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May 10, 2016

Book Notes - "Watchlist"


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.

Watchlist collects surveillance-themed stories from a diverse variety of writers including Aimee Bender, T.C. Boyle, Chika Unigwe, and others.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A boldly imaginative, diverse collection of 32 surveillance-themed stories from an international coterie of writers. …The varied cross-section of material is stylishly captured by each writer’s distinct voice and perspective."

In his own words, here is several of the contributors' Book Notes music playlist for the anthology Watchlist:

"Sleeping Where Jean Seberg Slept" by Katherine Karlin
"Four Women" by Nina Simone

On the face of it Nina Simone and Jean Seberg couldn't be more different: one a singer, one an actress; one a southerner, the other a midwesterner; one black, one white. But both women invented their professional personae in the late ‘50s/early ‘60s. They were similarly outspoken activists for the black struggle, and similarly punished for their outspokenness. They both battled depression. Seeking a more rational society, Seberg and Simone each decamped from the United States for an expat life: both women died in France. While I am not certain their paths crossed, it seems likely, and Simone's furious cri de coeur, "Four Women," expresses the feminist rage that the more reserved Seberg concealed.

"Safety Tips for Living Alone" by Jim Shepard
"The Border" by Jóhann Jóhannsson

I hadn't known the piece when I wrote the story, but I recognized its affinity with what I'd done as soon as I heard it. For me it embodies beautifully a gradually increasing dread at something approaching that we ourselves helped unleash.

"Prof" by Chika Unigwe
"I'm Going Slightly Mad" by Queen

I was introduced to Queen by my husband who is a huge fan (not very common for classical music lovers, I am told). There is something incredibly sad about this aesthetically beautiful song. Freddie was dying of AIDS when he wrote and performed it. In 'Prof," there is both painful death and beauty. Resolution will come, but like with Freddie, it will come only via death. AIDS will take Freddie. Ebola will take Prof. and her husband. Both diseases, diseases that have been  used to stigmatize sufferers, diseases that have been misunderstood and diseases that have been surrounded by myths.

"The Witness and the Passenger Train" by Bonnie Nadzam
"Who Made Who" by AC/DC

The awesome chorus goes:

Who made who, who made you
Who made who
Ain't nobody told you
Who made who, who made you
If you made them and they made you
Who picked the bill and who made who
Ain't nobody told you
Who made who

Does seeing a bird, or a train, or a world, or a star, give substance to the person seeing it? Or is the person doing the seeing somehow, thereby, creating the bird (or the train, or the world, or the star)? Or are we all co-arising, and no one is watching?

"Moonless" by Bryan Hurt
"I Spy" by Pulp

I like the pomposity and theatricality of this song and the dark undercurrent, all of which match the tone of the story. The character Cocker assumes comes off as a world-class asshole, a voyeur and a stalker, and yet there's a sense of deep bitterness and loneliness in all his posturing. "You see I spy for a living / And I specialize in revenge / On taking the things I know will cause you pain / I can't help it / I was dragged up." He's not unlike the man in this story who lives in his basement building miniature stars and miniature planets, spying on the planets' inhabitants and throwing tantrums, literally destroying their worlds, all in the hopes that someone will finally pay attention to him.

"Our New Neighborhood" by Lincoln Michel
"I'll Always Know" by Merle Haggard

I'm always fascinated by songs that give off a completely different mood than what they intend. "I'll Always Know" is, I think, supposed to be a melancholic song in which we sympathize with the singer. However, something about the omnipotent claim and the way Haggard angrily croons it is chilling. He didn't catch anyone cheating. He didn't get his heart broken. He's just warning that he'll "always know." "Your heart is like a window / and when I look inside I see another man." There's no escape from his probing fidelity eye.

"Dinosaurs Went Extinct around the Time of the First Flower" by Kelly Luce
"Nessum Dorma" by Luciano Pavarotti

In the final scene of "Dinosaurs Went Extinct around the Time of the First Flower," Mr. Ukaga tries to convince his faux-French call girl to leave the love hotel's dungeon room and run away to Paris with him (along with "magnanimous," his code word for the part of her body he likes to photograph). I like to imagine Ukaga in this moment of supreme vulnerability--he is naked, both literally and emotionally--thinking of the lyrics the aria his hero, Pavarotti, made famous: "None shall sleep! / You too, oh princess / in your cold bedroom / watching the stars / that tremble with love and with hope!"

"Transcription of an Eye" by Carmen Maria Machado
"The Trial" by Pink Floyd

This surreal, Kafkaesque song captures the bizarre courtroom theatrics and themes of suffering, authority, and gaslighting in "Transcription of an Eye."

"The Taxidermist" by David Abrams
"I Know There's Something Going On" by Frida

In "The Taxidermist," Tucker Pluid omnipotently spies on households in Flint, Wyoming through the eyes of his taxidermy mounts. By clutching the eyeballs of elk, trout and deer, Tucker knows not just something, but everything that's going on with his fellow Flintians. I think he would have adopted Frida's 1982 hit as his personal anthem...if he was into ear-worm pop from ex-ABBA singers like this.  Tucker may spy into dozens of homes, but there's really only one person he cares about: his ex-wife Shirleen. He'd trade a thousand eyeballs just to have her back with him again. When Frida sings "I know a good thing must come to an end, but it's hard to take losing a friend," I can picture broken-hearted Tucker sitting in his taxidermy workshop, weeping into the fur and feathers around him.

"Second Chance" by Etgar Keret

"You Can't Always Get What You Want" by The Rolling Stones

"Strava" by Steven Hayward
"The Mountain King Cometh" by T-Rex

Strava is a smart phone application that tracks how far you ride and how fast. You upload your data and it takes your measure. The highest honor that can be conferred on you by the Strava is a KOM, which stands for "King of the Mountain. It means you have clocked the best time for a route, or even part of a route. It means you're winning. Not that you're the winner, because there is no such thing as a winner in Strava. The race does not end. Someone can always show up to unseat you by clocking a better time. The song that best fits the story is, of course, "The Mountain King Cometh" by the incomparable Marc Bolan and T-Rex. When I am cycling at the top of my form, and when my brain is oxygen deprived in exactly the right way, this song spontaneously floods the frontal lobe of my brain.

"Viewer, Violator" By Aimee Bender
"Every Breath You Take" by The Police

It may be a little obvious, but as soon as I thought about being watched, or watching, that bass line popped into my head and wouldn't leave.

Bryan Hurt and Watchlist links:

the editor's website
excerpt from the book (the editor's introduction)

Heavy Feather Review review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
Sabotage Reviews review

Los Angeles Magazine profile of the editor

also at Largehearted Boy:

Largehearted Boy's 2016 Fundraiser

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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