Daniel Handler on cerebral bliss versus dancing around in your underwear
Daniel Handler, author of three novels and the Lemony Snicket series, selected the songs on the CD in the July/August Believer magazine, its annual music issue. The songs -- by Sam Phillips, Lloyd Cole, Lisa Germano, David Sylvian and others -- are mostly a mix of folk-ish and indie-ish rock with a dark sensibility; they share "respect for the songwriting tradition," Handler explains, and "general awesomeness." He answered Jacket Copy's questions about music and books via e-mail.
Jacket Copy: How did you go about picking the songs for the Believer music CD?
Daniel Handler: There was a long list, a wide net, a dispiriting sequence of dead-ends, a storm cloud of increasing desperation, and then redemption and beauty and glory.
JC: Did you know anything about the articles that would be appearing in the issue, or was the CD a project of its own?
DH: The Believer likes to keep its contributors in cubicles of ignorance and oblivion, as part of some experimental angle. I had no idea what would be in the magazine.
JC: Did you write the song blurbs that appear in the magazine? Where there are Q&As, did you talk to the musicians?
DH: I had the privilege of talking to Mr. Robinson, Ms. Phillips and Mr. Campbell (about Mr. Cole). The other interviews were conducted by other Believer staffers, so I have no reason to doubt their contents.
JC: Why aren’t there any accordions?
DH: As an accordionist, I didn't want to be accused of having a conflict of interest with any track I chose.
What music and books are good for ... after the jump.
JC: What is music good for that books aren’t?
DH: Driving, dancing around in your underwear, sitting around talking.
JC: What are books good for that music is no good at?
DH: Narrative, extrasensual immersion, cerebral bliss, philosophical and moral instruction.
JC: Do you listen to music when you write? Like what, for example?
DH: I listen to music constantly. When I write, I cannot listen to music with words, so the old standbys are Sun Ra and Morton Feldman. For my last book, I listened to lots of Rued Langgaard. I'm starting a new book now, and Ornette Coleman seems to be the way I'm going.
JC: Do you have a favorite music-related book or books?
DJ: Most books on music are terrible, although Alex Ross' "The Rest Is Noise" was fascinating and ended up costing me about $150 in new music.
JC: And on a completely other note, how do you really feel about the Kindle?
DH: About the way I feel about French flaps: depends what's inside.
-- Carolyn Kellogg
Photo: Daniel Handler in 2004. Credit: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press