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May 30, 2018

P. William Grimm's Playlist for His Novel "Jex Blackwell Saves the World"

Jex Blackwell Saves the World

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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

P. William Grimm's Jex Blackwell Saves the World is a dazzling whirlwind of a young adult novel.

Minna Choi, founder of Magik*Magik Orchestra, wrote of the book:

"A fun, punk and brisk read. Grimm's love and genuine appreciation for music and gritty heroines paving their own way shines through each story."

In his own words, here is P. William Grimm's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Jex Blackwell Saves the World:

A Mixtape by Jex

Every book deserves a soundtrack and the soundtrack for Jex Blackwell Saves the World is built right into pages.

Jex Blackwell is a sixteen-year old punk with a secret genius for medicine and an equal passion for music; but life in her native Los Angeles home - filled with dark, gritty city streets and strange, sometimes desperate characters - is not easy.

Emancipated from her abusive parents at fourteen and graduating high school early the following year, Jex lives alone and can’t quite convince herself to go to college. Instead, she spends her days quietly tending to her job as a librarian’s assistant, and her nights tagging walls and running from cops. In between, she uses her photographic memory and encyclopedic knowledge of medicine to help ease the pain of the disenfranchised dwellers of L.A.’s dark nights, daring to venture where even some trauma doctors fear to go.
Trying to cope as a not-quite-adult in a massively adult world, Jex may not be able to save herself, but she is determined to at least save the world.

Jex Blackwell Saves the World is a Dadaesque homage to Donald Sobol’s Encyclopedia Brown series, or perhaps a Sobolesque homage to the Dada movement. However one characterizes it, it wouldn’t be the same without its soundtrack.

All of the song on this playlist are an important part of Jex Blackwell Saves the World, and each artist is referenced on the book’s pages in one way or another.

Mischief Brew - “Gimme Coffee, or Death”

This song is a good introduction to Jex’s philosophy. Fast-paced and furious inside, it is filled with thoughts of revolution and pain. It is old-school folk punk and its edge is unmistakable; a tip of the hate to a prior age, written and performed by Eric Peterson, who is no longer with us. As one gets to know Jex over the pages of the book, her choice to include this song on her mix tape would be obvious.

High Dive – “These Are Days”

High Dive is a band that arose from the punk scene in Bloomington, Indiana, a collective of musicians, artists and activists that was as flawed as it was beautiful. A determined dreamer like Jex would have fit well into the scene, though her roaming, rebellious spirt would likely have made her eventually flee from its inevitable constraints. But there is little doubt this song would have been playing on her car stereo as she made her escape.

Bernays Propaganda – “Yuppie Dream”

A song by Macedonian punk band Bernays Propaganda and sung in Macedonian, this band toured the U.S. with punk bands High Dive and, earlier, Ghost Mice, instantly finding an audience with its raw but bouncy vibe. A lot of the lyrics are in Macedonian, but the music is so emotional and real, it compels the reader to fight through Google Translate to gain a better understanding of the sound they hear. Bernays Propaganda opened for bands in the U.S. but are headliners in their home country; and it is not a show Jex would have mixed, hoping in her heart that this was one of the songs they would play.

AJJ - “People II: The Reckoning”

While the song gets the science wrong – the narrator stating that the parasympathetic system causes a “fight or flight” reaction, while it is actually the sympathetic nervous system that does – Jex would be attracted to any song that references either system would have found her sympathies and exuberance. The songs themes about illness and inner conflict would also resonate deep in her soul, and would stay in heavy rotation.

Mazzy Star – “Fade Into You"

A sad song with which Jex finds a way to dance.

Mastodon – “I Am Ahab”

Jex would be the first to say that Mastodon is not her favorite band. But she takes her width and breadth of music knowledge seriously, just like she learned at very young age, one of the things that flamed her love of medicine, you take the patient as you find them. So if a metal head needs medical attention and you need to speak like a metal head speaks, a little Mastodon goes a long way.

Max Levine Ensemble – “Big Problems, USA”

A D.C. based band that features David Comb of Spoonboy, juxtaposes Jex’s love for the ocean with her disdain for how humanity treats it. The surfy, pop punk tune is aggressive and melodic at once, and would be found on any mix made by Jex.

Ke$ha – “Die Young”

Jex is at heart an existentialist and a fatalist, but there is a juxtaposition of hope in her words and deeds that is undeniable. She is willing to give all of her energy to helping vulnerable people living on the fringes obtain a higher quality of life, her optimism, however reluctant, is unmistakable. A song like Ke$ha’s, sung to the poppiest of melodies but urging the listener to live like they’re going to die young would resonate with her as much as the Nietzsche or Camus she reads.

Taylor Swift – “Style”

Because its Style. By Taylor Swift.

The Jam – “Down In the Tube Station at Midnight”

Sometimes, you just need some good mod punk rock on your mix tape, at least that’s Jex’s philosophy, as young in years as she may be. This one would be particularly meaningful, a mind-numbed observation of a mugging, capturing the base vulnerability of the victim. Jex would understand the feeling of the vulnerable, but songs like this one serve her as reminder to never accept being a victim.

Descendents – “I’m Not a Punk”

Every scene can be claustrophobic, particularly to loners like Jex. Jex is the kind of person who goes to show alone for the music, and has no tolerance for people bothering her at shows, and talking during a song is a cardinal sin. Though her thirst for medicine is unrelenting, the irony of not liking people very much at the same time is not lost on Jex. Though a tremendous thinker, she hadn’t quite figured out how to make those two realities co-exist. As a result, if Jex had to write her own epitaph, “I’m just a square going nowhere” would be in there somewhere.

Pat the Bunny – “Song for a Chicken Named Jenny”

A song about not really giving a shit but still hanging on to some kind of morality in the reality of existence, Pat the Bunny’s “Song for a Chicken Named Jenny” would ring true to Jex. She lives somewhere between burning down the city and fighting to help to care for those the city is burning down.

Johnny Hobo – “Whiskey is My Kind of Lullaby”

To Jex, this is the soundtrack to relapse. Recovery is for tomorrow. Recovery is for a different song.

Thao & the Get Down – “Nobody Dies”

Any song that has the word “dies” in it would be appealing to Jex, and any song by Thao & the Get Down goes to the front of the line in Jex’s mind. When the two things go together, it can’t help but be a favorite of Jex’s. This is a song Jex can dance to, even if people might think she looks quite odd when she does so. She doesn’t mind.

The Sex Pistols – “Anarchy in the UK”

Because at sixteen, this song isn’t boring to Jex yet.

Neutral Milk Hotel - “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea”

Neutral Milk Hotel accidentally made a classic, timeless album when they recorded In the Aeroplane Over the Sea. The lead singer, Jeff Mangum, seemed to regret it almost instantly, but it was too late to turn around and change anything. He could only hide from it. Jex is at a stage of her life where she realizes she is spiraling into a path that will require her focus and attention the rest of her life – the life of a doctor. But she knows in her gut somewhere it is too late to change anything; it is all inevitable. Just like it was probably inevitable for Mangum to write and record this song and album. But Jex won’t run and won’t hide. She’s already in the aeroplane and she will either fly or crash, and try to enjoy it whichever way it turns out.

Advance Base – “Frank Capra”

A sad song played sparsely on keyboards, with no lyrics. Because that’s sometimes all there is space for in the soul. And that’s enough.

Spoonboy – “Great Mistake Maker”

A song that Jex likes to dance to, and to remind her that the future is coming, and if she’s not running towards it, she’s running away from it. And Jex doesn’t run away from anything.

Elvis Depressedly – “Crazier With You”

A song with few lyrics and few notes, but filled with emotion and confusion, teetering between survival and total loss. It is a space in which Jex often finds herself, and this song always brings an escape back into herself when she awakens into that darkened place.

The Mountain Goats - “The Recognition Scene”

A recognition scene is a sudden pivot in a literary story in which a character has a revelation and gains immediate understanding of the situation in which they have found themselves; that not only will nothing ever be the same again, but that things were never as the character thought they were. This song is not specifically referenced in the book, but the appropriate chapter for it is easy to find if you just dig a little.

P. William Grimm and Jex Blackwell Saves the World links:

the author's website
the book's website

Not Another Book Review review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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