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The Powell’s Playlist: B. J. Novak

The Powell's PlaylistThese are some of the songs I listened to while writing the stories in my collection, One More Thing.

"Never Been to Spain" by Elvis Presley
I was never much of an Elvis guy, but for some reason he was on my mind a lot as I wrote this book. I actually wrote several stories about him and then chose one for the collection so as not to seem too repetitive (or obsessive). It was late-life Elvis who was on my mind: What was it like to be Elvis after you're not really Elvis anymore? I listened to this song a lot, as well as some fascinating late-career covers he did: "Something" by the Beatles, "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" by Bob Dylan. The covers are generally in bad taste, but you can still hear an exceptional heart shining through. I listened to "Never Been to Spain" in particular while writing "Quantum Nonlocality and the Death of Elvis Presley."

"Moonage Daydream" by David Bowie
I write from a desk that directly faces the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. Perhaps coincidentally, several stories in the book concern outer space — "Dark Matter," "I Never Want to Walk on the Moon," and "The Impatient Billionaire and the Mirror for Earth." Also perhaps coincidentally, I found myself listening to this song a lot as I wrote the book. I don't know whether the song or the stories came first. But then again, there's a lot I don't understand concerning this song.

"Under Your Spell" by Desire
I was in New York during a very moody November and I wrote much of the story "Sophia" while listening to this song on repeat. There is a blend of obsessive and electronic emotion in this song, which in retrospect felt like the right combination for this particular story.

"Duke of Earl" by Gene Chandler
I listened to this song a lot while I was writing the story "'Everyone Was Singing the Same Song': The Duke of Earl Recalls His Trip to America in the Spring of 1962."

"Recover" by CHVRCHES
I went to Portland by myself for a few days in the summer of 2012, with the intention of buckling down to finally edit some of the pages I had written. It was my first trip there. I stayed at the Ace Hotel, ordered thermoses of Stumptown Coffee delivered to my room twice a day, and took a break every afternoon to browse at Powell's Books. It was basically writing heaven. I was so inspired by the environment that I ended up abandoning the editing plan and writing several new stories there, including "Constructive Criticism" and "Walking on Eggshells, or: When I Loved Tony Robbins" (which Julianne Moore reads brilliantly on the audiobook). This was one of the songs I listened to the most there. The band is from Scotland, but they fit well with the environment.

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"Orion's Belt" by Kitty Pryde and Riff Raff
I love everything about this song, from the beat by Beautiful Lou through every lyric. I listened to this at the beginning of editing sessions, maybe because the opening "beeps" had an off-to-the-races feel or because the lyrics had just the right balance of sincerity and sarcasm. I got obsessed with this song and found Riff Raff online and invited him to a party at my house, without having ever met him. To my amazement he showed up, full of heart and energy, just the way you'd dream of it, if you dream of things like Riff Raff coming to your house.

"Pendant Que Les Champs Brûlent" by Niagara
I heard this on the radio one morning and tracked it down right away. It seems to have been something of a big song when it came out, but I had never heard it before. I love this song. I went to Paris last summer to workshop my stories at Shakespeare and Company and finish one in particular, "J. C. Audetat, Translator of Don Quixote," which partially takes place there. I listened to this song while I edited in my hotel room. I speak no French. I knew no one. I bought a jacket. There is a restaurant there called "Breakfast in America" that I walked past every day and thought of using as a title for the book. I had a great time.

"Major Lazer" Jessica, featuring Ezra Koenig
This is a really upbeat song I listened to sometimes when I wrote some of the more energetically comedic stories, such as "The Man Who Invented the Calendar" and "The Comedy Central Roast of Nelson Mandela."

"Angels" by The xx
I listened to this song when I was about to start writing. It's so beautiful that I assumed it would be inspiring, but then I'd get too sad and reflective to be productive. So, I do not recommend this song for writing. But it was good inspiration for more emotional pieces like "The Beautiful Girl in the Bookstore."

"Fineshrine" by Purity Ring
This is another optimistic song that I listened to a lot the summer I started these stories. There is this intoxicating, anything-is-possible feeling to the music, which I was trying to capture and analyze in some of the stories. "Just an Idea," in which a couple wins the Ohio State Lottery and then is approached by the artist Damien Hirst to make an art project out of their ticket, is one of those stories.

"Call Me Maybe" by Carly Rae Jepsen
I was introduced to this song on the day I decided to dedicate myself to this collection, Memorial Day of 2012, on a beach via a friend's iPhone. Say what you will; it's a really happy song filled with possibility and maybe it has something to do with the excitingly impulsive decision to actually put everything else in my life aside and write all these stories. (Far more "crazy" than giving someone your number and suggesting they maybe call you, which is one of several lyrical elements in this song I've never totally understood.)

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B. J. Novak is a writer and actor best known for his work as an actor, writer, director, and executive producer on the NBC comedy series The Office. He is also known for his stand-up comedy and his roles in motion pictures. One More Thing, a collection of short stories, is his first book.

Books mentioned in this post

  1. One More Thing: Stories and Other...
    Used Hardcover $10.50

One Response to "The Powell’s Playlist: B. J. Novak"

    Rosa Furiosa February 5th, 2014 at 3:08 pm

    Late period Elvis "not really Elvis anymore"?! That's when he was THE MOST ELVIS.

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