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May 4, 2016

Book Notes - Amanda Nadelberg "Songs from a Mountain"

Songs from a Mountain

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.

Amanda Nadelberg's new poetry collection Songs from a Mountain is boldly modern and powerful.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"[Songs from a Mountain is] a wild, careening, conceptually wily (yet somehow ruly) book that refuses to keep its feet on the ground. . . . Through the de- and recontextualization of what was first familiar and is now strange, Nadelberg establishes herself as an exemplar of early 21st-century artistic practice."

In her own words, here is Amanda Nadelberg's Book Notes music playlist for her poetry collection Songs from a Mountain:



A few thoughts: I'm not one to know song titles or even pay much attention to lyrics (save for say, the ones of Bill Callahan or David Berman, you can't not hear them). My mother used to fret, how you can like this song, he says he'd "die for you" why are 7th graders singing that? (c.f. Bryan Adams, "(Everything I Do) I Do It For You") and while I was rarely certain what anyone was saying, I either liked the music or I didn't. I often listen to things when I'm piecing poems together, not always, but it can help. Sometimes music can change everything—for instance before beginning to write my second book, listening to AC/DC taught me a new kind of metric for lines and sentences. Nothing so singular happened regarding music with Songs from a Mountain, which I wrote from 2010 into late 2014, but I remember some of the songs that were on repeat during that time. There is no order because I don't think I've ever been competent in mix tapes.

"River Lay" or "Onward We Trudge" by David Thomas Broughton
I remember first hearing this album after I'd moved back to Massachusetts in the second-fifth(ish) of my way through writing this book. Broughton's previous album, The Complete Guide to Insufficiency, was a life soundtrack for some years, and then here was another. I like in "River Lay" how his voice sounds like he's doing an impression (and while singing) of another person. I like the moment around the first minute mark where the other instruments come in like a great opening up. I remember where my desk sat when I first heard Outbreeding more than I remember what poem I wrote while listening but I remember the lit scene and sensing how it would make for good time writing.

"Cover the Long Way" by Grouper
I look forward to hearing anything Liz Harris does, and I could list any song of hers here to listen to, and this particular album came out when I was deep in the meat of writing this book. Not always knowing what she's saying is a nicety in writing (I think) because it suggests language without dictating it, which is tremendously generative for poems—a looseness that opens thought up.

"Guitar Trio" by Rhys Chatham
Sometime in 2007 I went with friends to hear him play in a basement at the University of Minnesota, not knowing anything about him. The awe, then, of seeing 30 guitars or so colliding—some latecomers were smiled onto the stage by Mr. Chatham, which is also a town on Cape Cod. In the past few years (now it seems to have vanished) I could find a YouTube video of the show, which I'd watch to enjoy the false experience of someone else's recording of a memory I'd almost forgotten. I think I was wearing on that day what I referred to then as my electric sweater. Anyway, this music is good for writing. Drone (the safe kind) as a means of production.

"Ducks on a Pond" by The Incredible String Band
I listened to Wee Tam and The Big Huge a lot in the last several years. There's the minor change just before the 6th minute ends, where the syllables and sounds contract like baby steps in song and then when the kazoo comes in fifteen seconds later my head and heart and body soar. It would feel good to be an anthem such as this.

"Uncle Albert Admiral Halsley" by Paul McCartney
Ram was on a lot in 2014, and this song slays me for the transition at 2:18. And again when they start singing "Hands across the water" and then again near the end of the 4th minute. I think the song is a garment you put on and have difficulty taking off, in a funny way. Stubborn garment.

"Crab Song" by Maxine Funke
Any song from Lace or Felt could be on this list, and this is one of my favorites. It's sad but not too sad. It's sad and persistent. Maxine Funke helped me write these poems. Thank you to her.

"The Way We Fall" by Alela Diane
I was listening to this album in the summer of 2013, which was the summer I spent writing the poem "Matson." Around the 3-minute mark this song becomes another song completely, flutes becoming a portal to something else (via Led Zeppelin maybe?). That practice, to put two things in one container (a song) and call it done, is one I admire for letting us sit with that imperfection (scare quotes, if you please) and lack of clarity. "In Search of Little Sadie" by Bob Dylan does that in less than two-and-half minutes (first song change at the 1:20 mark).

"Marienbad" by Julia Holter
An excellent aspect of 2012, this, too, is of the categories "a song that contains multiple songs within it" and "songs in which I often have no idea what she's saying." Sometimes it seems like she's singing in other languages. I think I tried to write part of an essay about Ekstasis when it came out and failed. "In the Same Room" was first my favorite jam, but later "Marienbad" (the last minute and a half!) and the two "Goddess Eyes" took over. "Goddess Eyes" feels like it could be part of Starlight Express, which I saw in 1987.

"All the Tired Horses" by Bob Dylan
I fell in love with Self Portrait since moving to California. This particular song feels like it could accompany an animation. I love how his voice isn't there. And then I love when his voice comes in on "Alberta #1" and I love the audacity of the album having an "Alberta #2." Listening to Self Portrait helped with freeing up some of the stigma about rampant repetition, which I let myself do in this book. Lines repeating in an almost embarrassing way.

"Planet Phrom" by Ducktails
The Flower Lane was an excellent development of 2013. I also like the original version by Peter Gutteridge that sounds like it's a Byrds song to me. Bonus fun fact: some songs in this book were written—on infinite repeat—to "Suburban Beverage" by Real Estate.

"Ballad of the Golden Hour" by Widowspeak
The riff that first comes in around the 49th second of the preceding lead-in "Almanac" makes something happen in my nose/eyes/throat for which I should probably visit an ENT. The two-fer-one of it reminds me of the first two songs off Starlite Walker. Once I met Cassie Berman in the bathroom at The Picador.

"Dream Tape Number One" by Cloaks
I have written many things while listening to this 35-minute song. It makes me think of scenes in a movie in which someone keeps doling out speech in cliffhanger-segments of confession.

"Shame Chamber" by Kurt Vile
Song title aside, he says "Chubby in the face in a world of muck and slime" in a tumble and when he whelps it makes me want to learn how to whelp, too. The tune is ecstatic and the lyrics sound sad and that combo wins lotteries. In other news it's a good driving song and sometimes when I drive far I take notes on the passenger seat where I keep my notebook open.

"Stream" by Meg Baird
However many songs fit into this one, I dig it and the other things she does.

"My Own World" by Eleanor Friedberger
This whole album is important to me, and I like how there is a kind of parenthetical in her voice sometimes, and especially in this song.

"Fine Summer Morning" or "What Can a Song Do To You?" by Molly Drake
I want to live in the movie her songs are soundtrack to.

"Argonauts" by Hospitality
Winter of 2011 becoming 2012 I was living for a small while in Tucson (where/when I finished writing "Mont America" which is the first mess of a long poem in this book, which, at the time, felt like a new thing) and I listened to this album, and especially this song, on repeat. When Maggie Nelson's The Argonauts came out last year I read it twice. Maybe reading a book twice within a few months is the equivalent of listening to a song ad infinitum. There's a poem in this book intentionally called "Love Ad Infinum." Argonaut sounds old and of the future at once.

"Deep Water" by Ed Askew
I saw him play before Bill Callahan did, in Boston one year. Is it wrong to say that so many of his songs sound alike and that this is a positive quality to me? To sit in someone's art and feel familiar immediately.


Amanda Nadelberg and Songs from a Mountain links:

the author's website

Dallas Morning News review
Heavy Feather Review review
Publishers Weekly review

Please Excuse This Poem interview with the author
Tin House 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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