November 8, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Steve Almond's God Bless America is one of the year's most memorable short story collections. Dark and sad, yet thoroughly infused with humor and hope, these stories are skillfully written and filled with rare compassion for their subjects.
The Boston Globe wrote of the book:
'"God Bless America" showcases Almond's fascination with the dark underbelly of American life. Sometimes he laughs at it; sometimes he stares directly into the abyss and produces something stunning. What's obvious is that Almond creatively inhabits the confused soul of modern American life. Whether he finds comedy or tragedy there, the result is provocative and memorable.'
The bad news is I've gone with an America themed playlist. The good news is you will find none of the usual suspects. No "American Girl," no "American Pie," no "America the Beautiful," even the one by Ray Charles. I resisted including "A Horse with No Name" by America. You're welcome.
"It's Hard to Make Love to an American" by The Ike Reilly Assassination
(from the album We Belong to the Staggering Evening)
One of the most sly and devastating songs about the burdens placed on soldiers and their families in the past decade. And yes, it rocks. In a just world, the Rolling Stones open for Ike Reilly – and get booed offstage.
"Most American Men" by Dan Bern
(from the album Dan Bern Live In Los Angeles)
Dan Bern understands the vanities and delusions of American masculinity better than any other human being on earth. And he's a lot more fun to listen to on the topic than Norman Mailer.
"Another Like You" by Hayes Carll [Feat. Cary Ann Hearst]
(From the album KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories))
The funniest Red State/Blue State duet ever recorded. The singers are clearly just about to have really awesome drunk angry sex.
"American Child" by Kim Taylor
(from the album Little Miracle)
I'm still not sure why Kim Taylor isn't a huge deal. Actually, check that. I get it. She's too old, too dark, too real. Another song about American dreams that probably won't come true.
"American Girl" by Weezer & Soul Coughing
The best track Weezer ever recorded. It's like an entirely new genre: the alt-R&B brickhouse. Warning: the song will make you want to have sex with everyone in your field of vision.
"Way I Am" by Martin Sexton
(from the album The American)
A delicate showcase for Sexton's astonishing voice, and the best example of why I can't bring myself to begrudge his sentimental excesses.
"Winter In America" by Scott Heron
(from the album Winter in America)
You sort of knew this was coming. If you haven't heard this song please (please please) give it a listen. It manages to convert our nation's moral descent into a gorgeous and stirring lamentation.
"First Night" by The Hold Steady
(from the album Boys And Girls In America)
The loveliest of this band's ballads. I love how unashamedly romantic Craig Finn is willing to be.
"Last Great American Whale" by Lou Reed
(from the album New York)
A super awesomely weird blue-based fable. It's like beat poetry … about whales.
"Baby, Don't" by Steve Forbert
(from the album The American In Me)
I probably listened to this album a million times when I was living in Miami Beach. The sunny opening burst of chords of this track still makes me smell the ocean. It's among the prettiest beg-her-not-to-go songs ever recorded.
"American Girls" by Jeremy Fisher
(from the album Goodbye Blue Monday)
Fisher is making the sort of music Paul Simon did in his prime: thoughtful, catchy pop with propulsive backbeats. This song is a cupcake you can dance to.
"So Hard to Find My Way" by Jackie Greene
(from the album American Myth)
Greene's arrangements have Van Morrison written all over them – big honeyed horn charts layered over shimmering Hammond B-3 – but he's got a storytelling sensibility closer to Springsteen.
"Otis Redding" by Everclear
(from the album Songs From An American Movie Vol. 1)
I'm letting myself in for some slagging with this one, which is fine. I realize Art Alexakis writes the same song over and over. But it's a song I like, especially when he slows down the tempo and adds strings.
Steve Almond and God Bless America links:
Art & Literature interview with the author
The Blair Essentials guest post by the author
Brightest Young Things interview with the author
The Coachella Review interview with the author
Cobalt interview with the author
Here & Now interview with the author
Largehearted Boy interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Rock and Roll Will Save Your Life
Orlando Sun-Sentinel profile of the author
Page Views interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Wall Street Journal essay by the author (on how to write funny)
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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