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April 29, 2016

Book Notes - Molly Prentiss "Tuesday Nights in 1980"

Tuesday Nights in 1980

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Molly Prentiss's novel Tuesday Nights in 1980 is one of the year's strongest debuts.

Shelf Awareness wrote of the book:

"Tuesday Nights in 1980 is a sweepingly large and profound story about art, love and actualization, cleanly and beautifully composed... A poetic novel of ambitiously profound considerations, a large-scale drama in a series of small, perfectly rendered moments"

In her own words, here is Molly Prentiss's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Tuesday Nights in 1980:

"Los Dinosaurios" by Charley García
Charley García is considered the Bob Dylan of Argentina, according to my good looking Argentinian friend, Juan. In this song, released in 1983, García laments the country's disappeared population—those captured and killed by the military government in the late 70s and early 80s. One of the main characters in Tuesday Nights gets out of Argentina in time to avoid this inhumane political chaos, but his sister is left to live in a country where people are getting swooped off the street in undesignated police cars, tortured in underground prisons. Let's leave the dated musical vibe out of this discussion; the song is powerful and sad, and it uses art to harness and mourn a collective trauma—arguably one of art's most important jobs.

"Emotional Rescue" by the Rolling Stones
This song appears in the first moments of the text of Tuesday Nights, in a section titled "Portrait of Manhattan by a Young Man." The section is meant to evoke that special sparky feeling that one gets upon arriving to New York, that profound sense of possibility, that electric air. I can picture a new-to-New York young man walking down the streets to this jam on his first day in the city. The sun's out, and he's got his hands in his corduroy pockets. For him, New York is an emotional rescue, a savior, a stroke of luck. His steps coincide with the beat, his feelings with the refrain: "Mine, mine, mine all mine," goes the song. Yes, he thinks. All his.

"New Year's Day" by U2
"Nothing changes on New Year's Day," croons Bono in U2's 1983 song "New Years Day". Clearly Tuesday Nights in 1980 hadn't come out yet to prove him wrong; New Year's is when everything changes, at least for James, Raul and Lucy, the characters whose lives are flipped on their heads on the very last night of the 1970s. I won't give away any more than that. But I'm thinking that in it's wrongness the song could also be so right for the soundtrack of this story. Like ironic. Do you know what I mean?

"Broken Music, 1979" by Milan Knizak
In the mid-60s, Czech performance artist Milan Knizak began experimenting with messing up records. He'd scratch them on purpose and screw up the record player, too, until a "an entirely new music was created - unexpected, nerve-racking and aggressive." His piece "Broken Music" is featured prominently in Tuesday Nights; when Raul hears it he goes on a nostalgic mental journey back to his childhood in Argentina, to his sister, to his parents, when they were alive. Raul remembers his father's scratched up records, and the fact that his father didn't care that they were scratched. "It's the scratches that make up a life," his father says. As it is certainly the scratches that make Knizak's piece both rooted and ethereal, of this life and outside of it.

"Native New Yorker" by Odyssey
This song cracks me up. With its saxophoney, late '70s tune and its earnest lyrics—"Love is just a passing word, a thought you had in a taxi cab"—it's hard not to giggle about it. But it's also seriously on point when it comes to nailing the dream-big attitude of the city, then the myriad ways it can disappoint you, then how you have to sack up and get used to it because you live here. "There you are lost in the shadows, searching for someone to set you free from New York City. Where did all those yesterdays go? When you still believed it could be like a Broadway show? You should know the score by now, you're a native New Yorker." I mean.

"Genesis" by Grimes
I included this song on my playlist for three reasons. One: Claire Boucher (aka Grimes) has synesthesia—a cognitive condition in which one's sensations are connected in unlikely ways—and so does one of my main characters, James. It's why James is a genius, and I would assume it is part of why Grimes is a genius: synesthetes actually feel and see and experience the world differently than the rest of us, with extra colors, new sounds, invisible fireworks. Two: This song sweeps you up and into it, like a circle of people does, or like a city. Three: I listened to Grimes while writing this book a lot, especially if I felt blocked and needed to get wild and weird.

"That's Us/Wild Combination" by Arthur Russell
This song feels like falling in love with someone who's perfect for you at a perfect moment. "It's a big old world," Russell sings in his losengey-Russell voice. "With nothing in it. And I can't wait to see you another minute." I wanted the moments where people fell in love in the book to feel like this song: sweet and almost dopey with infatuation; easy, funny, rare. Maybe I want all love to feel like this. Yeah.

"I Wanna Go Back" by Gray
I get that this pick is very literal…but how could I not?! Gray was the weird industrial New Wave band started by Jean Michele Basquiat and performance artist Michel Holman. Not only did this band exist and perform and emerge in the exact realm and moment in which Tuesday Nights takes place, but I think the band's ethos describes a central theme in the book: that the inside of the incomplete or messy or unpleasant can exist the most tantalizing sort of beauty. It also depicts the already budding nostalgia for those moments before downtown changed entirely: "The early '80s I really lived, when I was young and sensitive. I think back to that time, when every night was mine. I said yes yes, y'all…I wanna go back to the old school where the Mudd Club and downtown ruled."

"Chloe in the Afternoon" by St. Vincent
I won't give away who it's between, but there's a heated daytime love affair in Tuesday Nights. Much like St. Vincent's sexy adultery jam "Chloe in the Afternoon," the affair is fitful and halting, staccato in its movements and in its essence. It shouldn't happen/it happens. It's ugly/it's hot. It's darkly poetic: "Black lacquered / Horse hair whip" and sadly banal: "Ring ring phone / Send you home." Like any good song about an affair (or like any affair itself), there is a scrim of anger beneath the surface of its skin: it's a hot-blooded song at heart; it has sharp teeth. Also, if it hadn't already been taken as this album's title, I might have called the last section of my book Strange Mercy.

"Twice" by Little Dragon
If Tuesday Nights were a movie, this song would be at that part like three quarters of the way through where everything has fallen apart and the main dude is trudging through the New York streets wondering how he got into this mess called in the first place. I actually think the song would work at that three quarters moment in any movie, so I guess I would include it in any playlist for any book. Maybe it is already in some movies. If so, I can see why. It is perfectly tragic and dark—the "blue night gone fragile", the "frightening" light waves—with those resonant rising notes in the very background that shine and wail like a potential silver lining.

"Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes" by Paul Simon
At a gallery opening late in the book, Lucy encounters a woman who literally has diamonds on the soles of her shoes, and who claims she is "walking on capitalism." That's why I included this song in here. But also because of the song's line "by the bodegas and the lights on over Broadway, when they ended up out sleeping in a doorway," a line that I heard before I'd ever been to New York and that made me see it with such vivid brightness it felt as if I'd slept in that doorway myself.

Molly Prentiss and Tuesday Nights in 1980 links:

the author's website

Guardian review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

Interview magazine interview with the author
Strand Book Store interview with the author
Vol. 1 Brooklyn interview with the author

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)
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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