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May 18, 2018

Laura Davis-Chanin's Playlist for Her Memoir "The Girl in the Back: A Female Drummer's Life with Bowie, Blondie, and the '70s Rock Scene"

The Girl in the Back

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Laura Davis-Chanin's The Girl in the Back is an engrossing first-person chronicle of New York City's '70s punk scene.


In her own words, here is Laura Davis-Chanin's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir The Girl in the Back:



In my book, I write about my life in rock n roll during the punk era of the late ‘70s, my relationship with Jimmy Destri of Blondie and my friendship with David Bowie, who, after I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, gave me a wonderful push to pursue my real love, which happened to be very far from rock n roll.

The music I discuss in the book had vital, life altering effects on me and my friends, if only because we knew a lot of the musicians making that unique music at the time: Blondie, The Talking Heads, The Ramones, The Mumps, The Cramps, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop—and I am so thrilled to share some of the songs that played pivotal roles in my life at that time, and now, as I look back.

Mumps - Photogenia

I was just back from living in Berlin with my dad and my sister, MB. Bill Arning, my best friend, called and invited me to meet him at the Mumps' show at Max's Kansas City.  This began my re-involvement with the exploding music scene that was rampant throughout New York City.  I helped Bill with the Mumps fan club and started filming their shows.  We got to know the band members, personally, along with other bands that they played shows with. These experiences inspired and readied us to form our own band, the Student Teachers.  The Mumps, in addition, were one of the “M” bands (Mumps, Marbles, Miamis, Milk n Cookies) that showed us that the New York club style was not strictly “1-2-3-4” bands and that pop music with melody and hooks were permitted in that scene, as well.

New York Dolls – Personality Crisis

The entire New York music renaissance would never have happened except for the New York Dolls.  Much like the Ramones, who would later inspire hundreds of local bands to do it themselves, the Dolls’ street persona and unique style proved that you did not necessarily have to be a virtuoso, musically, to form a band and make a record. By the mid '70s the original New York Dolls had split into two main factions, the NY Dolls with David Johansen and Sylvain Sylvain, and the Heartbreakers, with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan. Both groups regularly played the clubs, Max’s and CB’s.

The Cramps – Green Fuzz

The Cramps were playing the New York clubs regularly. They, along with The Dead Boys, had moved to NY from the Cleveland area, seeking fame and fortune. Led by Lux and Ivy, they invented their own unique style, Psychobilly, that has been copied, ad infinitum, ever since. Kid Congo Powers joined for the Psychedelic Jungle album, their best, in my opinion. Kid was the most social of the group and ended up as one of the denizens of my ill fated crash pad, along with members of the Blessed, and many a visiting Los Angeleno like the Plungers, (Trudie Trudie, Helen Killer, Mary Rat), Pleasant Gehman and a cast of dozens, until that all came to an untimely end.

Ramones – Beat On The Brat

The most famous group to come out of Queens became one of the most influential bands for countless musicians for over 40 years all over the world.  They inspired me and so many other young punk wanna be rockers that anyone can do this!  They defined the punk sound, style and attitude reporting that we don’t care but want to have something to do tonight.  Numerous short songs telling stories of juvenile delinquency with absurd choruses like "now I wanna sniff some glue", "D-U-M-B everyone’s accusing me" and "beat on a brat with a baseball bat".  The band was a breath of fresh air performing at CBGB over 70 times over 5 years.  They defined our scene and generation and, as they toured the United States and the rest of the world, spawned countless DIY bands, in their wake.

Roxy Music – Remake Remodel

The Student Teachers had many music heroes inspiring us teenagers to form a band.  Our band wasn’t like so many others coming out of CBs and Maxs.  We couldn’t play well like many bands that started out at the NYC clubs but that didn’t stop us from trying as we were influenced by bands like the Ramones and Blondie but took some cues from avant garde art rockers The Modern Lovers, The Velvet Underground and Roxy Music.  These bands took smart songs, turning them into epic pieces of musical art.  We wanted to have that sound and style too, sometimes dressing up with jackets and ties, like Bryan Ferry did, when they performed.  This is the first song on the first Roxy album and it’s a rave up rocker.  The track opens with the sounds of a cocktail party before launching into some manic piano and oscillator squalls, care of the great Brian Eno.  The song has very few lyrics but has the hook, “she’s the sweetest queen I’ve ever seen” into the chant of "CPL593H".  That was the license plate of a man that looked like a women in the song.  And that was, at one time, the number of Bryan Ferry’s car license plates.  So clever and silly enough that The Student Teachers would open many of their shows with this song.  It became the one cover song the band would most often perform.  It also had the benefit of helping the sound man balance our instruments, since there were brief "solos" for all of us.

Iggy Pop – Nightclubbing

Iggy had made his return to the music scene under the auspices of David Bowie, at this time. The song, Nightclubbing, was a huge part of the scene that developed where the punk/new wave bands discovered that you could be more successful if you could be danceable, as well. The clubs like the Peppermint Lounge, the Ritz and Hurrah’s were routinely packed as the hip alternative to disco. We were dancing to this very tune when we heard that we had been signed to Ork Records. That seemed like a very big deal to us, at the time.

Bowie – Fame

He sang this when I saw him on the Isolar at Madison Square Garden in 1976, a scene from which I open the book. I also quote from "Fame" toward the end of the book. It is one of his most famous, obviously, but means so much to me not only because he played it at the first major concert I ever went to but because it was co-written with Carlos Alomar and John Lennon. I talk about meeting Lennon as I talk about the unique force Bowie had in my life then. Additionally, the lyrics in "Fame" are not to be discounted:

“Fame makes a man take things over

Fame lets him loose, hard to swallow

Fame puts you there where things are hollow (fame)

Fame, it's not your brain, it's just the flame

That burns your change to keep you insane (fame)."

It’s empty, it’s a fallacy, its not a dream and can really lead to a nightmare. I think Bowie knew that, and Lennon too.

Bang-A-Gong (Get it On) - T-Rex

In an early chapter, I talk about the first time I met Lori, who became the bass player in my band, The Student Teachers. Lori and I became really good friends which, as I wrote about, is helpful because the bass and drums make up the backbone and it’s important for those musicians to be in sync, I believe. Being close with Lori opened up a lot of the rock n roll world to me and one of the key reasons was T-Rex. I didn’t know about T-Rex at the time I met Lori and when she played his album Electric Warrior for me—which included the hit "Bang-a-Gong" he grabbed me. I loved those lyrics: “You're an untamed youth that's the truth with your cloak full of eagles. You're dirty sweet and you're my girl.”—it fed right into the passion and energy of my 15-year old self.
 
Shark in Jet’s Clothing - Blondie

In an early chapter, Jimmy Destri appears. I write about how my band had been playing a gig at Max’s Kansas City opening for The Know, a group headed by Gary Valentine, who had been the guitar player for Blondie until 1977. I talk about how we were upstairs at Max’s after our show and suddenly Jimmy walked in and I remember thinking when I first saw him—it’s the shark! At that time, it was one of my favorite songs of Blondie’s and the lyrics “We're meeting in a neutral zone: the last car on the train/The love you brought shaking up my bones and crawling through our veins—in hindsight, made sense, as Jimmy and I ended up together although it isn’t a love song. And ironically, the lyrics toward the end of the song, “We always met at the edge of a blade and we left at the end of the fight” definitely reflect the long dance to how our relationship ended. Though I believe the song is actually about the gangs in the movie West Side Story.

The Quake - The Student Teachers

I write about "The Quake" and quote it because it was one of the first songs my band did and it was written by Bill Arning, the keyboard player. It’s essentially about Friends Seminary High school where both Bill and I attended and met and which I write about in the beginning of the book. Friends is a Quaker school and Bill pinpoints the religious angle in the lyrics:

Some people twitch to Christianity
In Michigan, it’s polygamy
Then there’s folks who do it Mormon
Finding Baptist close to boredom
A shiver up my spine
My stomach starts to shake
My ears begin to melt
And my hips begin to ache
Hey baby! I’m doin’ the Quake!

It was one of our first songs and it was a real blast because our first show was in the gym at Friends and we thought it so rebellious of us to sing about the Quakes!

School’s Out - Alice Cooper

Although I don’t cite “School’s Out” specifically, it was one of my favorites at the time and was one he played at the Savoy in August 1981, a show I talk about toward the end of the book. The reason I, and so many of us young high-school chained kids, loved it was that as far as we were concerned, school was “always out”. As flamboyant and gaudy and dazzling Cooper was, he captured a serious high-school reality—that the last place we wanted to be was in school: “Out for summer/Out till fall/We might not go back at all” I talk about Cooper’s show at the Savoy because it played an unexpected role in my final decisions about life in rock n roll.


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists






May 18, 2018

This Week's Interesting Music Releases - May 18, 2018

​​Courtney Barnett

​​Courtney Barnett's Tell Me How You Really Feel, Frog Eyes' Violet Psalms, Quiet Slang's Everything Matters But No One Is Listening, TT's LoveLaws are the albums I can recommend this week.

Reissues include vinyl editions of four Breeders albums (Last Splash, Mountain Battles, Pod, Title TK) and three by Paul McCartney (Chaos and Creation In The Backyard, New, Thrillington, Wings' Greatest).


This week's interesting music releases:


Ash: Islands
The Bird and the Bee: Interpreting the Masters, Vol. 1: A Tribute to Daryl Hall & John Oates [vinyl]
Blue Oyster Cult: Spectres (reissue) [vinyl]
Bombino: Deran
Brad Mehldau Trio: Seymour Reads The Constitution!
Breeders: Last Splash (reissue) [vinyl]
Breeders: Mountain Battles (reissue) [vinyl]
Breeders: Pod (reissue) [vinyl]
Breeders: Title TK (reissue) [vinyl]
Brian Jonestown Massacre: Hold That Thought [vinyl]
Bruce Springsteen: The Album Collection Vol 2, 1987-1996 (box set) [vinyl]
BTS: Love Yourself: Tear
Burn The Priest: Legion: XX
Charles Watson: Now That I’m A River
​​Courtney Barnett: Tell Me How You Really Feel
Five Finger Death Punch: And Justice For None
Frog Eyes: Violet Psalms
GAS: Rausch
Gomez: Bring It On (20th Anniversary Edition) (remastered and expanded)
James Bay: Electric Light
Joan Armatrading: Not Too Far Away
John Maus: Addendum
John Wesley Harding: Greatest Other People's Hits
Kelly Willis: Back Being Blue
La Luz: Floating Features [vinyl]
Low Cut Connie: Dirty Pictures (Part 2)
Matthew Sweet: Tomorrow's Daughter
Michael Rault: It's A New Day Tonight
Nellie McKay: Sister Orchid
Otis Redding: Dock of the Bay Sessions
Parquet Courts: Wide Awake!
Paul McCartney: Chaos and Creation In The Backyard (reissue) [vinyl]
Paul McCartney: New (reissue) [vinyl]
Paul McCartney: Thrillington (reissue) [vinyl]
Pink Floyd: Pulse (remastered and expanded) [vinyl]
Pink Floyd: Relics (reissue) [vinyl]
Postdata: Let's Be Wilderness
Quiet Slang: Everything Matters But No One Is Listening
Ray LaMontagne: Part Of The Light
Ryley Walker: Deafman Glance
The Sidekicks: Happiness Hours
Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks: Sparkle Hard
TT: LoveLaws
Various Artists: I, Tonya [vinyl]
Wings: Greatest (reissue) [vinyl]
Wussy: What Heaven Is Like
Ziggy Marley: Rebellion Rises


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

weekly music release lists

Book Notes (authors create music playlists for their book)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily book and music news and links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)


Shorties (Elena Ferrante Interviewed, Chelsea Manning on Music, and more)

Elena Ferrante

The Los Angeles Times interviewed author Elena Ferrante.


Chelsea Manning talked to Pitchfork about the music she's been listening to.


May's best eBook deals.


The Current interviewed David Byrne.


Terese Marie Mailhot talked books and reading with The Millions.


Phantogram released two new songs, one a cover of Sparklehorse's "Saturday."


BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from Bethany C. Morrow's debut novel MEM.


Paste interviewed Stephen Malkmus.


Michael Ondaatje discussed his novel Warlight with All Things Considered.


Stream a new Nine Inch Nails song.


Designer Maria Cornejo discussed her favorite books at Vulture.


WFMU interviewed Stephin Merritt of Magnetic Fields and Future Bible Heroes.


Salon interviewed author Sarah Gerard.


Noisey interviewed Stephen Malkmus.


The New York Times recommended writers to watch this summer.


Noisey profiled singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett.


The Rumpus interviewed poet Shy Watson.


Pitchfork recommended the week's best new albums.


The New York Times recommended books by Ian McEwan.


Noisey recommended entry points into Roxy Music's discography.


Guernica interviewed author Dorothy Allison.


Rolling Stone profiled the band Parquet Courts.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple's book Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian War.


Stream Quiet Slang's new album Everything Matters But No One Is Listening at BrooklynVegan.


Nick Offerman on the writing of Wendell Berry.


The Believer Logger interviewed author Meg Wolitzer.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Sam Pink's novella White Ibis.


The Longform podcast interviewed author Sheila Heti.


Tobias Carroll interviewed Sergio De La Pava at Longreads.


The Oregonian and Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recommended books for summer reading.


The 2017 Shirley Jackson Award nominees have been announced.


Taiye Selasi talked books and reading with the Guardian.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists


May 17, 2018

Elizabeth H. Winthrop's Playlist for Her Novel "The Mercy Seat"

The Mercy Seat

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Elizabeth H. Winthrop's The Mercy Seat is an unsettling and important novel that covers an execution in 1943 Louisiana.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"The lives of these characters mesh in the events surrounding the execution, and their points of view cycle through short chapters that build tension as midnight draws near. Winthrop’s carefully structured novel is a nuanced, absorbing, atmospheric examination of how racism tears at the whole of society."


In her own words, here is Elizabeth H. Winthrop's Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Mercy Seat:



The Mercy Seat is a fairly grim novel set in 1943 Louisiana and takes place during the hours leading up to the execution of Willie Jones, a young black man wrongfully convicted of raping a white woman, Grace Sutcliffe, with whom he was actually in mutual love. The novel is told from the points of view of nine different characters, all of whom have their own complicated histories, relationships, and roles in the evening's main event. The songs on this playlist speak sometimes to the themes in the novel, sometimes to the feelings of the characters involved, and sometimes they simply reflect the novel's overall mood.


The Mercy Seat—Johnny Cash

I wrote this book without any title in mind; it was Amy Hundley at Grove Atlantic who came up with the idea of calling the book "The Mercy Seat," a song originally written by Nick Cave. The song is "narrated" by a man, wrongfully convicted, waiting on death row for his execution via the electric chair—a plot line that echoes that of The Mercy Seat. According to the Hebrew Bible, the mercy seat was also the lid placed on the Ark of the Covenant, and the space that God was meant to appear.

Hymn #35— Joe Pug

This song reminds me of the struggles of both Father Hannigan, Willie's mentor, and Gabe, the prosecuting attorney's son. Hannigan has a hard time reconciling how the evil and bigotry and hatred that exist in society squares with the idea of a benevolent God. During the execution scene, Hannigan wonders how there can be a God "in a world where such as this exists." Gabe has a similarly difficult time reconciling how his father—the man who sits on the edge of his bed at night, or takes him fishing, or pitches him baseballs— could possibly be the man responsible for sending Willie Jones to the electric chair. For Hannigan, God contains contradictions; for Gabe, his father Polly does.

Wildfire—Mandolin Orange

I fell in love with Mandolin Orange while I was writing The Mercy Seat, and so I associate the music with the mind-space I inhabited as I wrote. The song "Wildfire" resonated particularly, as song addresses the lasting divides that exist in our country—divides rooted in our country's history of hatred and mistreatment of others. One part in particular speaks to racism and the lasting legacy of slavery, which is at the heart of the novel.

It should have been different

It could have been easy

But too much money rolled in to ever end slavery

The cry for war spread like wildfire


Civil War came, Civil War went

Brother fought brother, the South was spent

But its true demise was hatred passed down through the years

It should have been different

It could have been easy

But pride has a way of holding too firm to history

And it burns like wildfire

My Burden With Me—Mipso

This beautiful song is sung from the point of view of a girl who has died in a train wreck while escaping to meet her forbidden lover, "a low-born boy" whom after she met him she found herself "lost in the light of a flame burning wild." This story forbidden love and its deadly consequences, though different from what transpired between Grace and Willie, still resonates; when I hear this song, I think of Grace singing from beyond the grave, especially the lines, "Can you hear my love as he cries to sleep."

The Night We Met—Lord Huron

The Mercy Seat is populated by characters in relationships that have transformed over time, and not necessarily for the better. The relationship between Ora and Dale (the owners of the gas station outside of town), initially strained by the birth of their son, is, eighteen years later, doubly strained by his departure for WWII. Each of them longs for the relationship they used to have, but the gap between them now is unbridgeable. Nell and Polly's marriage (the prosecuting DA and his wife) is also shaky. Polly has been spending the bulk of his time since DA at the office, and Nell, a northerner who gave up her career as an artist to follow Polly south, can hardly recognize her husband in a man who would seek capital punishment for rape. Willie, like the other couples, would long to go back to the "night [he] met" Grace, perhaps so that things would turn out differently, and she'd still be alive. Probably all of these characters would like to go back to the night they met and take a course different from the one they took to wind up where they are.

Broken Chair—Chris and Thomas

This song is about recognizing circumstances you can't control. It's a nod to the human impulse to try (unsuccessfully) to fix the unfixable, to "mend what's bound to fall apart," which is what both Polly and Hannigan try to do—Polly as a hopeful new DA, Hannigan as a missionary priest. While the song in the end is about resigning oneself to accepting that which can't be changed and thereby gaining inner peace—which neither Hannigan nor Polly achieve—it evokes the same feeling of hopelessness and helplessness that both characters feel in the face of what is "broken," whether an individual, a system, or society.

Jump Mountain Blues—Mandolin Orange

This song was inspired by folklore. According to the tale, a young Native American woman fell in love with a young man and wanted to marry him, but her father wanted her to marry another, richer man. A contest ensued in which the young woman was to run up Jump Mountain, and whichever of the two men was able to catch would have her as his bride. Rather than risk being caught by the man she didn't love, the young woman, hurled herself off the top of the mountain and died. The song is sung by her father, who now lives eternally with her ghost and his regret for not allowing her to follow her heart. I would hope that Grace's father, who also denied Grace her love before her death, lives with the same regret.

Sitting Room—Beta Radio

This song is hauntingly dominated by minor chords and high pitched backing harmonies, and between the unearthly sonic construction and the abstract, undefined imagery ("I will wait for you in the hollow I have hewn," "What did the spirit do beneath the waning crescent moon?") it has an almost spiritual quality that, to my ears, evokes the mood of The Mercy Seat. It is unsettling and absorbing at the same time. The final, repeated lyrics, which reference "offering all for you," can apply to perhaps each of the characters in the novel; in some way or another, each has made or does make some kind of a sacrifice for someone else.

A Thousand Miles Away—Michael Mascioli

This piece made me cry the first time I heard it—not because it is sad, necessarily, but because it stirred up some emotion deep inside that was a curious combination of loss and longing and wistfulness and resignation. When I think about the book cinematically, which I sometimes do, this piece is what I hear playing over the end of the novel: Gabe lying broken in the field under the stars; Nell and Polly at the kitchen table in the dark; Hannigan sitting in the dark with his whiskey; Frank (Willie's father) in the graveyard with a sledgehammer; Dale with the dog on the floor of the hallway, waiting for Ora; Lane (the prison trusty who chauffeured the chair to the execution) in shackles heading back to Angola; Willie in his cell at dawn.


Elizabeth H. Winthrop and The Mercy Seat links:

the author's website

Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Shorties (An Excerpt from a Forthcoming Stephen Hawking Graphic Novel Biography, A Jagged Little Pill Musical, and more)

Alanis Morrissette

io9 shared an excerpt from Jim Ottoviani's forthcoming Steven Hawking graphic novel biography.


The New York Times went behind the scenes of the musical based on Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill album.


May's best eBook deals.


NoiseTrade shared a free 2018 Bonnaroo compilation to stream and/or download.


The 2018 Best Translated Book Awards finalists have been announced.


Director Jason Reitman discussed the use of music in his films with Pitchfork.


Nicola Griffith discussed her new novel So Lucky with Hazlitt.


Stream a new Phil Cook song.


All Songs Considered remembered composer and guitarist Glenn Branca.


Ms. Magazine examined the legacy of the 1973 book No More Masks.


Stream a new song by An Horse.


Bookworm interviewed author Joyce Carol Oates.


Janelle Monae's favorite books.


MIchael Ondaatje shared a list of books he loves to reread at Literary Hub.


Forbes interviewed singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett.


Kevin Powers listed second novels that he loves at Literary Hub.


Rolling Stone examined how Tom Wolfe changed music journalism.


Literary Hub shared an excerpt from Gary Krist's book The Mirage Factory: Illusion, Imagination, and the Invention of Los Angeles.


Drowned in Sound reconsidered Slowdive's Souvlaki album.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists


May 16, 2018

Julia Dixon Evans's Playlist for Her Novel "How to Set Yourself on Fire"

How to Set Yourself on Fire

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Julia Dixon Evans' moving and unpredictable novel How to Set Yourself on Fire is a startling debut.

Vol. 1 Brooklyn wrote of the book:

"The atmosphere taut with tension, secrets and lies, How to Set Yourself on Fire exudes the quiet menace of an explosion waiting to happen...the start of a literary career that will be nothing short of incendiary."


In her own words, here is Julia Dixon Evans' Book Notes music playlist for her novel How to Set Yourself on Fire:



"She's So Hard" – The Jezabels
Setting out to write this book, I didn't know I'd be writing a problematic female character. But when I first wrote my first line about Sheila, I knew she had to be a bit of trouble, and not entirely likeable. She's obsessive, difficult to talk to, and seems to sabotage everything. This song, in a way, is just the permission slip I needed but Sheila isn't entirely hard. Sheila is soft. She's soft in her own self-doubt and needs and the ways she seems to crumble when she wants to be hard.

"The Gardener" – The Tallest Man on Earth
This one's about obsession and I love it. Sheila is owned by her obsessive nature in so many ways. And yeah so what if she follows people and breaks into their backyards, at least she doesn't bury bodies by the lilies ha ha ha!

"Two Small Deaths" – Wye Oak
This song, I think originally soundtracked the writing process for me because of the way it emboldened the quiet sadness of everyday, specific shit. Sheila struggles with this all the time: is it something real and bigger than that quiet sadness of everyday shit? Is it something large or something clinical? And also the key relationship in this story, the friendship between Sheila and Torrey, was spun into being on account of two separate, actual deaths.

"Home" – Daughter
I wrote much of the first draft of this story while listening to Daughter's atmospheric early stuff. Sheila has no real sense of home, and I think that's something she's constantly seeking. Take me home / cause I don't stand a chance in these four walls.

"I'll Still Destroy You" – The National
Not really a writing song because it came out long after this book was finished, but there's the fatherhood in this song is striking: Put your heels against the wall / I swear you got a little bit taller since I saw you / I'll still destroy you. Sheila has to come to terms with her own absent father while watching Vinnie, her neighbor, parent his 12 year old daughter, Torrey. It's so easy to destroy the people we make.

"Something" – Julien Baker
Sheila's insomnia is almost like a backdrop to this story, and the way the lack of sleep nudges her closer and closer to insanity and incapability. I'm still up walking around / The walls of my skull bend backwards and in like a labyrinth. Julien Baker songs are also sad af. Enjoy.

"Love More" – Sharon Van Etten
I was listening to a lot of SVE when I was inspired to write this book, in 2013, and I saw her play live that August that I started writing it, and it was the first show I ever went to alone; I'll never forget how that felt. I heard this song for the first time there and promptly started writing this story. I love the way this song is a little bit about healing and redemption, and ends with a mysterious "she" making her love, after cycling through a verse of "you" and a verse of "it," and that structure kinda makes me think of Joni Mitchell's "Case of You." I love the implications for that in a story so hinged upon female friendship and motherhood.

"Dendron" – The Hotelier
A friend told me this song is about a father. I think it's about loss. Wish I was there to say goodbye when you went away / Wish I was home but no place was there. It's also a bit of a rager so here's a nice reprieve from all the slow songs.

"The Underside of Power" – Algiers
Rager rockblock! This song is dark as hell, but, like, a banger. I think there's a bit of that in Sheila. This internal rage and darkness, masked by her own misunderstanding of herself and what it means to be down and out.

"Husbands" – Savages
Men really don't fare well in this book. Except Vinnie. Vinnie is a good man. This is another banger. This song's not for Vinnie.

"Yesterday's Fire" – Moonface and Sinai
When I first heard this song, I'd already written most of the book. This is something that Vinnie pretty much says to Sheila one night, that simultaneous insignificance-magnitude combo of the universe. All the stars are dying and most of them are already through / We're just getting off on yesterday's fire. Bonus point for fire mention.

"Fuel to Fire" – Agnes Obel
I listened to a lot of Agnes Obel while writing this book. She has a lot of haunting tunes with sparse vocals, including entire albums of instrumentals if lyrics stifle your writing process, which is sometimes the case for me. This song makes me think of Sheila and her mother. Torn by the hours / All that I say to you / Is like fuel to fire.

"Don't Save Us From The Flames" – M83
I think I have a minimum M83 song requirement on playlists so here's a good one for a fiery book. This also has the greatest snippet of lyric: …a piece of brain in your hair.

"Sapsorrow" – Lanterns on the Lake
This is such a tragic song of external insecurity. You say that I'm cold and I'm hard to know. And I've been told this before and it feels like I'll never recover from it. Sheila doesn't need to be told it. She tells herself, and in her past we see those little seeds of being told it, and how they bloom into her own solid sorrow later.

"I Wish I Was The Moon" – Neko Case
If I put this song on my playlist, and then mention @nekocase on twitter when I tweet about it, maybe she'll see it and then maybe she'll read my book. Also there's a few sweet moments in the book about Children's Moon and mothers. I feel like this song is about longing and not belonging, and a little bit about the loss of youth, which is just so perfect for Sheila.  Also: I'm paralyzed and collared-tight / No pills for what I fear.

"Benediction" – Touche Amore
A religious upbringing never leaves you, really, regardless of what you believe. The churchiness of it, the prayer of it. And when all the old church ladies from my past send me emails saying they can't wait to read my book, I at first thing oh god the fucked up sex scenes, but then I think, oh god the post-church feeling. But I think there's something really seeking and repair-thirsty about Sheila's relationship with churches. She spends a lot of time breaking into them. And in particular, I imagine this song playing when Sheila is just standing at her car, detached and a bit angry, at a burial site.  I love how this song, which is completely outside my musical wheelhouse, has a fuckin' prayer in it, screamed. [screaming] MAY THE LORD BLESS YOU AND KEEP YOU FOREVER. This post-hardcore one's for u, church ladies.

"My Body is Made of Crushed Little Stars" – Mitski
There's a scene where Sheila, in some sort of olive branch moment, calls her mom to ask her what a particular star is, fully knowing how her mother will cherish being needed, being motherly, and it might not be anyone at their best, but it's Sheila and her mother at their most… understanding of each other. I also love the combination of sadness and rage in a good Mitski tune.

"Gunshots" – The Twilight Singers
Another desolate, rock bottom sort of song that ramps up whatever mood I'm in. That's a good space for writing. And everything Greg Dulli does is weirdly hot.


We now enter the Harold C. Carr portion of the liner notes. This novel is written mostly from Sheila's POV, but there's a solid epistolary element throughout, in the form of letters sent by someone in the ‘50s called Harold. He's hopeless, and he's sappy, and he's just so incredibly polite. He's a bit of an emotional mess, too, and maybe that's why Sheila latched onto him so much, but it meant I had to change gears, often, while writing, to get into Harold's voice. I had a little arsenal of Harold music that I'd cue up when I needed to find him, and here's a taste.

First up is:

"Never Gonna Love Again" – Lykke Li
A big part of Harold's voice was the sheer tunnel vision of his despair and desolation, putting all of his hope into love from Rosamond, Sheila's grandmother. This song is just, like, the line never gonna love again x 30. V. Harold.

"'50s" – House of Wolves
Kiss me like it's the ‘50s. I also verily relate to the line It's the bitter side of life, that I like.

"Please Mr. Postman" – The Marvellettes
This one's for the LOLs, and for all the letter carriers out there. Sheila's fixation on a UPS driver, a letter that belongs to him, and her grandmother's stash of letters from Harold makes this whole book a bit of a love letter to snail mail. (I literally never listened to this song while writing it, though, or…. I think I might've quit writing).

"Your Ex-Lover Is Dead" — Stars
I can't say that this song bred the novel's title, but I also can't really say that it didn't. I don't think I'm allowed to make a playlist without this song, is that this boils down to. I think Sheila builds her life in fragments, stealing work, sleep, and also connections and friendships only when she can both find them and stomach them. And I love the way this song sort of captures the idea of a passing connection: I'm not sorry I met you. Or in Sheila's case, a passing obsession. And (no spoilers) I think of that scene in the church at the end: Live through this and you won't look back.


Julia Dixon Evans and How to Set Yourself on Fire links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Foreword review
San Diego Union-Tribune review
Vol. 1 Brooklyn review

KPBS interview with the author
Voice of San Diego profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Shorties (The 2018 O. Henry Prize Stories, New Music from Snail Mail, and more

O. Henry Prize Stories 2018

The 2018 O. Henry Prize stories have been announced.


Stream a new Snail Mail song.


May's best eBook deals.


Bandcamp interviewed Corin Tucker and Tracy Sawyer of Heavens to Betsy.


The Emerging Writers Network interviewed author Edie Meidav.


Stream a new Melody's Echo Chamber song.


Omnivoracious interviewed author Sheila Heti.


Rolling Stone profiled Brian Eno, who just turned 70.


Esquire recommended essential Tom Wolfe books.


Stream a new Neko Case song.


Sarah Winman discussed her novel Tin Man with Entertainment Weekly.


Stephen Malkmus reminisced about his discography with Rolling Stone.

Stereogum interviewed Malkmus.


Fresh Air and Rolling Stone interviewed Michael Pollan about his new book How to Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression, and Transcendence.


The New York Review of Books remembered pianist Cecil Taylor.


The Washington Post recommended summer's best books.


PopMatters interviewed the musical duo oOoOO and Islamiq Grrrls.


Pascale Petit has been awarded the Ondaatje prize for her poetry collection, Mama Amazonica.


Book Riot listed the best books in the 33 1/3 series on seminal albums.


The Guardian recommended books to understand happiness.



The Barnes and Noble Review interviewed author Lynne Tillman.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists


May 15, 2018

Kevin Powers' Playlist for His Novel "A Shout in the Ruins"

A Shout in the Ruins

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kevin Powers' A Shout in the Ruins is an epic Civil War novel that spans over 100 years.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"With a complex structure reminiscent of Faulkner, Powers adroitly weaves his narrative threads together with subtle connections that reinforce his themes of longing for coherence and the continuing effect of the past on the present. An impressive novel of slavery, destruction, and the arduous difficulties of love."


In his own words, here is Kevin Powers' Book Notes music playlist for his novel A Shout in the Ruins:



Largehearted Boy describes itself as a literature and music website that explores that spot in the Venn diagram where the two arts overlap. I must admit that this territory still feels somewhat shrouded in mystery to me, despite the fact that I spend quite a large number of my waking hours in it. I don’t know if I can say exactly how or why certain songs seem to develop a relationship with the stuff I write. It’s almost always unintentional. I very rarely listen to music while I’m writing, and I don’t often think of a soundtrack for individual scenes or a project as a whole. The only logical conclusion I can come to is that the overlap between the music I love and the stories I try to tell depends on many more variables than I’m aware of. But one thing seems certain: my ideal outcome as a writer is to make a reader feel something, and there a few more effective delivery systems for making someone feel than hearing a great song. The below are songs that really hit me in the gut in one way or another over the last several years as I worked on A Shout in the Ruins. Some of them felt immediately evocative of the places in which the story is set. Others woke some set of emotions that I was trying to access in the story. Others still simply found me when I needed to hear them.

Webb Pierce, Slowly

This is the only song mentioned by name in the book. It plays in the first meeting between two important characters, and for a couple of reasons I decided this was the only song that should be playing. One, it was a big hit right around the period the scene is set, and I felt it was highly likely that a teenager (Lottie) would have heard it, especially one who lived far away from a major urban center. This song is one of the first to prominently feature the pedal steel guitar, an instrument I deeply love, and were you to travel any meaningful distance from any major urban center even today, I suspect the odds are pretty good that you’d encounter the notes of a pedal steel before too much time passed. Secondly, it’s a love song, maybe even a great one, and if there’s a question this book is asking, it’s how love endures in a world so full of ugliness and hardship. Is that directly on the nose? Probably. Do I care? Not particularly.

Brandi Carlile, The Joke

Confession time: I only heard this song for the first time a month or so ago, a point at which my book was already finished. But I don’t want to make list of songs without putting this one on it, so let me just say that in that short amount of time this song has become a touchstone for what I think great art can do. On more than one occasion I have put it on repeat and let it play over and over no fewer than ten times in a row. The whole album is incredible. I recently made the six-hour drive from Denver to Sheridan, Wyoming while listening to nothing else, and I swear to God, when I got where I was going I stayed in the car until the album finished again.

Rhiannon Giddens, Wayfaring Stranger

I have been a fan of Rhiannon Giddens since I first heard the Carolina Chocolate Drops a few years back. Outside of my normal writing process described above, and due to the historical setting of much of my new book, I spent a fair amount of time listening to old-time music on the internet while doing research. Sometimes (actually many times) that turned into listening to nothing but Rhiannon Giddens. Her rendition of this song is unparalleled. Accompanied by an accordionist, and playing a fretless banjo, her voice will take you to a place outside of time. That she is a genius and a national treasure has been testified to by people with more knowledge on the subject of music than me, but I’m pretty damn sure they’re right.

Jason Isbell, Cover Me Up

I could have put any number of songs by Jason Isbell on this list. When it comes down to it, he’s probably my favorite writer working today in any medium. The fact that he can also do what he does with his voice on the chorus of this song puts him in another category entirely. Listening to this song makes it clear to me that gratitude is the response I want to have to living in a world where one can love and be loved, however rarely or briefly that possibility exists for most of us.

The Commodores, This Is Your Life

I can’t think of many songs that combine such extraordinary musicianship, complexity of composition, and moral clarity in their lyrics. When I’m at my most ambitious, this marriage of complexity and clarity is what I’m trying to achieve as a writer. This song sets the bar pretty damn high.

The Commodores, Sail On

By the way, did you know The Commodores also performed one of the great country songs of all time? Me neither. I’m pretty sure Lionel Richie could have been one of the best country singer-songwriters of all time whenever he felt like it, along with all the other kinds of music he was better at making than just about everyone else. Truly a legend.

Steve Earle, Guitar Town

I feel like Billy Rivers, a secondary character in the book, would have loved this song. He and I have some other traits in common, so I guess I can say that with some authority. I have also, at various points in my life, had a two-pack habit and a motel tan.

James Carr, The Dark End of the Street

This song reliably gives me chills every time I listen to it, and I would have to guess I’ve heard it several hundred times already. James Carr’s voice was capable of encompassing and expressing such an enormous depth and breadth of feeling, and the way he captures the difficult combination of sorrow, desire, and regret on this song is truly profound.

Blind Faith, Can’t Find My Way Home

There’s something about Steve Winwood’s voice on this song that I just can’t shake. In other news, there’s a weird bootleg jam session cover of this on YouTube sung by Bonnie Raitt. After a couple minutes of chatter her voice comes in and it is otherworldly.

Blaze Foley, Clay Pigeons

This one just about sums it up for me. Beginnings and endings and most of what goes in between.

P.S. If for some reason at the end of my little spiel here you find yourself thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll check out this guy’s book, but also I’m really curious about that new Brandi Carlile album and I can only afford to buy one or the other,” just go ahead and buy the record. I’ll understand.


Kevin Powers and A Shout in the Ruins links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Guardian review
Kirkus review
London Times review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple's Playlist for Their Book "Brothers of the Gun"

Brothers of the Gun

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Marwan Hisham's Brothers of the Gun is a powerful and important memoir about coming of age while the Syrian civil war raged around him. Molly Crabapple's illustrations are poignant and complement the prose perfectly.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Along with Crabapple's haunting images, the author’s words offer both an elegy for what has been lost and an angry plea for all that remains. This is memoir at its most powerful, ensuring that we cannot forget lives we never knew."


In their own words, here is Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple's Book Notes music playlist for their book Brothers of the Gun:



Molly Crabapple


Spanish Bombs – The Clash

It's become a cliché to compare the Syrian civil war to the Spanish civil war. After all , the two share mendacious external backers, foreign fighters (idealistic and otherwise) and cities stoically going about life beneath bombs brought from thousands of miles away. Both began when working people attempted to grasp social and economic justice, only to be savagely put down by the forces of reaction. "Spanish Bombs" is a punk rock tribute to doomed Spanish Republic, and it made apt listening when I drew the war in Syria.

Kareat al-Finjin – Abdel Halim Hafez

Abdel Halim Hafez was the Frank Sinatra of Cairo’s Golden Age, a tuxedo-wearing, honey-voiced singer of ultra-sophistication, backed by an orchestra playing Arab and Western instruments. In this song, from a poem by the famous Syrian writer Nizar Qabbani, a worried young man visits a fortune teller. In his coffee cup, she sees a vast epic of love and death.

“Your cup is a terrifying life
Your life is travel and war
You'll fall in love a lot, son
You'll die a lot, son
You'll love all the women on earth,
And come back like a dethroned king."

Playa Girón – Silvio Rodriguez

In April, 1961, a group of Cuban exiles landed on Playa Girón – the Bay of Pigs – and attempted an epic fuck up of an invasion. 14 years later, the communist Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez released the song Playa Girón. The song doesn’t mention the Bay of Pigs incident. Instead, Rodriguez writes the most apt, poetic lines ever about how all the intellectuals, historians and poets cannot match the eloquence of the tough working men on the a fishing boat in that famous bay. I like this song as a reminder. Any writer, with any honesty, realizes that their words capture the barest fraction of the vivid, bleeding humans that they portray.

La Vieja Voladora- Chuito el de Bayamon

Just after we finished Brothers of the Gun, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and I started to go back to an island I hadn’t seen since childhood visits to my grandparents. I first heard this song in January, when my father and I hitched a ride with an old independantista in Jayuya. Chuito’s voice, rich and defiant and witty and deep as the ravines between those mountains, grabbed me and has held me very since. Every book is formed from blood, and turning in a manuscript is always a loss as much as a relief. Going back to Puerto Rico helped fill the emptiness Brothers of the Gun left. The old independantista gave my father burned Chuito CDs that I have played daily ever since.


Marwan Hisham


The Partisan – Leonard Cohen

“The Partisan” is the song I most related to while I was in the process of writing Brothers of the Gun. Words like border, gun, shelter, soldiers and graves became familiar parts of my writing vocabulary. The song evoked in me the weight of history, mixed with nostalgia for my war-torn country.

Wind of Change – The Scorpions

I listened to this song over and over before knowing the significance of its words. The wind of change is always alluring to humans, and it was just what we in Syria needed. But change of course doesn’t always mean change for the better. Maybe that is the only thing we Syrians share with the Russians.

What’s Up – 4 Non Blondes

I listened to “What’s Up” for the first time with Tareq and I have loved it ever since. I’d be lying if I said I thought about it at that time as a more than beautifully-performed song, for my English was too primitive to get the lyrics. The song can be understood in contexts other than the obvious one and still resonates as a cry in the face of any unjust “brotherhood” of the powerful.

By God, Every Time The Sun Rose or Set – Various musical groups

This jewel of poetry has been sung by many different singers but is always sublime. Its writer, the famous mystic Sufi Al-Hallaj, was born in what is now Iran and travelled to Baghdad. His provocative exclamations made him one of the most controversial figures in the history of the Abbasid empire. His words finally condemned him to death. Al-Hallaj ends his poem thus: What cause have foolish people to blame me? My religion is mine, and their religion is theirs.


Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple and Brothers of the Gun links:

Molly Crabapple's website

Booklist review
Kirkus review

Here and Now interview with the authors
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by Molly Crabapple for Drawing Blood
Mother Jones interview with the author
Read It Forward interview with the authors
Truthout interview with the authors
WGN Radio interview interview with Molly Crabapple


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Shorties (Recommended Summer Reading, Neko Case on Her Favorite Albums, and more)

Neko Case

BuzzFeed recommended summer books.


Neko Case discussed her favorite albums at The Quietus.


May's best eBook deals.


R.I.P., guitarist and composer Glenn Branca.


Read a new essay on writing by Bronwen Dickey.


Stream a new song by Ty Segall and White Fence.


The New York Times examined the continued relevance of Ray Bradbury's novel Fahrenheit 451.


Stream a new Mitski song.


Author Dennis Cooper talked to Interview magazine.


The Public Image Ltd. documentary The Public Image Is Rotten is coming to theaters next month.


BuzzFeed shared an excerpt from Marwan Hisham and Molly Crabapple's new book Brothers of the Gun: A Memoir of the Syrian Civil War.


Consequence of Sound reconsidered Death Cab for Cutie's Narrow Stairs album, which turned 10 this year.

Ben Gibbard discussed the album with Stereogum.


FSG Originals shared new Jac Jemc short fiction.


Caroline Rose visited World Cafe for an interview and live performance.


Signature examined the continued relevance of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women.


The Ringer interviewed Stephen Malkmus.


Essence examined how Zora Neale Hurston's work influenced black literature and womanhood.


Stream a new Poster Children song.


The Guardian Books podcast interviewed authors Madeline Miller and Toby Litt.


Stream a 2004 Sufjan Stevens live set.


Michelle Tea discussed her new essay collection Against Memoir with Literary Hub.


Stream a new Gang Gang Dance song.


Please consider supporting Porochista Khakpour's fight against Lyme disease.


Rumaan Alam recommended books at Book Marks.


Joshua Cohen recommended political novels at Five Books.



also at Largehearted Boy:

Support Largehearted Boy

previous Shorties posts (daily news and links from the worlds of music, books, and pop culture)

Atomic Books Comics Preview (the week's best new comics and graphic novels)
Book Notes (authors create playlists for their book)
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
weekly music release lists


May 14, 2018

Julia Fine's Playlist for Her Novel "What Should Be Wild"

What Should Be Wild

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Julia Fine's debut novel What Should Be Wild is a magnificent modern feminist fairy tale.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Fine's stellar debut is a mystical combination of curiosity, curses, and compassion...This is an inventive and fascinating modern coming-of-age fairy tale."


In her own words, here is Julia Fine's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel What Should Be Wild:



Growing up I was an unabashed musical theater kid—not very talented but passionately committed to the idea that music was the best channel for communicating emotion. I also had, as my mother liked to say, “a lot of feelings.” To channel them, I’d stay up into the wee hours making playlists for my favorite fictional characters (there was—maybe still is—an incredible Livejournal subgroup for this, and if you dig deep you can probably find my tributes to Hermione Granger and Brokeback Mountain). I’m thrilled to be putting my past experience to good use with this What Should Be Wild playlist, a collection of songs that inspired me while writing.

Lilac Wine/Nina Simone
Jeff Buckley has a fabulous cover of this song as well, but there is something so beautifully sensual about Nina Simone’s version. The introduction is like sneaking out of bed in the middle of night, slipping out the door in a thin nightgown and heading for a field or forest—a beautiful escape from the real world. I’m sure you could hear this as a song about unrequited love, but for me the repeated chords of the chorus resolve into a feeling of such intense rightness that there’s nothing unrequited about it. This is where she’s meant to be, and although it might be frightening, she sings: I’m ready for my love. This is a song for Lucy, or really any of the Blakely women finding solace in the forest.

In a Week/Hozier ft. Alana Henderson
I listened to a lot of Hozier while first developing the landscape and mood of Urizon and Coeurs Crossing, Maisie’s ancestral home and village. Every song on his debut EP had a major impact on the novel, but this one holds a particular place in my heart. It’s a song about two rotting corpses, and an incredibly romantic meditation on the way land can provide comfort that society cannot. The lyrics also blur the lines between human life and nature—we lay here for years or for hours/so long we become the flowers—which is a sentiment I tried to capture throughout What Should be Wild. An added bonus here is Hozier’s syntax, which destroys me in the best way: we’d feed well the land/and worry the sheep. Again, he’s talking about decaying corpses. Oof. What a song.

Down By the Water/PJ Harvey
This song is the black-eyed girl’s anthem. The whispered outro is delicious, and there is an earthy glamor to both music and lyrics. The black-eyed girl is completely unapologetic, owning and celebrating her darkest impulses. Hear this playing as she stalks the creatures of the forest.

Cactus Practice/Tori Amos ft Natashya Hawley
Tori Amos’s Night of Hunters album, (both with lyrics and the instrumental version), was on repeat while I edited and rewrote the novel. It’s a concept album—each song is a variation on a different piece of classical music, and the story follows a woman exploring a failed romantic relationship alongside an embodiment of a mythical goddess of duality, played by Amos’ daughter. This track is a take on Chopin’s Nocturne Op. 9, and is literally about taking peyote, but emotionally about a recalibration of storytelling and self. The back and forth between Amos and Hawley is playful and painful and absolutely perfect.

In the Aeroplane Over the Sea/Neutral Milk Hotel
It could be because I listened to a lot of Neutral Milk Hotel in high school, or the literal line for now we are young, or the fact it’s purportedly about Anne Frank, but this song will always make me think of teenage love. It’s a song for Matthew and Maisie, two teenagers who’ve been through enough to understand the darker parts of the world, but remain optimistic and can certainly appreciate how strange it is to be anything at all. There’s also a steadiness about the repeated guitar line, even as the instrumentals build, that just epitomizes Matthew for me.

Watch Me Overcomplicate This/Fauvely
I want to play this song for every teenage girl, or really anyone struggling with disillusionment and anxiety and self-doubt and longing, anyone simultaneously confused and empowered by desire. Fauvely’s lyrics are so raw and vulnerable—she really gets to the heart of unpacking a specific but ineffable feeling. That she does so in an upbeat way, tongue often in cheek, makes this the perfect song for Maisie.

My Body is a Cage/Arcade Fire
This one is quite literal: My body is a cage that keeps me/ from dancing with the one I love/but my mind holds the key. One of the more intriguing aspects of writing Maisie was figuring out how she’d exist among people she can’t ever touch—specifically as a young woman coming into her sexuality. She has romantic and sexual feelings for two characters over the course of the novel—one is more of a girl-pines-for-movie-star crush, the other a deep emotional connection. For each, she sees the cage of her body simultaneously as restrictive and protective armor.

É Isso Aí (The Blower’s Daughter)/Seu Jorge with Ana Carolina
This is another song for Matthew. Damien Rice wrote and sings the original, (“The Blower’s Daughter”), and I listened to a lot of his music while writing. He’s an incredibly vulnerable songwriter, which in turn helps me access my characters’ vulnerabilities. But this Seu Jorge cover captures the wistfulness of the original song while adding the warmth and joy that I associate with Matthew’s infatuation with Maisie. The fact that it’s a live track is an added bonus.

Crystal Falls/Audra Isadora
This song is from an album of glam soul music, and no genre could better describe the black-eyed girl. The instrumentals on this track are beautifully creepy and unnerving, and Audra Isadora’s voice is alluring and coy and commanding all at on I was once like you princess/I never had to put up a fight/But now I color my own darkness/ I’m the queen of the night. A powerful coming-of-age message from the black-eyed girl to Maisie.

Another New World/Josh Ritter
Peter Cothay, Maisie’s father, is extremely single-minded, often to the detriment of everything around him. This beautiful Josh Ritter fable is a moving depiction of the sacrifices made in pursuit of a career, and what it means to prize one’s work above all else. I see this as a song about selfishness and hubris and adrenaline and regret. The line [I] pretend that the search for another new world was well worth the burning of mine is perfectly Peter and utterly gutting.

Consolation Prize/Sharon Van Etten
I love the measured way in which Sharon Van Etten tells off her former/potential suitor in this song. Her tone is so matter of fact: basically saying “don’t think I’ll just wait here while you string me along. I’m not going to make a scene, but I’m worth more than what you’re giving me.” There’s such power in saying no, power that the Blakely women—including Maisie—are at various stages of learning to harness throughout the novel.

How Much Light/Ryan Adams
This is the song I hear playing at the end of What Should Be Wild. Maisie imagines that the feeling of finally touching another living human being without consequence would feel like the sun against her skin. Much of the book is about embracing darkness and desire, and while we often associate light with “good” and dark with “bad,” I’d like to think there’s more nuance than that. Maisie lets in the light along with the darkness as she opens herself up to new emotions and experiences. As always, Ryan Adams’ lyrics are just perfect: The way back home’s through the wild and the winds/the way back home’s in your arms/all my life I’ve been searching for something and/I could never get it right/I’ve never seen so much light.


Julia Fine and What Should Be Wild links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

BookTrib interview with the author
Chicago magazine profile of the author
The Qwillery interview with the author
Writer's bone interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


Todd Robert Petersen's Playlist for His Novel "It Needs to Look Like We Tried"

It Needs to Look Like We Tried

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, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Todd Robert Petersen's novel-in-stories It Needs to Look Like We Tried is a deliciously entertaining portrait of people on the edge.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Petersen's stories sing with wise-cracking (a drug dealer on his business arrangements: 'It's an LLC, man. Corporations are people'), irresistible characters who make the best of a world filled with corruption and deception."


In his own words, here is Todd Robert Petersen's Book Notes music playlist for his novel It Needs to Look Like We Tried:



One of the things I'm trying to do with It Needs to Look Like We Tried is get across the feeling that life is a mosaic of experiences of cultural moments. We can't tell a new story without dismantling something else first to get our materials. Some of the songs in this playlist are actually present in the novel, like secondary characters or locations. Some of the songs come from a deeper place in the language and the architecture of it all. The shape of the book is a lot like those mixtapes we used to make: lots of songs from all over the place, all lined up and ordered for a single purpose and effect.


Bill Frisell, "Lookout for Hope" - For years I've been listening to Frisell when I write. As the father of three kids spread from six to fifteen, I need to fast rope into my writing time. There’s not much time to snuggle in and nest and wait for the Muses. Frisell is my portal in to this space and the catalyst for my work. I played the records History, Mystery, Disfarmer, Gone, Just Like a Train, and Ghost Town almost perpetually during the writing of this book. It’s easy for me to occupy the sonic spaces he creates. "Lookout for Hope" is the best example of what I love most about his work, and the message of the title is completely on point for me as a person trying to live through 2018.

Van Halen, "Panama" - I actually hate this song so much, along with the whole 1984 record, even though I am a huge fan of Van Halen's first three albums. I have had ongoing quarrels about it. I've tried to reconsider, but it doesn't work. That said, this song, especially the spoken word break in the middle, should give you a good sense of the one of my central characters, Doyle Mattson, who is an individual with terrible taste in music. He's a person who keeps listening to the same stuff over and over, trying to hang onto something palpable from his youth. While it never comes up in the book, but I have always imagined that Doyle is a terrible air guitar player, and inexplicably this song is one that he would air-shred to, no matter what else was going on.

U2, "Bullet the Blue Sky" - At a critical moment from early in the book, when there should have been silence, this song U2's The Joshua Tree record comes blasting through a car stereo. I wanted it to function the way Martin Scorsese uses rock and roll classics to create an ironic texture for specific moments, especially violent ones. Perhaps I'm overly attuned to details like these, but I think of songs as a way solidify a theme. The drums, rumbling bass, and the wall of distorted guitars from the opening bars, along with the slide guitar seem to function for me as a recipe for a certain kind of intensity that middle class kids who grew up in the 80s might allow themselves express in public. I also love the repeated line "outside it's America," which is so obvious and naive that it catches me off guard. I once drove a van full of college students through Joshua Tree National Park while listening to this album, and it clarified a few things I have never understood before or since.

Lyle Lovett, "She's Already Made Up Her Mind" - This song doesn't appear directly in the book, but shreds of Lovett's lyrics and his vision appear throughout. He's been a major influence on my writing and my approach to humor. His songs have always struck me like Edward Hopper paintings of Texas. I used to play this song when I was in a band in graduate school. I had a 8-bar guitar solo in the middle of it, and I'd always mess it up because I would fall into the story of this song and start exploring it with my imagination when I was supposed to be playing something in E major. Lovett's use of traditional American song forms - folk, blues, jazz, gospel, and of course, country, allow him to spin some deep dark existential truth into surprising packages. His economical use of words and surprising turns of phrase always leave me feeling larcenous, and he's got skinny legs, like I always wanted.

Holly Yarbrough, "Sometimes People Are Good" (by Fred Rogers) - When my daughter was little, I'd sit down with her to watch Mr. Roger's Neighborhood. My wife and I would sing the songs to her, and I realized (as a cynical child I had dismissed him as simple) that Fred Rogers is very likely one of the most emotionally articulate human beings of all time, a bodhisattva in a cardigan. Even though I like to write about comic, violent, and grotesque situations, I've always got this inner Mr. Rogers inside of me thinking of everyone as neighbors. There is a complication to this song that I love. It's not "everybody is good" which would be cheap. It's "sometimes people are good," with everything that kind of language assumes. This jazzy post-modern jukeboxesque cover of this song gives it all just the right bounce. And you have to remember, Mr. Rogers was all about the jazz.

The Rolling Stones, "Mother's Little Helper" - This song is referenced in a short scene from the middle of the book in a chapter called "Cape Cod Fear," which is a kind of remix of Cape Fear (equal parts 1962 and 1991 with some of The Simpsons Episode 83 thrown in for good measure). In this scene, a millennial guy is listening to a boomer complain about his dire situation. He says it's a "drag getting old." The Millennial tries to redirect the uncomfortable conversation toward talking about how his dad used to be a big fan of the Rolling Stones, but the Boomer has no idea what he's talking about. It's good for a gag, but this song represents a a bigger cultural moment from the 60s that seems to have held its power. This song has a lot of cultural weight for me (a Gen X fella) and I hope it can hover in the space of the story as a more general comment about the generational chasms that mark contemporary life. Plus, I love the strange 12-string slide guitar part that makes the whole thing seem more worldly and wise than a simple rowdy pub song.

"If I Knew You Were Coming I'd Have Baked a Cake," Ethel Merman - My mother used to say this all the time. During a period in my teens it seemed like she spoke in strange phrases and expressions that came from popular culture in the '50s and '60s. When I got in trouble as a kid, she'd say, "What we have here is a failure to communicate." Eventually I saw Cool Hand Luke when I was in college, and I literally freaked out in the theater. My mother had lifted her parenting catch-phrase from the warden of a prison? I tend to steal a lot of dialogue from things my mother has said, which means I’m probably stealing from somebody else. When I gave the line "If I knew you was coming, I'dve baked a cake" to a surly woman making a snide comment to some people she didn't like very much, I realized I should track down the line, and that research led me to this old Ethel Merman song, which makes me even more glad to have it in the book.

"Burning Down the House," The Talking Heads - This song comes on the radio at one of the key moments of the book, and the narrator of that passage knows, when he hears those first opening chords, that he has to get his car off the road because he knows he's going to break down emotionally. It doesn't even occur to him to turn off the song, because it comes to him like a heavenly visitation. I was trying to recreate one of those moments when a song appears out of nowhere and becomes part of the emotional soundtrack for your life. I don't know why I believe so strongly in this, but this kind of thing has happened time and time again in my life. It's like I'm living in an ongoing John Hughes movie. Whenever this song or "Once in a Life Time" starts playing, I break into ten thousand tiny pieces.

"Everybody Needs a Little Trouble," Mr. Big
 - Mr. Big has a 2011 record called What If... with a winged pig on the cover. I had this weird gestalt reaction and kept misreading their name as Mr. Pig, which gave me a joke that shows up near the end of the book about a potbellied pig that belongs to one of the characters. Historically, I've never been a huge fan of arena metal (I'm more of a Living Colour and Fishbone guy), but Mr. Big is right up the alley of this pig-owning small time Oklahoma criminal named Robert Earl Cripps. The song "Everybody Needs a Little Trouble" is a perfect anthem for Robert Earl, and putting it here allows me to make a small public confession: I've been listening to a lot of Paul Gilbert and Steve Vai lately so I have something to talk about with my delightful heavy metal guitar-playing barber. Shhh, please don't tell.

"Do You Believe in Love," Huey Lewis and the News - Okay, here's real confession. I used to like Huey Lewis and the News, and I saw them in concert in Portland in the '80s. People made fun of me for going to that show, even though I bought the tickets from the dude who was also my high school's primary marijuana dealer. While I was writing the final chapter of It Needs to Look Like We Tried, I was sitting in a Taco Bell eating lunch, when "Do You Believe in Love" come on, and I instantly realized that the titular line was the exact mixture of cheesy earnestness I needed for the teenage girl who delivers the line. I didn't know what the line was going to mean or why it needed to be there. But it changed everything and put me in touch with a past version of myself who believed in stupid, beautiful, bold proclamations and simple emotions painted in primary colors.

"I am the Walrus," The Beatles - The middle-aged dude in this book is really me (I hate admitting that), and when he reaches a critical moment, he retreats into the comfort of Beatles nonsense. This song appears directly in the last chapter. When I was working on the passage of dialogue in which the song appears, I had no idea what the character would say. He was not thinking about the predicament he'd put himself into. Instead, I had the distinct impression that he was singing the nonsense of "I Am the Walrus" secretly to himself to keep from going mad, and the only words that could possibly come out of his mouth were "goo goo g'joob." Musically, this song is fascinating, and it's as complex as anything the Beatles have done. But the surface of it seems like utter nonsense.

"We Tried," Empire Strikes Brass - This great funk instrumental is what I imagine playing over the closing credits of this book. I don’t imagine it for a movie version of the book, but I wish there was a way to trigger this song to play when a reader turns the final page and gets to the acknowledgements. I love the bounce of the groove and the implacable cheeriness of the horns. The bass line and the trumpet solo are exactly the feeling I want pulsing through my own middle aged body when I plop into a chair at the end of a day and try to show some gratitude to this planet for not taking me yet.


Todd Robert Petersen and It Needs to Look Like We Tried links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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