February 16, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Frank Bill's short story collection Crimes in Southern Indiana is a compelling dark and violent depiction of rural American life. These linked stories are filled with drugs, lust, and poverty, and their violence serves to define the characters while never feeling gratuitous. A stunning debut collection from a writer to watch.
3:AM Magazine wrote of the book:
"Frank Bill's stories are about ordinary people carried over the edge by drugs, madness, desperation, greed, lust, longing, revenge and the accident of birth. From the depths of this savagery some of the characters give voice to a distant lament that their lives have become consumed by such devilry. Crimes in Southern Indiana provides a cycle of cautionary tales, brilliantly wrought, of the chaos and anarchy that lurks like a waiting plague beneath the veneer we call civilization. "
Like the people I write about, those that are weaved from the grains of conflict and the soil from which they were born, the music I listen to supports those same roots. Sparks the serotonin of what or how I'm feeling on the page once I'm in a character's head, bringing life to the voiceless.
The early catalysts were stories like "The Accident," coming from my own angst after a near death explosion in the factory where I worked, where I ripped an A/C unit from an office's brick wall and crawled out of a tin duct. At the time I listened to a lot of Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson and System of a Down. After being checked out by a physician I was placed on a psychiatric medication for my mood, couldn't write cause my brain was a wad of paste. Getting fed up with this dumbfounded state, I weaned myself from the meds and "The Accident" was the story I wrote.
In January of 2005, I lost a major thread to my childhood, my step-grandfather shriveled and rotted away because of brain cancer and died two days before my 31st birthday. By this time, my writing had settled into what I was informed by, the area and the people I came from. My roots. One of the stories that came from his passing was "The Penance of Scoot McCutchen." The music I listened to at this time was less viscous in nature but visceral with its words and depictions of blue collar life. William Elliot Whitmore's "Pine Box" and Bob Dylan's "The Ballad of Hollis Brown" gave me the raw ingredients for tone to flip flop my grandfather's brain cancer on its ear and the story of how he and my grandmother had met, the strong bond they held and the loneliness and despair my grandfather felt when she'd become a void.
The stories I write are not so much inspired by the music I listen to as they are complimented by it, meaning the music I listen to and the stories I write come from the same well, regardless of our territory the terrain is the same. Here are a few of the tunes I identified with while writing the stories for Crimes in Southern Indiana.
I penned "Amphetamine Twitch," "Officer Down" and "The Need" long before Old Crow Medicine Show released their tune "Methamphetamine." When I heard it, I knew the reality I was writing about was the same reality that they sang about, how the rural areas of the Midwest have been ignited by the inferno of meth addiction and how it transforms people into monsters, causing them to give up everything for that next high.
I must've played "Sink Hole" by the Drive-By Truckers a million times when cruising down to Blue River to go fishing. It tells of a farmer and how little he'll put up with when his land is threatened. It's a tune of knowing where you come from. What your land means to you. And what you'll do to keep it when being branded by outside forces. Even if it's through violence, which many of my characters do.
After I'd heard "The War," by Lucero, I was reminded of "The Old Mechanic," a story based on my real grandfather. A man I was never allowed to be around growing up till I turned fourteen. As a kid I listened to my mother, aunt and grandmother tell of the violence he brought home, which became the opening of the story. At his burial, the US Army came and played "Taps." I later learned of his trials overseas, he'd served in WWII, part of the Army Core of Engineers, served in Okinawa and one story he told my mother and aunt was the friend he lost while lugging a box of grenades on his back. The lyrics, never talk about those first days, lots of friends left behind, offer a hint of what my grandfather, the old mechanic probably kept bottled up most of his life.
When writing "Cold, Hard Love," I thought of how my father and mother fought about money when I was growing up. About my father working three jobs and drinking. Staying out late at the local VFW. While my mother was either a cashier at a mom-and-pop grocery or renting her wears at a nearby factory. "A Love Like This" by The Drive-By Truckers rekindled that back and forth conflict working class men and women go through when they're married and slaving their asses off at jobs they hate. And at the end of the day sometimes their only outlet is drinking, which leads to fighting. But they get up the next morning to start the cycle all over again.
My mother once told me a story about this boy. How his mother and father'd gotten into a dispute. The dispute ended when the boy's father sat the mother in a chair, blew her brains out in front of him. Another story that I heard years before was that of a boy who was maybe six years of age, sneaking beers, cigarettes and calling anyone who questioned him a motherfucker. From this, I fused a female named Connie and a son named Pine Box for my story "Rough Company." I was cruising home one evening after wade fishing on Blue River. "Panties in Her Purse" by The Drive-By Truckers was spinning in my car stereo. It ignited and defined Connie in my mind as my mother could never tell me why the husband had shot the boy's mother in front of him. I discovered it was a chick that never learns, keep's making the same mistakes, she's kinda' loose with the fellas but she doesn't see it that way. She just keeps getting by the only way she knows how.
My step-grandfather always told me and my cousins never tell someone you hate them. If you have an argument with your parents or spouse, apologize. Tell them you love them cause they may not be there the following day. I never understood this till after he'd passed and was told of his catching his father having an affair. His confronting him and his father committing suicide afterwards. From this came my story "Beautiful Even in Death." There's a song Ray Wylie Hubbard wrote called, "The River Bed." It's reminiscent of my character Bishop and the affair he has with his cousin, Christi. The female in Ray's song seems to be a ghost but hearing this tune brought the feelings of Bishop to light, the song lyrics, knowing I shouldn't have come here and I shouldn't stay, nails Bishop's conscience with a railroad spike.
The characters of Crimes in Southern Indiana purge the land with the blood. They work the remaining factory jobs that haven't been shut down or shipped overseas, like Bellmont in "Cold, Hard Love." Or they farm like Jacque in "Old Testament Wisdom." Raise coon dogs like Iris in the title story or JW in a "Coon Hunter's Noir." They do meth like Wayne in "The Need" or Alejandro in "Amphetamine Twitch." They drink like the law officer Moon or Detective Mitchell, 'cause the America they live in forces them to get by on their gut instincts. "We Can't Make it Here Anymore" by James McMurtry is a tune that summed up so much of what I was writing about. The underlying conflict of what working class America has been wading in; the rapids of mid-western decay.
"Crazed Country Rebel" by Hank III offers the vigilant energy and adrenaline that I tried to convey throughout the pages of Crimes in Southern Indiana. Whether it's the Afghan war veteran, Chancellor Evans in the title story, who is pumped up, pissed off and doesn't care who he crosses. Or the fight scenes of "Cold, Hard, Love" or "Beautiful Even in Death" where I offer a dose of life's brutality or the insane amount of gun play and bloodshed that smears from one story to the next. Hank III captured that for me while I cruised the back roads and drove to work each and every day while jotting down characters and actions.
Frank Bill and Crimes in Southern Indiana links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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