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Daniel Handler on cerebral bliss versus dancing around in your underwear

August 18, 2009 |  6:00 am

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