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December 9, 2019

Bryan Furuness's Playlist for His Novel "Do Not Go on"

Do Not Go on

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.

Bryan Furuness's novel Do Not Go on is a literary thriller both engaging and surprising.

Philip Graham wrote of the book:

"Do Not Go on, the new novel by Bryan Furuness, goes deep, goes funny, goes suspenseful, often on the same page. His language will often make you slow down and savor the inventiveness of a phrase, a sentence, an observation, while the plot tugs at you to turn the page. This is a brainy thriller that will more than once break your heart. And you will gratefully pick up the pieces and continue, wanting more of the foibles, surprises, self-deceptions, hopeful determination and spacious inner lives of his lively cast of characters."

In his own words, here is Bryan Furuness's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Do Not Go on:

Songs for the Witness

The pilot episode of Portlandia opens with a sketch where one character is trying to explain Portland to another character. "Do you remember the '90s?" he says. "There's a place where [that era] still exists as a reality, and I've been there."

Do Not Go on is set in the '90s, so the easy move would be to put together a '90s playlist. Easy but unsurprising. I'd rather try to capture the 90's spirit where it still exists as an audio reality: alternative hip-hop.

My favorite songs from this genre sound like they’re broadcast from a universe where old-school rap merged with the alternative scene of the early 90's and just kept rolling on the same trajectory for the next thirty years.

Or to put it a different way—if Gen X ran the world, this is the sound that would rule the airwaves:

1. "Delicate Cycle" by The Uncluded

At first, this seems to be two separate songs grafted together in a grotesque, Isle of Doctor Moreau way. The song bounces from Aesop Rock rapping about sending his own body parts through the mail, to Kimya Dawson singing in a sweet, frank voice about how she enjoyed working in a Laundromat as a kid. The juxtaposition is truly weird. But when their voices overlap in the chorus—My whole life/is a delicate cycle, delicate cycle—you realize holy shit, these two parts had different starting points but were headed for the same destination all along. Basically, this song is a braided essay set to a jaunty beat.

In DO NOT GO ON, several characters are involved with the witness protection program. These characters feel like they contain separate identities—who they were, and who they're trying to be now—and they're desperate to find a way to reconcile that dissonance.

2. "Song About You" by Mike Posner

It's a break-up song, the kind that protests too much. I don't want to think about you, he says in the middle of a song that is exclusively that kind of thinking.

But here’s the line that really hits me: And the worst type of sadness you could have/is when you miss something that doesn’t miss you back.

The witnesses in the book miss their old friends and their old lives, of course. But they also miss their old homes and communities. When a character named Kate has a chance to enter WITSEC, she falters. Why? "Because of the pitted sidewalk in front of Transfiguration. Because of Marty’s Deli, where she ate lunch every Tuesday with Michelle, whom she had known since the day in second grade when they’d scrapped over whose turn it was to jump in double dutch. Because of the tarnished kick plate on the door of her childhood home. Because of onions sizzling in a pan, Jim Croce crooning on WLIF, her mother walking into the front room, wiping her hands on a dish towel, glad to see her…Her life was here, her whole life, and if she went into Witness Protection, it would be over."

Sure, there are family and friends in that passage, but there are also a lot of things that make home HOME, that make her life HER LIFE, and those things won't miss her back.

3. “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight” by Macklemore

Okay, I'll admit it: I like Macklemore more than I should. He’s Meat Loaf for the 21st century: too sincere, too dramatic, too oversingy…but also able to wink at himself.

This song’s got the same edgy, mouthy counterpunching spirit as the teenager at the center of my novel, Ana Easterday. If you threaten her, she’ll cut you to ribbons—usually with just a few words. "This was her real talent, the skill that never showed up on an aptitude test. Her tongue was a slicing black claw. She could say the worst things; she didn’t even have to try. More like the opposite: she had to keep her mouth in check every waking minute, like the eyes of Medusa."

4. "Bad Dreams" by Lyrics Born

This playlist wouldn't be complete without my favorite voice in alt-hip-hop: Lyrics Born.

My problems follow me to sleep at night/won't let me go./The more I hide, the more thrive deep down inside of my soul.

Yeah. Witnesses can relate.

"Five months. That's how long they had been in [this new town.] Enough time to settle in, settle down, and reasonably conclude they were hidden and safe. [Ana's] father had gone the other direction. It started with patrolling the house at night, checking locks, peering out into the yard. He stashed guns in dark pockets of the house, taped to the back of cabinet doors, under floorboards, and inside light fixtures, where they cast weird shadows. A few weeks ago, her father announced it was only a matter of time before [the hitman] found him, and when he did, no one could help. That's when he told Ana to leave, save herself, go back home."

5. "I like it, I love it" by Lyrics Born

I don't care where you're from/ the first time that I saw you girl, you had me sprung.

I gave you a break-up song, so I owe you a Gotta get witchoo song. Ana comes to Indiana with "the mentality of a short-timer: no friends, no joining, no roots. Do the time, get her father through the trial, leave for college, forget about this ugly chapter of her life. That was the plan, anyway, before Logan barnacled onto her."

In this small town, Logan is the kid whose brother caught him watching gay porn. Right away he recognizes Ana as a fellow castaway and befriends her, despite her best efforts to the contrary.

6. "Bad Vibes" by Kay Flay

If Ana was a real living person, she'd be listening to Kay Flay. Flay’s lyrics hit like a club, but they can also be funny. You're the sequel that sucks, she sings in this one. How is the earth so hot?/Like why even try when it's already fucked?

It's a song about wanting to quit, and knowing you never will. “Bad Vibes” is kind of the mirror image of the Macklemore song. Macklemore is defiance salted with a little realism (A few seconds after shouting I ain’t gonna die tonight, he says If I happen to die tonight…). “Bad Vibes” is weariness and bitterness. Flay is like: I’m so tired I wish I could quit, but let’s face it, that’s not gonna happen.

Defiance, weariness, bitterness, realism—all of that is swirling around Ana’s heart. But just as the speakers in both songs find a way to carry on, so does she.

Bryan Furuness and Do Not Go on links:

the author's website

Monkeybicycle essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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