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March 13, 2019

Jordan A. Rothacker's Playlist for His Story Collection "Gristle"


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.

Jordan A. Rothacker's collection Gristle is filled with stories varied in style but similar in their empathetic characters and Thoracker's strong storytelling voice.

In his own words, here is Jordan A. Rothacker's Book Notes music playlist for his story collection Gristle:

Eighteen Stories/Eighteen Tracks

(In some ways these songs are like addendums to the stories. They give the stories an extra-aesthetic imprint and in some cases actually add to the narrative).

1. Taking the Bone: “Thus Spoke Zarathustra” by Richard Strauss

This tone poem from 1896 is referenced in this story and the perfect opening to soundtrack this collection where the fleshy, colorful fanfare of humanity is on display. For a story about gender, sexuality, and power dynamics—themes that reoccur in several other stories—Strauss’ booming and exalting tones couldn’t be better employed (other than “2001,” of course).

2. Parables Three: “Concerto de Aranjuez” by Miles Davis

I wrote these three when I was 19, a freshman in college, all jacked up on Kafka and Woody Allen’s parodies of Kafka, most likely listening to ‘50s and ‘60s jazz, the postcard from the movie Basquiat next to me on my dorm room desk. I was in a liberal arts college in New York, Westchester County actually, so it even felt New Englandy and still just 30 minutes outside the City, the best of all worlds for 1960’s-esque intellectual pretention. I still love the album Sketches of Spain.

3. Ars Moriendi

There is a great possibility I stole this title from the Mr. Bungle song of the same title on the album, California. Mike Patton and I share several influences.

4. Something That Happened A Long Time Ago: “Fearless” by Pink Floyd

This story is a retelling of a friend’s anecdote with some fictionalizing through name-change and other details. That friend—who is now departed—taught me a lot, particularly about music. He would find it pretty funny to soundtrack this story with the melancholy and ironic sounds of a Pink Floyd song that we once recorded on a four-track in my bathroom.

5. Dr. Mame: “Outta Me Onto You” by Ani DiFranco

This story is about sexual and gender politics on the most basic biological level. Dr. Mame is no Ani, but she is a righteous babe in her own way and I see a sense of triumph in the ending of the story. My favorite line in this song is, “Some people wear their heart up on their sleeve. I wear mine underneath my right pant leg, strapped to my boot.”

6. Break the Skin: “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters

This story is about intimacy.

7. Father, Son, and Holy Ghost: “Joga” by Björk

This is one of my favorite songs ever and it is on one of my favorite albums ever and oddly the lyrics fit this sad story so well. Accidents, coincidence, and the feeling of a “state of emergency” apply to more than just romantic relationships. I’ve always wondered if Björk was thinking of Walter Benjamin when she mentions a “state of emergency,” but as he tells us in his “Theses on the Philosophy of History”: “the tradition of the oppressed teaches us that the state of emergency in which we live is not the exception but the rule.” This is certainly true for Swei Li Quok in this short story.

8. A Night, Like Any Other; or Ooh, Ooh That Smell: “That Smell” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This song was recorded in Doraville, Georgia in 1977 (the year I was born but seven years before I got to Georgia) and it always takes me back to sticky-hot summer nights in that alien environment, where a wall of pine is always around obscuring your view, even when hanging out in a convenience store parking lot. Whatever scent winds up in the air sticks to you: roadkill, gas station friend chicken, honeysuckle, tractor-trailer exhaust… This song is about different issues than what the story’s main character, Jimmy Red, experiences but I associate it with that sense of place in which he dwells.

9. Gristle, or What Is Left: “C’est lui” by Josephine Baker

As this story is about a young man obsessed with Henry Miller, I bet he was listening to some of the same stuff that either Miller would’ve listened to or would’ve been popular during his time in Paris. For the young man in this story there is only one man in Paris and Henry Miller… it is him!

10. Winter Solstice: “Little Girl Blue” by Nina Simone AND “River” by Joni Mitchell

I might not be a Christian but I sure love Christmas. The mood, the music, the message of kindness and sharing, the syncretism of multiple religious traditions being layered in this spirit all really get to me. So yeah, I’ve written a Christmas story. The voices I need most at this time of year are Nina and Joni (I need them all year round, but these songs at this time specifically).

11. Augustus and Anastasia: “Only You” by Portishead

This story was both written and set in the late '90s and as Augustus and Anastasia were both hip college students trip-hop was a common presence in their musical purview. Augustus sang this song loud and teary in the car as he chain-smoked and drove through inclement weather.

12. Ouroboros: “Serpentine” by Peaches

I think of this story as a sweet story about love, sexuality, and philosophy. It is honest and unabashed about those things. Peaches is a musician who is also honest and unabashed about love, sexuality, and philosophy (politics too). I imagine that I was enjoying dancing to Peaches around the time I wrote this story. “Fuck the past that passed so fast… so sexual and so conceptual,” she sings.

13. Stan of Changes: “Particle Man” by They Might Be Giants

Stan of Changes is a hero. All heroes need a theme song. They Might Be Giants has given us a lot of theme songs for nerds. Stan also likes “In the Garage” by Weezer, but this TMBG song reminds him of his childhood in the '80s.

14. All Things Resound: “Happy Phantom” by Tori Amos

“All Things Resound” is a ghost story. It is haunting and creepy and fleshy and even kinda sexy (like so much of the gristle in this book) but there is something fun and playful about it also. The macabre can be playful, that is one of the ways we cope with death constantly around us. We all devise an art of dying, an ars moriendi… “Oo who, the time is getting closer. Oo who, time to be a ghost. Oo who, every day we’re getting closer. The sun is getting dim. Will we pay for who we’ve been?” All things resound…

15. The Worm: “Hey You” by Pink Floyd

I didn’t choose “Worms” for this story since that would be a bit too on the nose, but “Hey You” was selected for the lines: “No matter how he tried he could not break free and the worms ate into his brains.” Syd Barrett was a tragic hero artist, as is Peter in this story.

16. Three Sisters From Ohio: “I’m Afraid of Americans” by David Bowie

The three sisters in this story are ugly Americans. Ugly is not used to refer to their physical appearances, but the manner by which they engage an alien environment. An attitude of superiority and distrust pervades their interactions with the locals of the foreign land they visit. The world is nothing more than Epcot Center for them and as a trio they have each other to confirm all their worst impressions. As a trio of sisters they can get loud about it too.

17. Blacktop Eden: “Black Sunshine” by White Zombie

I’ve always described this story like living inside a White Zombie song so this might be the most accurate song feeling-wise.

18. Lessons From the Good Book: “At Last” by Etta James

James’ voice here is smooth, sweet, and self-satisfied—you can feel her glow as she draws out the word last—and while the lyrics sound a little codependent in regards to a romantic relationship, it fits perfectly for a short story about loss of innocence and self-discovery. This song isn’t in the story and it is doubtful that Lucia Merkowitz knows the song but it would be a nice compliment to the ending as a soundtrack.

Jordan A. Rothacker and Gristle links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for And Wind Will Wash Away
Luna Luna interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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