April 13, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Eugene Cross's short story collection Fires of Our Choosing is an impressive debut. His compassion for characters on the outskirts of society is admirable, as is his surprising sense of humor in this often dark collection.
The Brooklyn Rail wrote of the book:
"Eugene Cross has created stories in which plot rightly serves as the function of character, and characters' motivations are carefully tended. The stories make sense; they convince. And in each, there are scenes that will stay with readers for a long time."
I've been lucky enough to have done some recent interviews and blog posts for Fires of Our Choosing, and while all of them presented their own interesting and unique challenges, I don't think anything has quite compared to the exciting difficulty of compiling this playlist. Fires consumed (pardon the pun) about seven years of my writing life. I worked on other things in the meantime, but from the moment I wrote the first word of the first story until the very last edit, I'd have to guess at somewhere around that timeframe. How much music did I listen to in the interim? How many phases and obsessions did I go through? How many concerts did I attend? Boiling that down to twelve songs is frightening but has also been great fun.
I'm not a writer who listens to music while he works, however, music is a big part of the process for me. I almost always listen to music right before I start a day's work and sometimes I'll play the same song over and over, letting it sink in. While putting this playlist together, I've been going over the lyrics again, trying to pinpoint what inspired me in the first place, discovering different versions of the songs online, and learning some things about their respective histories. The lyrics don't always match the stories, but there may have been something about the song's mood or tone that helped me try and create the mood or tone I was going after in the story. Either way, if I could pair twelve songs with the twelve stories in Fires of Our Choosing, this would be them
"Rosaleen, If You Know What I Mean" – Audioslave – "Doesn't Remind Me"
Along with Cage the Elephant, this is probably the best video on the list. In Rosaleen, the story's protagonist, sixth-grader Marty Hanson, acts out by savagely beating a classmate. Audioslave's video stars real life six-year old boxer, Vinny Intrieri, aka Kid Vicious, and includes footage from one of his actual fights at Philly's legendary Blue Horizon.
"Passengers" – Ryan Adams – "Dear Chicago"
I moved to Chicago during the final stages of Fires being published, finishing a lot of the edits shortly after my girlfriend and I arrived. More importantly, when he's on his game, Ryan Adams can write great lyrics, and he's on his game here.
"Harvesters" – George Strait – "Amarillo by Morning"
I'm from northwest Pennsylvania and my father was born and raised in a farming community twenty minutes outside of town. I go through my country stages and this is one of my favorites, a song about following your passion at any cost.
"The Brother" – Uncle Tupelo – "Moonshiner"
Sam is a housepainter who works alone and tries to live a very private life. The reasons for that felt inherent in this song. Dylan's version is great too.
"Hunters" – Ray LaMontagne – "Jolene"
A song about regret and loss and lots of other uplifting stuff.
"This Too" – Willie Nelson – "Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain"
Two words. Willie. Nelson.
"Fires of Our Choosing" – Warren Zevon – "Poor Poor Pitiful Me"
The title story, it deals most explicitly with an underlying theme in the book, a lack of accountability and an abundance of self loathing.
"Come August" - Townes Van Zandt – "Greensboro Woman"
The hardest story in the book to choose a song for, but a classic from Townes says it best. “I just put a thousand miles between me and where my thoughts do lie.”
Only the Strong Will Survive – Waylon Jennings – Luckenbach, Texas (Back to the Basics of Love) A song about simplifying your life. The story takes place in Fairview Township in northwest Pennsylvania and its protagonist, Ronald, feels like he's already got his life halfway to where he wants it. Taxidermy is his passion and he owns his own shop named Custom Critters. Now all he wants is to marry his sweetheart, Meredith, but her son, Joey Jr., and the memory of his father keep getting in the way.
"The Gambler" – Cage the Elephant – "Shake Me Down"
Harold Finkston may be the character I felt the most empathy for. He's living in a retirement community and has just lost his wife, Edna, and like the song says, there's “Not a lot of people left around.” So, although he's never gambled a day in his life, he starts obsessively visiting the local casino and horse track. I saw Cage the Elephant perform this in a downpour at last summer's Lollapalooza and it was one of the greatest shows I've ever seen.
"430" – The Avett Brothers – "November Blue"
Cause I'm a sucker for leaving songs and this is a good one, though in 430 the roles are opposite those in the song. It's Linda who has already left Roddy. I listened to a lot of the Avett Brothers while writing the book, but this was the gateway song. Big thanks to my good friend, Chad Simpson, for introducing me to them. (Look for his forthcoming collection Tell Everyone I Said Hi, winner of this year's John Simmons Short Fiction Award from the University of Iowa Press).
"Eyes Closed" – Guns N' Roses – "Sweet Child o' Mine"
The protagonist, Evan, is a pool hustler whose only real job was doing snow plowing during a harsh Erie winter. He listened to his Guns N' Roses and Van Halen tapes all night. Erie, my hometown and the setting for most of the collection, has more 80's cover bands per capita than anywhere I've ever been. Growing up, Appetite for Destruction was the record. If you didn't know, no one was going take the time to tell you. Plus, if you say you don't like this song, you're lying.
Eugene Cross and Fires of Our Choosing links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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