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Soundscape of the Body Politic: The Songs of Thomas Pynchon's 'Inherent Vice'

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Thursday, Sep 10, 2009
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Inherent Vice

Thomas Pynchon

(Penguin)

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”:
  
SONG LIST
01 Bamboo by Johnny and the Hurricanes
02 Bang Bang by The Bonzo Dog Band
03 Bootleg Tape by Elephant’s Memory
04 Can’t Buy Me Love by The Beatles
05 Desafinado by Stan Getz & Astrud Gilberto, with Charlie Byrd
06 Elusive Butterfly by Bob Lind
07 Fly Me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra
08 Full Moon in Pisces performed by Lark
09 God Only Knows by The Beach Boys
10 The Greatest Hits of Tommy James and The Shondells
11 Happy Trails to You by Roy Rogers
12 Help Me, Rhonda by The Beach Boys
13 Here Come the Hodads by The Marketts
14 The Ice Caps by Tiny Tim
15 Interstellar Overdrive by Pink Floyd



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Like his protagonists, Thomas Pynchon appears to remind us, in his absence from advising us, that we must rely on our own smarts, arrayed against mystery and cynicism and corruption.
By PopMatters Staff
20 Jan 2010
More than half of the titles in this year’s selections offer grim portraits of the human condition, some with more wit and optimism than others, and a surprising number of legendary authors complete the portraiture and theme.
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Pynchon’s latest combines elements of The Big Lebowski, Dashiell Hammett, John Garfield’s movies, and the TV cop shows and Hollywood movie bikinis-and-surfboards grooviness of the early ‘70s.
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There is sheer virtuosity and beauty in Pynchon's prose, its poetry and jazz rhythms, which he uses to build up a sense of artistic wonderment and then discharges with that little laconic snap of emotion at the end.
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