did a talk with Fred Moten in Los Angeles, and everybody was saying these very insightful and sophisticated things and me not so much, I just got into it with Fred about what the greatest Eric. B and Rakim disc was, which is to say, what the greatest music ever made was. I think in the end we agreed. We were trying to figure out if we would get to keep this stuff after capitalism collapsed. That feeling, of how much I love what I love, and how much I believe it all has to go anyway, that is maybe what the book is about?

Jasper Bernes author of We Are Nothing and So Can You (June 2015, Commune Editions)

"Billie Jean," by Michael Jackson 
There aren't many direct music references in this book, but this song and its music video are mentioned on the first page. I think I must have been listening to it and watching the video after Jackson died, which was more or less when I started writing this sections. I've loved this song and album from a young age; my sister and I used to put on impromptu performances of "Thriller" and "Billy Jean."  But here I was most interested in the video, and this sense of activating, or lighting up, the "objects of the world," which I connected with the process of demystifying the commodity, revealing it as the product of human labor. In his essay on surrealism, Walter Benjamin describes this process as "profane illumination," so I might have been thinking of that, too.

"La Marseillaise" / "L'internationale" 
I put these two songs together, because I'm only interested in the first as the prehistory of the second. As I discuss in this interview (, the title of my book is an adaptation of a line from Eugène Pottier's "Internationale," written after the defeat of the Paris Commune and intended to be sung to the tune of the Marseillaise, which was itself the anthem of the French Revolution and later the Republic. I'm interested in the way that revolutionary perspective emerges and then withers away, decaying into national anthems and such, whose resonances can then perhaps be reactivated by singing different words to the same song. Poetry works that way, on occasion, too. You must "teach the petrified forms to dance," as someone once said, "by singing them their own song." That's how revolutionary dance music works.

"We Found Love" by "Rihanna 
Speaking of revolutionary dance music, this song was the unofficial anthem of Occupy Oakland, along with a couple of Michael Jackson songs ("Rock with You," "Smooth Criminal"). I reference it obliquely toward the end of the book ("Our music had holes in it.") The area where the Occupy encampment set up might reasonably be described as a hopeless place, though the refrain also indexes the various sorts of hopelessness people brought to that movement, converted if only briefly into something like love. Oakland is a poor city, and there are lots of people hustling and struggling to survive in those blocks downtown. The grassy plaza where the movement set up was home to numerous people, some of whom joined the movement. I think this song reflected the transient and nonetheless intense hopefulness of those weeks and months, the sense various forms of hopelessness people brought to that space could be transmuted through shared struggle. It might not be Rihannna's best song but it is Rihanna and it was getting radio play at the time and the words fit.

Juliana author of That Winter the Wolf Came (Sept. 1, 2015, Commune Editions)

"If You Were a Bluebird," by Emmylou Harris
It's a Butch Hancock song but I love it through Emmylou Harris. Does it matter if it doesn't entirely make sense and yet is still entirely a love song, one about being there for someone no matter what they are and no matter what they might do? I stole its title for one poem. And I stole its syntax for another. That is how much of my heart it takes up.

"Smooth Criminal" by Michael Jackson
There has been a lot made already about East Bay protest culture and its insistence on amplification. During the brief moment that was occupy, the Oakland encampment rejected both the people's mic and sound permits, amplifying its general assemblies. After the camp ended, this equipment morphed into a mobile sound cart that still often accompanies marches. The police frequently rush it and take it away. Mother Jones has a playlist from DJ Brian. It's a great list. I don't need to add to it. Michael Jackson is here though for that one general assembly where a guy in crowd kept interrupting, yelling "I love Michael Jackson" and the sound guy, was it DJ Brian?, interrupted whatever business was being tediously voted on and blasted some Michael Jackson. I remember it as "Smooth Criminal." My friend remembers a different song. But I'm staying with "Smooth Criminal" because of that refrain of "Annie, are you okay?," that line from high school CPR training, that perfect mixture of nostalgia and commonality that makes pop songs pop songs.

"Jolene," by Dolly Parton
Because it is a love song to Jolene, not to the husband. Because Dolly Parton claims Jolene is a bank teller. Because it is a blason. Because it has so few words and because it names Jolene repeatedly. As if saying her name over and over will bring her near or send her away. Because really there is no better song ever maybe.

Joshua Clover, Jasper Bernes, Juliana Spahr and Commune Editions links:

Commune Editions website
Jasper Bernes' website
Joshua Clover's Wikipedia entry
Juliana Spahr's Wikipedia entry

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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