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January 24, 2012

Book Notes - George Pelecanos "What It Was"

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

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

In his latest novel What It Was, George Pelecanos vividly recreates the Washington, D.C. of the early 1970s through the eyes of one of his most memorable characters, private detective Derek Strange.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"'What It Was' is a sleek, fast-paced crime tale that doesn't hit the usual speed bumps found in Derek Strange's path. He spends almost no time being an upright role model; instead he's a cool, charismatic young man with a lot of self-assurance and a certain awe for the folk heroes he sees on movie screens."

For the next month, e-book editions of What It Was are available for 99 cents each.

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In his own words, here is George Pelecanos's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, What It Was:


What It Was: The Top Ten

"In the Rain," The Dramatics

Played on the bar juke in the novel's intro as Strange thinks back on "that thrilling time" (1972, the year of the song's release), this is the haunting, effects-heavy single that went to number 1 on the soul charts.


"I Wanna Know If It's Good to You"

Red Jones pays Bobby Odum a dark visit at his apartment as Funkadelic's mindblower, from Free Your Mind and Your Ass Will Follow, comes from the stereo. That's Eddie Hazel on guitar.


"Mr. Big Stuff"

Jean Knight, out of New Orleans, recorded this for legendary producer Wardell Quezergue at the Malaco/Chimneyville studios, Stax single #0088, #1 soul, #2 pop. "All groove, no melody," says Strange to his new client, Maybelline Walker. "But what a groove."


"The World is a Ghetto"

War's masterpiece is playing in The Experience, a neighborhood bar in D.C., when Strange returns to his seat after blowing a joint in the alley with friends. It's the album version, with "its instrumental middle, building emotionally, almost violently, taking him up." Time: 10:17.


"Are You Lonely For Me Baby"

Strange puts some Al Green on the box when he wants to get next to his girlfriend Carmen. Appropriately, it's a track off of Al Green Gets Next To You, his deep soul record "full of grit and fire."


"People Make The World Go Round"

From the classic Stylistics debut, produced by Thom Bell, this is the track that plays inside Strange's Monte Carlo as he watches the tableau of the street. Also, it runs over the opening credits of Crooklyn, one of my favorite Spike Lee films.


"No Name Bar," Isaac Hayes

Symphonic gem from the Shaft soundtrack, a perfect car-cruise tune, also a favorite of Red Jones's sidekick, Alfonzo Jefferson, who plays it in his Burrville lair.


"Just a Little Overcome," by Ollie and the Nightingales

Southern soul at its finest, played in the Soul House bar on Roland Williams' last night on earth. Vocals by Tommy Tate.


"Little Child Runnin Wild"

In the novel's coda, this is coming from the jukebox at The Experience as Frank Vaughn and Derek Strange drink away the afternoon. It's a fitting send off for the era, as this is, for my money, the perfect distillation of Curtis Mayfield's art, from Superfly, my desert island disc.


George Pelecanos and What It Was links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Bite the Book review
New York Times review
Washington City Paper review

Grift Magazine interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Cut
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Drama City
USA Today profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

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)
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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