When I said yes to Powell’s about writing up a playlist, I was experiencing the kind of hallucination that makes opioids seem homeopathic. It’s what happens when I get a good night’s sleep. Time seemed endless. I kept imagining arrays of songs, the titles of which might become a song unto itself counterpointed by the album titles, another song unto itself; or a playlist singular in theme (I had some ideas for House of Leaves
and Only Revolutions
); or maybe a list devoted to just one song (I’d once gone on a “Dear Prudence” exploration) or…
Instead, the reality of work elided time with the swiftness of propofol. I found myself in the dark heart of Volume 4 of The Familiar
without a spare moment to come up with a meaningful set of songs. I nearly gave up. In fact, I tried to blow off this assignment twice.
Confession: I’m also crap at playlists.
But see, the problem is Powell’s. I love the place. I love wandering there when I get the chance. When I’m lucky enough to be invited, I love to read there.
So... here’s what The Lord of No Time commanded: a snapshot of one day.
As is not so unusual with other writers, I listen to music while I write. “Listen” is a little bit misleading. Really, music quiets those voices in my head that would otherwise be raising an anti-verbal ruckus. It gives that Other Voice the needed quiet to get a few things done.
Because I’m finishing a revision on Act IV of Volume 4, I’ve been involved more than usual with all the characters all at once. (The Familiar
has nine main characters.) Months ago such a list might have centered just on vintage rock, emo, and the latest in pop (while writing Xanther, the little wonder who finds the cat) or been obsessive about Bach or Egyptian oldies (Anwar, Xanther’s father). You get the idea.
I’ve also pared this list down a lot. That it wound up being 27 songs long is a coincidence. Kinda. Since starting The Familiar
back in 2006, I think I’ve internalized many of its symmetries. Maybe “rhythms” is a better word.
Anyhow, welcome to a day, my day. We’re starting early. Pre-dawn.
Here we go…
1. “I Am Outcast by You” by Djivan Gasparyan, Sergei Karapetian, and Mkrtich Malkhasian from The Art of the Armenian Duduk
Morning (even if it looks like night) starts with Shnorhk, the Armenian cab driver. In fact, his sadness might have easily taken over the whole day were it not for Isandòrno — fondly thought of as the Mexistentialist — who also needs attention. As does another character, Luther Perez.
2. “Medianoche (Midnight)” by Inti-Illimani from Arriesgaré La Piel (I Will Risk My Skin)
The sublime Chilean musicians of Inti-Illimani retain some of Shnorhk’s sadness, the sadness that Isandòrno has had to sacrifice, and the sadness Luther does not know he carries, just as this song in particular demands from me something with a little more energy, more sway, moving beyond the borders of particular personalities.
And in case you’re thinking that this is going to be a songs-by-character list, those of you good at playlists know that music — fortunately — does not go together like that.
3. “Fumemos Un Cigarrillo” by Centavrvs Feat. Carla Morrison from Besos de Azúcar
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I’ve already listened to this track plenty of times. Maybe it called to me just now. For the coming sunshine. For company with coffee. It’s good company. Who is Carla Morrison? Then Spotify introduces me to someone new.
4. “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás” by Gaby Moreno from Postales
This standard by Osvaldo Farrés is a surprise. As is Gaby Moreno.
I’m curious. I listen to more.
5. “Daydream by Design” by Gaby Moreno from Illustrated Songs
What a wonderful song, and, by the way, it has a title perfectly suited for someone else’s playlist with more design.
With less design, likely prompted by my own lingering sadness, I’m reminded of my friend Larry Karush, a great stride piano player, who died not too long ago. Once I had the pleasure of hearing him play at a downtown Los Angeles jazz club called bluewhale. Once was not enough.
6. “At La Fatha” by Mokave (Glen Moore, Glen Velez, and Larry Karush) from Mokave: Volume 1
And suddenly Gone Larry is Here Larry. That’s the wonder of art, and this curiously counters my blueness by handing me over to Dizzy...
7. “Constantinople” by Dizzy Gillespie from The Verve and Philips Small Group Sessions
Fittingly, if by coincidence, this happens around the time I turn to Özgür who’s from Turkey. A variety of jazz constellations soon arise. Hours vanish.
8. “El Nas El Ray’ah” by Ahmed Adaweya and Ramy Ayach from El Nas El Ray’ah
Then this song happens, encouraging a new veering, branching off into dozens more tracks, old and currently popular in the Middle East.
Eventually, I shift to Jingjing, a young addict living in Singapore who knows a thing or two about Xanther’s cat. His language is an extreme of the one used by many to hide their own thoughts from themselves. Jingjing’s is Singlish along with plenty of Hokkien. Because his is a rhythmic and often rhyming speech, and because he loves to dance, I wind up with tracks that might do well in a club Jingjing would love to get into but can’t. Here are three.
9. “Sinnerman” by Nina Simone and Felix Da Housecat from Verve Remixed 2
10. “Cartagena” by Sonido del Principe from ZZK Sound, Vol. 2
11. “The Veldt – 8 Minute Edit” by deadmau5 and Chris James from >album title goes here<
Another track I know well for meta reasons too multiple to mention here. Today, though, this replay sends me in a different direction...
12. “Hanuman” by Rodrigo y Gabriela from 11:11
A perfect place to start again.
13. “Sell Yourself Lightly” by The Family Crest from The Village
Now I guess I’m following guitars. I hang out with The Family Crest for a while (I’m sure the way they balance the momentary against larger designs of desire is what influences me to check out concept albums later).
14. “The Tigers Have Spoken” by Neko Case from The Tigers Have Spoken (Live)
At some point, I remember this song which the astonishing poet, Michael Robbins
, told me about after he’d spent an hour listening to me do this
. The memory of his recommendation demands action. Uncheeriness revisited demands action too.
15. “Harlem River Blues” by Justin Townes Earle from Harlem River Blues
Guess I just wanted to clap my hands. Sometimes that happens. You’re pondering the Armenian genocide, the decimations of animals we love, and the next thing you know you’ve woken up and you’re in a Western. Okay, Earle’s song is more than a Western, more than country or folk, but you get the idea. Clap your hands. At least tap a toe. I’m tapping mine right now.
16. “Lover” by Lilium from Short Stories
My friend Jim Kalin wrote and performed this song. It was recorded on a mesa above Grand Junction, Colorado, in a trailer buried in the snow. Only two things kept him warm: a pot belly stove and a pet wolf. The song itself isn’t going to keep anyone warm. Jim called “Lover” his failed attempt at writing a Waylon Jennings song. But “I fed her earth beneath the clouds” is one of those terrifying, great, incomparable lines and does to Kalin’s “failed” what every wolf does to the word “pet” when the time comes around. I’ve been revisiting this song for years. It never fails to haunt. The guitar 2 minutes and 18 seconds in never fails to grant even the meekest mood the gift of a growl.
17. “Desperado” by Rihanna from ANTI
I love Rihanna. Jingjing does too. I can’t even say this is a great song. My ear tells me the opening notes are from Banks’s “Waiting Game.” Also, the song seems incomplete. But sometimes we need the incomplete. Maybe it’s the restlessness too in lines like “There ain’t nothing here for me” that start moving me to those grander arcs The Family Crest got me thinking about earlier.
18. “The Room Where It Happens” by the Original Broadway Cast of Hamilton (Leslie Odom Jr., Lin-Manuel Miranda, Daveed Diggs, and Okieriete Onaodowan) from Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording)
Lin-Manuel Miranda supposedly first conceived of Hamilton
as a concept album. I may never see the show, but I seem to see it whenever I listen to it.
19. “Walk the Walk” by Poe from Haunted
The same goes for this one. Yeah, Poe is my sister. That doesn’t change the fact that Haunted
is still the greatest concept album not yet on Broadway.
20. “House of Wolves” by My Chemical Romance from The Black Parade (Explicit Version)
This concept album surprised me when I first heard it. Years later, I’m still surprised and moved by its range. Besides, for whoever’s gotten a whiff of cancer’s breath, who doesn’t know that black parade?
21. “Hallelujah” by Panic! at the Disco from Death of a Bachelor
I don’t know Panic! at the Disco that well, but the name of the album alone deserves my attention — especially since I’m getting married this September.
22. “Deep Six” by Marilyn Manson from Deep Six
I guess I had to wind up here. This one goes on repeat. Volume 4 has a dark dance to it. Not that darkness doesn’t smile. What Manson does with Zeus’s line to Narcissus makes me smile almost as much as the last memory I have of him, sitting on my mother’s lap, telling her his childhood stories. Don’t ask.
23. “Memories Can’t Wait” by Talking Heads from Fear of Music
Yes, by now, deep into the day, the blue and sadness is gone, or it’s become something else. I’ve been writing for hours and hours, flying between characters, revisiting them in previous volumes, returning to renew the future they expect, the future they cannot expect to know. I’m exhausted. I can’t count how many times sweat has coated my body, dried up, and soaked me again. Reminding myself that none of this is real doesn’t change the fact that they are all real. Especially that cat. I keep sweating.
And I still have a couple more hours to go.
“Memories Can’t Wait” pretty much sums up all that. It’s also one I listened to as a teenager, on vinyl, over and over, carefully lifting the needle at the end, re-grooving it at the start. “Don’t look so disappointed.” What a line. And I just wrote it out too and it’s not there. It’s in the way Byrne sings it just above the crank of a dirty guitar and drums thudding from a dark, inescapable place.
24. “Take Me Back” by KONGOS from Lunatic
What is it about this song? I’ve listened to it a bunch of times. It seems to answer something without answering anything, which is sometimes the best we can hope for.
25. “Immortality” by Pearl Jam from Vitalogy
I can’t even begin to applaud the generosity of this album. I saw Pearl Jam once at the Fonda. I shouldn’t have been surprised by the generosity of that concert. Hours and hours. Dylan covers. A bottle of wine. A voice devoted to care.
26. “All Dead, All Dead” by Queen from News of the World (Deluxe Remastered Version)
Is this how I needed to answer “Immortality”? Freddie Mercury, Kle loves thee most.
27. “Bad Religion” by Frank Ocean from channel ORANGE (Explicit Version)
÷ ÷ ÷
Mark Z. Danielewski
was born in New York City and lives in Los Angeles. He is the author of House of Leaves
, The Whalestoe Letters
, Only Revolutions
, The Fifty Year Sword
, and The Familiar