Tony Trigilio’s Playlist for His Poetry Collection “Proof Something Happened”

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Winner of the 2020 Marsh Hawk Press Poetry Prize, Tony Trigilio’s collection Proof Something Happened is bold, nuanced, and inventively told.

Susan Howe wrote of the book:

“Tony Trigilio has plucked an early incident of ufology from the margins of 20th century cultural history and created from a variety of documentary sources an original and highly resonant work of contemporary poetry.”

In his words, here is Tony Trigilio’s Book Notes music playlist for his poetry collection Proof Something Happened:

My newest book, Proof Something Happened, is a collection of documentary poems on the alleged alien abduction of Betty and Barney Hill in New Hampshire’s White Mountains in 1961. The book doesn’t try to solve the mystery of what happened to the Hills. Instead, it attempts to document the emotional history of the Hills’ experience—the three hours of “missing time” in the White Mountains. Proof Something Happened is also a love story that dramatizes a tender, caring bond between two ordinary individuals trying to communicate a traumatic experience to a skeptical world. I listened to some of these songs constantly as I wrote and revised Proof Something Happened. Others were chosen for the playlist because of their sci-fi themes or futuristic instrumentation.

Bummer Deluxe, “From Outer Space with Love”

Written and recorded by my band, Bummer Deluxe, for our EP Bombs Away. I adapted the lyrics for this song from one of the poems in the book, also titled “From Outer Space with Love.” We recorded the music for this song with engineer Brian Fox in one take at Chicago’s Altered States Studios during a weekend session in December 2019. My first vocal take was out of sync—a bit nervous, gulping my breaths as I stood behind the microphone—but I nailed it the second time. Brian manipulated a version of that initial take and mixed it into the song so that it yammers on the outskirts of the music like a warped radio signal lost in space. (Andy Trebing: guitar; Andrew Francis Bernotas: guitar; Lucas Tashey: bass; me: drums, vocals.)

Portishead, “Wandering Star”

I must’ve listened to “Wandering Star” every day in the summer of 2017 as I began my first major overhaul of the manuscript. The title comes from the name ancient astronomers gave to the planets—”wandering” heavenly bodies, in contrast to the actual stars and constellations, which they considered to be “fixed” in place in the night sky. The song begins with a gorgeous, electronic drone. Beth Gibbons’ emo-vocals come out of nowhere, stylized and haunting: “Please could you stay awhile to share my grief,” she sings, then, after a two-note breath pause, adds: “For it’s such a lovely day / to have to always feel this way.” I can’t count how many times I’ve uttered variations of these lines to friends, asking them to stay a little while longer with me when I’ve been struck by a lonesome bout of depression. The song’s electronic instrumentation mesmerizes me, and the weirdly braided noise before the final verse is beautifully textured and just a little bit dizzying.

Thelonious Monk, “Bye-Ya”

The 1963 live version of this song, from a Copenhagen performance, was on repeat in my living room during the summer of 2019, as I tweaked the book’s final revisions before circulating it once again to publishers in the first weeks of 2020. Frankie Dunlop’s drumming lends a soft lushness to the melody, as do the butterscotch textures of Charlie Rouse’s steady saxophone—harmonious counterpoints to the controlled frenzy of Monk’s piano.

Dio, “Egypt (The Chains are On)”

Ronnie James Dio is my spirit animal. No musician means more to me. I’ve missed his voice every day in the eleven years since his death. This particular song is Dio’s homage to Erik Von Danikan’s Chariots of the Gods, a book that claims the ancient world was shaped by alien visitors who had become gods to us, flying like birds in magical aircraft and, as they walked among us, creating massive, mathematically proportioned structures like the pyramids. It’s a theory of civilization that saturates twenty-first century cable and streaming TV, but in my childhood you could only find it in Chariots of the Gods. The book seemed so dangerously mystical that I hid it from my parents, worried they’d see it as a threat to the hardcore Catholic indoctrination I eventually fled as an adult when I converted to Buddhism. In this song, Dio’s voice overwhelms me with its usual mix of operatic urgency and delicious bombast, recalling the Mario Lanza records my father and I listened to when I was a child. Sometimes I just want to fast-forward to the song’s bridge, where the whole arrangement deliberately falls apart, only to be reconstructed by drummer Vinny Appice, bassist Jimmy Bain, and guitarist Vivian Campbell as they guide us into the over-the-top vocals of the final verse and the song’s roiling fadeout. Bonus trivia: in an interview with journalist Michael Eriksson published in 2009, Dio described a UFO sighting he experienced back in the 1970s. “I would love to have an alien walk [through] this door right now,” he told Eriksson. “I would love to see a UFO land on top of this building, and I wouldn’t even care if they took me away.”

Sleater-Kinney, “One More Hour”

It’s impossible for drummer Janet Weiss to write boring grooves. Impossible for her to sound like anyone else. What she composed for the intros and verses of “One More Hour” is stunning in its ability to hold down the song—preventing the sharp-edged chaos generated by guitarists Carrie Brownstein and Corin Tucker from going off the rails—while also driving the song into a purposely disjunctive trajectory. Weiss’s drumming is as solid and as jagged as you can get in “One More Hour,” and her weird fusion of the two keeps the rhythm in a pocket while tearing that same pocket to shreds. I listened to “One More Hour” constantly as I wrote and revised Proof Something Happened. Weiss left the band in the summer of 2019, citing conflict with Brownstein and Tucker. In a November 2019 interview with Joe Wong, for his podcast The Trap Set, Weiss recounted the circumstances that led to her departure: “I said, ‘Am I just the drummer now?’ They said yes . . . . And I said, ‘Can you tell me if I am still a creative equal in the band?’ And they said no. So I left.” Weiss was the band’s center of gravity, and I hope she’s on to better things with musicians who appreciate her virtuosity.

Can, “Paperhouse”

“Paperhouse” is impossibly eclectic—precisely why it never gets old for me. A ten-second avant-noise opening lingers in the mix as the first verse unfolds, in early-Pink-Floyd outer space ambience, floating just below Damo Suzuki’s exquisite, orphic mumbling: “You can make everything / what you want with your head” (I’ve never heard a more compelling statement of poetics than those two lines). Before you get too complacent, the first verse bleeds into a growling, syncopated groove laid down by bassist Holger Czukay, drummer Jaki Liebezeit, and guitarist Michael Karoli. Suddenly, Karoli breaks into a sitar-like solo, then the song makes a whiplash swerve into the free-form, experimental jazz for which Liebezeit was best known before Can. Czukay and Liebezeit’s pattering jazz vibe simmers underneath Karoli’s near-Eastern infused German psychedelia, eventually culminating in a half-minute crescendo even noisier and stranger than the opening ten seconds. If Ronnie James Dio weren’t my spirit animal, Can would be.

Beyoncé, “Don’t Hurt Yourself”

Summer 2016, I spent nearly every day at Ellipsis Coffeehouse, my favorite café in Chicago, revising a new draft of the Proof Something Happened manuscript. When I needed a break, I’d relax by watching videos of drummers on Instagram. Over a period of a few weeks, I noticed that my video feed was overwhelmed by drummers playing the same particular beat over and over. I recognized it from somewhere, but couldn’t quite place it. Around this same time, I downloaded Beyoncé’s album, Lemonade. I couldn’t tear myself away from the songs. It’s one of the greatest albums, start-to-finish, that I’ve heard in the past decade. When I got to “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” I realized that the opening drum beat, a one-minute intro, was exactly the rhythm I’d been hearing drummers play on Instagram. They weren’t just showing off their chops on social media, as I’d assumed all this time, but instead they were imitating the opening of “Don’t Hurt Yourself,” a beat so compelling that drummers worldwide made it go viral. I’ve read that the opening is an electronically altered sample of the primary beat that John Bonham wrote for Led Zeppelin’s “When the Levee Breaks”—not a direct sample of Bonham’s signature rhythm, but instead more of an interpolation. I don’t know if I’d actually hear the Bonham sample if it hadn’t been mentioned in reviews of Lemonade. No matter—it’s an irresistible hook in a song I’ll always associate with Proof Something Happened.

Black Sabbath, “Into the Void”

As with Can, pretty much anything by Sabbath is playlist-worthy for me. They’re the reason I picked up the guitar as a child (I turned to drums and percussion once I realized my fingers were too short and chubby to make proper chords). “Into the Void” begins with a slow-motion sensory overload of sludgy Tony Iommi fuzz-riffs—a ninety-second intro that launches the song, lumbering, into space. The lyrics dramatize a refugee rocket flight from a dying earth, and Ozzy Osbourne slugs out the vocals in a garrulous, nasal rap. By this album, Master of Reality, the rhythm section of Geezer Butler (bass) and Bill Ward (drums) had largely abandoned the band’s delightfully bizarre mashup of 1940s swing era jazz and hippy acid rock. Still, despite my disappointment that Sabbath had left behind its jazz roots, I can’t complain about the new direction they were taking with songs like “Into the Void,” a compelling proto-doom-metal archetype that feels like it could’ve been written yesterday in a masked and sweaty coronavirus-era studio. Thank you to my older brother Carmen for bequeathing his worn copy of Sabbath’s classic album Paranoid—riddled by so many scratches that they seemed to be an inextricable part of every song, the pops and cracks in the vinyl lending an unintended industrial-music atmosphere to the album. Gratitude to my father, too, who won an album for coming closest to guessing the correct number of jelly beans in a jar at a local Woolworth’s when I was nine, and then, after deciding that he didn’t want anything from the store’s limited selection (he preferred jazz, opera, and country), he let me choose one. My eye went straight to Sabbath’s first album, with its slightly blurred cover photo of a ghastly green, Lily-Munster-skin-toned woman in a witchy black shroud standing in front of a rural British stone cottage you’d imagine Blake or Yeats living in.

Trees Speak, “Shadow Circuit” (Parts I and II)

Two of my favorite, long-form tracks of ambient, instrumental magic from a Tucson band that sounds like the twenty-first century progeny of krautrock maestros Can, Neu!, and Harmonia. Several months into pandemic quarantine, “Shadow Circuit” created just the right interstellar atmosphere in my apartment as I proofed the manuscript for Marsh Hawk Press. These two compositions in particular shift seamlessly between delicate minimalism and power-driven noise trance—cosmic techno-krautrock for an era like ours, when sound splicing is done with software and not, as in the case of Can’s mad-scientist genius and former Karlheinz Stockhausen pupil Holger Czukay, with scissors and tape. Even though I use words like “interstellar” and “cosmic” to describe these two compositions, Trees Speak actually is a band with its feet firmly rooted in planet Earth: they take their name from research that suggests trees communicate with each other through underground fungal networks. The name also comes from wild-eyed and delightful speculation that future information technology might be stored in trees and plants as if they were hard drives.

Sun Ra and His Intergalactic Solar Arkestra, “Space is the Place”

One of the poems in the book documents my strange encounter with a mysterious orb in the sky (and a similarly uncanny moment with a panicked deer in my densely populated neighborhood in Chicago) and if I could ever name one soundtrack for an alien encounter, it would be “Space is the Place,” a twenty-one minute anthem by the Afrofuturistic avant-garde jazz maestro who claimed to be from Saturn.

Sonic Youth, “Stereo Sanctity”

“That which makes no sense makes the most sense,” says the narrator of Philip K. Dick’s novel, VALIS, the story of four friends (one of whom is an autobiographical, split-personality version of Dick himself) on a religious quest to redeem the world from the deranged creator God holding it hostage. “Stereo Sanctity” is Sonic Youth’s tribute to VALIS. The song begins with a disjunctive male voice, spread wide by reverb, barking the word “seven” with a baffling urgency. Then he repeats the word, this time thinner and reedier, with an extra shout of “seven,” an overdub of (I think) vocalist Thurston Moore. Squawking electric guitars take over, like a wash of radio static, triggering drummer Steve Shelley’s snappy, rolling floor tom grounded in the deep end of the song’s mix. “Your spirit is time-reversed to your body / Stereographic mix-up field on field”—Moore sings in the second verse, lines that initially seem incoherent, but after repeated listening actually begin to resemble the secret Gnostic cosmology of VALIS: “It started growing up the day your body dies,” he continues, “Only apparently—real to irreal.” The final third of the song is just as precarious as the lyrics, a fantastic noise sculpture befitting a novel, VALIS, whose author claimed was partly inspired by a 1974 metaphysical vision he experienced (while recovering from dental surgery) of ancient Rome superimposed on his quiet neighborhood in Berkeley, California.

Max Roach Trio (featuring Hasaan Ibn Ali), “Three-Four vs. Six-Eight Four-Four Ways”

The song is a total adventure, always on the verge of seizure, or even total collapse, until you realize, as it lands with nary a wobble on its final notes, that it’s actually a celebration of our ability to live on the edge of breakdown. Max Roach’s asymmetrical drumming meets Hasaan Ibn Ali’s deliberately off-tone piano. Time signatures collide in messy star clusters, and often the only thing that seems to keep the tune together is Roach’s level-headed right-hand swing on the high hat. As I wrote and revised Proof Something Happened, this song became the musical equivalent of the “missing time” that the Hills claimed to have experienced during their alleged abduction. The Hills made it back home safely after their alien encounter. But what should have been a four-hour trip back home from Montreal to New Hampshire actually took seven hours, and everything they remembered was fragmented and murky after they noticed a strange light in the sky following them in the White Mountains. What happened during the missing three hours? What happens when three-four collides with six-eight four-four ways?

Deep Purple, “Space Truckin’”

As a child, I assumed the sci-fi lyrics of “Space Truckin’” were about long-haul drivers who flew spacecraft rather than eighteen-wheelers, which made the trucking industry seem more thrilling than it really was (and made me a lot less scared of my friend Dougie’s father, who, between jobs, defiantly parked his truck cab in their overgrown front yard and drank incessantly until it was time to hit the road again). But the verses are really just a space-age reimagining of Deep Purple’s nearly nonstop touring schedule in the early 1970s, transforming the very thing that depleted them, constant touring, into a fantastic voyage. What other song force-rhymes “moon shot” with the neologism “moonstop,” and makes “everynauts” out of astronauts? Bonus trivia: “Space Truckin’” originated as a riff that guitarist Ritchie Blackmore created from a finger exercise inspired by the ‘60s Batman television show theme song.

Tony Trigilio’s recent books include PROOF SOMETHING HAPPENED (2021) from Marsh Hawk Press, GHOSTS OF THE UPPER FLOOR (2019) and INSIDE THE WALLS OF MY OWN HOUSE (2016), both from BlazeVOX [books]. His selected poems, Fuera del Taller del Cosmos, was published in Guatemala by Editorial Poe (translated by Bony Hernández). He coedits the journal Court Green and is an associate editor for Tupelo Quarterly. He lives in Chicago.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider making a donation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *