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April 17, 2017

Book Notes - Janet Sarbanes "The Protester Has Been Released"

The Protester Has Been Released

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.

Janet Sarbanes' short story collection The Protester Has Been Released is clever, funny, and poignant throughout.

Maggie Nelson wrote of the book:

"The Protester Has Been Released is a spectacular and subversive collection, made even more so by its deceptive calm and supremely wry style. Its humor and range are first-rate; its political subjects utterly timely (for better or worse); its wisdom profound, especially as it feels earned off-road; its inventiveness and shrewdness apparent in every sentence, in every story."


In her own words, here is Janet Sarbanes' Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection The Protester Has Been Released:



This is a mixtape I made for you to listen to around the time you read The Protester Has Been Released. Before, after or during, it doesn't matter, so long as both things happen in the same headspace. I've paired songs with specific stories, but feel free to re-arrange the playlist—you may find an order that works better!


"Space Oddity," David Bowie
Laika Hears The Music of the Spheres

Okay, this one's a bit obvious to pair with a story about Laika, the little Russian space dog who was rocketed into orbit in 1957 without any plans for her return. But who knows better than Major Tom what it felt like to be her?

"Hotel California," The Gypsy Kings
Coyoacan

Not long after moving to California, I was driving through Imperial County, on my way to visit Leonard Knight's Salvation Mountain, a magnificent work of "outsider art" down by the Salton Sea. This song came over the airwaves, a welcome reprieve from many hours of Christian radio, right after I passed through a border checkpoint at Niland. I remember thinking what a brilliant middle finger to borders it was, and to the history of colonization (plus a knowing chuckle in the direction of the Eagles).

I pair it with "Coyoacan," a story about a wealthy American couple and their Mexican housekeeper who find themselves trapped in Mexico City during a series of catastrophic storms. They all get out, but the city itself is submerged. The story ends with the couple exiting their Landrover in the drop-off zone of a luxury hotel in downtown LA—a great moment for the Gypsy Kings' "Hotel California" to come on their car radio. Puede salir cuando quiere pero nunca ha de partir!

"You Don't Own Me," Leslie Gore
Meet Koko

Koko is an actual signing gorilla, fictionalized in this story, who has been the subject of an experiment in language acculturation for over forty years. "Meet Koko" chronicles Koko's attempt to wrest control of her life story from her researcher and lifelong companion, Penny. I've always loved the song "You Don't Own Me," by Leslie Gore, its odd cadences, defiant lyrics and sly humor. It's what I imagine Koko singing to her captor—and to all of us—if Koko could sing.

"In This Hole," Cat Power
Monument

Cat Power's "In this Hole" – here in this hole that we fixed – has precisely the bleakness I was trying to capture in this story, about a couple struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic landscape by somewhat eccentric means.

"I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free," Nina Simone
The Protester Has Been Released

This beautiful song is an ode to black liberation first and foremost but it also speaks to a universal longing for freedom – from oppression, from want, from death. "The Protester Has Been Released" is a lovingly satirical take on the Occupy movement, which nonetheless ends with a moment of genuine freedom, when the Protester makes the conscious choice to resist.

"Motherless Child," Prince
Ars Longa and Who Will Sit With Maman?

Have you heard this ten-minute rendition of "Motherless Child" by Prince? It's freaking mind-blowing. Can enough ever be said on this subject, the loss of the mother? It's at the heart of both of these stories.

"Tell Me Something Good," Rufus & Chakha Khan
Sunshine Collective

I love funk, the wah/wah peddle and the electric bass, the ability to say something gritty and political and playful and creative—even silly—all at the same time. I pair this song with "Sunshine Collective," perhaps the silliest story in the collection, a send-up of the curator/artist relationship in which both parties are continually beseeching, "tell me something good/tell me that you love me."

"Language Is A Virus," Laurie Anderson
The Tragedy of Ayapaneco

There's something about that wry Laurie Anderson voice that gets at all manner of alienation. The professor and the student in this story allow themselves to be infected by a language inimical to learning and to life; the two old men in Ayapaneco do not. Where lies the real tragedy?

"The Pill," Loretta Lynn
Rosie the Ruminant

Had to go country for this one. It never hurts to remind ourselves, especially in these times, about the life-changing importance of the Pill (and of this song, which was banned from the radio in 1972). "Rosie the Ruminant" features the ruminations of a sheep of "prodigious intellect," from whose mammary gland cell "Dolly" was famously cloned. How can science have come so far, Rosie asks, and we still have so little control of our wombs?

"Grooveallegiance" and "One Nation Under A Groove," Funkadelic; "War," Edwin Starr
The First Daughter Finds Her Way

This is a novella, so I gave it three songs. I remember kids singing "Grooveallegiance"on the playground in late seventies Baltimore, an alternate pledge of allegiance to a better way of being and being together, encapsulated by "The Funk." The heroine of this story, a president's daughter, is on a quest to keep her father from invading the world's nations in reverse alphabetical order. "Grooveallegiance" and "One Nation Under A Groove" offer up a true alternative to that nightmare scenario (one not so different from our own). And "War," well, what is it good for?


Janet Sarbanes and The Protester Has Been Released links:

the author's website


also at Largehearted Boy:

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