Chuck Palahniuk is the author of over a dozen books including the award-winning novel Fight Club, which was also made into a feature film. Nearly 20 years later, the sequel - Fight Club 2 - will be released as a graphic novel, and we invited Chuck to share some of the music that has inspired him throughout his life. Not surprisingly, he tends toward storytellers like Don McLean and Gordon Lightfoot.
For More: http://www.chuckpalahniuk.net
- 10cc - "I'm Not In Love"
- Don McLean - "American Pie"
- Gerry Rafferty - "Baker Street"
- Dire Straits - "Sultans of Swing"
- Gordon Lightfoot - "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
Eric J. Lawrence: Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with Chuck Palahniuk. He's the author of over a dozen books including the award-winning novel Fight Club, which was also made into a feature film. Nearly 20 years later, the sequel Fight Club 2 will be released as a graphic novel via Dark Horse Comics. He also has a new short story collection called Make Something Up. But today, we're here to talk about some of the songs that have inspired him over the years, as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Chuck, thank you so much for joining us.
Chuck Palahniuk: Thank you, Eric.
EJL: So what's the first song you got for us?
CP: “I'm Not in Love" by 10cc.
It goes way back to junior high school dances and the early 1970's, which were just agony: all the boys on one side of the gym, all the girls on the other side of the gym.
What I loved about it was the fact that I got it wrong and that, for years, I thought it was the song that was seriously someone who wasn't in love until a friend of mine pointed out the fact that it's more likely a song about someone denying that he is in love, for fear of being rejected. And suddenly I realized it made more sense.
It's one of those songs that is maybe not the greatest music, but it's associated with a time of life that was so simple and, in comparison, so much nicer than the current time, that still love this song because of the association.
Song: 10cc – “I’m Not In Love”
EJL: That was 10cc with "I'm Not In Love" as selected by our guest Chuck Palahniuk. What's the next track you got for us?
CP: Next one is "American Pie", which is a lot of people's favorite song and a lot of people's least favorite song, but I love it!
EJL: How does it transcend least favorite to most favorite for YOU?
CP: In my world, you are either a words person or you are a music person.
And so, ideally, words people marry music people. And I'm a words person, so I married a music person. And as a words person, my life is not complete until I had memorized every lyric of "American Pie."
EJL: In your books it's clear, as a writer, you're a word person. But even books like Lullaby you talk about a poem that can kill. And, when you do readings, sometimes people faint. Now, does music have the same power in your estimation?
CP: You know, what I love about music is that can repeat the same things, but it never gets boring. And it uses such great devices to keep people engaged on a very intense level, even though it doesn't necessarily make sense.
We stay engaged with "American Pie" even though we don't for sure know what the allegorical lyrics mean. And I fell in love with that aspect, that kind of poetic aspect of loving something without knowing exactly what it means.
EJL: How many times did you have to listen to it before you actually got it memorized?
CP: You know, back in the old AM radio days, it was on such constant heavy rotation. It was hundreds of times. So, back in the day this was audio wallpaper.
EJL: Can we get you to recite some of it now? Do you retain it?
CP: "I met a girl who sang the blues and I asked her for some happy news. And she just smiled and turned away. So I went down to the sacred store where I heard the music years before, and a man there said that the music wouldn't play."
Don't get me started; I got all eight and a half minutes.
EJL: Alright, we'll go to the real deal. It's Don McLean with "American Pie."
Song: Don McLean – “American Pie”
EJL: That was Don McLean with "American Pie," as selected by our guest Chuck Palahniuk. What's the next track you got for us?
CP: "Baker Street" by Gerry Rafferty.
EJL: And why this track?
CP: Jump ahead four or five years, and I've gotten my first full-time job; I'm working in a theater. I'm a sophomore in high school, and my shift ends at 1 or 2 o' clock in the morning, and I've got to get out and be in chemistry class at 7:15am.
"Baker Street" played on our tape of Muzak, our endless Muzak cassette. Hearing "Baker Street" in the middle of the night when I knew I was up later than everyone I knew, and that I was working, that always just kind of carried the weight of what being an adult would be: this grand disillusionment, this grand constant striving towards something that you will never really achieve, this grand burnout. I love that about "Baker Street."
It was before we all got sick of saxophones, too.
Song: Gerry Rafferty – "Baker Street"
EJL: That was Gerry Rafferty with "Baker's Street," as selected by our guest Chuck Palahniuk. What's the next one you got for us?
CP: It is "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits and, again, it's one of those songs that I listen to a thousand times at work in high school, late at night, that kind of taught me that adulthood was not going to be as wonderful as everyone seemed to think it would be and that there would be a lot of lowered expectations as I grew older. But, it wasn't a bad introduction.
Song: Dire Straits – “Sultans of Swing”
EJL: Do you use music to write by?
CP: I do. I kind of an old Andy Warhol trick, where he would take the same song and put it on repeat and listen to it until it became like a mantra, and the words quit making sense, the words kind of broke down.
And I would do that with songs so that I no longer hear the lyrics. The other trick is to write in a foreign country where I deliberately don't know the language. That way I can be around language without being kind of distracted by it. It puts you in a nice trance state.
It kind of gives you a continuation of mood from one day to the next when you're working on a project that you want a very consistent mood for.
EJL: That was Dire Straits with "Sultans of Swing," as selected by our guest, author Chuck Palahniuk. What's the last track you got for us?
CP: The last song is the monster: It's "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot. And when you are 13 years old, washing dishes three days a week in a roadside diner like I was, it is a song that is on the radio constantly.
Song: Gordon Lightfoot – “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald"
EJL: Now, looking at the songs you've picked, they're all nearly 6 minutes long or longer. Do you have an affinity to the epic?
CP: You know it's more to do with lyrics. I don't like songs where the lyrics are too simple and too repetitive. Right now, I'm secretly addicted to the Taylor Swift song, "I'll Write Your Name." Is that the name of that song? It's one of those, what they used to call, patter songs -- where they tell a very short, choppy, very clever lyric, as opposed to a very repetitive melodious lyric. And so, I'm addicted to kind of ballads and patter songs because the lyrics tend to be a lot more clever.
EJL: So, we'll ask for a character's song. Was there a song in mind that you had when you were writing Tyler?
CP: For Fight Club? Boy, I just discovered Nine Inch Nails, and somebody had given me a bootleg tape of Downward Spiral and Pretty Hate Machine. And after that I was listening to “The Frail” and “The Fragile” a lot. But, it was definitely Trent Reznor, anything by Trent Reznor.
EJL: Well, Chuck, thank you so much for joining us here at KCRW.com.
CP: You're welcome, Eric.