February 25, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jessica Anya Blau's novel Drinking Closer to Home endearingly tells the tale the history of a dysfunctional Southern California family. Brutally honest and often reading like memoir (no surprise, since Blau has mentioned that the characters are based on her own family), the three siblings' stories unfold with grace and humor in this moving book.
The New York Journal of Books wrote of the book:
"Reminiscent of Jeannette Wall’s The Glass Castle, Jessica Anya Blau’s sophomore effort is a raging success. With incredible insight and endless imagination, Blau has created the ϋber-dysfunctional family that survives cringe-worthy encounters; yet manages to forge iron-clad bonds. "
When I write, I see the story playing out like a movie in my head. I jot down scenes as they appear on the "screen," and dialogue as I hear it. So a playlist for me isn't what I was listening to or thinking about in the period of time I was writing the book. Rather, it's the soundtrack I heard when I was writing—the songs that should accompany certain scenes in the book. This playlist is in chronological order.
"Harps and Angels," Randy Newman
This is a song about someone dying and preparing to leave this world. In the opening chapter of the novel the mother, Louise, has a massive heart attack. Her three grown kids come home to be with her and wait to see if she'll live or die. The mother is based on my own mother who absolutely loves Randy Newman. She claims she'd marry Randy Newman. And she thinks he's really foxy.
"You Don't Know How It Feels," Tom Petty
Alternate chapters of DRINKING are flashbacks from when the kids were growing up. As children, their father, Buzzy, grew marijuana for their mother's addiction. The chorus of this song goes like this: So let's get to the point, let's roll another joint . . . . It's a great pot song without being a "stoner" song.
"Underpants!" by Victor Scott
There's a scene in the book when the grandmother from New Jersey (the family lives in Santa Barbara, California) is visiting for two weeks. She cleans the house and does everyone's laundry while she visits (usually the house is a complete mess—there's birdshit on the couch from the loose bird who perches on the curtain rod above the couch). One morning she plucks the twelve-year-old daughter, Portia's, underwear from the laundry basket and shows the family the discharge smears in the crotch. "Portia's maturing now, God bless!" she says. "She's in puberty!" This really happened to me and it was a pretty horrible moment.
"We Are Golden," Mika
This song goes with the scenes when the college-aged sisters, Anna and Portia, come home during winter break. They drink a lot, smoke cigarettes, do loads of cocaine, and Anna has sex with strangers in bathroom stalls and in the ocean. Essentially they're both feeling pretty free, immortal, and reckless.
"Cocaine," Eric Clapton
Anna, the sibling who is based on my sister, becomes addicted to coke. This is the kind of song coke addicts like to have playing in the background while they're snorting lines off mirrors and polished-stone tabletops.
"International Lover," Prince
Anna has sex with a passel of guys. Sometimes more than one person at once. This song by Prince has an orgasm in the end, articulated with Prince's high, girlish voice.
"Where is Love," from the soundtrack of Oliver!
This song goes with the sisters' younger brother, Emery's, scenes. He's gay but doesn't quite realize it when he's young. He writes and produces his own musical variety show. And although it's never stated in the book that he loves the soundtrack from Oliver!, it is the kind of thing the character would adore. This character is based on my brother.
"White Wedding," Billy Idol
Both sisters get married at some point in the book. This song reflects on both the weddings and Anna's cocaine-riddled past.
"It's Raining Men," The Weather Girls
At college, Emery discovers he's gay when he engages in a hot-tub orgy with a bunch of hot guys. This song would definitely play in the background of that scene!
"Police Academy," F.A.M.
Anna eventually becomes an undercover narcotics cop. This is actually true. My sister is tiny: five one and a hundred pounds, and she worked undercover until she was pregnant with her first child.
"Having My Baby," Paul Anka
Both sisters get pregnant at some point in the novel. Also, this song is so, so corny and ridiculous that it's fabulous.
"Goodbye Booze," Loudon Wainwright III
Louise, the mother in the story, decides at one point that she's an alcoholic. The kids don't believe her and just laugh and mock her when she tells them she's going to AA.
"Total Eclipse of the Heart," Bonnie Tyler
This is another ultra-corny song, but if you can get into the hyperbole, it's pretty fun to sing along with it. This song is for Portia, the character based on me, who suffers a broken heart when she finds her husband having an affair with a long, lean, high-boot-wearing woman named Daphne Frank.
"Stinky Dinky," Ru Paul
Louise's uncles and cousins are serial philanderers and they each call their mistress their "Stinky." It's a truly horrible and misogynistic name for a human, but it never fails to crack up Anna, Portia and Emery (just as it cracked us up in real life).
Anna, Portia, Emery and Alejandro (Emery's boyfriend) do a fashion show for Louise when she's in the hospital after the heart attack.
"Hallelujah," k.d. lang
This is a beautiful, soulful, sad song. I can't tell you how it connects to the book because it's the song that would play in the final scene and I don't want to give away anything!
Jessica Anya Blau and Drinking Closer to Home links:
Austin Chronicle interview with the author
Blog Talk radio interview with the author
Drinking Diaries interview with the author
The Faster Times interview with the author
Fictionaut interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists