September 30, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
James Whorton's Angela Sloan is a rollercoaster of a coming of age tale. Filled with dark humor and featuring one of the year's most entertaining and endearing narrators, this novel brings the 1970s back to life.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Whorton gives Angela a distinct voice--simultaneously girlish and wise, and very funny. As the girl, at only 14, pushes her Scamp westward, a Chinese waitress stowed in the back, what unfolds is both a coming-of-age road trip through the freakish underbelly of 1970s America, and an affecting examination of identity."
So I wrote this supposedly comic novel about an abandoned child who is taken in by domestic terrorists. No, the material is not obviously funny. I'm aware of that. I did what I could.
In the not-obviously-funny, happy/sad/lost spirit of the book, here is my playlist.
1. Harry Nilsson, "Me and My Arrow"
The essential American road song for children banished from home. From The Point, 1971.
2. Grand Kallé et L'African-Jazz, "Miwela-Miwela."
Angela (the narrator of this book) was born in what is now called the Democratic Republic of the Congo. This song is one she might have heard on the radio there in the early 1960s, in the city then known as Stanleyville. Readers will know Stanleyville as the "inner station" of Conrad's Heart of Darkness, and it is also, probably, the city V.S. Naipaul had in mind in A Bend in the River. What book made you laugh harder than these two international humor classics?
Grand Kallé is famous for "Indépendence Cha-Cha," a song celebrating the end of Belgian colonial rule. I'm choosing "Miwela-Miwela" for the ringing, reposeful guitar interlude that begins about a minute and a half in. You can hear it here.
3. Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, "Take Me Back to Tulsa"
After her parents are murdered by Simbas, Angela gets adopted by an alcoholic CIA officer named Ray. Ray's from Oklahoma, which is why I include this song by the great Bob Wills.
4. Dr. Nico and L'Orchestre African Fiesta, "Nalingi Yo Na Motema"
In real life, shortly after the Congo elected its first prime minister, the Eisenhower administration decided to kill him. The CIA man who was supposed to arrange the assassination moved slowly, though, and someone else got to Patrice Lumumba first. For the U.S., it was like the Yippies said when the Weathermen bombed the Pentagon: "We didn't do it, but we dug it."
Not funny, but true. If you think it sounds like conspiracy theory, read the Senate report.
Or to get it straight from the Agency's man in Leopoldville, see Larry Devlin's book, Chief of Station, Congo.
A lot of non-funny books have been written about the Congo. And yet their music makes one want to carry on living. The wonderful "Nalingi Yo Na Motema" is from the late 60s and can be found online. I can't fathom the time signature. It seems as though there are two of them, one laid over the other. Dr. Nico's guitar is melodic, rich, and sleepy. I have no idea what the words mean.
5. Franco et Le Tout Puissant OK Jazz, "Bango Nioso Bambanda"
One more Congolese beauty. Listening to this song makes me wonder why American music during my life has been so preoccupied with rebellion, anger, and attitude. What are we so mad about? A dumb question no doubt, but really. Here is Franco playing electric guitar as sweetly as Les Paul circa 1953.
6. Glen Campbell, "Wichita Lineman"
Back to the made-up world. It's 1972. Angela and her Chinese friend Betty are driving a light blue Plymouth Scamp on U.S. 11 between Baltimore and Knoxville, Tennessee. It's very late, and very dark outside. This beautiful song by Jimmy Webb comes in over the radio.
I've never climbed a utility pole in Kansas, but I imagine a person feels pretty solitary up there. Hang on.
7. Al Green, "Let's Stay Together"
Then Betty changes the station, and this comes on. Useful to Betty in her quest to master idiomatic English.
8. "Boys' singing class with teacher (Honan Theatrical School)" Track 13 from Music from the People's Republic of China
A scrap from the world that Betty grew up in. The performance was recorded in Zhengzhou, in 1976, by Guy and Candie Carawan. Nobody hits the high notes like forty eight-year-olds made to sing in unison. Their teacher is clapping time slowly in what sounds like a mostly empty school cafeteria. This song gives me the shivers.
9. Glenn Gould, "Hugh Aston's Ground"
Composed by William Byrd during the Renaissance, recorded by Glenn Gould during the Nixon administration . . . played on a phonograph in Baltimore in 1972, and overheard by Angela through the screen of a rowhouse window. Strangely open-sounding and vagrant . . . music to wake up in your car to.
10. Billy Bragg and Wilco, "My Flying Saucer"
A melancholy lullaby for the lost. In this case, it's a lost flying saucer, but it could as easily be your daughter. Woody Guthrie wrote the words.
11. Merle Haggard, "If We Make it Through December"
For all the failing Okie dads who can't explain.
James Whorton and Angela Sloan 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