August 12, 2016

Five Song Fridays: Break in Case of Emergency


This week's mixtape comes from Jessica Winter. She's the Features Editor at Slate, and she recently published her debut novel, Break in Case of Emergency. The book is about Jen, a woman in New York coming to terms with the painful realities and responsibilities of being in her thirties — and therefore unequivocally an adult. The New York Times called it "funny and moving," The Guardian called it "extraordinary" and praised the "superb insights and penetrating writing."

I've known Jessica for years as someone with impeccable taste in music, too, so I asked her to put together the unofficial soundtrack for her novel. Check out the tracklist below, along with some thoughts from Jessica — and go read Break In Case of Emergency.

You can listen to the playlist on Spotify or YouTube.

Nick Cave and PJ Harvey, “Henry Lee”
Murder Ballads is an album that’s so creepy and so hilarious at once. I knew I had to write a scene late in Break in Case of Emergency depicting a reconciliation between two friends, but for some reason I felt nervous and stymied by it and kept putting it off. I ended up incorporating two songs from Murder Ballads—maybe subconsciously to capture my dread about getting the scene right, but also to make fun of myself for working up so much agita over a few hundred words.

Brian Eno, “Burning Airlines Give You So Much More”
This is the first track on Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy), which is a catalyst of sorts for a central relationship in Break in Case. In fact, I originally submitted the manuscript under the title Taking Tiger Canyon, until everyone who heard it informed me that it was a calamitously bad name for a Manhattan workplace satire.

Kanye West, “Can’t Tell Me Nothing”
The ostensible protagonist of Break in Case is Jen, who has a terrible post-recession job that she works at very diligently. But the book’s secret heroine is Jen’s colleague Daisy, who spends her days playing Zynga games on Facebook (it’s 2009!) while listening to hip-hop on noise-canceling headphones. When Kanye says, “When you try hard, that’s when you die hard,” he is summing up Daisy’s righteous view of late capitalism and alienated labor.

Wu-Tang Clan, “Protect Ya Neck”
Another Daisy favorite. Come to think of it, Daisy should have her own playlist.

Liz Phair, “Strange Loop”
As a teenager, Jen would have listened to Exile in Guyville on repeat and memorized all the lyrics, just like I did at that age. It took me years to realize that Exile is so thrilling in part because it’s clearly composed with no preconceived notions of how a song “should be” structured—the songs whip around in circles, or cut off abruptly, or stack up chord progressions that feel almost improvisatory. The album makes a virtue out of making it up a little bit as you go along, which is exemplary for a first-time novelist, or a first-time anybody.

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Over on Instagram, I'm doing a giveaway of a few Action Method notebooks from record label Ghostly International, designed by Behance for creative work. It's easy to enter. Click here.

Here's the most recent episode of Song Exploder:
Patrick Carney feat. Ralph Carney - BoJack Horseman (Main Title Theme)

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