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Music to My Fears

Nervous. Today is the official release date of Reverend America!Today is the official release date of Reverend America! It's always a strange moment for a writer. You think back to where you were when then the thing got started.

In this case I was in a dive bar on Red River Street in Austin. I'd heard the late Pinetop Perkins the night before, then an incredible 94 years of age. I was on tour for my book Private Midnight, for which my art group Clamon and I had produced an accompanying music CD. We'd just done a gig at a joint appropriately called Beerland. The band had gone back to Houston, and I was on my own again, wondering what the next project would be.

I knew from the start that the book that would become Reverend lent itself to a music soundtrack, too — and an eclectic one at that. Blues, gospel, jazz, folk, even swamp-rock. Over the years, I've fortunately become friends with some great musicians, and I always look to them for help.

Eric Wyatt, a tenor sax player from New York, tops that list. He's Sonny Rollins's godson. We met in a club in Shanghai and have been brothers ever since. I’m particularly pleased with this piece we created on a sweltering afternoon in Brooklyn. The redemptive power of love is a big theme in the novel, and I wanted a tune that embraced that hope — without irony. It's actually hard to give yourself permission to a do a straight up lovely melody.

Christopher O'Riley has become another important friend. He's a well-known NPR music show host and one of the most respected classical pianists in America. I've had the pleasure of hearing people like Arthur Rubenstein and Van Cliburn perform live, and I say without hesitation that Christopher is in a category all his own. I was greatly honored, to say the least, when he created an original composition for the soundtrack, which is the centerpiece of the album.

My brief to him was to try to capture some sense of "sad lost America" — the kind of feeling you get in a place like Joplin, Missouri at 3 a.m., the sound of a train coming through, trucks on the highway in the distance — a fragile but resilient working-class dignity. See what you think. I feel he came through with something marvelous.

The whole thing was produced by Matthew Revert, who also contributed some key songs. He's a fantastic writer too, whose latest novel, The Tumours Made Me Interesting, I highly recommend. The album also features the one-and-only, late Dennis Hopper, recorded on a really good day of health and optimism at his home in Venice before he was diagnosed; Steve Joseph, a white gravy man of many talents from Texas; and my philosophical friend from southern Arkansas, Tim Buck, who really rocks out.

But I was especially pleased to get my old bud Lou Mulkern on it. Lou and I go back to college days and it was important to me to have his involvement. Perhaps the most crucial theme of Reverend America is the family that we make or find for ourselves through friends.

All these people are family to me, including Charles Brock, who designed both the book and CD cover, and my oldest friend, the highly regarded Hollywood character actor, Phil Abrams, who developed the video executions. I'm very grateful for their support. They got with the spirit of the book, which I think is encapsulated in the line that I’m most proud of: "Home is what happens when others reach their destination in you."

I leave you with a song about a river.

÷ ÷ ÷

Kris Saknussemm, who Kirkus Reviews called "exuberantly weird," is the author of three acclaimed novels, a short story collection, and a collection of visual art. His latest novel is Reverend America

Books mentioned in this post

  1. Reverend America Used Trade Paper $8.50
  2. The Tumours Made Me Interesting New Trade Paper $16.25
  3. Private Midnight
    Used Hardcover $3.75

Kris Saknussemm is the author of Reverend America

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