November 9, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Selah Saterstrom's novel Slab is a compelling and innovatively told story of tragedy and hope, and is one of the year's finest books.
Vol. 1 Brooklyn wrote of the book:
"Saterstrom’s strength as an author is her ability to straddle this line between the colloquial and the academic while offering us a deeply flawed protagonist who is both compelling and tragic."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I was told once that sometimes, while writing, I look like a mad woman. I take breaks to pace. I pace out shapes – and there are other repetitions – a way of dealing with the energy, and this includes listening to certain songs over and over.
Occasionally there is a content link between the music I am listening to and what I'm writing, but more often than not, listening to music while writing is about me getting inside particular frequencies that I am trying to presence/press through into the work. Sometimes I think it is like trying to press light through meat, so that it shines, on the other side.
I wish I could explain it better. Like: wanting a touch between two hope-poor lovers to feel what I feel when I pass through the concentric rings of longing inside Rachel's "Family Portrait." Like needing the greasy concentrate on a heat-stroked body to reflect the gutted way I feel when I listen to R.L. Burnside's "Going Down South."
Here is a very small sampling from a larger list of some songs and recordings I listened to while writing the novel Slab, as well as a few notes.
"Beautiful Boys" Akilah Oliver (with LaTasha Nevada Diggs and Tyler Burba)
I have Akilah's copy of The Art of War. Tucked in its pages, a brief note: she wrote that she intuitively felt a time was coming when I was going to need this book, and she felt I should have her copy. The book arrived in the mail the day I learned of her death. I couldn't open the package for six months.
I lied to Akilah only once and that lie was about writing. It was not a big lie. It was a poor, transparent attempt towards explaining why I had not replied to a letter. But then that lie became shockingly and absolutely true after her death. And then that truth became the slab under Slab, the most important aspect of the book.
I love her voice in this recording.
"Lotus Out of Water" Hong Ting
Hong Ting's traditional album features a guzheng, a zither-like instrument that sounds sort of like a twangy-harp, but the twangs are oval, ache-shaped. Why did I listen to this song so many times? It was recently explained to me that the strings of a guzheng are elevated over a wooden board and the musician's fingers must work in such a way as to pitch-bend the notes. So: something about the kelp-green rooms inside the pitch-bend, as a novel location.
"Skiss Av Träd" Library Tapes
I would sling this song on a loop and for long stretches. I feel the whole drama in this song – the one about absence becoming presence. There is also something in this song that is about duration. I think of Tarkovsky's Nostalghia, the scene in which a man attempts to walk the length of an abandoned mineral pool while holding a candle.
"Nique La Police (La Haine)" Cut Killer
Mathieu Kassovitz's film La Haine made a huge impression on me, and also influenced the way my writing eye saw the disaster/landscape in Slab. I estimate that I watched the scene in which this song is featured at least a hundred times while writing Slab, and the filming is so brilliant – such an accurate portrayal of a place in a certain moment – and I thought: I need my writing to see like this camera moves.
"John the Revelator" Blind Willie Johnson
Nothing I could say about this song approaches just listening to it, which I hope you will do right now. What I want to say is: there are a lot of spirits in this song. Thinking about it now, it occurs to me that this is also a song about writing. Well what's John a writing? Ask the Revelator. What's John a writing? Ask the Revelator. What's John a writing? Ask the Revelator. A book of the Seven Seals.
Selah Saterstrom and Slab links:
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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Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)