Dmitry Samarov’s Playlist for His Book “Paint By Numbers”

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September 22, 2022

Dmitry Samarov’s Playlist for His Book “Paint By Numbers”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Dmitry Samarov’s book Paint By Numbers brings together his estimable talents as writer and artist (both in his drawings and collages) to powerful and unforgettable effect.

In his own words, here is Dmitry Samarov’s Book Notes music playlist for his book Paint By Numbers:

Stream the playlist at Apple Music

I never have a good elevator pitch for my books but this new one may be the hardest for me to encapsulate. It’s about my experiences in the art world with the monsters who inhabit it. Like everything I’ve written or painted, there’s very little imagination or invention involved. I like to work from life. It’s all I know how to do. But with this book even more than Old Style (which came out in 2021), I have to change names and alter timelines and locations. This one literally starts with a lawyer’s cease-and-desist letter. I’ve been stewing on the material that makes up this thing for a decade-plus. It’s a relief to have it out there, no matter the consequences.

1. “Send in the Clouds”—Silver Jews

The refrain “Why can’t monsters get along with other monsters?”—from one of the late David Berman’s more memorable tunes—played on repeat in my head while I wrote. Berman wasn’t thinking of the same monsters but that’s the magic of songs—they can apply to your life as if they were written just for you while meaning just as much as to someone else for entirely different reasons.

My monsters are self-absorbed geniuses. Just ask them. The float along powered by their own hot air. There’s never enough oxygen in a room when two of them meet.

2. “Sunday Papers”—Joe Jackson

In their cease-and-desist the lawyers accuse the writer Dimtry Samarov of what they used to call yellow journalism. They charge that he smears their clients and breaks agreements he made to protect their privacy. The two subjects of the article in question had hoped to repair their reputation, which they believe was damaged by scandal-mongers in local and national publications, by trusting Samarov to set the record straight. What they read in the pre-publication draft the writer stupidly shares with them makes them call their lawyers.

3. “Primitive Painters”—Felt

Painters have been trying to evoke the effect of music for as long as there have been painters. I don’t know that musicians feel the need to reciprocate so often. And why would they? Seems like a step backwards. Why would anyone paint if they could play a song? This one kicks off a Felt compilation called “Absolute Classic Masterpieces”. Seems apropos to the characters I’m grappling with. And when Lawrence and Elizabeth Fraser sing Oh you should see my trail of disgrace/It’s enough to scare the whole human race in the chorus, it feels thematically correct as well.

4. “Max Ernst”—Mission of Burma

In the plague years my primary visual art preoccupation has been collage. This book is heavily indebted to cut-up and mix-and-match techniques. I use letters, email, and SMS as source material for a good chunk of the text and most of the illustrations are mixed media as well. Max Ernst was one of the pioneers of the form and I’d never skip a chance to put Burma on a playlist.

5. “My Ship Is Coming In”—The Walker Brothers

So much of making art is self-delusion. The irrational hope of success in face of repeated failure. Yet that absolute faith in what you’re doing is vital if you want to get anything done. Convincing anyone else that it’s gonna happen, like the girl Scott Walker is singing to, is often a tougher assignment than making yourself believe. The people I write about bluster and puff out their chests but I know they’re wracked with doubt.

6. “When Do We Get Paid”—Staples Jr. Singers

The question that every artist ever asks and rarely gets answered.

7. “Rip, Rig and Panic”—Rahsaan Roland Kirk Quartet

Jazz plays a big part in my book. One of the main characters is a horn player who can no longer play and there’s episode in a bar where a jazz band makes all the regulars leave with their uncompromising music. I could choose something challenging to illustrate that but instead I include a number off a CD an early girlfriend gave me that has been a constant in my life ever since. Listening to Kirk showed me the way to much more abrasive music. It opened my ears.

8. “Working Class Hero”—John Lennon

There’s a lot of music I can’t include on this list because it would give away the models for my characters so I’ll try to keep to the oblique approach. One of the artists in the book does cover art for a singer who brands himself a working-class hero while treating those near and dear to him like garbage. The ambivalence and melancholy of Lennon’s delivery lends layers to his words. It’s the kind of self-awareness few of the monsters in my book possess.

9. “My, My, Hey, Hey (Out of the Blue)”—Neil Young & Crazy Horse

One of the memories that came back to me while writing this book was an art school classmate’s claim that his sister was married to Dennis Hopper. I looked it up and it turned out to be true. When I think of Hopper one of the first things that come to mind is his 1980 movie named after this Neil Young song. Associative connections like this can lead to dead-end rabbit holes but in this case, though there’s no direct line between Linda Manz’s nihilist heroine and anyone in my story, her dark spirit, as well as that of the director who brought her to screen, courses through the pages.

10. “Bad Guy”—Billie Eilish

They say that the villain is the hero of their own story, so who’s the bad guy in my story? The reason it took so long for me put down the events in this book is I didn’t want it to be just sour grapes or score-settling. How complicit are you when you’re mistreated by people you look up to? I’m not saying I was asking for it but there’s a level of self-delusion and wishful thinking in play when you come in contact with famous people. You want them to like you and look past obvious flaws. Some of us only know how to learn lessons the hard way.


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