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April 27, 2017

Book Notes - Edie Meidav "Kingdom of the Young"

Kingdom of the Young

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.

Kingdom of the Young is the brilliant new collection from Edie Meidav, one of the most talented prose stylists writing today.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"A probing and deeply ruminative cross-genre odyssey. Meidav pulls readers through a series of dreamy, complex, poignant stories with language that is by turns gauzy-poetic and pinpoint-precise but unfailingly inventive.... A penetrating collection that glides among an impressive breadth of storytelling modes with warmth and easy brilliance."

In her own words, Edie Meidav's Book Notes playlist for her collection Kingdom of the Young:

Musical Laughter

Can music beat back death? The best music surprises us in our moment; a succession of moments makes our life’s tempo. Perhaps you’ve heard the idea that music began 40,000 years ago. Or that homo sapiens could be called more endowed, able to beat back the Neanderthals, mainly because our sapient ancestors had cave art and flutes. Art gave them exactly the stronger social identity that made them leap ahead. Cultural production did matter. On the strength of art alone, one branch of our ancestry vanished, the other thrived.

Tell opponents of the NEA this, or even tell yourself the next time you find yourself staring at some randomly produced painting in your dentist’s office or a hotel room. Art mattered and still matters. And then consider how enduringly lovely and preposterous is the idea of music: that we can measure, deflect, and alter sound entering our ears, and that such sequencing and blending means something to us?

As I write this, Radiohead’s KID A plays some jumbled version of speech that has me feeling I just leapt from the Neanderthal divide toward the end of the twentieth century, when, with millennial spirit, scientists reported a strange finding. Those called clinically dead for, say, twenty minutes - before the defibrillator gets the heart pumping again - come back to report that, apart from the infamous tunnel, the beckoning warm figure, the phantasm high-five gauntlet of long-gone friends and family - when the briefly dead look down at their bodies, being fussed over by medics and family, the dead can both see and hear. After a short time, sight leaves.

Which means that for those of us the hearing population, our last gush of emotion rests in hearing.

Did you need any more reason to treasure all your sentimental mixtapes, your playlists, your memory jogs? Sentiment adheres. So if tempering sound is our most primal and civilized attempt to exert agency and control, to recall, who but death anyway gets the last word on meter?

Maybe this primacy of hearing supports the way the best songs carry the paradox and tension of our lives. The song you love lets you surrender yet within safe strictures. You get to find surprise within the expected, ritual without obedience. We have so many wishes and bring them all to the altar of music. We want shamanic transport through the firing of multiple neural tracks, the explosion of new pathways, electric current happily mired or carried in ways we never imagined. To paraphrase Jerry Lee Lewis, we need a whole lot of something beat into us. What we really want, however, is something so close to love it is love.

First consider the trickiness of language.

Who among the chorus reading does not know the writer who wants to be a musician?

Why? Because language always aspires to the condition of music. This is why choosing to write while listening to music – to which literature aspires – is the equivalent of having the person off the street hum loudly into a mike downstage while the truly gifted soloist mutters behind the proscenium arch. And yet for some writers, writing to music is the best if not the only way. Not for some of us is the earplugged white-noise room with the shades drawn. For us, the aleatory nature of stimulants seems to help: music offers us that stimulating illusion of communication.

Wordsworth said we enter the world endlessly rocking. We cry into the abyss of that great post-womb silence, hopeful for touch, release, change. Both music and language share the divine hope of expression: despite seasons of disillusion, the recipient might connect to a creator. The best notes and words tell us it is up to us to muster change or else be mastered by it.

We burn with the wish to connect, we dream the burn, and the dream of both language and music is love. Hear a great song, read a thrilling book, and you feel the same recognition as when in love. You say: no one ever considered these elements together in exactly this way. You are changed.

If music and language call on us to be more present to the way time beats past us without beating us, often the music people listen to during and around the writing of any work has to do with ghosts, with former and aspirational loves and selves. In which realm would you wish to live, with whom, doing what and during what period? What music sparks the creation of a new world, what reminds you of the ballyhooed flow, what will fire you with randomly directive discoveries akin to those of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies for the creation of art?

To turn both a bit oblique and personal here: in the mail last week my nine-year-old daughter and I received a shoebox filled with supplies meant to create a hydraulic claw, a little feat of joint engineering she and I agreed we would undertake. Putting together anything with instruction manuals is not a strength many possess. Perhaps some of us were forced to nap during some formative moment of manual-dexterity development or born with the instruction-translating part of the brain not quite intact. But my daughter and I meant to try, her interest in art and design overcoming the foolhardiness of any such enterprise involving my direction.

Syringes and cardboard box, clear tubing, brads, zip ties!

Superheroically we hurtled over obstacles, one by one, nearing the end and then emerging with our creation: a strangely phallic hydraulic claw that could not lift a single thing.

Along the way we had known our few moments of frustration, if only one stomp-out. And beyond the phallic claw, what was, at the end, our reward? As we eyed our useless structure, soon to be dismantled, soon to join the graveyard of useless devices meant for later tinkering, I asked one of those adultish, doltish questions: Guess it’s about the process?

To which she laughed. And then laughed some more.

Her capacity to share the joke ended up being our greater gift much larger than what that shoebox could ever have contained.

And perhaps it’s stretching to say her laugh encompassed all the near-misses of her nine years of life and, in a proleptic manner, all the later godforsaken misses that will come when an adultish person struggles toward being in the moment. Enough to say her laughter linked the whole gambit and made it matter. No greater music exists than a series of beats which serve as a reminder to connect. To understand another enough that your own tribe is expanded, really, who could dream it any greater than those non-Neanderthals?

While writing KINGDOM OF THE YOUNG, I was in a series of caves. Living in two distinct locales: upstate New York and western Massachusetts where I live now. Because driving entered my life in force and so many of the radio stations were so distinctly mainstream, and one of my daughters began to love pop, I listened to the radio in a way I had not heard in either northern California or New York City, trying to tease out the unexpected in Justin Timberlake or god knows who else, trying to get clues about where I found myself.

While stationed somewhere writing, I also listened to instrumentals: here is one playlist called Joy in Writing I used.

I felt lucky hearing U Sriniivas; elated listening to Jan Garbarek/Usted Fateh Ali Khan: Ragas and Sagas; moved by Marilyn Crispell and David Rothenberg’s lovely One Dark Night I Left My Silent House. I relied on Yume Bitsu as a standby, and sometimes The Clogs and the Sefardic Jewry explorations by the unbelievable maestro of Catalunya, Jordi Savall.

Sometimes, too, randomly, rarely, I ran outdoors while listening to Seal’s first album, one I found oddly and narratively stimulating.

But here below I wish to discuss only the first songs on a 4-hour playlist.


I called this list Packing Music because I was so often, metaphysically or not, unpacking during the period in which I wrote this Kingdom of the Young collection - to which, in a great act of musical high-fiving over the language-music divide, the musician Kevin Salem continued our collaboration by writing a ‘score’ ( Existentially, I was in a state of moving. I became a mother twice over, I had jobs, I lived through several homes, cities, states, continents.

This collection addresses some primal question of never having fully belonged anywhere and what became my strong consequent interest in reaching across toward others. This the sequence I needed to hear, the one that would bridge the past toward the unknown future, the notes that would offer that always new gift of homo sapiens, the knowing laughter you find in music.

Black Ego by the Digable Planets
Perhaps I remain in a cave but I have not heard much about this group in recent years. What I loved when I first heard them and what I still love is this: the spunky smart female singer and the melding of jazz, hiphop, sparseness. The whole group reminds me of an energy I felt at a certain age, maybe fifteen, feeling the world lay ahead of me, that I already knew everything, a node I again revisited at nineteen. Marguerite Duras in The Lover has her narrator say that at nineteen she has the face she will have the rest of her life. I hear this girl singer and feel she knows the entire lexicon of spunk. And though my father used to say to me that it is amazing how as you get older you realize how much your parents know, part of writing this book meant I am continuing to recall what youth knows and learn how little I have ever known, each year succeeding in stripping away whatever I thought of as certain knowledge.

"Save Me" by Aimee Mann
Somewhere in a novel I wrote during these years about boxing and Cuba, one of the characters is pursued through her bad life choices by this song with its unforgettable line: save me from the ranks of the freaks who believe they can never love anyone.

"Hallelujah" by Rufus Wainwright (Leonard Cohen cover)
This is the one song that, if I play its elemental two chords, will bring my family to the piano to sing. It is an unstoppable song about which many have written, which many have covered. It is a song that in its kabbalistic way loves words enough to have inspired many. Here I love the tenderness of Wainwright’s voice; the crackle he gives that minor chord with its major lift.

"3,6,9" and "Willie" by Cat Power
Both these songs make me feel as if I get to have the tired clear-sighted clarity of the addict at the end of a rope without having to actually live that moment. Which is, in some way, much of what the best writing gives us: addiction to a world if freed of pain.

May we all be so lucky.

Edie Meidav and Kingdom of the Young links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus Reviews review
Massachusetts Review interview with the author
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Lola, California

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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