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January 29, 2019

Dana Czapnik's Playlist for Her Novel "The Falconer"

The Falconer

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.

Dana Czapnik's debut novel The Falconer is a compelling and lyrical coming-of-age story.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Coming-of-age in Manhattan may not have been done this brilliantly since Catcher in the Rye. . . . Get ready to fall in love."

In her own words, here is Dana Czapnik's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Falconer:

Lucy Adler’s 1994 Mix Tape

She’s Crafty – Beastie Boys

“Her name is Lucy but they all call her Loose,” is one of the opening lines of this track. I named Lucy Adler, the protagonist of The Falconer, after the antagonist in this song – a shady girl, potentially a prostitute, definitely a thief, who steals the Boys’ hearts. Lucy Adler has nothing in common with the eponymous Lucy Loose of the song, but everything about this song captures the energy of being young and unencumbered in late '80s and early '90s New York, the New York that Lucy lives in. The opening riff, sampled from Led Zeppelin's “The Ocean” and reimagined by the Beasties, is the beat I thought of most when writing the opening basketball scene in The Falconer - the worn out sneakers on the blacktop, the pace of the action, and the scrappy, sweaty sexiness there too. Even though Lucy would have found this song to be sexist on an intellectual level, on an emotional level, she would have swooned if some boy proclaimed his love for her by shouting, “she’s crafty and she’s just my type!”

Sweet Jane – The Velvet Underground

I’ll be honest here, I have no idea what this song is about. Yet I don’t know if there’s another song that captures the kinetic energy that I imagine must have ruled the day in New York in the late sixties and early seventies. Lou Reed sounds so pure and young here. Part of what The Falconer reckons with is the anger and resentment of a small generation of young kids living in the shadow of the generation that preceded them – the one that simultaneously birthed the Beats and Bob Dylan and Ken Kesey’s Merry Band of Pranksters and the Beatles and The Who and The Ramones and The Velvet Underground and the punk and the pop and the drugs and the free love and then allowed all that creativity and fun to morph into the greed and excess that sabotaged their children’s financial and environmental future. “Sweet Jane” represents the purest part of that moment: the art, the freedom. Put this on your iPhone or whatever tiny digital music listening contraption you now have and walk any street in New York. It will no longer be the new New York, filled with chain stores and tall, glass anonymous buildings half-owned by Russian oligarchs, but Lou Reed’s New York. The one where plumes of strawberry colored hashish smoke rise out of the subway station and give everyone a contact high. “Sweet Jane” is a time machine for me… to a time I never got to experience.

Yellow Ledbetter – Pearl Jam

I bought this song as a single at my local HMV. You couldn’t find it on an album, which meant it was special. Singles were a major extravagance. If an individual album cost about $11 and it had 11 songs on it, that meant you were paying a dollar per song plus tax. But a single could cost up to $7 or more if it was a highly coveted live or foreign recording. It better be a pretty amazing song if you were going to drop that much cash. I don’t think anyone knows what this song is about – Vedder’s totally unintelligible here – but it’s got some indefinable, nebulous teenage melancholy and ache in it. Adolescence is tough, sometimes for no good reason. This song captures that inexplicable anger and sadness of youth. That opening and closing acoustic guitar riff, too, provides a morphine drip of instant nostalgia for me. I’d bet I’m not the only one.

Things Done Changed – The Notorious B.I.G.

When Biggie’s first album Ready to Die dropped, it took over all the airwaves in New York. “Juicy,” “Big Poppa,” and “One More Chance” were in constant rotation. But this jam off the same album was rarely played on the radio, if ever. As far as I know, it’s the only political rap he recorded and he didn’t pull any punches here. A quote from “Things Done Changed” appears in the novel to put into stark relief for Lucy the divide between the two New Yorks – the haves and the have nots - which also intersect the fault line of race. In the early 90’s, New York’s murder rate was declining, but it was still common to hear of or witness shootings and muggings in every borough. It was also the era of Gangsta Rap, and this song with its killer hook, and deft lyricism, is both a glorification and rebuke of that culture.

Precious Things – Tori Amos

This song burns the myths of femininity to the ground and shows no mercy. “Precious Things” is as much about Amos’s own frailty, her own fragility, her anger at herself for eating the shit that’s been served her as much as it is about the cultural institutions that cause girls and women to be happy with whatever morsels of attention boys give to make them feel seen. It’s about rejecting the idea of being a good girl and about how good “Christian boys” aren’t always particularly good, especially when it comes to girls. It’s about not being pretty and fighting against the invisibility that comes with that. It’s about how girls can be cruel to each other, the “little fascist panties tucked into the heart of every nice girl.” This is a Sylvia Plath poem with synthesizers. What are the precious things that we should let bleed and break? The idea that sex is sacred and important for girls, but not for boys. The idea that you have to be agreeable to be seen as attractive.

Chelsea Morning – Joni Mitchell

This song is about the morning in the city when it’s the beginning of summer and the sun starts to pour into your tiny apartment through the window you keep neglecting to buy shades for and you can see all the dust particles floating around and you think the word ‘stardust’ instead of ‘dirty’ and you’re lying next to your lover on a mattress on the ground because you can’t afford a real bed and you decide it makes it all more intimate and he touches you and the world changes color and all around you are books and trinkets you’ve picked up in flea markets and cheap art fairs and that is probably the reason why you can’t afford a proper bed or shades but you prefer the art and the books and the trinkets anyway and the white paint is chipping on the walls in some spots and is peeling away in whole sections in others and who cares because it adds character and you feel incredibly very very good about every single goddamn choice you’ve ever made in your life because it brought you to this moment when the sun is pouring over your body in your tiny apartment and someone’s yelling outside down on the street and it sounds like music. That’s what this song is.

Shoop – Salt-n-Pepa

We take for granted now that women rappers can spit rhymes about sex and be just as X-rated in verse as their male counterparts. None of this is revolutionary anymore. But Salt-n-Pepa were doing that when NO ONE else was. They are the first ladies of raunch. “Shoop” came out at the same time Gangsta Rap hit the scene, when every woman was a “bitch” or a “ho” and were wearing daisy dukes and tiny bikinis in videos. Salt-n-Pepa turned the tables. They objectified men in their videos and talked about sex and enjoyed themselves while doing it. That’s why every woman over the age of 35 can sing every lyric to this song to this day. It is an anthem.

Downtown Train – Tom Waits

There are lots of Tom Waits songs that are poetic and full of longing and feel like a warm rainy night in New York. But this one speaks to me the most. The funny thing is, I’ve been misinterpreting this song for decades. The line “You wave your hand and they scatter like crows, They have nothing that will ever capture your heart, They're just thorns without the rose…” well, in Tom Waits’ garbled voice, it always sounded like he’s singing “I have nothing that will ever capture your heart, just thorns without the rose,” which means I’ve always thought the song was about unrequited love. I prefer my version. There’s something holy and timeless about riding the subway late at night, observing the passengers giggling together in their going out clothes while you lament the disappointment you just experienced at some bar where it became clear the boy or girl you went to see wasn’t interested. Who among us hasn’t felt like thorns without the rose?

Electric Relaxation – A Tribe Called Quest

My love for “Electric Relaxation” is infinite. It is the smoothest, sexiest hip hop track ever recorded. I’ve also misinterpreted the lyrics to this track for many years only to have my bubble burst. In the second verse Phife Dawg raps “A pretty lil’ sumthin’ on the New York Street…” I’ve always thought he said “gritty” instead of “pretty.” I think of all the characters in The Falconer as ‘gritty lil’ sumthins’, even if only in their imaginations. In New York, pretty and gritty are interchangeable. It’s the grittiness that makes it pretty. I imagine this track blasting out of Lucy’s boom box on her tar roof while she and her friend and baller teammate Alexis get stoned in late June when the city hasn’t yet turned into a sweaty inferno but is on the verge, bobbing their heads silently to the beat, feeling very confident, sexy, and untouchable.

Waterloo Sunset – The Kinks

I know this is a song from a different time, about a different city, but it lovingly remembers being young, a little lonely, and wandering aimlessly through your hometown, which is thematically fits right in with the book I wrote. It is a song sung in the tense of past perfect.

Dana Czapnik and The Falconer links:

excerpt from the book

Entertainment Weekly review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Newsday review
NPR Books review

amNY interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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