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September 7, 2018

Elliot Reed's Playlist for His Novel "A Key to Treehouse Living"

A Key to Treehouse Living

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

Elliot Reed's novel A Key to Treehouse Living is an inventively told, lyrical, and moving debut.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Crisp and lyrical, emotionally assured, delightfully inventive―Reed has made a marvelous debut."

In his own words, here is Elliot Reed's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel A Key to Treehouse Living:

I am very picky. Part of the reason I am so sensitive to music is that I have no sense of smell, and my ears have compensated for it. My vision is also quite poor. I do not listen to music while composing new material, but I do sometimes listen to music while leaning back in the chair and planning the next revision. I do not look for new songs or new music to listen to while revising because searching for the right thing would take too long and I would feel bad about not working on writing but instead looking at, listening to, and frequently changing the music. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. There are a few songs on this list (Emahoy Tsegue, Thou, Alice Coltrane, William Basinski) that I listen to while revising; I have probably listened to each of the albums these four songs come from over a hundred times. The other songs on the list were the songs I was listening to in my life while I was working on A Key to Treehouse Living. They represent the murky region from which this novel emerges, and are elementally more liquid than desert, rock, or mountain because the book is more of a mystery than a drama.

Allen Toussaint – “Southern Nights”
There’s not a lot I can say about this song. It makes me very emotional. This album is a treasure, especially the title track. Listen to it while cycling around New Orleans or Gainesville or Jacksonville in the middle of the night in August. The central character of A Key to Treehouse Living, William Tyce, is somewhat nocturnal and rides a bike. Maybe you’ll see him coasting down a hill one night.

Emahoy Tsegué Maryam Guèbrou – ''The Homeless Wanderer''
I must have listened to this song over a hundred times while revising and transcribing my book, which is also about a homeless wanderer. Emahoy is an Ethiopian nun who plays the piano in an original and deeply peaceful way. I could listen to her solo-piano album all the time and not become bored of it.

Thou – “Free Will”
I can’t really write while listening to music with lyrics. Metal vocalists are an exception. There are lyrics in Thou’s album Heathen, and they are typical metal lyrics: they sound like they’ve been written by Confucius or the Buddha. This song, and the album it comes from, is perfectly epic (not too cheesy, like the vast majority of heavy metal) and acoustically fascinating. There is a place in my book where Tyce defines “L’Apelle Du Vide,” and I think Thou would approve.

Alice Coltrane ft. Pharoah Sanders – “Journey in Satchidananda”
This wonderful music establishes a singular atmosphere: texturally rich, unpredictable, compelling. The album has a good cover. I’ve never heard the harp played the way Alice plays it. I’ve always wanted to know how to play the sitar like it’s played on this track. I find it hard not to listen to music without imagining myself playing the music.

Rich Gang – “Lifestyle ft. Young Thug, Rich Homie Quan”
From my perspective, rap music is the most interesting genre of music being produced today. Almost every week I hear some new and amazing sound come from the world of rap. This particular track came to popularity in 2014, when I was living alone in a shotgun-style duplex across from this bar called Fletcher’s in Gainesville, Florida. I wrote a lot of A Key to Treehouse Living in that house. People would park outside Fletcher’s and party and listen to this song over and over, max volume, all night. No matter where I was inside my half of that shotgun (the other was vacant, except for the bugs), I would hear this song loud and clear. At first I got sick of it, but then I came to love it.

William Basinski – “Cascade”
Basinski is one of my favorite ambient composers. I can listen to him and work at the same time. This track, Cascade, is as good as anything I’ve heard by Brian Eno or any other more famous ambient composer. I am particular about my ambient music. It must not trigger emotion, but must not be ugly. It must not be too repetitive, but it must be iterations of the same theme over and over. It must be a lot harder to make good ambient music than one would think.

Duchess – “Let’s All Go to the Beach! (II)”
This song captures the Florida I knew. It was often hard to be optimistic in such oppressive heat. Thinking about going to the beach was often as good as or better than actually going to the beach. The narrator of my book thinks about the place where his river meets the ocean, but only abstractly. He never goes there. He’s more interested in the names of the beaches, as is Duchess.

Napalm Death – “Scum”
In 2014, I was driving around Florida and often sleeping in a black van from 1988. The van had a broken tape player and speakers that only sometimes came online. I stole this Napalm Death tape from a friend in Portland, OR, and felt that magic would happen whenever I played this tape on my broken system. I think the band Napalm Death is amazing, but I’m not sure I’ve ever sought out their music since losing that tape and fixing those speakers. Napalm Death were only children when they recorded this album, in Britain, in 1987. Listen to the drumming. Listen to the guitar. Listen to the vocals. These kids had a lot to say. A gross punk-rock junkie-type makes a very brief appearance in Treehouse, and I imagine this dude listened to a lot of music that was a bad rip-off of Napalm Death.

Lightnin' Hopkins – “Baby, Please Don't Go”
I also had a Lightnin’ Hopkins tape I would play in that van. Hopkins is arguably much better, musically, than Napalm Death. I imagine Lightnin’ would have enjoyed Napalm Death, maybe because he’d be amused to hear his influence on British Death-Metal. Blues guitarists invented the wheel, and invented fire. Lightnin’ has a personality that comes out of the recording. His music is perfect.

George Jones – “Walk Through This World With Me”
A good friend of mine introduced me to Jones around the time I started working on what was originally called The Glossary of William Tyce. I was going through a pretty uncertain time when I began this work, as was the friend who introduced me to Jones. We were living in a double-wide trailer in rural Missouri together, right near the Missouri River. I found that some George Jones tracks actually could cause the listener to dissociate from sorrow. Listen to his voice. This is true country, not the over-produced, intellectualized, misogynistic propaganda you hear on the radio today.

Elliot Reed and A Key to Treehouse Living links:

excerpt from the book

Booklist review
Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review

The Millions interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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