Interpolators of literature always try to figure out how we, as readers, glean the book in our hands. Arguments between the likes of Harold Bloom and the New Critics in the ‘50s, whose polemics on whether the book should be read and analyzed for what it is—or taking into account external sources, such as the author’s life—still divide academics today. Then there’s the recluse Thomas Pynchon.
So far, what we have derived about the man on our own terms has been kept to a minimum. Pynchon is painted as a cult literary icon, perpetuated by his classic cache of post modernist literature that inspires fear in the heart and tires the brain, most notably the archetypal Gravity’s Rainbow. To this day, Pynchon maintains a badass status. Pynchon’s relentless protection of his private life gives him more street cred and elevates the mythology surrounding him. Whether this is an emblematic projection, a dogma many writers quietly circumscribe to, or me just being a troglodyte of the media, Pynchon inherits the lineage of writer as vocation, not as celebrity. But when Pynchon himself gives us a small window into his brilliant mind, we must take whatever we can get. In this case, it’s his iPod tracklist.
Released just last August, Pynchon’s new novel Inherent Vice is a comical distillation of the crime fiction genre. The profile of our hero speaks for itself: Name: Larry (Doc) Sportello. Occupation: Detective and lover of the gonge. Mission: Investigate the whereabouts of ex-girlfriend’s boyfriend, a prominent land developer. As the action unfolds, Sportello’s case takes detours into the post apocalyptic noir of Pynchon’s familial pedigree. Set against the backdrop of L.A. at the end of the ‘60s, Inherent Vice makes you feel the heat of a strange kind of Americana slowly dying.
Music plays a vital role in coloring the atmospherics of this novel. The plethora of musical allusions span the gamut, from legendary prog rockers the Doors, to obscure surf music from the likes of the Bonzo Dog Band, to the Grand Dame of the Broadway Stage, Ethel Merman. Pynchon compiled the comprehensive soundtrack himself for Amazon.com, with over 20 eclectic tracks all referenced in Inherent Vice.
These songs are by no means a substitute to secrets revealed, or a tell all interview Oprah style, but it does feed, however sparingly, an army of Pynchonphiles who have been hungry for decades. Here’s a partial track listing of the songs in Inherent Vice, the full list can be found on Inherent Vice‘s page on Amazon, a promo trailer for Inherent Vice narrated by Pynchon, and a video of Ethel Merman’s “There’s No Business Like Show Business”: