Thomas Kendall’s Playlist for His Novel “The Autodidacts”

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July 28, 2022

Thomas Kendall’s Playlist for His Novel “The Autodidacts”

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.

Thomas Kendall’s novel The Autodidacts is lyrical and haunting.

Dennis Cooper wrote of the book:

“Thomas Kendall’s The Autodidacts is a brilliant novel — inviting like a secret passage, infallible in its somehow orderly but whirligig construction, spine-tingling to unpack, and as haunted as any fiction in recent memory.”

In his own words, here is Thomas Kendall’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Autodidacts:

Music operates in two broadly different modalities in The Autodidacts, and the way it functions in each section is a kind of clue to the structural and stylistic relationship between them i.e Between the head that feeds and the tail that purges. So, I’m going to divide the playlist into two sections. Part one is music which could act as a soundtrack to certain scenes in the first half of the novel. No music is actually referenced in the first half of the novel as this would have grounded/literalised the ambience in a way that would have undermined each character’s connection to the world. So, this is music that I’ve tried to tonally incorporate into the body of the novel and its articulation is hidden beneath the language or abstractly emerges via the broken capillaries of the narrative.

In the second part of the novel music becomes talismanic for certain characters, that is to say a powerful symbol invested with life and worn close to the body for protection.What it connects to and what it wards off and the hope it represents is central to their desires.

In the second half of The Autodidacts two working class friends form their own impossible band: The Lupe Velez Experience. The name derives from an apocryphal story, about the suicide attempt of a 1930s starlet who it was rumoured had wanted to die beautifully but had ended up drowning in the toilet when whatever pills she had taken reacted badly to the alcohol in her system. This story becomes shorthand to the two characters for ‘The Attempt To Do Something Beautiful and Failing Remarkably.’ Hence the experience. Part of that experience is the sincerity of the attempt at beauty. It is the goal of the novel too in whatever relation the novel has to the story. That the rumour about Lupe Velez may not, in itself be true, works all the better for the thematics of the novel.

The second playlist then is emblematic of the characters but is too overtly charged to accompany a reading of the novel.

Part 1:

Bohren and the Club de Gore: Midnight Black Earth

Slow Dissolution, pure atmosphere.

PJ Harvey: White Chalk

‘Dorset’s cliffs meet at the sea
Where I walked our unborn child in me’

A genuinely gothic song that in its execution is pared back and fragile while simultaneously also being emotionally baroque and haunted.

William Basinski: Disintegration Loops

The mournful warping of reality as a thing one is subjected to and the way repetition builds back into the world. I still find it beautiful.

Miles Davis: Ascenseur pour l’échafaud

For the noirish elements of the plot.

Part 2:

Guns N Roses: Welcome to the Jungle.

‘Watch it bring you to your sha-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-knees, knees’

The album was called Appetite for Destruction. How couldn’t you be at least a little charmed?

The Mountain Goats: Transcendental Youth (The whole album but these two tracks in particular)

‘Just stay alive’

‘Mistreat your Altar Boys long enough and this is what you get
Sad and angry… can’t learn how to behave
Still won’t know how in the darkness of the grave’

Transcendental Youth seemed like the culmination of a cycle, the point of maximum expression for the themes sketched out in the Mountain Goats’ early works. It suggested a hidden narrative operating somehow within the songs and between them, teased the possibility of characters reoccurring and transforming while still managing to affirm and honour the subject matter of scarred youth.

The Ramones: I wanna be sedated

Everyone’s accusing me’

I’m not a huge Ramones fan, which isn’t any slight on them, but in the songs of theirs that I love I feel that there’s always a disparity between the joyous release and cartoonish glee in destruction and the sense of a very real sadness operating in a totally ambient, unlocatable manner.

The Jesus and Mary Chain: Darklands

‘I’m going to the darklands
To talk in rhyme
With my chaotic soul’

Just the coolest band and when it came to borrowing an aesthetic…

Sonic Youth: Teenage Riot

‘You’re it
No, you’re it
Hey, you’re really it
You’re it
No, I mean it, you’re it’


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