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February 6, 2018

Book Notes - Alex Higley "Old Open"

Old Open

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.

Thought-provoking and rich in humor, Alex Higley's novel Old Open is an auspicious debut.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Higley wonderfully captures Russ's self-conscious interactions through clever ruminations on what he believes others are thinking (as when Russ, voyeuristically, imagines the thoughts of two cleaning women entering Terrell’s house). Crisp writing and splendid descriptions of momentous landscapes will carry readers through this journey of loss and learning to live in the moment."


In his own words, here is Alex Higley's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Old Open:



A mistake I am prone to making is to base my understanding of people on their musical preferences, their reactions to certain songs, eras of work, bands, artists. This is a mistake, or maybe better put, a reductive starting point that I happen to share with the narrator of Old Open, Russ.

Russ is a John Cale over Lou Reed type-of-person, he's a Neil Young fan even though he never mentions it, he knows that women make better singers and people than men. He is a person that can be made weak by the music he loves.

I listened to the Brian Eno album Neroli over and over as I was writing the book, so maybe those sounds are floating in the blank spaces of the Old Open-world.

All the songs below (except one) appear somehow in the book.

"I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight" – I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight – Richard and Linda Thompson

I always want to be listening to this song. It's so hopeful and sad and small in the best ways.

"A Heart Needs a Home - BBC session" – Hokey Pokey – Richard and Linda Thompson

The version of this track on the original release of Hokey Pokey doesn't really do it for me. But, the BBC session version included on the 2007 CD release is wrecking.

"Come And Get It" – Magic Christian Music – Badfinger

While Russ and Riley are at a diner in southern Colorado: "Oldies radio can be heard underneath the talk noise, fool and his money, son-ny, the eating noise, the scrape and pound and bell noise."

"Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt" – Nobody Move, Nobody Get Hurt – Yellowman

More diner talk: "'Are all albinos of Nordic origin? No. Now I remember we had a black albino at our school growing up,' I tell her. 'And you know Yellowman?'"

"Needle in the Camel's Eye" – Here Come the Warm Jets – Eno

Russ says in the book, "It's an opener that washes over you and pulls you under." I'd say: ideal music for tired driving, being a teenager, being fifty-five, being thirty, not wanting to get out of bed, cooking dumbly, standing wasted on a roof, watching home shopping programming on mute, alphabetical organizing.

"Ship of Fools" – Fear – John Cale

I think more of this song seeped into the book than I realized. I wasn't listening to Fear as I wrote, but I was in a heavy Cale solo phase while working on Old Open. Now that I'm looking at the lyrics, a line like "Wished they could sail from Tennessee to Arizona," seems to have suggested realities to me that entered the narrative. Russ speaks to a man he calls Roast Beef late in the story and says of this song, "I have the 'Ship of Fools' melody running in my head, and I feel like despite this man's thinking that I can't follow, I've been luckier than him: knowing the songs I'm talking about, having them in my past and memory and present."

"Grand Canyon Line" – Armchair Boogie – Michael Hurley

Laziest lazy shuffler.

"Ebony Queen" – Sahara – McCoy Tyner

This song plays after the Hurley song listed above in (another) diner near the end of the book. These two songs played back-to-back in a public breakfast setting was something I wanted to make real.

"I Dream a Highway" – Time (The Revelator) – Gillian Welch

This is the only song listed here that is not mentioned directly or indirectly in the text of Old Open. Probably it does have the strongest actual connection to the book. Gillian Welch and David Rawlings are heroes of mine. "Art hero" sounds insane so I didn't say it. I see almost no live music, but if Gill and Dave come through (and they do), I go. When my wife and I lived in Arizona, for ten months, we saw them there. Somewhere in those ten months I wrote this book. em>Time (The Revelator) is more than the sum of its parts and, strangely, so is this song. It is plaintive, drifty and can overtake your whole day. The song is about memory and American stubbornness and grasping for a particular kind of American greatness, alternate futures and histories, and loss, most of all loss.


Alex Higley and Old Open links:

Publishers Weekly review

Chicago Review of Books 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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