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January 30, 2017

Book Notes - Ken Pisani "Amp'd"


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.

Ken Pisani's Amp'd is a darkly funny and compelling debut novel.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Complete with painfully wry observations and delightfully caustic wit, this novel is a gritty exploration of what it's like to feel incomplete in the world. All five fingers up for this bitterly satisfying tale."

In his own words, here is Ken Pisani's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Amp'd:

Amp'd is a comedic novel in the tradition of other hilarious books about sudden amputation. (Okay, maybe it’s a tradition that starts here.) Having lost his arm in a car accident, Aaron is not a man on a hero’s journey; he does not rise to overcome this terrible adversity but chooses instead the path of least resistance, leading to the hometown he’d fled and the family he escaped—a forced return to be taken care of by his father. It’s also an opportunity to become a profane, unfiltered version of the man he used to be as he attempts to avoid the world and disappear in a haze of painkillers supplemented by the medical marijuana prescribed by his former pediatrician.

As he careens from one misadventure to another on his journey from denial to something resembling acceptance, it’s easy to intuit Aaron’s internal soundtrack: syncopated jazz, post-punk Euro rock, and the occasional ironic song of hope.

“Scar Tissue” by The Red Hot Chili Peppers

If this were a TV show (fingers crossed!) it would need a theme song. “Scar Tissue” evokes the right mood, and it’s the right era—a reminder of Aaron’s youth, and the person he used to be. And the lyrics are spot on:

Scar tissue that I wish you saw, Sarcastic Mister know-it-all
Close your eyes and I'll kiss you 'cause, With the birds I'll share…
With the birds I’ll share this lonely view, With the birds I'll share this lonely view…

“Little Man, What Now” by Morrissey

An actual music “scene” from the novel: when his father coerces him out to breakfast, Aaron escapes through the diner’s bathroom window and hides out in a used record store where the owner, lecturing Aaron about the transporting capabilities of music to remind us of a time past, proves his point with devastating effectiveness. What became of you, indeed.

“Move” by Miles Davis; “Bye-Ya” by Thelonious Monk

The perfect reflection of Aaron’s perpetually “amp’d” emotional state would be a recurring jazz score—not Woody Allen jazz, but discordant, syncopated jazz, percussive and driven, like Miles and Monk.

“Are You Happy?” by the Beau Brummels

Short answer: no. Chirpy and fun and full of hope, dripping with sincerity but played here with full-volume irony.

“It Hurts When I Laugh” by Love Spit Love

Probably a better reply to “Are You Happy?” as sung by former Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler in full, blistering rasp:

It's getting kinda late, it's dark outside
I want to say goodbye
Don't want to say goodbye so no one cares
It hurts when I laugh
And it hurts when I speak
And it hurts when I talk
And it hurts when I breathe yeah

“Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus

The perfect grim soundtrack that likely plays non-stop in Aaron’s head.

“Never Give You Up” by Raphael Saadiq

When Aaron’s reptilian brain falls hopelessly, ridiculously in love with a voice on the radio (another terrible decision, but a safe, hopeful one), I can see his wide-eyed expression, and hear this song loud and clear.

“I Know I’m Not Alone” by Michael Franti

In short order, the lyrics mood-swing from numbing loss (Whatever happened to the sun?) to a tiny note of hope (I know I’m not alone), reflecting the wider, rambling journey of my comically devastated protagonist.

“Rush” by Big Audio Dynamite

Yes, some of the lyrics are spot-on for their unique mix of defiance and surrender:

If I had my time again, I would do it all the same
And not change a single thing, even when I was to blame…
Situation no-win, rush for a change of atmosphere
I can’t go on so I give in, gotta get myself right outta here

...but it’s the vibe more than anything, wistful post-punk angst that suits a man who wants to be what he once was, even if that wasn’t so great.

Ken Pisani and Amp'd links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Chicago Review of Books review
Kirkus Reviews review
Publishers Weekly review

Authorsinterviews interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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