A music writer unable to deal with the death of his wife unearths a lost album by a long defunct band and obsessively works to bring the album to release. A saxophone player tries to achieve the creative heights of his mentor in the face of his own mediocrity as he struggles to commit to the darkness of his own artistic vision. An aging hip hop star travels through time and reads about himself on Wikipedia. While these stories, and more, in Liner Notes are threaded together by their interest in music, this darkly funny collection of stories is about men and women who are confronted by their limitations as they grapple with obsession, mortality, memory, grief, and the creative process.
In Liner Notes, James Brubaker has assembled a two-sided collection of stories that feature both fact and fiction. These music-inspired narratives remind us that ‘songs are time’ and when we lay the tracks of our past down on thirty-nine seconds or three minutes of a melody, the result is both a remembering and an imagining. Here is a stunning debut by a writer who understands the longing we all share and the songs that bring every last good thing back. — Jill Talbot (Author of Loaded: Women and Addiction and editor of Metawritings and The Art of Friction).
Spoken with a clarity that closes in on translucence, the short stories and carefully constructed character sketches that make up Liner Notes spill a universe of emotional resonance, each story beginning with an inspiration from a favorite record, popstar or musical folklore but reaching far deeper than the books’ record collector facade. Over the course of these short, sometimes ecstatic bursts of fiction, Brubaker finds community hidden in demo tapes, infinity at the feet of the aging musical genius, and personal salvation in Thriller blasting in the headphones on repeat. — Fred Thomas (Saturday Looks Good to Me, City Center, Swimsuit, Lovesick, Flashpapr)
Much has been made about how postmodernism looks to conflate high and low culture—and for good reason. But this conflation always seems to happen with an ironic remove. Let’s laugh distantly at the absurdity of Love Boat, it reasons; or let’s talk about the genius of Glen Campbell without ever actually needing the guitar solo in “Galveston.” James Brubaker’s stories work differently, his character’s NEED things from what they listen to; they take refuge in Michael Jackson’s Thriller, guidance from Albert Ayler’s “Ghosts,” solace in the music of Toto. I began Liner Notes impressed with its conceit, I finished by being utterly moved. — George McCormick (author of Salton Sea)
This fun, smart collection of short stories beats with a pure heart of rock and roll. Whether it is the one about the rock writer haunted down the years by a band he heard once when he was young, the scientist who turns away from his efforts to catalogue all melodies, the boy who survives his dysfunctional parents by listening to Thriller, or the widower who searches for the perfect song to eulogize his wife, these stories never let up in their efforts to show how rock and roll can clarify a life, embody a memory, crystallize a wordless emotion, and create a refuge from the world. Brubaker understands as few do that to listen to music is nothing short of time travel. You should let him transport you. — Constance Squires (author of Along the Watchtower)
The stories in James Brubaker’s Liner Notes are extraordinary, with lines that recall Ben Marcus and Gabriel Blackwell. It’s amazing what Brubaker’s fiction does with language and the obsession with music, sound, and pop culture. An erudite work of avant-garde fiction, with cameos by Phil Spector, Albert Ayler, Brian Wilson, Flavor Flav, and a beautiful woman named Yoko, Brubaker’s brilliant fiction is like listening to your favorite album on vinyl: deeply moving and very, very smart. — Brandon Hobson (Author of Deep Ellum and Desolation of Avenues Untold)