March 21, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Andrew F. Sullivan brilliantly exposes the humanity of the brutal characters in his dark debut novel Waste.
The Globe and Mail wrote of the book:
"Waste has the elements of a classic noir – a missing mother, a mysterious lion, drug rackets and revenge and murder – but Sullivan is too curious to perform the typical acts of misdirection. Instead, he is continually shifting focus, giving us the story from every perspective. Minor names pass by only to pop into the centre 50 pages later. As a result, many chapters read like short stories, and Sullivan uses these movements to showcase his tonal range."
1. Constantines – "National Hum"
Your mayor is raising fences to keep bodies off the Don Valley Parkway.
That's all I needed to hear. Constantines taught me you can write about the places you're from, you can write about the shit that is left over and left behind and make it something new, something vital. I wanted Waste to open this way, to kick down the door before you knew someone was there. No time for sober reflection. No time to quietly contemplate our fate in the cold. A hand on your throat. A voice in your ear.
A warning for all the shitheels and fuck-ups in this book.
Youth is no absolution.
2. The-Dream – "Used to Be"
There are a lot of fallow relationships in this novel, and who better than The-Dream to diagnose failed romance and familial dysfunction? Terius Nash prepares a slow-cooker filled with dread, rage and crippling self-doubt. He leaves it to simmer all day until it's condensed into five minutes of thick, bitter broth. This is food for the slow trudge past all your old mistakes, a parade of everything that's gone wrong, lit up in sputtering neon and falling snow.
3. Strand of Oaks – "Sterling"
I spent hours every day writing this book in public libraries around Oshawa, Ontario. Researching on microfiche in the basement, trying to find tables with electrical outlets by the windows. Ignoring the man wearing bunny ears on the elevator as he rode up and down throughout the day. Trying to block out the woman with the Virgin Mary tattooed on her face asking the librarian to do her taxes. This song, and the whole album, Pope Killdragon, put me into a trance to finish this book. It blocked out the noise and replaced it with a refrain.
I saw him coming.
Waste is a book about dread, about the return of the past, about consequences for small mistakes with no sense of proportion. Eventually, you can't run anymore. Eventually, the trail you've left behind catches up with you. Even at the library.
4. Roy Orbison – "In Dreams"
I don't think you can write about a fallen, isolated place without referencing Lynch in this century. Not just Twin Peaks, although we'll all be raiding its aesthetic for until we die. For Waste, Orbison's "In Dreams" is now irrecoverably linked to Blue Velvet, a sentimental horror show about a city gone wrong, a place left to feed off itself. Lynch implicates his audience as they gorge on the savage displays of need, but also he tethers the film to our world with Pabst Blue Ribbon and a mournful performance of "In Dreams." Until our singer disappears because the city is a strange place… it does not follow the rules. It does not recognize your authority.
The city is a host unto itself.
5. Elliott Brood – "Only at Home"
To quote some Buckaroo Banzai here, "No matter where you go, that's where you are." Larkhill is one of those cities out there, not small towns or villages, but cities you don't read about, the ones nearing 100,000 residents, the ones where the young don't want to stay, but have nowhere else to go. Any attempt to flee is always weighed down with a necessary return—these are the prodigal cities that force their way back into your life, that sneak up on you with every marriage, every funeral, every mistake. These are cities staggered, cities still waiting for someone to tell them that they matter. Even when you leave, you're still there. You're only at home.
6. Kanye West – "Runaway"
The cast of Waste is really just a motley collection of failures all trying to stay warm, stay busy, stay alive. They do not have Kanye's work ethic, but they can share his pain. Kanye knows how to write a true haunting, to run from who you were. He knows how to tell a ghost story, hitting the same note again and again until that's all you hear. And he has Pusha-T to back him up.
Young, rich and tasteless.
Just subtract the cash.
7. Robyn – "Dancing On My Own"
A self-love song for the dance floor, or driving through the darkness with the cold seeping through your gloves. This has always been a winter song for me and it was all over the radio when I was spending every day I could spare in the library, writing the very early draft of the novel. This song found a way to express all the loss I could feel seeping into my story, lives moving forward against their will. People stranded in the cold, watching the world move on without them. A soundtrack for a front lawn covered in frost and all your earthly possessions.
8. Bonnie Tyler – "Total Eclipse of the Heart"
A hyper-real distortion of one cold, terrible weekend in December 1989 needs some drama and Jim Steinman is still your best bet for overblown, unhinged drama. Canada always used to feel like it was eight or nine years behind America, the fashions and obsessions trickling across the border in fits and starts, so Bonnie Tyler seems like the perfect accompaniment to 1989. Her gruff vocals suit a cast of characters that are as desperate as they are driven. Steinman is serious about the emotions at play here—this is not histrionics for histrionics sake, just big bold statements slathered in cheese. Every act is bigger than the last. Waste builds from one ridiculous moment to the next until the whole thing falls down in a pile of bodies. A bunch of need left exposed in the dark for anyone to pick at, soundtracked with a desperate power ballad.
9. Dolly Parton – "Busy Signal"
Waste is a few decades behind the rest of us. No texts. No email. No way to find out where your friends might be when the lion hits. I don't have contempt for any of it; I don't want to exalt in some idea of a purer time. I welcome the power of the screen. I just wanted to capture a place that no longer exists—a place that probably never did. Larkhill, 1989.
There are certain songs that will eventually be lost to time too, and this is one of them. Dolly Parton serenades a lover who can't seem to clear his phone line. There's a low key menace to the beat here that only builds over the course of two short minutes, a chorus growing more unhinged. Hang up, hang up. You don't really know those closest to you. Hang up, hang up. Everyone will let you down. Hang up, hang up. But that doesn't mean you give up. Hang up, hang up.
It means you wait.
10. Songs:Ohia – "Almost Was Good Enough"
Did you really believe, come on did you really believe, that everyone makes it out?
It does not get better. Jason Molina knew this.
A story does not require vindication. There is no responsibility to be hopeful. No responsibility for redemption. The meaning you find is piecemeal, fractured, half-woken and trembling. The meaning you find is transient. It dissolves in your hands, dissolves on your tongue.
That belief doesn't come from a place of contempt or lazy nihilism. It's an affirmation that some good is still possible, that there is some joy beating under all the grime. Some space for a word like almost that allows my butchers and failed skinheads and wounded mothers to keep going. All the people you attempt to write off still exist. All the people you've dismissed are still out there on the other side, vibrantly and viciously alive. They aren't going anywhere.
The truth about it is almost no one makes it out.
Andrew F. Sullivan and Waste links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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