October 12, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Lincoln Michel's short story collection Upright Beasts enthralls with its tales of the surreal and the absurd.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Michel ably handles modes from lyrical to ironic, but he is most comfortable in a purposefully flat style that reads something like translated Kafka."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I know at least a few people who believe that every writer is a failed musician. I was never very talented musically, but I did have try and fail to start a series of musical projects that were mostly conceptual jokes. One was a brutal metal band that would be called Greek Fire and would involve us playing in blood-soaked togas as I screamed "Release the Kraken!" I used to write weird rap lyrics under the name Young Gnostik aka The-Gnosis. For a couple years, I DJed 60s soul, 70s art punk, 80s pop, and 90s rap under the awful DJ name Cormac McBootay along with my Gigantic co-editor James Yeh aka DJ Hemingyeh. I also had a (I still think brilliant) idea to write an epic gangster rap retelling of Moby-Dick where the white whale was a large shipment of cocaine and the first line of the album would be "Call me fishscale." (Raekwon, if you are reading this and want a ghostwriter for your next album…)
My story collection, Upright Beasts, is composed of stories in several different genres and styles. As such, this playlist is a mix of styles and artists I love. To narrow it down, I chose all songs about beasts and animals. Music is the art that makes upright beasts get down on all fours. Play ‘em loud.
"Hounds of Love" by Kate Bush
It's in the trees… it's coming!
Kate Bush's "Wuthering Heights" is hands down the best song based on a book, and one of my favorite songs ever. "Hounds of Love" is nearly as good, plus it has "hounds" in the title.
"Caribou" – The Pixies
This human form / where I was born / I now repent
I grew up listening to punk with a smattering of rap and metal. I remember having a hard time transitioning to music with normal vocals instead of spitting, screaming, and growling. The Pixies, who scream about 1/3rd of the time, were the band that helped me learn to love that weird thing called "singing."
"Fish" – Ghostface Killah
Turn my channel it'll blow your whole bench off the panel / like 80 roman candles that backfired then slammed you
If there were any justice in the world, Ghostface would be named poet laureate. His combo of slang wordplay, imagery, and flow is unparalleled.
"Monkey Suite" – Madvillain
You could find 'em in the pub with the grub stain / Chuggin' on a small tub of pain to his bugged brain
MF Doom is another rapper worth studying for his wordplay. He also has some of the greatest one-liners in hip hop. This song is from his 2004 collaboration with producer Madlib.
"Animals" – Talking Heads
They say they don't need money / they're living on nuts and berries!
I love the hilarious conceit of this song, which is some dude getting really pissed off at the existence of animals who, after all, "are never there when you need them" and "are laughing at us" even though they "don't know what a joke is!"
"The Man with the Dogs" – Dead Kennedys
I am no one, but I'm well known / for I am the man with the dogs
The Dead Kennedys might have been my first favorite band. They songs are almost always overtly political, yet still contain a huge amount of humor, imagery, and just plain weirdness. More political art should follow their lead.
"March of the Fire Ants" – Mastodon
Bone grave / bone engraved / stone grave / stone engraved
Mastodon are most celebrated for their sophomore Moby-Dick themed album, Leviathan. I do enjoy hearing brutal metal singers growl about Queequeg and Ahab, but I still prefer their even more brutal debut album Remission, which is the sonic equivalent of being trampled under a stampeding herd while birds peck out your ears.
"the hollowed out chest of a dead horse" – Pageninetynine
inside your room, in its corners where spiders crawl, and a sour dream centipede slips under your mattress until its time
Pageninetynine were a fantastic punk band from my home state of Virginia that had an every-changing number of band members. I loved how they balanced the line between chaos and melody, and how much they experimented with song structure (especially for a punk band). Their songs might start as pure noise, then turn into a simple guitar melody, then finish with an upbeat chorus. Fusing together different structures and styles into a working whole is something I really admire in any art form.
"Gunslinging Bird" – Charles Mingus
One time as a teenager I was driving a group of friends to the store, and when I turned on the car the stereo returned to blasting screaming chaotic punk. My friend's girlfriend screamed, then yelled, "Jesus, Lincoln! I thought you listened to jazz!!!" Well, I do like some jazz, especially Mingus.
"Elephant" – Konk
I'm not sure how to classify Konk's unique blend of post-punk, jazz, afrobeat, and funk, but I recommend playing this song at your next dance party.
"Pigeon" – Cannibal Ox
I'm just a pigeon with one mile left / that doggy-paddles through this bullshit ocean of death / and these rags-to-riches words will break bones / like the assassination of two birds with one stone
Cannibal Ox's 2001 album The Cold Vein is still a mind-warping cold machine. El-P's beats manage to actually sound futuristic, and Vast Aire and Vordul Mega's versus are dense poetic creatures struggling for air. How can you not love an album that opens, in the song "Iron Galaxy," with these repeating lines" "My shell – mechanical found ghost / but my ghetto – animal found toast"?
"Halfsharkalligatorhalfman" – Dr. Octagon
With my white eyes, gray hair, face is sky-blue / yellow sideburns react, my skin is colored lilac / my skin turn orange and green in the limousine / people think I'm mixed with shark, drinking gasoline
Look, not all art needs to mean something. Sometimes it's enough to be cool and weird and fun.
"Who Could Win a Rabbit" – Animal Collective
Hungry bread-and-butter hustle / you've been doing it a while it is only fair
I've always admired artists who tried lots of different weird things, even if they didn't always work. I prefer the artists who try to push into new territory over those who try to perfect the same patch of ground. I don't love every Animal Collective song, but I greatly admire their desire to keep changing and growing. This song is great though.
"Beast for Thee" – Bonnie "Prince" Billy
I will toil for years and years / give you muscle, tone, and tears / overcome and flay all fears
Not enough artists employ scare quotes in their name. I think this is a very beautiful, beasty song.
"Spider and I" – Brian Eno
We sleep in the mornings / we dream of a ship that sails away / one thousand miles away
Brian Eno is one of my favorite musicians and lyricists, and this is one of the most beautiful and saddest songs I've ever heard. There's a whole, sad world in this short little tune.
Lincoln Michel and Upright Beasts links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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