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October 12, 2017

Book Notes - Alex Behr "Planet Grim"

Planet Grim

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.

Alex Behr's collection Planet Grim is filled with bold and imaginative stories.

Tom Bissell wrote of the collection:

"Alex Behr's imagination is wild, rigorous, and totally unique. I haven't been able to decide if her stories are comedies intercut with horror or horror stories leavened by comedy, but when they're this entertaining, who cares?"

In her own words, here is Alex Behr's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection Planet Grim:

I played music throughout writing Planet Grim. I performed strange, eclectic music in my former band The Double U and played bass in occasional projects (like covering Plasmatics, Raincoats, Runaways in a “Bad Girls” reading/performance). That subversive culture and humor is part of my writing. I tried to start a “Queeros” club in fifth grade. No one joined.

When I play classical piano, my teacher dances to the melody. I analyze the composer’s intent, as if he’s under the Steinway ready to masturbate—or not—based on my interpretation. Bach, Brahms, Bartok, Prokofiev: they are never dead when I play. I argue with them and marvel at their gifts. My teacher says, “What’s easy about this piece?” We look for patterns and how to bring in relaxed power. When writing, I try to call on that same musical intelligence: where is the rhythm, the space, and the motifs? Where can I bring in a surprise? How can I write so I’m using my body? (I write in my head while walking.) Where can I throw away the “precious” words to bring out the story?
Songs that influenced me:
1. Jimmy Scott, "Slave to Love"

The ethereal voice slips into the ache of jealousy and desire with its sensitive voicing. “Tell her I’ll be waiting in the usual place.” The piano call and response creates a false nostalgia to the jazz club era (when, in fact, my childhood era was the cocaine glitter bomb of Elton John).

2. Iggy Pop, "Dum-Dum Boys"

The crooning voice and the codeine-guitar slush commemorates dead boys who broke rules. “I was most impressed. No one else was impressed, not at all.” The wild spirits who died young: this song and my collection are dedicated to them.

3. Rolling Stones, "Paint It Black"

Now this original is replaced by my son’s version in the 200-member marching band: the undercurrent of menace reinterpreted by virginal middle schoolers. The parade watchers perk up. My teen years are never too far from me when I write from that perspective. Naïve belief in the body and fears of the body, especially as a girl who stalked stoner rock guys in the halls and was, simply by existing, a target of older males.

4. Sun Ra, "The Outer Heavens"

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was in a Bay Area scene of experimental musicians, some of whom were also artists, published fanzines, or made movies (or stripped). When I put the collection together I questioned my use of “found” objects (will they make sense?), but it’s part of my underground aesthetic. Whenever I hear this song I always find something new that resonates, much like with early Brian Eno. According to John Szwed, Sun Ra used “feedback, distortion, high delay or reverb ... to [create an] antistyle, a self-reflexive approach which anticipates both free jazz recording conventions and punk production.”

5. Gang of Four, "Love Like Anthrax"

6. Birthday Party, "Fears of Gun"

7. Radiohead, "The National Anthem"

8. D’Angelo and The Vanguard: "1000 Deaths"

“When I say Jesus, I’m not talking about some blond-haired, blue-eyed, pale-skinned, buttermilk complexion cracker Christ. The Jesus of the Bible with hair like lamb’s wool.” Malcolm X’s words are reinterpreted by D’Angelo, who wears the names of his three children around his neck. My birth and early years were in Rochester, NY: my dad was a reporter on the “race beat,” covering the riots and a speech by Malcolm X, shortly before his assassination. I grew up in northern Virginia: we took field trips to plantations with no reflection or historical accountability by the teachers; we colored in maps showing the produce of “slave states.” In sixth grade, I watched Roots on TV and lent the book to Cindy, a black girl seated next to me. When she returned it she said, “My mom hates whites.” One of my best friends, who is white, was bullied at school and kicked out of her house for getting pregnant by her boyfriend, an older black guy. Now in the start of the Trump years, I feel the legacy of blood and resistance in music like this. Can I be an ally to people of color? Is that possible in Portland, a predominantly white city, where I’m raising a teen boy, of Chinese birth, who says all whites are racist?

9. World of Pooh, "Strip Club"

This is a cover of a Urinals song, and in 2015 I asked Barbara Manning if we could play it for her birthday party show (I played bass). It became a cover once removed. This song reminds me of the cleansing release of playing simple, loud bass lines while someone is singing about sexual rejection. A story set in an Austin, TX, all meaning in life is reduced to a scotch and soda brought to the table by Cat. Then she takes the stage to dance. The narrator sings: “I shouldn’t feel. She made me feel.” Isn’t all art about that?

10. Jessie Mae Hemphill, "Go Back to Your Used to Be"

Her music represents a perfect connection between intent and performance. It’s simple like an ax to the heart.

11. Prokofiev, Visions fugitives, Op. 22, No. 6

My teacher’s comment while I was learning this piece: “The memory of the past is vivid. The rest falls away.”

Alex Behr and Planet Grim links:

the author's website

Mom Egg Review review
Shelf Stalker review

Grab the Lapels interview with the author
Monkeybicycle essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

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

Largehearted Boy's 2017 Summer Reading Suggestions

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)
musician/author interviews
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

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