February 18, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Summer Woods' novel Wrecker is a moving and highly readable story about the power of community in raising a child. Woods sets the book in a northern California hippie community in the 60s, and her sense of place as well as affection for her characters shines throughout the novel.
Wrecker is set in Humboldt County, up in the wilds of northern California; but it's more about blackberries than about that other iconic Humboldt crop, and more about love's hefty yield than about the measure of blackberries.
The novel is the story of a boy, Wrecker, who is taken from his mother at three. It's 1968. She's sentenced to prison, and he gets sent off to live with a distant uncle and the semi-communal bunch of people next door. How it all works out – the way this motley group of isolated eccentrics comes together around this damaged, destructive, but extraordinary boy – says as much as I know about what a family is, and does. But a family is made up of individuals, and a novel is made up of characters, and songs – well, songs are meant to be delivered to the ears of those who need them. It works that way for me, at least. So here are eight songs for the eight major characters, plus one more that sustained me during the last bit of finishing Wrecker.
"Somebody to Love," by Jefferson Airplane
Lisa Fay is Wrecker's first mother. Young and unsteady, she arrives in San Francisco wet behind the ears, ready for love and headed for trouble. This song is a big dose of what I imagine the sixties were like in that city, full of energy, an irresistible beat, and Grace Slick belting out lyrics that on the surface sound pretty good but just below turn creepy.
"Crazy," by Patsy Cline
Wrecker's Uncle Len is an old-time kind of guy, a tender-hearted timber faller confounded by desire. I can picture him pulling over to the side of the road, listening to this track over the radio in his pickup. Nobody knows how to embody want and loss and more want like Patsy Cline. This song floors me every time I hear it. I want everybody to just shut up and listen to that voice.
"Oh Happy Day," Edwin Hawkins Singers
Len is married to Meg, Lisa Fay's sister, and he's crazy in love with her. The trouble is, a brain infection chewed up the best part of her mind. What's left is childlike, impulsive, randy, and completely unguarded. The irrepressible joy of this track – done beautifully by Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples, too, but simplest and most direct here – is something that can get me up in the morning and move me through the darkest day. Jesus or not, these people know how to feel good. Just as Meg does.
"Drift Drift," Art of Flying
This delicate, haunting song melds two voices in a kind of conversation about love and distance. I don't completely understand it, and I don't completely understand Willow, the other woman Len loves – but I get why Len would love her, and why distance is the magic ingredient in their relationship. And I get the pain of that. "I am going to change my way of knowing," David Costanza sings, and you almost believe him. Almost. I love this band, and this song.
"The Nearness of You," Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong
For a woman who uses a banana as a microphone to sing "Get Your Hand Out of My Oven," done in the original by Methyl Ethyl and the Ketones, this might seem too sophisticated a choice. But raucous, raunchy Ruth, who draws Wrecker out of his shell with her juvenile humor and acute vision, knows the meaning of romance. After thirty years madly in love with the same woman, she owns this song. And when Ella and Louis lay their voices together, is there anything hotter?
"Wendell Gee," R.E.M.
Trees, and whistling, and chicken wire, and that wonderful plaintive way Michael Stipe has of delivering lyrics that more than make sense – that occupy the brain enough to let the payload of the song make an end run for your heart – this track shows up in my life at the oddest times, and in connection with the oddest people. And Johnnie Appleseed is surely the oddest character in the novel, and, like Wendell Gee, in perfect tune with the nether-qualities of the natural world.
"Home," Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros
Okay, so the timing's all wrong – but Melody, who throws over every imposed structure of her life to go her own way, would love this song. Privileged, obstreperous, a brat even, she wants nothing more than to be left alone to do her own thing – whatever that may be. Against all odds, her "thing" turns out to be mothering Wrecker and turning Bow Farm into a home. I love the cheerful, everybody's-in-it quality of this track, and the way it makes me want to be there.
"Love Reign O'er Me," The Who
Last, but definitely most, is Wrecker himself. We meet him at his birth – outside, in San Francisco's Rolph Playground – and part from him twenty years later. What's at stake in this novel is this boy's life. And there's plenty of wrecking that goes on, plenty of touch-and-go, as this kid throws himself at the world and lets the pieces break off and scatter where they may.
This song by The Who is for the teenaged Wrecker: at full volume, with crashing drums and the drenching flood of sound pouring over and through, setting his lengthening bones abuzz, causing him to yell along at the top of his voice, making him move his body to its demands. It's the volume and ferocity of this song that he needs; but it's the amplitude of feeling that I wish for him. Plain and simple: that love – oh, you get what I mean.
"Sink," Two Ton Strap
Here's the song that's been playing in my ear for the last year plus, as Wrecker went through revisions and moved out on its own. Doesn't hurt that my own grown-up kid is singing it. Everything about this song makes me want to have a drink. And now that the book – and the kids – are out the door, I think I will.
Summer Wood and Wrecker links:
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