These notes accompany a Spotify playlist called Malarkey Books. I've tried to include every song or artist mentioned in my books, plus a few that didn't get mentioned but are still there under the surface.
50 songs. 3 hours, 20 minutes.
Side 1: Barn Again: A Memoir
1. "Special Death," Mirah.
The first song on the list is not mentioned anywhere in my books; nor is the artist. However, Mirah is one of my favorite musicians. "Special Death" is probably my favorite song of hers. I listened to it nearly every day for two years when I was still in college, especially in England. It was on the playlist I made for myself to accompany the book I was working on through those years, a book that wasn't any good, that I gave up on, thankfully. The book was called Malarkey. It was shit, but I liked the name so much that I used it as the title of Johnny Barnard's first book in Barn Again: A Memoir, and it's also central to my website and imaginary publishing company, so there is a connection.
2. "Fuck Tha Police," NWA
The first musical allusion in Barn Again comes in the author's preface.
3. "A Horse With No Name," America
I don't hate America as much as Barn does, so even though I don't like this song I'm still including it on the playlist, mainly for the contrast with "Fuck Tha Police."
4. "Rocky Mountain High," John Denver
I've never been a fan of this song, but it is mentioned in Barn Again in the Unabombinator chapter, when Barn is driving around, on the run from Fate, who has been stalking him with plane crash movies as he anticipates flying to Spain. He's listening to the radio in the car, and the DJ queues up a set of plane crash music: John Denver, Otis Redding, Stevie Ray Vaughan.
5. "Cigarettes and Coffee," Otis Redding
6. "Texas Flood," Stevie Ray Vaughan
7. "Johnny's Gonna Die," The Replacements
This song comes on in the coffee shop, another message from Fate.
8. "London Calling," The Clash
One of Barn's stall wall poems alludes to this one.
9. "I've Been Everywhere," Johnny Cash
He takes the title of his projected collection of latrinalia from this song.
10. "La Bamba," Richie Valens
You can't sing "La Bamba" in an airport.
11. "Gimme Back My Bullets," Lynyrd Skynyrd
Plays on the stereo of a stolen Hummer.
12. "Pay Me My Money Down," The Weavers
From chapter twelve (you have to know Samuel Beckett's most famous quote and some banjo terminology in order to get the "Frail Better" joke):
I was in a few atrocious bands in my youth, and I could never decide whether I wanted to be a post-punk rocker or a folk player. I earned drinking money in England playing songs by Pete Seeger and The Clash on a cheap Chinese banjo, as described with very little fictionalization in chapter twelve of Malarkey, a chapter I proudly named “Frail Better.” In a life filled with puns, that was my best. I’m a member now of a roguish band of strings players. We call ourselves The Prairie Dawgs. We’re a lot like The Weavers, if The Weavers were a bunch of tattooed, bearded anarchistic environmentalists. I don’t have any tattoos; I do have an on-again, off-again beard. We play a few old folk songs and a very few standard bluegrass tunes, but mostly we write our own songs. We all contribute to the music, but I write most of the lyrics. Songwriting satisfies my yen for rhyme. One of my favorites is a standard-sounding country tune that starts off like this: “This morning I got born again, again, / A new lease on life, a refund on my sin.”
13. "Robin Hood Theory," Gang Starr
The footnote to the part where Barn's making fun of music videos:
I don’t want to leave the reader with the impression that I am some smug white guy who thinks that hip-hop is not real music. On the other hand, a list of all the hip-hope artists I enjoy and admire, such as Gang Starr, De La Soul, and Blackalicious, might appear as over-trying. Any writer who isn’t at least mildly enamored of hip-hop is probably a poseur, his purported love of language just a front to compensate for lack of skill and soul. Believe me or don’t; I quite like hip-hop, but there’s a subgenre within it I don’t care for, and that is hip-hop of the MTV bitch-ho variety.
14. "Oooh," De La Soul, featuring Redman
15. "Release," Blackalicious, featuring Saul Williams, Lyrics Born, and Zach de la Rocha
This one's long but worth the time.
16. "Tom Sawyer," Rush
The undercover officer who tries to bust our fuckup hero at the end of the book seems to be doing an impression of Geddy Lee, the singer of Rush.
17. "Stereo," Pavement.
No reason to include this, other than I love Pavement and this song includes a solid Geddy Lee reference.
18. "The Donald," A Tribe Called Quest
I set up a Spotify account just so I could listen to the new Tribe Called Quest album. This song's on here for the two paragraphs on Trump toward the end of the book.
Side 2: The War on Xmas
19. "Don't Let the Bastards Get You Down," Kris Kristofferson
The introduction ends with an allusion both to this song and The Handmaid's Tale.
20. "Barracuda," Rasputina.
I recycled the name "Melora" from one of the characters in that abandoned novel; I took the name from the singer of Rasputina, which was my favorite band for a few years. I saw them play in Lawrence, Kansas. Rasputina is a cello-driven gothish band. The covers album, The Lost and Found, is probably my favorite, probably their most accessible. This track comes off a live album. I was pleased to discover that they've put out several albums while I wasn't paying attention.
21. "Let's Get Fucked Up," Tech n9ne
This happens to be the only song I know of KC rapper Tech n9ne, who is just under SuperChad in the hierarchy of Kansas City heroes.
"Paris (When I Die)"
22. "Fancy," Reba McEntire.
"I might have been born just plain white trash, but Fancy was my name."
23. "Texas (When I Die), Tanya Tucker.
I prefer the altered lyrics in "Paris (When I Die)," but this is still a great song.
24. "La Juala de Oro," Los Tigres del Norte
The unnamed narrator of this story is drinking beer with a guy named Miguel, who is an undocumented immigrant who hates norteño music but listens to it out of solidarity.
25. "Life on the Border," Piñata Protest
Sort of a stretch, as it's not mentioned in the story; I'm just including it for fun. This is norteño punk.
"In the Penile Colony"
26. "Summer Babe," Pavement.
My favorite band. Herb, the narrator of the last three stories in the book, was in a band called The Magic Skinflutes, "a hillbilly noise group out of Stillwater, sort of Slanted and Enchanted-era Pavement blended with Ray Wylie Hubbard." The band is called The Skinflutes in the version of the story that appears in Word Riot. I took the name from a fake band I was in for a couple days in high school. We were going to perform at the talent show until our religion teacher took us aside and told us what the term "skinflute" means. We acted shocked and soon after disbanded, since we'd only formed in order to perform as the Skinflutes. After "In the Penile Colony" was accepted I found out there was a real band called Skinflutes, so I updated to The Magic Skinflutes.
27. "Conversation with the Devil," Ray Wylie Hubbard
I could have chosen any Ray Wylie Hubbard song, but I probably enjoy this one the most: "What you won't find up in Heaven are
Christian Coalition Right Wing Conservatives, / Country program directors, and Nashville record executives."
28. "Something Happen Always," Preston School of Industry
Here's an excerpt of the fictional review of The Magic Skinflutes album Ghetto Palm:
We had a modest following but never made it big, even though, maybe because, our only full-length album was reviewed in Pitchfork: “If Scott Kannberg raped an inbred Appalachian, and their offspring recorded an album while simultaneously being waterboarded and trying to pass a gallstone, the result would sound exactly like Ghetto Palm.”
It was inspired by actual Pitchfork reviews of Kannberg's music. (Scott Kannberg, aka Spiral Stairs, was in Pavement. He formed Preston School of Industry after Pavement broke up and has a new album out, simply as Spiral Stairs.)
29. "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," Otis Redding
In jail, Herb wonders who's going to sing this to his children every night. I sing this one to my children. At least once a day for the last four years. Never get tired of it.
"One Man's Trailer Trash"
30. "Your Flag Decal Won't Get You Into Heaven Anymore," John Prine
One of my favorite songs. Herb moves into a trailer park, next door to America Joe, who looks like the narrator of this song.
31. "Mr. Banker," Lynyrd Skynyrd
People in the park lose interest in Herb's musicianship when they find out he doesn't know any Skynyrd. Most people don't know this song. Fuck "Sweet Home Alabama." Listen to this one instead.
32. "Ghost Rider," Suicide
Herb tells someone his favorite band is Suicide.
33. "Colorado," Paper Bird
Herb gets replaced and The Magic Skinflutes get a track played on Open Air, Colorado Public Radio's new music station, so here's the first song ever played on Open Air, on Halloween of 2011.
34. "No Deal," Townes Van Zandt
One of my favorite songs. Herb records a solo album in his trailer: "My album was called, naturally, One Man’s Trailer Trash, and it had sort of a punk/post-punk singer-songwriter aesthetic, Townes Van Zandt with Descendents and Hüsker Dü influences."
35. "Suburban Home," Descendents
36. "Don't Want to Know If You Are Lonely," Hüsker Dü
One of their more well-known songs.
37. "Gin and Juice," Snoop Dogg
Herb sings this one (with different lyrics) to his kids: “Rolling down the street blowing bubbles, sipping on Naked Juice, / laid back, with my mind on my bunny and my bunny on my mind.”
38. "Karma's Payment," Modest Mouse
Herb describes one of his guitars as "a claptrap-looking guitar with an old hubcap for a body. It looked like something the people from The Hills Have Eyes would play, but it had style. Its sound was a paradox, bright and clean but also dirty, like Carlos Santana and the young Isaac Brock were playing at the same time, competing for control of the guitar’s soul." Brock is the singer and main guitar player for Modest Mouse.
39. "Black Magic Woman," Santana
40. "Angel from Montgomery," Bonnie Raitt, John Prine
Herb plays this song, in a duet with Ryann, at his concert in the trailer park.
41. "Enter Sandman," Metallica
Herb only knows this song because he used to sing it to his son.
42.a. "The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey's Grave," The Butthole Surfers
Writing lesson: Herb could have said, "I woke up with a massive hangover." Instead, he went with "I woke up with the worst hangover of my life. It felt like The Butthole Surfers and the Art Ensemble of Chicago were using my empty head as practice space, but it was just Jen. I had rigged 'The Shah Sleeps in Lee Harvey’s Grave' as her ringtone."
42.b. "Combat Rock," Sleater-Kinney.
It's not that I don't like The Butthole Surfers, but very few people are going to want to listen to this song. This playlist has a lot of great songs. Most of them are by men. That wasn't intentional. It just worked out this way; the ring-tone/hangover thing only makes sense with two dissonant groups like The Butthole Surfers and Art Ensemble of Chicago. I could make it work with My Ruin, who I saw perform in Brighton, England, many years ago. But the reference would be even more obscure. I'm taking the opportunity to just sneak in a couple tracks by female artists, songs that I like from musicians that I like but haven't alluded to in the books.
43.a. "Backyard Scuffle Shuffle," Art Ensemble of Chicago
43.b. "The Greatest," Cat Power
I've tried to like Art Ensemble of Chicago. I just can't do it. I've tried to listen to this playlist with The Butthole Surfers and Art Ensemble of Chicago right next to each other. I just can't do it.
44. "Skinny Love," Bon Iver
This song signals the hipster invasion.
45. "Anarchy in the UK," Sex Pistols
Not a Sex Pistols Fan, but Herb's new band The War on Xmas sings a cover of this song before the riot breaks out.
"The Magic Member"
46. "The Preacher and the Slave," Utah Phillips
The War on Xmas performs an impromptu version of this song.
47. "Box Elder," Pavement"
One of my favorite Pavement tunes, sometimes covered by The War on Xmas.
48. "Gone Daddy Gone," Violent Femmes
Herb notices his ex-wife, Jen, is wearing his old Violent Femmes shirt, which probably means something. (The t-shirt is the exposed part of the iceberg.)
49. "Marquee Moon," Television
Last song reference in The War on Xmas, special to Herb because he was listening to Television while he was redoing the floor in the children's room before they were born.
50. "This Land Is Your Land," Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings
This one's not mentioned in either of the books, but it's my playlist, I can do whatever I want here, and I love this version. The bastards are always trying to take our land away from us, by the way. Don't fucking let them.