Novel Playlist

by Salvatore Pane

As I mentioned here, I’m working on a new novel. It’s been maybe 7 or 8 weeks now, and there’s been some significant progress. I’m a quick drafter, and the majority of my work always comes in revision. And I’m extremely excited because this weekend I’m taking my first ever writing-related research trip. I’ll be returning to Washington, DC (I was there for AWP this past year where I initially began to form the idea that would become the book) to check out Georgetown and a few surrounding towns, Woodbridge, Arlington, and Canova mostly. Also, I’m heading down with my pal Robert and his sister, and we’re going to party with millionaires in a country club tomorrow night. So, you know, shit’s going to be hard.

One distressing element of working on a larger project is the way you have to kind of shut yourself off from the outside world. I’ve been pretty much a hermit which was mostly the case when I was drafting out Last Call in the City of Bridges two summers ago. I wake up early and write with three fans aimed squarely at my face. I try to go to bed early so as not to disturb that schedule. This weekend will be my first significant time away from the book since I started. One thing that’s been extremely helpful during this process is the music playlist I’ve been kind of unintentionally putting together. I don’t like to listen to music when I write. I’ve never been able to do it, and I don’t think I ever will. But when I get stuck, or before I begin while drinking coffee, I do like to listen to something that can put me in the head space of the book. So, that being said, below are some of the songs I’ve been listening to a ton while working the past two months or so.

One of the characters in the book is obsessed with the Monkees movie Head. Have you ever seen this movie? After their TV show was cancelled, the band made this anti-war, anti-consumerism movie with Dennis Hopper and Jack Nicholson. It’s incredibly bizarre, darting from one random set piece to another, very few of which make any sense. But the album is actually pretty good, and “Circle Sky” is one of my favorite, if not the favorite, Monkees songs. My mom used to play their records full blast when I was growing up. When I think of Americana, I think of the Monkees.

Ok. Are you ready to think I’m the lamest person of all time? I never heard this song until I saw the opening credits of Kevin Smith’s Clerks II in a movie theater all by myself in Ocean City, New Jersey. Yes. I know. I am the worst. But I still love this song and have since come to really enjoy the Talking Heads. “Nothing But Flowers” always puts me in this really positive, post-apocalyptic mood which is the kind of strange juxtaposition that I love.

I don’t claim to know much, if anything, about rap. But I really like Kid Cudi, and I really like this song. The electronic hum of the thing. The silly introspection. The earnest confusion about living well in the world. When I get really stuck or anxious, this one tempers me.

I’m really into Kanye West. This album and this track especially. The over-the-top choir and the lyrics pairing class mobility/longing with playful wordplay and absurd production values. This song sounds like it was recorded in the future and sent back to us from aliens. Whenever I’m trying to write something absurd and feel the tug and pull and no you can’t do that sentiment of my very rigid domestic realism background, I listen to this song.

Speaking of domestic drama… You want that shit? I sure do. BOOM! This song is so dark it’s kind of amusing. And I’m not just saying that because “No Children” was used to end a season of Moral Orel on Adult Swim. Unlike Talking Heads, I was listening to the Mountain Goats before all that. Anyway, if you’re looking to put yourself in the mood to write tense relationship drama, look no further than pretty much any MG album.

My second favorite song from Head. There’s just something about the tired lyrics combined with the upbeat sixties pop/rock that really gets to me. There’s something here right under the surface, although I’m not exactly sure what it is or if it’s positive or not. Good song regardless.

This is the favorite song of one of my characters. Because he is 90 years old. My friends know my secret fantasy is to become a turn of the century industrialist wearing a top hat and monocle while working my immigrant employees to the bone. This is as close as I can come.

My favorite parts of Head are the Davy Jones scenes. I’ve seen Davy perform live before, and I actually met him a few years back when he judged a film festival I was part of. He called my entry “the end of Western Civilization.” Anyway, what I like about his scenes in the movie is that it’s so clear he wants to just make a regular wacky Monkees episode and the other band members won’t let him. Look at how ridiculous this scene is! Cheesy earnestness run amok. So amazing. Whenever I’m trying to get at a really dense but well-intentioned character, I play this.

I’m always writing about death.

This is my all-time favorite video game song from one of my all time favorite video games. Like the Monkees, Nintendo Entertainment System games are always going to be tied up with childhood and Americana for me. And when I think of the future, I think of this: a capitalist duck on the moon murdering aliens and duck astronauts with his cane for pure, undiluted profit. This is America.