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February 5, 2018

Book Notes - David Keenan "This Is Memorial Device"

This Is Memorial Device

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.

David Keenan's striking debut novel This Is Memorial Device immerses the reader in the '80s post-punk scene of western Scotland.

The Guardian wrote of the book:

"Beautifully believable and appallingly sad ... One of the most acute, affecting and aphoristic novels of recent years ... A hallucinatory and haunting vision."

In his own words, here is David Keenan's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel This Is Memorial Device:

1. Iggy Pop – "Some Weird Sin" (Lust For Life)

Best Iggy goes like this: Funhouse/Kill City/Lust For Life and alongside “Dirt”, “The Passenger” and “Lust For Life” itself, “Some Weird Sin” features some of Iggy’s greatest lyrics: “Well, I never got my license to live/they won’t give it up/so I stand at the world’s edge/I’m trying to break in/though I know it’s not for me/and the sight of it all/makes me sad and ill/that’s when I want/some weird sin”. It perfectly captures the sense of cultural and geographic exile that comes with the small-town experience and the urge to transgress it that acts as the motor for much of the action in This Is Memorial Device. Plus Iggy Pop is the patron saint of outlaw Scottish fiction. “When things get too straight/I can’t bear it.” Amen.

2. Johnny Thunders - "You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory" (So Alone)

Everyone in Airdrie was obsessed with Johnny Thunders. This one features that chord, the most beautiful chord of all, some kind of augmented D, I think, god knows, but the most beautiful chord all the same, the one that Johnny used for “Lonely Planet Boy” on the first New York Dolls album and re-used again here, to devastating effect. This Is Memorial Device is all about the play of memory, how it works, what anchors it, how it is creative, in itself, and how no two memories are the same, even if you can never put your arms around any one of them ever.

3. Chris & Cosey – "Walking Through Heaven" (Songs of Love and Lust)

Chris & Cosey made some of the most sensual electronic music of the post-punk age and this is my favourite, taking the death disco approach of Throbbing Gristle and fully eroticising it. I can’t work out if they are walking through the legendary London gay club of the same name or whether they are really guesting/ghosting in the afterworld – what’s the difference? So many of the weirdo groups fantasised in This Is Memorial Device wanted to sound exactly like this.

4. Einsturzende Neubauten – "Kalte Sterne" (80-83 Strategies Against Architecture)

We are cold stars: the early Neubauten aesthetic of cannibalising your immediate surroundings for instruments and inspiration is what This Is Memorial Device is all about. Plus the nihilistic seriousness, the demands made on music and art and culture, the attempt to bridge that gap, between people, between cultures, between nowhere and the centre of the world. We are cold stars. Devastating.

5. Suicide – "Frankie Teardrop" (Suicide)

The ultimate psychodrama, like The Doors, only better; this is the end, my friendless friend. And what a sound. What a vocal. One of the characters in This Is Memorial Device makes a t-shirt to counter all of the "Frankie Says Relax" garbage that was in the air back then in the early '80s. It reads: "We’re all Frankies – We’re All Lying In Hell." Of course no one got it.

6. Wire – "Reuters" (Pink Flag)

The riff monster in the Wire back catalogue. Leering, droning, bearing down.

7. Swell Maps – "Full Moon In My Pocket/BLAM!!" (A Trip to Marineville)

The DIY explosion that happened in the wake of punk produced some of the most amazing one-shots and a-musical masterpieces in the history of the UK underground. Though sometimes overlooked in favour of even more dysfunctional and crude sides, Swell Maps are the kings of avant DIY and both of their albums are essential for understanding the post-punk ‘arc’. These two tracks have to be heard together, a hypnotic jam on Can’s riff from "Mother Sky" gives way to a rollicking garage/drone thug-punk classic.

8. Lou Reed – "Men of Good Fortune" (Berlin)

Lou Reed is the guiding light of This Is Memorial Device. He single-handedly invented underground music. So many tracks I could have chosen but this one, on Berlin, has some of Lou’s greatest – and coldest – lyrics, speaking of the desperation of the poor - and the rich – “The rich son waits for his father to die/the poor just drink and cry/and me I just don’t care at all”. Me too, Lou.

9. Conrad Schnitzler – "3" (Gelb)

Conrad Schnitzler made some of the loneliest and the most emotionally barren electronic music of the 20th century. Gelb is his masterpiece. In his loneliness, and his obsession with creating electronic music that would bridge this great nameless void between people that prevents true communication, the character Robert Mulligan aka Steel Teeth in This Is Memorial Device has much in common with the hermetic Schnitzler.

10. Les Rallizes Denudes – "Deeper Than The Night 1975.10.01" (Great White Wonder)

The ultimate cult band, Japanese psych rock legends Les Rallizes Denudes have the aura and the formally devastating approach to rock form that I imagined Memorial Device channelling. This track – this entire album – is a complete mind-blower. They completely upend any kind of linear reading of rock evolution. They are before and after it all.

11. Parson Sound – Sov Gott Rose-Marie (Parson Sound)

The ultimate drone rock behemoth, Sweden’s Parson Sound gave way to the groups International Harvester and Trad Gras Och Stenar but it’s the original incarnation that is the weightiest. I always imagined Memorial Device sounding like a cross between Parson Sound and Joy Division. Dream jams.

David Keenan and This Is Memorial Device links:

the author's website

Guardian review
Herald Scotland review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
New Statesman review

Herald Scotland profile of the author
The Quietus interview with the author
The Skinny profile of the author
The Spinoff profile of the author
WIRE photo essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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