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Minneapolis musician's memoir chronicles the 'Happiness Playlist' he made after mother's death

Mark Mallman will read from "The Happiness Playlist" on Friday at the Bookstore at Fitgers. Photo by Wilson Webb

Mark Mallman first feels a contender for his happiness playlist in his body — a technique he uses in mixing his own music in addition to, recently, deciding that Lizzo's "Good As Hell" is a good song to listen to over and over and over again.

"They speak to my body before they speak to my mind," Mallman said in a phone interview from Minneapolis, where he had taken a break from composing music.

It's in his back and shoulders, he said. If it loosens up, he knows.

Mallman's compilation of upbeat songs was the starting point for his self-help/music memoir "The Happiness Playlist: The True Story of Healing My Heart With Feel-Good Music." While grieving the sudden death of his mother, Mallman turns to music as a "map to safe harbor." He chronicles three seasons of his life during this period — the tacos, the twice-daily conversations with his father and the perfect New Year's Eve spent with an ex-turned-friend.

And in the background: the music.

Van Morrison's "And it Stoned Me," Sting's "Fields of Gold," Mariah Carey's "Fantasy."

Mallman, a longtime figure in the Minneapolis music scene, will give a reading and sign books at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Bookstore at Fitgers. He will return to perform June 8 at The Red Herring Lounge.

First, the playlist

Mallman's grief was delayed, but when it finally struck, it struck hard. His story opens with a never-ending panic attack that has him afraid to sleep and afraid to be awake.

Music had always been his thing, but suddenly Joy Division and Patti Smith were too bleak. He shed old favorites in favor of a growing list of upbeat tunes: a 3-plus hour playlist with the likes of Bob Marley's "One Love," Judy Garland's "Over the Rainbow," Whitney Houston's "I Want to Dance With Somebody."

Whether it's in his life as a touring musician or in creating an album or DJing an event, he said, music has had a practical application. Making the playlist was different.

"It was probably the first time since my teens that I approached music entirely as a listener," Mallman said.

Sade's "By Your Side," Velvet Underground's "Rock & Roll," Queen's "You're My Best Friend."

"I made the playlist in a way that everyone makes a playlist to use in my everyday life," Mallman said. "And I think about a year and a half later, two years, I thought: this is a cool idea for a self-help kind of book. Most musicians write memoirs. I was struck with the profound idea of affecting people's lives with my own experience."

Olivia Newton John's "Xanadu," Pharrell Williams' "Happy," Rufus Wainwright's "Oh What a World."

Then, the book

Mallman started journaling with the idea of writing the book he wanted to read — a path forged by an eclectic collection of writer models who write what he calls "truthful books": Amanda Palmer, Ernest Hemmingway, Annie Dilliard.

Mallman said he knew he wanted something funny and uplifting; a here's-what-happened-today story.

He describes the process as "tedious fun."

"There's part of writing the book that's like mowing the lawn," he said. "You know it's going to look great when it's done. You have to have faith in it."

He writes about the day-to-day trudge, living as a working musician in an urban environment, figuring out why his sleep is so wonky. Sometimes he gets silly with hypotheticals with his ex Annie and talks about smashing piano keys with his buddy Eugene.

His father drops nuggets of wisdom during phone calls, and Mallman never hangs up without telling him that he loves him.

Mallman eats tacos, brings gas station cookies to a party; the window in his van gets shot out. He receives a message from a psychic and sells equipment. He deconstructs the song "Happy" — how it annoys some people and makes others, literally, happy.

So how is it?

"The Happiness Playlist" is a concise look at how one human lives his life in the years after a family tragedy and how a human lives after a breakup with a partner he doesn't want to lose as a friend and how a human just simply lives.

Mallman's is a collection of dogear-worthy passages that concisely describe anxiety and the litany of worries — climate change, whether Mallman's hair dye is seeping into his skull.

"An asteroid hit the earth," he writes about his mother's death. "Out the window, the planet's crust ripped open. An ice blue magma leapt into the streets. The city became a two-dimensional disaster zone. My jaw clenched. I'm surprised I didn't crush my own teeth. Reality was a shallow veil. Who prepares for this? One hundred razors cut my flesh into squares. They toppled over each other, squiggling on the hardwood. I didn't even notice."

Alternately, there are quote-worthy lines like, "if it can't be said with hair, it can't be said" or "a sundae is a salad with better ingredients."

Mallman's life now

Mallman has been doing readings and wants to tour with the book, rather than a band, he said, in the fall. The goal is to sell a copy to everyone in the world — all however many billion of them.

"I want to get it to people," he said. "I want to continue on this path of positivity and just manifest joy and all that hippie dippy sh**."

Mallman said he has found the experience of reading aloud to be a more direct way of communicating with people. He's meeting people who really connect with his words.

"Music enables the listener to evacuate some emotions they didn't know how to access," he said. "Music is more abstract. It's nice to express the conversational side."

He was told, he said, that writing a book would open doors.

"I knew they'd be career doors," he said. "But really what happened: my family, we became closer. And my family got bigger."

IF YOU GO

What: Mark Mallman book signing for "The Happiness Playlist"

When: 5:30 p.m. Friday

Where: The Bookstore at Fitger's, 600 E. Superior St.

Online: Mallman's playlist is on Spotify

= = =

Title: "The Happiness Playlist: The True Story of Healing My Heart with Feel-Good Music"

Author: Mark Mallman

Publisher: Think Piece Publishing

Pages: 146

Price: $14.95