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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Amy Waldman’s debut novel The Submission is a complex and profound examination of post-9/11 America.
Esquire wrote of the book:
“The Submission is not a religious novel but rather a secular one that takes religion very seriously. It is not a political novel but rather a novel about the ongoing redefinition of the place where politics starts. It is a novel of large public concern, and yet what it suggests is that over the last decade “the public” in America has just become an excuse for “the private” to hold sway — for people to submit to impulses they didn’t know they had. It is a portrait of a country almost terrifyingly free and at the same time endlessly involved in the task its title describes: either trying to get up off its knees or fall down to them.”
My husband says he would gladly write a book just to be able to do a playlist for Largehearted Boy. Given how much more sophisticated and eclectic his musical tastes are, you may wish he had. When I’m writing, the more crowded and complicated my head gets, the more I need to simplify the world outside. In the most intense periods, I don’t do well with choice or variety. I can happily eat the same meal three times in a row, and the same few songs are replayed endlessly.
“Runaway,” Kanye West
It is embarrassing how often I played this in the months when I was finishing The Submission. I had newborn twins at home, so at odd, often lonely hours I would go work in an office my publisher lent me. This song was my security blanket; the douchebags and assholes my closest friends. Those first simple piano notes hooked me, as did the throbbing rhythm that suddenly intrudes on them. I loved the contrast between the beauty of the music and the coarseness of the lyrics, and I even liked some of the lyrics — “I just blame everything on you/at least you know that’s what I’m good at” — although I suspect I might not like the man who wrote them. But at some point, my addiction transcended any of the song’s actual qualities. My brain was wired, the neural pathway deeply rutted: I would hear those first notes, settle down, and write.
I don’t even have a song title, just some numbered CDS (and even a cassette tape) I bought in Kabul. Zahir was an Afghan singer (and sex symbol) who died in 1979, at the age of 33. He wove together Persian poetry and his own, supposedly provocative lyrics — lost on me, unfortunately, since I speak no Afghan languages. His music mixes tabla, accordion and more, seeming to hover somewhere between raga and surf music, although of course it sounds like neither. The music is rollicking and haunting, and I have many memories of listening to him with my Afghan translators on long drives (really the only kind in a country with more mountains than good roads) from one city or town to another. No other music so viscerally transports me geographically.
“It Don’t Worry Me” (written by Keith Carradine)
Nashville is one of my favorite movies, and, in the way Robert Altman cuts among stories, a not-so-implicit model for The Submission’s structure. I love the way this song is reprised multiple times in the movie, lastly by the aspiring country star Albuquerque (Barbara Harris) after the real star, Barbara Jean, has been shot on stage at a political rally in the film’s final scene. Harris, who has spent much of the film struggling to be heard, is first halting, then belting. It’s both transcendent and creepy, the way she gets a crowd that has just witnessed an assassination to clap and sing along with her.
The first time I heard Beirut (thank you, husband!) I was mesmerized by not just the music but the complete originality of their sound. Every time I listen to “Nantes,” and to so many of their other songs, I’m mesmerized all over again. It’s not just the perfect alchemy of melancholy and joy — a funeral procession that makes you glad to be alive. Zach Condon’s voice is so complex and lovely it almost has a visual quality – like swirled marble. And yet, even with his singing soaring above, each instrument, whether violin, tuba, or accordion, is allowed to shine, to articulate its nature so clearly — more like an orchestra than a rock band.
“You Will,” Bright Eyes
I felt, reading Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, mildly ashamed of my passion for this Bright Eyes song, given Richard’s elaborate mockery of Bright Eyes’ fans (so elaborate it makes me think Franzen’s a fan himself), but I don’t care! That super-catchy “You Will” refrain never failed to knock me out of the writing doldrums, and it’s embedded in some appealingly dark lyrics.
Faust, by Charles Gounod
Opera can be great to write to, although, with its heightened dramatics, I’m not sure it’s good for my writing. Be that as it may, I like letting the emotion — carried by voice and music rather than words, since I rarely (never!) have an English libretto at hand — wash over me. I saw Gounod’s Faust performed in Berlin, and Margeurite’s distillation of grief and guilt after the birth and death of her child still floats in my head.
Radiohead: The King of Limbs
I can write listening to almost anything by Radiohead, for some reason; perhaps the trancy druggy haunting rhythms, or Thom Yorke’s keening voice. This album came out when I was finishing The Submission. Watching Yorke’s twisted-tree-limb dance for the “Lotus Flower” video became my favorite form of procrastination.
Vijay Iyer: “Galang”
A jazz piano cover of M.I.A.’s “Galang” seems almost too good to be true. The piano version is, in some weird way, harder driving than the original— but it also reminds you how great that pounding rhythm is. I don’t know if M.I.A. and Iyer know each other, but they need each other.
Amy Waldman and The Submission links:
Daily Mail review
Financial Times review
Full Stop review
New York Magazine review
New York Times review (by Claire Messud)
New York Times review (by Michiko Kakutani)
San Francisco Chronicle review
USA Today review
Washington Post review
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
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Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film’s soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week’s CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists