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March 14, 2019

Joseph Scapellato's Playlist for His Novel "The Made-Up Man"

The Made-Up Man

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.

Joseph Scapellato's novel The Made-Up Man is one of the most fun books I have read all year, a smart and absurdist take on noir.

NPR Books wrote of the book:

"Joseph Scapellato's The Made-Up Man reminds me of a bacon-topped doughnut — a mixture of incongruent elements that somehow work well together. And like that sweet treat, Scapellato's blend of existential noir, absurdist humor, literary fiction, and surreal exploration of performance art merges into something special ... The Made-Up Man is a rare novel that is simultaneously smart and entertaining. It looks at the ways we perform ourselves, through the experiences of a man floating in a haze after the academic career and the relationship that grounded him and gave him a sense of self are no longer there ... This is a strange book, but just like with food, trying new things can lead to pleasant surprises."


In his own words, here is Joseph Scapellato's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Made-Up Man:



In The Made-Up Man, the narrator, a Polish-American Chicagoan named Stanley, agrees to apartment-sit in Prague for his maniacal Uncle Lech, even though he knows that in doing so, he’ll be placed at the center of one of his uncle’s dangerous performance art projects. Stanley accepts this proposal mostly because T, the woman he loves, will be in Prague at the same time. The performance art project—which happens to be film-noir-themed—mines Stanley’s personal life for material in increasingly sinister ways.

One of my initial goals for the novel was to attempt to write an “inverted noir”—to find ways to subvert, challenge, and interrogate the most recognizable genre conventions of film noir/detective narratives. (Thankfully, the novel grew past that, which I’ve talked about here.)

The songs on this playlist reflect some of these elements of the novel.

“St. Mary’s Trumpet Call”/“Hejnal mariacki,” anonymous

This beautifully haunting tune is played on the hour by a trumpeter stationed in the highest tower of St. Mary’s Church in Krakow, Poland. The song is short; it ends abruptly, the last phrase intentionally incomplete. According to legend, at some point in the 13th century a watchman on duty in St. Mary’s Church spotted an invading enemy army and played this song to alert his fellow citizens. He didn’t finish the song—he was shot in the throat with an arrow.

“The Beautiful People,” Antichrist Superstar, Marilyn Manson

I was never into Manson’s music, but I have to admit that I’ve always been impressed with his commitment to theatricality and spectacle, to his impassioned apathy, to the image he worked to project of nihilistic bravery. In junior high and high school, I had friends (and briefly, a girlfriend) who—like the narrator of my novel—really dug Manson, who wore trench coats and red contact lenses and black lipstick and dog collars. Whenever I think of 90s goth culture, I think of the catchy, sludgy, doom-inducing riffs of “The Beautiful People.”

“Metagoth,” All Nerve, The Breeders

The Deal sisters have been kicking ass since the '90s. Last summer, when I was finishing the proofs on my novel, my wife and I saw the Breeders play a show in Chicago. There’s something about the sound of their most recent album, All Nerve, that evokes their beginnings in alternative rock—the guitar distortion, the bass lines?—but at the same time, they’re by no means mucking around in nostalgia-land; they continue to carve out their own contemporary voice.

Live-Evil, Miles Davis

Jazz and film noir go together like whiskey and cigars. It’s not hard to imagine any one of Miles Davis’ early albums serving as a magnificent score for a certain sort of classic film noir, the kind with smartly dressed men and women ruining each other’s lives. But Live-Evil—wow. I don’t possess a musician/music critic’s professional terminology, but what I love about this album is how it seems to gleefully undermine jazz conventions in a hypnotic onslaught of experimental funk. An ingenious, intense, and subversive album.

“Turning Violent,” Embryonic, The Flaming Lips

I’ve seen The Flaming Lips in concert a few times, and although their recent set lists generally include a sampling from most of their (many) albums, they seem to steer clear of anything from Embryonic. I can understand why—it’s a majestically gloomy album, and when The Flaming Lips are playing live, majestic gloom isn’t what they’re going for. I love this album for its thematic and tonal departure.

“FEEL.,” DAMN., Kendrick Lamar

DAMN. is a multimodal masterpiece. Again, I lack the musical terminology to talk with any competence about the nature of Kendrick Lamar’s brilliance, so I’ll just say that “FEEL.” is one of my favorite tracks. I love its supercharged focus on form—the many sharp riffs on feeling—and its escalating confessional energy. For me, this song is a deep plunge into a character, and through that character, into a bigger American moment.

“You Won’t Let Go,” Sister Crystals, Sister Crystals

In 2014, I was living in Chicago, working intensely on my novel, and feeling like I was failing at it. One day, while I was stuck in traffic on my way to see my folks in the suburbs, this song came on a local college radio station. It was one of those moments where what you’re listening to is exactly what you didn’t know you needed. I had to go to the station’s website to find out the name of the band, and when I did, I bought the album right away.

“In Heaven There Is No Beer,” various artists

The finest polka song in existence. When my wife and I (and now our daughter, too) attend an event that features a polka band—which, in Chicago/Chicagoland and Central Pennsylvania, happens more often than you might think!—this is the song that I always hope to have a chance to dance to.


Joseph Scapellato and The Made-Up Man links:

the author's website

Chicago Review review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
NPR Books review


also at Largehearted Boy:

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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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