In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
J. Bradley’s collection Neil and Other Stories is filled with dark and moving short fiction.
The Coil wrote of the book:
“Bradley has compiled a collection of short fiction that promises to take us through a labyrinth of understanding. You will leave feeling like you empathize with the plights of your father, your mother, your children, and most importantly — yourself — more. It will show you their journeys, and you will grasp the complexity of your own life more by seeing the experiences of those who have molded you.”
I never plan what I want to write. Planning means you’re forced to stick to something, stay within the boundaries, corner yourself what you least expect. This is the opposite of what I do in my day job as a technical writer and an instructional designer where you outline and plan and then start to build. I have found that level of meticulous detail works as a professional but constricts me as a writer.
The title novella-in-flash of Neil and Other Stories took shape because I didn’t plan. I let the stories I was writing tell me where we were going, using part of my life as influence. Like the title character, Neil, I really know only one side of my family and I wanted to explore that, from the perspective of the son and the father.
Father John Misty / “I Love You, Honeybear”
Writing about fucked up families requires fucked up music, but not the obvious kind of fucked up, like you would get out of a song from the Death Grips. With this song, you have this lush arrangement and you’re lured in to this song until these lyrics completely mess with your expectations: “Mascara, blood, ash and cum/On the Rorschach sheets where we make love.” I feel like that’s family in general and it helped me capture that kind of mood as I began discovering the novella.
Sufjan Stevens / “Should Have Known Better”
2015 was an amazing year for music. On one hand, you had Father John Misty’s irreverent, beautiful album I Love You, Honeybear. A month or so later, Sufjan Stevens’s stripped down masterpiece Carrie & Lowell comes out. This particular song deals with Stevens losing his estranged mother, the processing of that grief. There is a low level, persistent grief of not knowing the other half of where you come from and you never quite know how to process it. You’re not able to answer simple, but important, questions, especially when it comes to genetic predispositions and diseases that missing half of your family experienced. Both the main character and Neil have to live with the choices their fathers made in terms of severing half their family from them.
Majical Cloudz / “Downtown”
When you originally fall in love, everything your partner does is perfect. As you continue to be with them, you start seeing the quirks and the cracks and you start questioning whether being with this person is a good idea from time to time. This song captures that feeling but in a way that you know everything is going to fall apart because you are putting your partner on this impossible pedestal. The main character in Neil does this to his partner and once that love begins to decay, he questions not only that love, but her ability to be a good mother.
The National / “I’ll Still Destroy You”
Parenting is a destructive act. You never know what could be the thing that damages your child, how that child carries such damage. “I’ll Still Destroy You” deals with so much in a few minutes: aging, parenthood, loss. The main character in Neil puts himself in this position of showing his father that he’s nothing like him, but in fact turns out to be exactly like him at the most crucial moment. You don’t realize you’ve become what you’ve hated until it’s too late.
The Decemberists / “The Mariner’s Revenge Song”
You’re probably asking “what does a song about killing the man who ruined your mother and left her for dead in 19th century America while the both of you sit in the belly of a whale have to do with your book?” I’d answer: “read it, then listen to this song, then read the book again, and repeat until you start making the applicable connections. Let me know what you find.”
Frightened Rabbit / “My Backwards Walk”
This is starting to become a break up playlist but a lot of what propels the title novella of Neil is both father and son deciding it’s time to leave their relationship with their partner to raise their child on their own. They both participate this act of forgetting and revision of the past. How much do we learn from our parents when it comes to the act of forgetting and revision when we do so in our own lives?
Note: I started putting this playlist together in late April, early May, before Scott Hutchinson’s suicide. I was only familiar with The Midnight Organ Fight (which is one of the best album titles ever) but I related to it, like so many others. His death hit me surprisingly hard, as someone who has dealt with depression on and off for awhile. I’ve used writing to pull myself out of it. I know that’s not the solution for everyone and I know how hard it is for someone to find their applicable solution. If you’re reading this and you feel like I have, keep going. If you’re reading this and know someone who deals with depression on a regular basis, be a decent human being and check on them on the regular.
Ryan Adams / “To Be Young (Is to Be Sad, Is to Be High)”
There’s a lot of stories in the Other Stories section that deal with childhood and being a teenager. I never been high but I feel like this song captures the struggles of youth and young relationships.
J. Bradley and Neil and Other Stories links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 – ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 – 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 – 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film’s soundtracks)
weekly music release lists