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October 9, 2019

Mark Barr's Playlist for His Novel "Watershed"


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.

Mark Barr's novel Watershed is a compelling and emotionally intelligent debut.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"A powerful debut...readers looking for vivid historicals full of emotional turmoil in the vein of Wallace Stegner will enjoy this impressive novel."

In his own words, here is Mark Barr's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Watershed:

I’ve never been able to listen to music when writing unless it is instrumental or maybe a short playlist of one or two songs played on repeat until I can’t hear the songs themselves anymore and am left with only a tonal impression. In the mid-2000s, when I was doing a lot of my work on the book at coffee shops and diners in the hours before going to my office job, two of the chief challenges I faced were 1) finding a shop that opened early enough so that I could work for a decent chunk of time and 2) avoiding distracting music. I once had to abandon a promising, early-opening restaurant because they played country music (like it or not, you can’t NOT listen to a country music song; they’re all just stories). Which is not to say that I didn’t listen to music. My listening just tended to happen in the time outside of writing. Over the years, I’ve counted a number of songs as profound influencers of my fiction.

The playlist that follows is made up a standouts from the period in which I was writing the novel or even just beginning to think seriously about undertaking the project. Each of these songs resonated with me and helped inform particular moods or movements in the book.

Woody Guthrie - This Land is Your Land

It all starts here.

Guthrie and the populist movement of the 1930s and '40s are right at the ground zero of this book. Roosevelt, the War Projects Administration, the Rural Electrification Act, the people’s vigorous reclaiming an expectation of economic fair play; they’re all bound up together in my mind, and this song lies at the heart of it.

Foo Fighters -- The Pretender

Nathan enjoys early success at his career, only to lose all of the ground he’s gained when he becomes embroiled in a scandal. He spends the rest of the novel running away from it, having to work twice as hard to get ahead while maintaining the illusion of his assumed identity. Some people are natural liars, but I never envisioned Nathan as one; he’s paying a cost every day to keep up that facade.

Mumford and Sons -- I Will Wait for You

So much of this book is about Nathan running from his past, but an equal portion is about his wrestling with the sudden spark of his love for Claire. Because of her relationship with her boss, Nathan and Claire are blocked from becoming lovers, and so become something else, something keener and more powerful than if they’d simply fallen together in the more conventional manner.

Bush - Machinehead

This forward-leaning, energetic hit from Bush was a staple of my on-repeat listening in the early 2000s. It captures the way I feel sometimes when I’m deep in the groove writing or programming, and it’s how I imagined Nathan would be when he’s in the zone working on those plans for Maufrais.

Carrie Underwood -- Before He Cheats

Claire is from an older and far more polite generation, but I like to think she’s got a little bit of this Underwood spunk in her. Claire has a certainty and sense of self that allows her to leave Travis when he betrays her, and a determination and strength that keep her going despite the challenges she encounters.

The Polecats - Make a Circuit with Me

I had to learn a fair amount of the basics of electricity and about hydroelectric dams in preparation for writing the novel. More than a few times, as I worked to dramatize the assembly of subpanels and transmission lines, I thought back to the Polecats and their clever recitation of terms.

Tim Easton -- Just Like Home

From the earliest drafts, I envisioned Freitag as the book’s Falstaff. He’s a scallywag, and I think it’s a role that he’s entirely comfortable with. The path he is on is one of pleasure in the moment, rather than the balanced, longevity-oriented goals most of us pursue in a civilized society. In the long run, things probably won’t turn out well for Freitag, but he’s endlessly entertaining in the moment.

R.E.M. -- What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?

Doesn’t each and every generation wonder what the hell is up with the kids? In the 1930s, parents wrestled with how to hang onto their families as the promise of an electrified, comfortable life drew the young people off of the farms and away from the countryside in huge numbers.

OneRepublic -- Secrets

I think that it’s Nathan’s frankness with Claire, his disinclination to play the role that society tells him a man should, that initially draws Claire to him. In the end,they become keepers of each other’s secrets, with all the intimacy that such an arrangement implies.

Stone Temple PIlots -- Creep

When Nathan arrives in town, he’s a harried, damaged version of himself. Bit by bit, he attempts to build his new life on top of that wreckage, but it’s not a workable solution to the problems he faces, and he eventually comes to realize that.

Mark Barr and Watershed links:

the author's website

Arkansas Democrat & Gazette review
BookPage review
Chapter 16 review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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