In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Nick Mamatas’s The Second Shooter is a smart, funny, and timely literary science fiction thriller.
Financial Times wrote of the book:
“Mamatas offers plenty of scathing commentary on gun violence and misuse of social media in a novel that is both smart and topical”
The Second Shooter is a fantastical thriller that had a long gestational period. I started writing it in 2016—before QAnon, before Pizzagate, before so much of the other pernicious nonsense that has infected politics in recent years. I picked it up again, to write the last two acts of the novel, in 2020. Riffing on conspiracy theories and fringe politics and philosophical games was no longer as fun as it once was—well, philosophical games are still kind of fun, and thus a new climax and denouement suggested themselves. It’s a bit like a song, there the end is both a surprise and embedded in the beginning. It’s kind of like this playlist.
“Unmarked Helicopters” by Soul Coughing
Remember the 1990s? I hope you do. This track was off an X-Files soundtrack/tribute album, in the era where distrust of the government while working for the government could still somehow be both weird and cool. The little cascade of notes is the show’s opening theme, sped up nearly beyond recognition. In that it is much like life in the twenty-first century itself.
“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” by R.E.M.
Dan Rather is an interesting figure. A stalwart journalist who either slipped up with or got ratfucked by the false Killian documents which purported to show that then-Presidential candidate George W. Bush had his Air National Guard records “improved” thanks to political nepotism. A crowdsourced Internet investigation demonstrated that the documents were phony, and it took Rather and CBS News two weeks to admit that they had been fooled by the fake. Rather’s reputation never really recovered, and the idea that the wisdom of online crowds could do a better job than the mainstream news really took off.
Oh, and this song’s title is taken from two assailants who in 1986 manhandled and beat Rather in 1986. One of them demanded repeatedly “Kenneth, what is the frequency?” The attacker with the speaking role was later identified as William Tager, who killed a Today show stagehand in 1994. Tager claimed that TV networks were beaming electronic signals into his brain.
“Don’t Let the Devil Blow Your Mind” by Evolution Control Committee
It’s been a decade since I last constructed a playlist for you largehearted types out there. In these past ten years, legal and easy streaming has become ubiquitous. It’s so convenient to be able to hear a song with the click of a button, unless you’re a musical artist who wishes to be paid more than one thirtieth of a cent. Or if you want something in particular. I was interested in adding the Dan Rather sample-collage song “Rocked by Rape” by Evolution Control Committee to this playlist, but it wasn’t on Spotify! Here’s a YouTube link (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hh-Z8_6_m4Q), speaking of a firm that will pay the ECC even less per play than Spotify.
“Don’t Let the Devil Blow Your Mind” is also by ECC, and is also a wonderful sonic collage, one that contains some very good advice about keeping your head straight and not letting the devil blow your mind. It’s also very funky!
“Have You Ever Been Mellow?” by The Feederz
The Feederz are one of the few punk bands to be heavily influenced by Situationism, which also plays a role in The Second Shooter. “Have You Ever Been Mellow?” is an important question, and the answer is “No.” They don’t make punk like this—with aggressive anti-singing, high school drums, and a low cunning— anymore, and they haven’t since the days of when underground culture was created in stolen moments with Xerox machines. Now everything is aboveground, including not only the very bottom of the barrel, and also that which squirms beneath when you lift the barrel up.
“Sanrio Boy” by Lil Eli
The internet has not only eaten the underground, it puked it all up, and that isn’t all bad. Music microgenres, such as the synth/hip-hop/tumblr babble combo called hyperpop, sprout like mushrooms, and are endlessly inventive. Finally, even Hello Kitty can be gangster, and Madonna a reference both ancient and current. Cultural theorist Mark Fisher famously claimed that the popular music of 2003 onward was doomed to stagnate, as artists were no longer able to imagine alternative futures outside of capitalism. Music could only look backward and (re)appropriate the claims, vibes, and beats of prior decades. What he missed was everything that happened after his untimely death in 2017. Hyperpop and instant music is collage that gains its power from the combination of various different decades and by cannibalizing and digesting everything from Latin-inflected freestyle to 8-bit videogame soundtracks. The way out of the past is to bring everything with us, smashed together and repurposed.
“Mushroom Biome” by Kinneret
I can’t just hang the claims made above on poor Lil Eli’s fingie-wingies, festooned as they are with Hello Kitty ringies, whether or not he has a machine gun. So, check out “Mushroom Biome” which manages to simultaneously be about the virtual game world of Minecraft, hallucinogenic mushrooms, and abandoning the two-party system with its perennial map of states red and blue. Plus, Mr. Spock! We’re out!
“Who Dat Boy” by Tyler, the Creator, featuring A$AP Rocky (Dated remix)
In a hypermedia environment, it’s easy to forget the self, so one must stand up and declare for one’s self. “Who Dat Boy?” It me! And you! And maybe even them! “Who Dat Boy” is about presenting one’s self as an artist, a producer, an aficionado of the finest clothes, a businessperson, and a generator of culture as opposed to a mere remixer or appropriator.
But of course, this version is a remix, which both undermines and augments the theme with beats of Lovecraftian intensity and DIY sensibility. Showing off your best duds, like you’re having an open-casket funeral? Cool, but what’s your next stop after the party’s over?
“It’s Gonna Rain” (Pts. 1 and 2) by Steve Reich
What a pleasant surprise that this sound-art piece was on Spotify. Apocalyptic warnings, expressions of gratitude and adoration of the God who will rend the veil, chopped and screwed before that was a thing, detourned and twisted and looped, like the famed theme for Dr. Who, which appeared just two years earlier thanks to the power of state-owned media. Reich’s destruction of the transcendent manages to actually reclaim transcendence, which is an excellent trick.
Less excellent—if you don’t pay for Spotify, and I don’t pay for Spotify, you get a random ad between parts. It’s fitting though.
“Pavlos Fyssas” by Ursus Minor
Though culture is transnational and borders have been annihilated by the internet, capital and the state still work together very efficiently, Thus I am unable to access any tracks by Pavlos Fyssas, the Greek rapper known as Killah P (and not to be confused with American rappers with similar soubriquets) on Spotify. Fyssas was killed in 2013 by a member of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, which led to a massive movement against the far right. Golden Dawn, which actually held seats in Greece’s parliament, was declared a criminal organization. Political martyrdom can lead to enormous change—not to give anything about The Second Shooter away—but some things stay the same. Like geoblocking.
So what we have here is a song about Pavlos Fyssas, by the fairly earnest post-jazz Ursus Minor, who are new to me thanks to the creation of this playlist. Sometimes if you don’t find what you want, you may still be the recipient of entirely unexpected secret wisdom.
Nick Mamatas is the author of several novels, including Move Under Ground, I Am Providence and Sabbath. His short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy, Tor.com, and dozens of other venues. Much of the last decade’s short fiction was recently collected in The People’s Republic of Everything.
Nick is also an editor and anthologist: he co-edited the Bram Stoker Award-winning Haunted Legends with Ellen Datlow, the Locus Award nominees The Future is Japanese and Hanzai Japan with Masumi Washington, and the hybrid fiction/cocktail title Mixed Up with Molly Tanzer. His short fiction, non-fiction, novels, and editorial work have variously been nominated for the Hugo, Shirley Jackson, Stoker, and World Fantasy Awards.