January 25, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jeff Wood's The Glacier is an innovatively told book, a truly cinematic novel.
Jon Raymond wrote of the book:
"Call Jeff Wood's The Glacier what you will—a novel-in-screenplay-form; a prose poem on the themes of death, suburbia, and the cruel symmetries of cosmic time; a surreal prophecy from America's anguished heartland—it will remain what it was always aiming to be, and that's one of the most indelible and visionary movies you've ever seen."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
In its evolution from spoken word poems to screenplay/sound score to book - and as an effort to animate landscape and architecture - The Glacier originated in sound and ends in sound. Some of these tracks and albums were thematic clarifiers, others kept me anchored to the labor, and others gave me relief from it. While I could never imagine any popularly recognizable music in the story - save for one instance - it was crucial to keep myself grounded in music, the relationship between sound and silence, and the possibilities between the extremes. Over time, as my relationship to sound transformed so did my relationship to the text, until eventually, my relationship with music had transformed so completely that I knew I could not touch the text anymore. It's incredible what a vessel music is: if you carry the song with you, you bring along a hologram of the entire thing, if not the thing itself. And the great medicine: music also kept me tied to a community during the loneliness of a long-distance run.
Shakti by John McLaughlin
At some point toward the end of the 90's an old friend gave me a second-generation cassette tape of this live show and it blew my brains out. Shakti pushes the limits of what is possible acoustically, melodically, and muscularly. At the time it seemed to match the luminosity - the literal melodic brightness that I felt in my emotional attempt to come to grips with the new world. Some kind of atomic catharsis at the neural gates between spirit and matter. Just before I wrote the first draft of The Glacier my brother and I drove back to Ohio from San Francisco in my beat-up Volkswagen Fox in December with no heat. We had sleeping bags piled across our laps and I drove with socks on my hands. I had to pour wiper fluid out the window and onto the windshield by hand as we went over the Rockies. We cranked Shakti much of the way to keep us going. When we got home I took a job delivering pharmaceuticals in rural Ohio and started The Glacier. I used Shakti to keep the thing alive while I was out on the road. I'd cool down with A Meeting By The River by Ry Cooder which rivals and complements his Paris, Texas soundtrack from another hemisphere.
The Complete Bitches Brew Sessions by Miles Davis
I cycled through this 4-CD set innumerable times while writing or when I wanted company in the world of the ideas. It seemed to float over the landscape, effortless yet wily, like the siren song of Samson's ice cream truck in The Glacier. Bitches Brew is the quintessential space-jam, but it's also misrepresented as such. It's so sensitive: space-invoking but not earth-annihilating. The relationship between force, or effort, and space, is so masterful that the spaces themselves are imbued with intention. That seemed to me to be something worth aspiring to in any art-form. Under the circumstances, I don't know if Bitches Brew made it past the turning of the millennium. The world is too incessantly loud now, and too fried silent.
Starting with the weeping, other-worldy India, I learned why and when and how to listen to jazz (this kind of jazz) in a house on the corner of Dennison and Hubbard in Columbus when I was transitioning between the two jobs described in The Glacier - land surveyor and mass event cater waiter.
Kulu Se Mama is Coltrane at the height of his long-form narrative and compositional powers, and it also happens to be an effective antidote to the turbo-Reaganism and cultural neo-conservatism that was being branded and petri-dished in central Ohio during the mid-90's. Choose your medicine; Coltrane and his late-career cadre are mine.
The gravity-defying and bone-crushing lyricism of Ascension is referenced explicitly in The Glacier in a scene inside the giant banquet hall in the Convention Center when Simone is violently pushed, internally, to the limits of her emotional capacity. The physical space is ruptured and we suddenly discover a liminal break room zone of cater-waiters where the manipulation by architecture has been annihilated. The barely comprehensible Ascension comes pouring through unrestrained, as a deafening melodic code, overriding competing forms like time, walls, coffee cups, ranch dressing....
"The National Anthem" by Radiohead
Kid A was the one record that felt - and in fact was - exactly contemporary with the composition and revising of the script. It's such a cinematic record and exemplifies a rare combination of live rock band feeling with electronica, analog with CGI. I suppose the band was already well-known for that but at the time it felt like the straddling of two worlds in two different epochs, and that is exactly the fence that The Glacier concerns itself with. I watched the Towers come down on TV and suspected that the world was now changed; it was as if it had been changing toward that moment in reverse. "The National Anthem," released almost exactly one year prior, felt like a new anthem for the new world rushing in.
Winter 2002-2003 I was living with my brother on 4th St. in Columbus around the corner from Cafe Bourbon St. It was just before I moved back to NYC and and joined / co-founded the Rufus Corporation. We couldn't afford the heat and the windows were original, drooping glass like they are in all these old midwestern houses. All the heat just gets sucked right out. My brother was composing on his B3 and Rhodes downstairs and upstairs I had my desk pulled directly on top of the heating duct. The Means played a string of shows that winter, burning radioactive holes in the snow with their mind-bending, post-Nirvana art-core piss and vinegar. I was able to walk to most of the shows from where we were living and somehow they fueled my investigation of the quicksilver - shining, promising, neuron-bursting, and benevolently evil.
"Cortez the Killer" and "Powderfinger" by Neil Young and Crazy Horse
Neil Young paints such visceral, majestic and forbidding landscapes with his guitar that I consider him to be a land artist on par with the pre-historic Mound Builders. I don't know whether it's because of his Ontario roots specifically, but in Ohio we consider him to be some kind of personal spokesman for the entire Great Lakes Region. He's a grandfather and some kind of God out there. His soundtrack for Dead Man is so perfect both as a melodic suite and in its execution as an improvised performance that you can practically see Neil watching the movie as you're hearing the sound score that he's playing while you're watching the movie. The score is so evocative as a standalone piece of music that, like all great scores, it summons the movie instantaneously. And that movie is a perfect mythic dream of the death of the American Frontier. Since I wanted The Glacier to function as both Land Art and revised myth of the frontier, I couldn't help being influenced by Neil in general and Dead Man in particular.
Neil was in fact my model, for a time, for the character of Gunner. And the Neil that I imagined playing Gunner is the Neil that plays "Cortez the Killer." "Cortez the Killer" is somehow all of Neil. His wisdom, his savagery, his sorrow, and his rage - in his shoulders, in his enunciation, his wail, his wizard's scowl and his eyebrows, his sideburns and his coal-hot eyes.
Also, around the time that I was finishing up a second major draft of The Glacier, Neil came around on his Greendale tour. He played Bandit and we were all weeping, which I think is a really rare reaction to a song we'd never heard before. After the show I decided I wanted to sleep outside, so idiotically I got in my car and drove up to Delaware County where I knew I could sleep outside. Down the road I realized I needed gas but could not risk stopping for it. I ran out of gas at a dark crossroads out in the county. I called AAA and the Sheriff's Deputy found me staggering outside the car in the middle of the road. He gave me the option to go to jail or be driven home. I pointed out the obvious third option of driving to get some gas and he reiterated the indisputable options of going to jail or being drive home. I took him up on his charitable offer and he had the humor to ask me how the Neil Young show had been. I don't know if that would still be possible, or if it should be. I got a second chance at that crossroads never to make that mistake again.
In his absorption by The Whale, I'd often imagine the protagonist Jonah as Paddle-To-The-Sea, another modernist regional myth about a little canoeist who was carved out of wood. I'd imagine Neil's "Powderfinger" as Jonah's theme (as Paddle-To-The-Sea); and I'd imagine The Glacier not as a script but instead as a pile of leaves with finger-paint all over it with Neil Young guitar sounds emanating from it like a finger-painted leaf pile volcano.
"Cross Bones Style" by Cat Power
"Cross Bones Style" (and the whole of Moon Pix) is so perfect and haunting as a folk rock requiem that it took me a long time to put it away. It was instrumental in the imagining of Simone's character - her fragility and her rage; her emotional intelligence and naivete when facing the carnivorous spider-like indifference of the machine. "Cross Bones Style" also had some way of giving me the courage to lay out an anti-plot character, with a different kind of non-narrative arc, where I knew one would be expected. But I wanted Simone to be a person - ambiguous and vibrating - (not functional) - and "Cross Bones Style" is magically and darkly overflowing with those qualities.
"Death Done Sown My Field"
I co-wrote this song with David Holm (Ugly Stick, Bigfoot, Townsmen, Total Foxx, Good Company) on the porch of our place at Dennison and Hubbard. As an ecstatic Appalachian dirge it captured exactly a certain kind of feeling we had about a certain kind of Ohio experience in the shadow of The Event. Structurally and melodically it's a sort of amalgamation of the Violent Femmes and an Alice Coltrane mantra. For The Glacier I re-imagined it with the help of What a Friend We Have in Jesus by Aretha Franklin and the Southern California Community Choir - which is a breathtaking performance - and it became the central performance piece for Mr. Stevens at the Event Horizon.
"Death Done Sown My Field" was never released but you can check out a performance of it by our band Bigfoot.
"Concrete Jungle" by The Wailers
There isn't a lick of roots reggae in this wintry midwestern project, but "Concrete Jungle" is a masterclass in the total being greater than the sum of its parts. And the reverse: an incredible interlocking machinery going in plain sight behind the scenes. I wanted The Glacier to function as an unconscious flow on the surface, but with a meticulous clockworks going on underneath. "Concrete Jungle" is part of the reason. There's a huge difference between listening to Bob Marley and really hearing the Wailers. "Concrete Jungle" exemplifies that difference. Time seems to slow down when you're really listening - the space opens up.
"Don't Run Our Hearts Around," "Druganaut," and "No Hits" by Black Mountain became really important to me at some stage. I was out in LA in a frenzy trying to rally some support for the project. I felt like an astronaut at the end of my tether. The timber truck of Black Mountain rolling down from Canada felt like the Resistance, keeping me sane in my car, like we were all on the same team. I saw them play out there on that trip and it was the single loudest show I've ever seen (Brad Caulkins testify).
"Nuclear War (Version 2)" by Yo La Tengo (Sun Ra cover)
With its hypnotic, droning loops and posse of rude children as a streetwise chorus, this version of Nuclear War felt like a theme song for the entire project, for the multiple set-pieces with hundreds of kids and for the Radiation Man character in particular. I never needed any music for him - he's all foley - but his ride certainly does need tunes. Warped, reversed, droning and looping.
And I'd listen to Arvo Pärt when I just wanted to see falling snow.
Jeff Wood and The Glacier links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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