APRIL MIX by Johan Harstad
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A mixtape playlist should be consistent. Well themed. But, uh, that didn’t really work out. Initially I planned on doing a strictly ‘Music for Springtime’ playlist, but I realized that would mean putting in too much cheesy Lovin’ Spoonful-ish stuff, so instead I opted for a more personal, and possibly also more chaotic and idiosyncratic road, a mixtape of some spring songs, a few songs which probably only I associate with springtime as well as tracks that in different ways, shapes, and forms have been important to me as a writer. Or just important. But, for what it’s worth, the order of tracks have been thoroughly contemplated, for weeks on end, to ensure the preservation of a logic which may only be obvious to myself. Oh, well.
April 1st: ‘New Day Rising’ by Hüsker Dü:
I wish I had been 16 in 1985 instead of just 6, as I’m sure the Hüskers would have changed my life. Unfortunately I discovered them late and therefore had to change it myself. My life, that is. This is my favourite track, perfect for almost all occasions, for instance the month of April. When I did a reading together with Hüsker’s Bob Mould in Minneapolis in June last year I wanted to tell him how much I loved the song. But I lost my nerve. Instead I just said ‘Hello.’
April 2nd: ‘Staircase’ by Radiohead:
Few, if any bands have been more important to me since the early nineties, and more or less all my books have a lot to thank them for. The original idea for the novel Buzz Aldrin, What Happened To You in All The Confusion? came from listening to ‘How To Disappear Completely’. I love the fact that twenty years after their first album, they just keep getting better, which this track (their newest) is a proof of. I had it on repeat for a week when I first got it.
April 3rd: ‘The Brothel’ by Susanne Sundfør:
It’s her VOICE, her lyrics, her instrumentation and her total commitment to concentrate on music instead of bullshit that makes her one of my favorite Norwegian artists.
April 4th ‘Why? (The King of Love is Dead) by Nina Simone:
One could argue that ‘Feelin’ Good’ would have been a better choice for an April song, but unfortunately it’s been worn out and ripped to shreds by being used in too many movies and commercials where it didn’t belong, which have left it a song full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. This one, on the other hand, signifies pretty much everything. Written and perfomed at the Westbury Music Festival on Long Island only three days after Martin Luther King was assassinated on April 4th, 1968, it’s a raw and heartbreaking tribute to him and what he stood for.
April 5th: ‘Pass This On’ by The Knife
This song IS springtime to me, reminding me of Paris, France, where I stayed for a few weeks in April 2006 doing promotion for a short story collection and feeling absolutely miserable. My good friend Jean-Baptiste played it for me in his apartment behind Montmartre one afternoon and it just kept spinning in my head as I traversed the city on foot afterwards, walking all the way down to my cheap hotel in Montparnasse on the other side of the city. A two and a half hour walk. Outlandish as this song may feel, it’s also simply the soundtrack to the saddest and at the same time happiest day of my life. Now, that’s something to chew on …
April 6th: ‘Modern Guilt’ by Beck:
I love the guitar bit. I can never get enough of it. And I love the da-da-da-da at the end. So, let’s hear it again!
April 7th: ‘This Time Tomorrow’ by The Kinks.
‘Wes Anderson music’. Always makes the day a bit better.
April 8th: ‘On Your Own Again’ by Scott Walker:
The first line (‘Wasn’t it a good year, wasn’t filled with talking’) and the last one (‘when it began, I was so happy, I didn’t feel like me’) really sums it up, there’s a whole novel there, he just can’t be bothered to write it. And just as the year in question, the song itself is very short and the whole thing is over just when you thought it would last forever. Oh, those big feelings …
April 9th: ‘Summer in Siam’ by The Pogues:
It’s one of those songs you’ve heard in so many situations and it’s not necessarily that great, but it reminds me of the somewhat underrated film “Basquiat”, which reminds me of Basquiat himself, which puts a smile on my face. A great artist. And for reasons unbeknownst to me this track it is the quintessence of spring. Not summer. I’ve tried writing like Basquiat painted. I got it right once, I think. Will try again. Will fail harder.
April 10th: ‘Beginning To See The Light’ by The Velvet Underground:
I discovered the Velvets when I was fourteen when not one of my friends had any idea who they were. From that day nothing would ever again be the same. This is the Velvets in a, uh, more April’ish state of mind …
April 11th: ‘Down Under’ by Men at Work:
There’s quite a lot of other, great bands I could have chosen to represent Australia, other than the obvious choice. But while spending two weeks down under in February/March on a book tour, I not only fell deeply in love with the country and all the great people I met there, but also sort of had a long overdue epiphany about this song. It is a heartbreaking beautiful song with a lot of hidden (not very well hidden, you might argue) aggression. Or, to put it in singer Colin Hay’s own words: “It was a song about the loss of spirit in that country. It’s really about the plundering of the country by greedy people. It is ultimately about celebrating the country, but not in a nationalistic way and not in a flag-waving sense.” I include it in the playlist as a big ‘HELLO’ to the team down in Perth and Sydney, hoping to see them again soon.
April 12th: ‘Psycho Killer’ by Talking Heads:
David Byrne seem to be a bigger inspiration for me with every day that passes. I have great respect for him both as a musician and as an artist. Who knows, I might even take up biking at some point. If I could have dinner with whomever I wanted, I’d probably have dinner with David Byrne. I’d order a salad. And a glass of white wine. I wrote a YA Sci-Fi/Horror novel called 172 Hours on The Moon which should be out in the US in a week, and the main character is a fifteen year old girl who is a BIG Talking Heads fan. Fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa-fa!
April 13th: ‘Dream baby Dream’ by Suicide:
A great band, an important band, a weird band. That’s all I can say, really.
April 14th: ‘Vietnam’ by Crystal Castles:
Possibly the best thing to come out of Toronto for many years. Speaking of which, I went to Toronto for the first time last October, and Crystal Castles coming from this place suddenly made all the sense in the world to me. My only worry is Alice Glass. Perhaps too talented for her own good, and with the often chaotic live shows they do and from what I can decipher from interviews with her, I’m worried that she won’t get very old. I had tickets to see them when they last played in Oslo, but stayed home, afraid to experience for myself that things are seriously out of whack. Hopefully, though, it’s an image more than anything, but still I’m very concerned about her. The novel I’m working on now is a bit Crystal Castles-influenced, I feel. Filled with glitches but hopefully also a weird danceability.
April 15th: ‘Atmosphere’ by Joy Division:
One of my absolute favourite tracks by Joy Division, released shortly after Ian Curtis’ suicide. I never get tired of it.
April 16th: ‘Teenage Riot’ by Sonic Youth:
It must have been Spring the first time I listened to the Daydream Nation-album, because whenever I hear this song, the room becomes warmer, the sun shines brighter, trees outside my window grow leaves and nothing seems impossible anymore. You start making plans for the best summer ever. It’s been like that for many years now.
April 17th: ‘Salut à toi’ by Bérurier Noir:
Another track introduced to me by my good friend and french translator Jean-Baptiste back in the weird month of April 2006. Bérurier Noir was a musical phenomenom in France in the early, post-punk eighties. Their first concert was supposed to be their last, but instead their success led them to continue for years, their live shows often ending in a mix between riots and public celebrations. I loved this track so much from the first time I heard it that I incorporated it in a novel called “Hässelby” published in 2007. The lyrics are really simple, salut à toi meaning ‘hello to you’, the singer keeps giving shout outs to different nations, tribes, people and everything in between, including, but not limited to, ‘hello skinhead communists’ and ‘hello punk anarchists’!
April 18th: ‘My Favourite Things’ by John Coltrane:
It won’t rain if you play Coltrane.
April 19th: ‘I got ID’ by Pearl Jam:
God, I used to love this song. I was sixteen and I probably filled a whole notebook of poetry just from listening to it and ‘Long Road’, the other track on the “Merkin Ball” single which accompanied Neil Young’s “Mirror Ball” in December ’95. At that time I remember thinking it would never end, that Pearl Jam would would keep getting better and better until … I don’t know. Unfortunately it turned out to be all downhill in my eyes from there, but then Cobain had been dead for a year and a half and the whole thing was pretty much over, anyway. So we all saw the movie “Singles” one last time and asked ourselves why on earth we had liked the film the first time, and in the evening we placed our Doc Martens and flannel shirts quietly in the back of the closet and went to bed, wondering what the future would look like now. But it was fun for as long as it lasted.
April 20th: ‘The Cool Out’ by The Clash:
I was never really into the Clash or punk in general but I still find this a perfect track to listen to when walking down the street on the first day of spring with great weather. Or just waiting for the subway train to arrive. Take the A-train! (Or, if you live in Oslo, with the world’s smallest subway system, take whichever comes first, you’re not going very far anyway, and probably in the wrong direction as well.)
April 21st: ‘Spor 04’ by Kim Hiorthøy:
I’m getting married on this date. So what could be more appropriate than a track including a sample of a girl singing something which loosely translates to ‘Is it love, that keeps me grounded?” over and over for the better part of eight minutes? Kim Hiorthøy is a Norwegian graphic designer, visual artist, photographer, filmmaker, musician, author, dancer and probably seven thousand other things as well, including brilliant in more or less every way. One of the most important artist in Norway the last fifteen years.
April 22nd: ‘The Way Young Lovers Do’ by Van Morrison:
Not a big fan of Van Morrison, I’m afraid, but this one I really like. It’s the abrupt, staccato rhythm and just the general swing of things. They don’t write songs like that anymore, unfortunately.
April 23rd: ‘Strange Days’ by The Doors:
When I was ten or eleven, my father introduced me to his record collection and “Strange Days”, the first edition, from 1967, was one of them. I knew nothing about The Doors, had no idea who Jim Morrison was. I was scared shitless by that record, the voice of the singer, the sound of the record and the black and white photo of the group on the inlay sheet where they all stared back at me like they were holding me responsible for absolutely everything dark and gloomy in the world. I played that record until my ears bled. When the other kids brought Prince and New Kids On The Block to the monthly Top of The Pop’s contest at Elementary School, I brought The Doors. And my teacher, who was a former missionary, turned ‘Stange Days’ off after thirty seconds. ‘People Are Strange’, ‘Love Me Two Times’, ‘My Eyes Have Seen You’, the crazy ‘Horse Latitudes’. And finally, the ending, ‘When The Music’s Over’ and the call for world domination screams out of the loudspeakers. I was lying on the floor in our living room, asphyxiated. From that moment I wanted to be a poet. Crossing my fingers that leather pants would turn out to be optional. I still consider this a great album.
April 24th: ‘One Day You’ll Dance For Me, New York City ‘ by Thomas Dybdahl:
No country in the world saw a higher per cent of its population migrating to the USA between 1850–1950 than Norway, and today there’s more Norwegian descendants in the US than there are people in Norway. But that’s not really the point. I went to NYC twice last year and it’s now one of my absolute favorite cities in the world, and the home of one of my favorite publishers, Seven Stories Press, down in Tribeca. But that’s not really the point, either. The point is that I spent my last day there in October walking from 38th street up to 80th and then all the way down to my hotel in SoHo, in brand new sneakers, which, I learned coming back down, is the highway to developing an equally painful and ridiculous limp. Try walking 120 blocks and see how you feel. But I could swear that when I finally stumbled down Thompson street, that the city was about to start dancing, just for me. Or perhaps it was just the Halloween parade about to start. Oh, and Thomas Dybdahl comes from the same area in Norway where I grew up, so a shout-out to him is therefore in place.
April 25th: ‘Freedom’ by Charles Mingus:
Mingus was kind to cats, and trained them not only to use the toilet, but also to flush. If that doesn’t qualify to be included in a playlist, nothing will. Doesn’t hurt that he was a great composer and bass player, either.
April 26th: ‘Yonkers’ by Tyler, The Creator:
Tyler is extremely interesting, and equally parts weird, aggressive and outright scary to me. Probably dismissed by many as nothing more than a loudmouth punk (which I’m guessing he doesn’t give a sh*t a bout), there’s also the possibility that he is in fact the Sex Pistols (so, well, a punk then, though obviously a lot smarter than Johnny Rotten) of the 2010’s, the equivalent to Suicide or a modern day street poet like Ginsberg perhaps. Not that he’d care. An uncompromising artist which I find alarmingly inspirational. I can’t recall the last time I heard music and actually felt threatened by it. The video to this song, including eating a cockroach, vomiting and then hanging himself might be a bit much for some people, but then again, he probably doesn’t give a flying f**k.
April 27th: ‘The Wheel’ by Motorpsycho:
No Norwegian band has been more important to me than Motorpsycho. It feels impossible to sum up why or even give an accurate description of their music in less than a few pages (which is why I’ve entered a collaboration to write a book about them). Simply put they always know what they’re doing (or seem to do, anyway). Their knowledge of musical history, their talent and willingness to experiment in a great range of musical styles, from hard rock to jazz to pop to shoegazing indie and country to experimental noise and everything in between is truly mindblowing. Going to a Motorpsycho concert, which may last for three hours, you have to just let go and let them do what they want. Which, by the way, they will do anyway. No need to fight it. This track is a classic from the good old days of 1994. To be played loud with all the windows open.
April 28th: ‘Untitled #8 (aka Popplagið)’ by Sigur Rós:
I sometimes wish I could write something that ‘sounds’ like Sigur Rós. So far no luck, though. But I’m still trying. And if my books would come with a soundtrack, this band would probably have been chosen for the soundtrack to most of them so far. Iceland can be very, very proud of this band. And probably are. And they seem like such nice people too. Who, Sigur Rós or people from Iceland in general? Well, both. I’m 1/8 Icelandic myself and clinging to that fact.
April 29th: ‘Twin Decks’ by Deathprod. & Biosphere
This month should end in silence, in sheer anticipation of summer. We all need a bit of silence from time to time. This is the countdown to that, a remix/reworking of music by Norwegian composer Arne Nordheim, one of the pioneers of electronic contemporary music in the early 1960's.
April 30th: ‘4’33' by John Cage
Now it’s silent. You may start listening to music again next Tuesday.
by Johan Harstad
by Johan Harstad
— Johan Harstad, b.1979 in Norway, author, playwright, graphic designer. Has published 7 books since 2001, including 2 short story collections, 3 novels and 2 collections of plays. Won a few literary awards, lost a few others. Was the first ever in-house playwright at the National Theatre in Oslo. Quit after a year. His fiction has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly and the likes. Books translated to 12 languages, and still he isn’t rich. His first novel, Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion? was published in English by Seven Stories Press in 2011. His first YA novel will be published in the US by Little, Brown in April 2012. He lives in Oslo and tries to make the best of it.