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August 8, 2016

Book Notes - Brad Watson "Miss Jane"

Miss Jane

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.

Brad Watson's novel Miss Jane is a sensitive and haunting exploration of one woman's life.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"[The] complexity and drama of Watson’s gorgeous work here is life's as well: Sometimes physical realities expand us, sometimes trap; sometimes heroism lies in combating our helplessness, sometimes in accepting it. A writer of profound emotional depths, Watson does not lie to his reader, so neither does his Jane. She never stops longing for a wholeness she may never know, but she is determined that her citizenship in the world, however onerous, be dragged into the light and there be lived without apology or perfection or pity."

In his own words, here is Brad Watson's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Miss Jane:

In April and May of 2006 I lived in a house on a hill above the town, above the railroad tracks, in Marfa, Texas. Marfa was getting hot, already was, culturally, I mean. It was already hot, of course, but not as hot as it is now. It was a good time because there was one good restaurant with a good bar and another good bar, older, on the outskirts of town, where you could play pool and more likely run into locals. I wrote all day and took long walks every afternoon around 5:00 and came back to have a couple of martinis and listen to music loud on the stereo while the wind blew the white curtains into the room like enormous, enchanted scarves. Even back then, I had been working on Miss Jane. I'd just shown my editor at Norton a draft let's call "inadequate." And I listened to Beck's Sea Change over and over, over and over, over and over. I was going through a long divorce. I was separated, for a while, from everyone I knew. I made a couple of friends in town, one of them close even though new, but I spent most of my time alone. There were two movies in production in Marfa at the time, No Country for Old Men and There Will Be Blood. I went into the restaurant one evening and the Coen brothers were at the table in the rear with a large party of folks, and one of the brothers looked up at me and for a moment seemed to think I was someone he knew, and then he realized he didn't, and he went back to the conversation at the table. I wanted to go over and say, You know once I wanted to be in the movies, I was only 17 but I went out to Hollywood, I took my wife and 6-months-old son out there with me, and I ended up being a garbage man there, one of the best jobs I ever had in some ways, and I lost interest in being in the movies, and my brother died, and we went back home to Mississippi and I ran my dad's dive bar Crazy Horse for a while and then the family talked me into going to the junior college and I started reading great novels and decided I wanted to become a fiction writer and eventually I did and that's why I'm here now, working on a book. But I just ordered my drink, chatted with some non-movie folks, and walked home in the dark and went to bed.

Actually I had decided not to work on Miss Jane for a while, to work on other things. Sea Change filled up the house and helped to empty some of the bad things out of my heart, a little bit, anyway. Beck's grief helped me live with mine.

When I finally did settle down to work on Miss Jane, really settled down to it after years, I'd moved twice, put away my CDs and albums, and didn't have much music on my computer and was busy, always busy with writing, teaching, everything else, and was lousy at finding music on the net, still am, but I got ahold of Dylan's great song "Things Have Changed" and I listened to it, over and over and over and over, when I was trying to get into the mood to work on the book, and I listened to Mozart's Concerto #21 in C Major and I listened to it over and over and over.

And somewhere in there, somehow, I came upon Dae Dae Mo Mo, who it turns out is a guy who lives in I a little town in the Mississippi Delta and makes his own ingenious percussion instruments that percuss tunes, one instrument of which also folds up and makes itself into a little table where David (that's his real name) says you can set down your can of beer. David's music is like nothing I've ever heard, because it comes from his instruments. A musicologist, which I am far from being, could probably tell you the lineage of Dae Dae Mo Mo's instruments and sound, but I cannot and as far as I'm concerned he is an original. There's a YouTube video of him showing his instruments, playing some of his tunes, and telling a funny story about how his sister, who apparently lives a more conventional life than David, scolded him, saying, "David, one day you have got to conform," or something like that. And this set David to cackling and shaking his head. I recommend. Album: Umburkus Returns. "My Mind Is Empty," "Grocery Store Girl."

When I was 17 and newly married and living in the basement of my wife's two older, unmarried aunts, their big old crumbling Victorian house in what was once a grand neighborhood near downtown Meridian, I'd sit out in the yard with a friend and we'd smoke dope and play Neil Young songs, almost exclusively Neil Young songs, and there are some that still I just love going back to, like "Harvest," "Harvest Moon," "Needle And the Damage Done," maybe "I Am A Child," and just wish we'd had access then to later work like the songs on Prairie Wind like "This Old Guitar" (with Emmy Lou on vocals) – hell, just about anything from Neil. I listen to Neil whenever I've got it.

I got John Prine favorites, of course. "Sam Stone." "Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone." Other classic JP.

I listened to the soundtrack of the movie made from my friend the late Larry Brown's Big Bad Love, and have to say I love R.L Burnside's cover of "Everything Is Broken" more than I do Dylan's version. And Waits doing "Long Way Home," one of Larry's favorite songs.

I love hearing Townes van Zandt, "If I Needed You," "I'll Be Here in the Morning." Gram Parsons, "She" and "Return of the Grievous Angel."

I like some new stuff, like my Boston buddy Jen Trynin's work. I'd like to see a comeback, maybe it's happening, man, I wouldn't know, I'm clueless, didn't even know who Jen was when she showed up in my night class at Harvard Extension 15 years ago and modestly said, "I was in entertainment," which of course could have meant anything, and then I heard about her music, and I have to say, go check out her two albums/CDs, Cockamamie, with one of the rockingest opening songs since the height of the best Brits way back, singing full-out, "Aren't you the fuck who tried to jimmy my door?" ("I'm Feelin' Good (Better Than Nothing)")and Gun Shy, Trigger Happy. Jen's still playing around Boston. I can't wait to see her again. That'll be the end of my playlist for now.

Brad Watson and Miss Jane links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Denver Post review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review

Boston Globe profile of the author
Clarion Ledger interview with the author
Electric Literature interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives
Salon interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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