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June 2, 2011

Book Notes - Richard Horan ("Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

In his book Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton travels the United States to collect tree seeds from the homes of his favorite authors. The writers range from Walt Whitman to Eudora Welty to Jack Kerouac, and Horan's visits to their hometowns are entertaining and as much travelogue as about the author's themselves, with a liberal dose of horticulture thrown in for nature lovers like myself.

David James Duncan wrote of the book:

"Seeds is more than a book: this sashay across literary America plants a literal sacred grove. Horan sees the cloud floating inside every work of literature. He helps redeem every tree that ever died for our solace and delight."

In his own words, here is Richard Horan's Book Notes music playlist for his book, Seeds: One Man's Serendipitous Journey to Find the Trees That Inspired Famous American Writers from Faulkner to Kerouac, Welty to Wharton:

In traveling the country and collecting seeds from the trees that inspired famous American writers, athletes and presidents, I worked with passion and humility, joy and reverence at my task. And I am proud to say that at each venue there was indeed a song in my heart. The songs, like musical scores, underlined those magical moments as I discovered ancient trees that had physical contact with my beloved heroes.

"Somewhere Over the Rainbow" as performed by a young Judy Garland in the movie The Wizard of Oz

The tiny, seven-acre Wizard of Oz Memorial Oak Grove in Mattydale, NY was reputed to have been the playground of young L. Frank Baum and no doubt was the inspiration behind the enchanted forest of his famous book. Although squeezed in between a middle school, a shopping mall, and with an international airport and two major interstate highways all within walking distance, I could still hear in between the roar of engines and the drone of tires on pavement, a 16-year-old Judy Garland singing her heart out on Uncle Henry and Auntie Em's farmyard.

"Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" as performed by Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans, in the northwest corner of that park known as Congo Square, there is a great Live oak tree which completely contradicts Whitman's famous poem from Leaves of Grass "I SAW in Louisiana a live-oak growing." In the poem, Whitman's tree "utters joyous leaves without a friend or a lover near." But in Louis Armstrong's Congo Square, where all the Creole, Cajun, Italian, African et al folks would meet of a Sunday to barter, sing, and dance…that tree "uttered joyous leaves all its life with so many friends and lovers and music nearby."

"My Country Tis of Thee" as performed by Miss Aretha Franklin at the inauguration of President Barack Obama on January 20, 2009.

At Gettysburg, standing high atop Little Round Top, looking down below at the boulder-strewn theatre of the Devil's Den, in my mind's I could see the Confederate troops swarming about the rocky pasture and beginning their advance up the rocky precipice as the canons exploded and the blazing cannonballs ripped into and eviscerated bodies willy-nilly… And yet behind and above that horrific image, and above the shrieks of death and chaos, I could hear Aretha Franklin singing at the inauguration of the new American president--half white and half black--proving beyond all doubt that freedom rings loudest.

"Cherry Blossom Time" by Ace Case

At Rachel Carson's home in Springdale, Pennsylvania, a town that doesn't seem particularly proud of its hometown heroine, I gathered many cherry seeds in her yard. My oldest friend Ace Case, who accompanied me on my seed gathering adventures, is a singer/songwriter, and he wrote and performs this very tender sort of environmental love song about the cherry blossoms. I could hear that song in my head as I walked along the interpretive trail through the tiny one-acre woods alongside her childhood home.

"Compared to What" performed by Les McCann, Eddie Harris and Benny Bailey at the Montreux Jazz Festival 1969.

In Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Tom Wolfe describes Ken Kesey's La Honda, California, house thus: "A log house, a mountain creek, a little wooden bridge…/A redwood forest for a yard!" It was well documented that Kesey used to paint the redwoods in the yard Day-Glo colors. Harvesting seeds in and around that house, the song that came instantly to mind was the jazz classic, "Compared to What," the epitome of the sound and spirit of that revolutionary era in American history. With Les McCann on piano, Eddie Harris on saxophone and Benny Bailey on trumpet, I can't listen to that song without getting up and charging into some task.

"Baby Batter" by Harvey Mandel

Henry Miller did nothing halfway. And he wasn't full of nuance or hidden messages or clever devices. He simply exploded onto the page and into life. In any case, his works, all masterpieces of power and truth and surrealism match up perfectly with Harvey Mandel's incomparable guitar classic "Baby Batter."

"Mannish Boy" Muddy Waters

Clarksdale, Mississippi is ground zero of the Delta Blues. The Delta Blues Museum is located there. It is the hometown of some of the greatest blues artists ever, and, believe it or not, of Tennessee Williams. But perhaps the most iconic bluesman of all-time is Muddy Waters, nee McKinley Morganfield. At the Delta Blues Museum they have the actually wooden shack that little Muddy Waters was born in and lived in as a boy. It looks like something from pre-Columbian South America rather than a home that once sheltered the true king of the blues. Looking at that museum-piece shack, I could hear Muddy Waters singing the greatest blues number ever, "Mannish Boy."

"Fleur de Lune" Carlos Santana

John Muir loved the night. He was not a comfortable writer, nor was his prose particularly poetic, but lyricism appeared whenever he wrote about of his night-time ramblings, his night-time séances, his night-time communions with the trees silhouetted against the backdrop of stars and moon. At Muir's Martinez home I pictured him walking alone among his fruit trees, late at night, under a full moon. It is this image of him that brings to mind Carlos Santana's enchanting guitar serenade, "Fleur de Lune."

"Pavane for a Dead Princess" by Deodato

Because I am in love with Carson McCullers' works and consider her a divinely inspired artist and America's greatest short story writer, I couldn't help but be emotionally moved while at her home picking up the magnolia seeds from the soaring specimen outside her front door. The emotion I felt was the same that I felt while first listening to Deodato's beautiful re-interpretation of Ravel's work "Pavane for a Dead Princess."

"Il Saltarello" as performed by the incomparable genius David Munrow

William Faulkner's Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi is spooky, shadowy, exotic, somber, dark, haunted, and suggestive of hidden violence. Walking around the grounds on a rain-soaked, misty fall day, its ambience brought to mind the music of the Crusades as played on the double-reeded shawm by the deceased musicologist and poly-instrumentalist David Munrow.

Richard Horan and Seeds links:

the book's blog

Kirkus Reviews review
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review
The Night Writer review
The Ornamented Line review
Publishers Weekly review

Huffington Post guest post by the author
Publishing Insider guest post by the author
The State Journal-Register profile of 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)
musician/author interviews
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

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