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January 19, 2018

Book Notes - Will Dowd "Areas of Fog"

Areas of Fog

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.

The lyrical and evocative essays in Will Dowd's collection Areas of Fog are inspired by New England weather, literature, and history.

Deborah Landau wrote of the book:

"A lyrical meditation on literature, history and the weather quite unlike anything I've ever read. Will Dowd has a gift for subtle observation and the book is richly evocative and nuanced ― his intelligence, wit and warmth make for good company in a cold season."

In his own words, here is Will Dowd's Book Notes music playlist for his essay collection Areas of Fog:

“Heroic Weather Conditions of the Universe, Part 7: After the Storm” by Alexandre Desplat

I love this tongue-and-cheek riff on Britten’s “The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra.” It’s a narrated orchestral storm and the perfect inversion of what I tried to do in Areas of Fog—that is, turn the weather into music.

“Slush” by Jarvis Cocker

The former Pulp frontman returned from a 2008 Arctic expedition to the aptly named Disko Bay (off Greenland) with this melody in his head. See, good things can come from the winter wasteland.

“Fading Sun” by Terje Isungset and Lena Nymark

Terje Isungset is a Norwegian musician who crafts his instruments from ice. We’re talking ice horns, ice xylophones, ice guitars, ice harps. He doesn’t just find beauty in the frozen breath of winter, he creates it. He’s like Wallace Stevens’s Snowman come to life.

“Roadrunner” by The Modern Lovers

Greil Marcus famously called this "the most obvious song in the world, and the strangest." It’s the only song that celebrates the suburban outskirts of Boston where I grew up and returned to write this book. (I actually penned one of the March essays in a Stop & Shop parking lot.)

“300 M.P.H. Torrential Outpour Blues” by The White Stripes

During the year I spent chronicling New England weather, I only escaped the region once when I fled to Florida with some friends. For no conscious reason, I found myself listening to this song on repeat while getting sunburned. My friends and I visited Cassadaga, a town inhabited exclusively by mediums, where I may or may not have had a spectral encounter with a dead relative. Either way, the incident was spookily presaged by Jack White’s lyrics.

“Easy” by Commodores

I wrote these essays on Sunday mornings when I should’ve been sleeping in. Or at church. Or at brunch. Somehow I felt off the social grid and off the literary clock—always best time to write.

“It Never Rains in Southern California” by Albert Hammond

My book takes a brief detour to Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles to discuss the bedeviling Santa Ana winds, so this song seemed appropriate. I’ve always loved it. It’s happy and sad—like a cheerful suicide note.

“Cherry Blossoms” by Night Beds

I picked this song ostensibly because the book contains a page-long sentence about the travels and travails of a cherry blossom. But really I can’t imagine a playlist without a Night Beds track. I’d sell my soul for this guy’s voice. In fact, I’d set up a little soul-kiosk at the crossroads every midnight for a month if that’s what it took.

“Walcott (Insane Mix)” by Vampire Weekend

To my knowledge, this is the only song about the existential horror of Cape Cod traffic.

“Red Moon” by The Walkmen

Personally, I think Thoreau was bluffing. There’s no way he lived alone in the woods for that long and didn’t get a little scared in the dark, especially on nights when branches clawed at his cabin windows and the moon rose blood-stained. There’s just no way he didn’t get a little lonely.

“Fourth of July (Live)” by Sufjan Stevens

I love Carrie & Lowell, Sufjan Stevens’s sun-dappled, death-drenched 2015 album. It’s full of gemlike hymns with Dickinsonian lyrics. In concert, the restrained “Fourth of July” gets a new thanatonic climax that feels like stained glass windows exploding in a storm. Isn’t that the effect all sermonizers secretly strive for?

“7:PM” by Yann Tiersen

In one summer essay, I mention the fact that Emily Dickinson couldn’t read a clock until she was fifteen. She must have relied on her intuition as to the time of day. Doesn’t every hour have its own texture and grain? It’s own specific chord?

“1959” by Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

In the book, I muse about the Apollo 11 astronauts and how each came back to Earth utterly changed. This ethereal song could be the soundtrack to that strangest of all possible returns home.

“The Rain Falls and the Sky Shudders” by Moby

With its morning gloom and evening mist, the fall was my favorite season to write about. Autumn doesn’t burn or blind or freeze. Like this song, it seeps into you.

“Someone’s Missing” by MGMT

In one wintry essay, I speculate about “The Third Man syndrome”—the well-documented phenomenon in which adventurers on the verge of death are encouraged to keep going by a benevolent apparition that evaporates once they’ve reached safety. To my mind, this song evokes the mysterious presence/absence of the Third Man.

“Peter Pan” by Arcade Fire

I picked this song because it reminds me of the book’s penultimate essay, which not only references J. M. Barrie but also reveals the secret to immortality (all yours for the approximate price of two Frappuccinos.)

“It’s Hard to Get Around the Wind” by Alex Turner

In New England, we’re required to enter a kind of psychological hibernation in the lead-up to winter. It’s a highly melodramatic process that usually involves taking one last walk along the beach in November. If, around this time of year, you encounter someone staring pensively at the Atlantic, crying and throwing broken shells at seagulls, keep your distance. Do not approach.

“Old Stepstone (Later Live…with Jools Holland)” by Cold Specks

Authors rarely say goodbye to their readers, probably for good reason, but I do on the last page of my book. I can’t think of a better musical farewell to listeners than this bittersweet a cappella performance by Cold Specks.

Will Dowd and Areas of Fog links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Hippocampus Magazine review

The Drunken Odyssey interview with the author
Give and Take interview with the author
OTHERPPL interview with the author
Patriot Ledger profile of the author
WBUR interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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

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