I've always surrounded myself with music, beginning with my parents' vinyl collection. Spilling from their tattered jackets, these albums kicked off my life soundtrack, prefiguring my omnipresent iPod and my NYC record-store route. This same LP-love forms the soul of Telegraph Avenue, Michael Chabon's hot-blooded and utterly human novel, which drops today.
In the Bay Area sweet spot bordering Berkeley and Oakland, Chabon gives dap to card-collecting culture, comic books, and kung fu. But it's music that reigns supreme, underlining Chabon's prose, so I've devised a playlist inspired by Telegraph Avenue's tracks and my own personal experience in reading it. Tune in:
Jimmy Smith “Root Down (And Get It)” (Root Down Live, Verve Records, 1972)
"Good heart is eighty-five percent of everything in life." —Cochise Jones
At Telegraph Avenue's core is Brokeland Records, co-owned by childhood friends Archy (cool-headed brother) and Nat (kvetching hothead). Their spouses Gwen (very pregnant, very independent) and Aviva are the Berkeley Birth Partners, midwifing for a mostly white, well-to-do clientele. All good, right?
Miles Davis “Thinkin' One Thing and Doin' Another” (On the Corner, Columbia, 1972)
"I am building a monastery, if you like, for the practice of vinyl kung fu. And I am asking you to come be my abbot." —Gibson Goode
Then the stylus skips. Archy's got a fuckup or two in him yet, like unacknowledged teen son Titus reentering the picture and drawing the infatuation of Nat and Aviva's film-freak son, Julius (call him “Julie”). Add Archy's dad Luther and Jet-espoused entrepreneur Gibson Goode, whose planned Dogpile Megastore (think Tower Records on soul-jazz steroids) spells Brokeland's demise, and shit gets real.
Carole King “It's Too Late” (Tapestry, Ode Records, 1971)
"Swear. On the soul of your mother, who raised you to be a better man than that." —Gwen Shanks
Like in his pulpy whirlwind The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Chabon's multisensory prose plunges us into the souls of his players. Heady aromas from an Ethiopian restaurant mingle with the intoxication of a man's infidelity. Lingos befitting hotrods and honeys blend in degrees that would make Quentin Tarantino blush. Chabon knows when to pare it down, too, turning an affectionate gesture between teenaged boys into something deeper: "They hooked hands at the thumbs and bumped chests. Titus wrapped an arm around Julie. Julie felt protected in the lingering embrace, though he knew that when Titus let go of him, he was going to feel nothing but abandoned."
The Winstons “Amen, Brother” (Color Him Father, Metromedia, 1969)
"Do what you got to do, and stay fly." —Valletta Moore
Soul, in at least two senses of the word, figures into the book's most scene-stealing, goosebump-inducing cameo. While Archy pinch-hits on bass at a fundraiser, a certain former Senator from Illinois approaches Gwen, reflecting: “The lucky ones are the people like your husband there. The ones who find work that means something to them. That they can really put their heart into, however foolish it might look to other people.”
DJ Shadow “Midnight in a Perfect World” (Endtroducing....., Mo' Wax, 1996)
Crate-digging memories and dreams in my own Brokeland. [—author]
HarperCollins unveils Telegraph Avenue today with an enhanced e-book edition, featuring Chabon's own playlist, audio clips narrated by Treme'sClarke Peters (I internalized his voice while reading Archy's part), and more. Plus, for you lucky locals: Oakland's Diesel Books has become a “Brokeland Records” pop-up store through September 14, replete with requisite jazz LPs for sale. Time for that overdue trip out West.