July 25, 2013
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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Ron Carlson's novel Return to Oakpine is a masterfully drawn portrait of small-town life in the American West.
Shelf Awareness wrote of the book:
"Return to Oakpine is suffused with evocative landscapes and the practical yet lyrical details of work, whether a character is renovating a garage or editing a short story. The novel's emotional work shows that life on earth can yield enough fellow feeling to sustain us through great sadness, as long as we put our efforts in the right place."
At the mountain bonfire in my novel Return to Oakpine, which takes place in the fall of 1969, I had the band, which is still searching for its name, play "Be True to Your School," which is not at all a favorite song of mine, but it's right for the moment. The Beach Boys were terrifically important to me, growing up as I did in landlocked Salt Lake City, Utah. I was a senior in high school in 1965 and it felt like Brian Wilson was following us around and singing about it. There's all that short-sleeved striped shirt optimism about the era, as Vietnam was just sinking in, and drugs hadn't really hit yet. I graduated with a bunch of clear-eyed football players and two years later I was sitting around reading the liner notes in my college dorm hallway with guys named Bearman and Skivvy. That's not in the book. Much has been written about the troubled genius of Brian Wilson, but I loved his music, and of course, in high school we meet our first people and go through changes with so many of them, and though they are spread everywhere now and many long gone, I still think of them as my people.
I was compelled by the shadows in Wilson's work, the darker songs, "In My Room," and "It's Been Building Up Inside of Me," and the song I did use in the novel at the bar competition, "Let Him Run Wild." I mention "Help Me Rhonda," and note the character had never met a woman named "Rhonda," and I haven't either. What a raucous, rocking song with such a rueful story. Coterminous with that music was the Beatles early work, and I clung to "She Loves You," right away, as the lyric is spoken by the second guy through the door, the go-between, a good friend. I saw her yesterday, he says, and she told me what to say! My heavens, to have such a friend, who would give us the news and then tell us that it is good news. I believe him. Later, the Beatles would make a staggering artistic leap with Rubber Soul, my favorite album of all time, as they took a dangerous step away from the popular for the literary, or what I'll call the literary; there is no album I know of which shows a group of artists showing such courage and reach. Again, the shadows entered. I don't use any of that in the book but it is right next door. The truth is I don't know anything about music, but I walked from my girlfriend's apartment along the avenues up to the University of Utah many midnights with the Zombies, "Time of the Season," which must be the first song that asks "Who's your daddy?" playing in my head and thinking, what a world, what a big beautiful promising and mysterious world I was stepping into. It's a long time ago. That's part of what the book is about. I don't know the lyrics to a dozen songs, but the music was everywhere and I felt it. It's personal, of course, and my notes are indulgent in that way. Almost no one knows that Brian Wilson wrote a song called "Salt Lake City."
Ron Carlson and Return to Oakpine links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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