Arts Desk

The Playlist: Jonathan Lethem

Lethem

Jonathan Lethem's Chronic City is one of the best books of the year. So sayeth me; so sayeth the sage critterpoos at the New York Times, who include Lethem's eighth novel in their holiday gift guide. (Speaking of guides, check out ours!) While a good friend of mine alleges that Chronic City, which is about a group of pot-smoking friends who live in an alternative-universe-like Manhattan, is slow out the gate, she concedes that it paid her back ("with interest," as the bankers say). In honor of the book's goodness, Washington City Paper asked Lethem to create an annotated playlist for his novel's most compelling character (and a nerdy simulacrum for Lethem himself): former rock critic Perkus Tooth.

Ladies and gents, we give you "Perkus's Fugue State: Ten songs for rewiring your limbic system while surfing the Web for chaldrons."

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Nico "I'll Keep It With Mine"  (3:20)  Chelsea Girl

Lethem says: "A brief overture to a suite of looooong songs, the most nurturing song Dylan ever wrote echoes in the abandoned gothic cathedral of Nico's voice. What's "it", and who'll keep it where? The answers to these questions have yet to be determined."

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Al Green "Beware"         (13:39)  Living For You (long version)

Lethem says: "Paranoia rendered suitably seductive by the Reverend. Note how he begins a call and response with himself as the song progresses. I also like the giggles at the end."

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Mahmoud Ahmed "Tezeta"        (12:32)  Ethiopiques, Vol. 10

Lethem says: "Sometimes a language you don't understand is the best way of expressing what you don't know how to say."

Van Morrison "Try For Sleep"  (6:06)  The Philosopher's Stone (Disc 1)

Lethem says: "The keyword here is "try". Good luck with that, once you begin to stumble through Van's hall of gender mirrors."

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Animal Collective "What Would I Want? Sky"       (6:46)         Fall Be Kind

Lethem says: "Sure, sky is what I would want, but I'd settle for a persuasive simulation."

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Cat Power   "Willie Deadwilder"   (18:18)               Speaking for Trees

Lethem says: "Very much in the tradition of Bob Dylan — not to mention Thomas Pynchon–in this apparently endless song Cat Power spins a meditation about everything and nothing at once."

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Kraftwerk  "Kling Klang"        (17:30) Doppelalbum (rare)

Lethem says: "Then again, sometimes better to focus on the bass and drum. Early Krautrock is a sublime alternative musical world, like a whole rock-nation of Brian Enos. Sometimes a language you don't understand, etc."

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Red House Painters  "Make Like Paper"   (12:04)         Songs For A Blue Guitar

Lethem says: "The opposite tack from Cat Power; The Red House Painters don't need a million lyrics to carve an epic. The guitar figures do it instead, until the brief written lines resound like a waker's dream."

Gillian Welch "I Dream A Highway"  (14:40)             Time (The Revelator)

Lethem says: "And now Gillian Welch splits the difference between the Cat Power and the Red House Painter approach: the refrain resonates, while the verses are like the proverbial river you can't step in twice."

Fripp/Eno  "Evening Star"       (7:50)          Essential Collection

Lethem says: "Night is falling at last for you — the night of the mind, I mean, since it's been dark outside for hours already. Fripp and Eno bring the healing, at least until tomorrow."

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