February 23, 2017
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kris D'Agostino's novel The Antiques is fast-paced, dark, and funny.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"There's not a sluggish moment in Kris D'Agostino’s second novel . . . with sharp, funny dialogue that never seems formulaic. More impressively, he conveys the disorienting and ever-shifting effects of grief."
I have a playlist that I listen to on repeat whenever I’m at my desk writing. The list is mostly songs from the original London cast recording of Les Miserables and it probably doesn’t make for a very interesting playlist, so I’m going to focus more on music that was part of my life while I was writing and editing my second novel, The Antiques—Music that, in essence, provided the backdrop for the novel.
When I wrote my first book, The Sleepy Hollow Family Almanac, I wanted the main character to be someone who listened to a ton of music, constantly, but at the same time I wanted to avoid writing about music, if that makes any sense. I feel like it’s a hard thing to do: to try to capture with words the emotions and sensations you experience audibly. It seems nearly impossible.
The Antiques has as its central characters three siblings whose lives are informed by music in a lot of ways, but none of that comes forward in the prose, or at least, not as intensely as it did in my first novel. Charlotte, the middle child, listens exclusively to Tom Waits during the course of the book. And indeed while I was writing it, I too was going through a Tom Waits phase.
The following list is a curated guide to several songs either inspired me, or that I discovered or, or old favorites that I revisited, or new ones that somehow intensely impressed themselves upon me and the world I was trying to write about in The Antiques. There were certainly lots of others, but these are some of my favorites:
Tom Waits – "Take Me Home”
This song seemed to inform the entire scope of the book in a weird way. "The world’s not round without you," still feels like the most succinct and beautiful way to express how you can miss someone even though life goes on without them. It was kind of the jumping off point for the whole thing.
Xiu Xiu – "Dear God, I Hate Myself"
I don’t think anyone in the novel actively hates themselves, they just want to make their lives better and overcome the situations they’ve found themselves in. Also, side note, "I will always be nicer to the cat, than I am to you," is possibly the best lyric of all time.
Dirty Three – "This Night"
I’ve actually only recently—as in the last couple years recently—gotten into Dirty Three. I’m not sure why I slept on them for so long, since I have so many friends who love them. I could listen to "This Night" on loop for hours. It’s one of those propulsive, emotional instrumental songs (that Dirty Three do better than anyone) that once it gets its hooks into you don’t want it to end.
Naps – "Social Skills"
This Florida band came out of nowhere for me. I read about them on one of the music blogs I like and then this song immediately attained a mythic status in my mind and then boom they broke up, just like that. But they left a lot behind in a short period of time. The looping guitar line, combined with the spot-on lyrics and the way the chorus repeats for so long: It’s perfect. And it also in a lot of ways reflects the emotional state of the characters in the novel. For lots of reasons, we’re not always equipped to handle the things life puts in our path and our dependence on drugs, of whatever kind, our self-imposed crutches, don’t always help.
Vic Chesnutt – "You are Never Alone"
This song is about a lot of different things, none of which are relevant to the novel, but at the same time, the sentiment that whatever the thing is that’s keeping you down, whatever your ailment or affliction, you are not alone as you stumble and flail through this life, is a strong one. I have been in love with Vic Chesnutt since I was a teenager. R.I.P. to that wonderful man.
Kraftwerk – "Radioactivity"
Somewhere during the writing of The Antiques I finally sat down and watched all 15+ hours of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. The "epilogue" to the film is a two-hour movie—unique in it’s own right—and Fassbinder had the balls to make/name it "My Dream of the Dream of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin, An Epilogue." And that’s literally what it is. He constructed a two-hour film that was his "dream" about the "dream" that the main character had based on the author’s writing of that character. Needless to say, it is the best part of the whole epic thing. And literally 80% of it is set to this one Kraftwerk song, just popping back up, over and over, and always with amazing impact. I’m not sure you can just watch the epilogue without viewing the13 hours leading up to it, but what do I know?
Brian Eno – "The Big Ship"
During the writing of The Antiques, I spent eight months (yes, eight months) reading Infinite Jest. After I was done I then read as much about David Foster Wallace’s life as I could get my hands on, including the D.T. Max biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story. There’s a lot in it about DFW’s musical obsessions. He loved R.E.M. (so do I) and he loved Brian Eno (who doesn’t?) and he spoke often about his particular fondness for "The Big Ship" and how as a student he would get really high and listen to the song over and over again and try to get his head around it. It’s that good.
This Heat – "A New Kind of Water"
When I first heard This Heat, in college, it was one of those lame, revelatory moments that we all experience. I was played their album, Deceit, and that was it, I didn’t know there were people out there making music like that. I was still a teenager. It was eye-opening. I’d been waiting for music like that without even knowing I was waiting. Boom. I will always revisit this album and it has remained in heavy rotation for nearly a decade now.
Joan Shelley – "Remedios"
Joan Shelley’s voice is transporting and ethereal. Her lyrics are always top notch and her songwriting about perfect. And yet this one, with no "real" words, only a beautifully sung melodic harmony that builds and builds to a crescendo, is one of my favorites.
Lower Dens – "To Die in L.A."
I would not mind dying in L.A. It seems as good a place as any. I love the city and since I don’t live there, I did the next best thing and decided to make one of my characters live there. Vicarious living, the sad author way!
Kris D'Agostino and The Antiques links:
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)
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