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July 26, 2013

Book Notes - Scott Lasser "Say Nice Things About Detroit"

Say Nice Things About Detroit

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.

Scott Lasser's Say Nice Things About Detroitevocative portrait of redemption, both for the novel's characters and the city.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Detroit is autumnal in this quietly moving novel of place… Lasser composes his sympathetic cast into tableaux that are meaningful, even emblematic, but that, even when highly dramatic, aren't forced. His restrained portrait of Detroit evokes real pathos."

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 Scott Lasser's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Say Nice Things About Detroit:

These days, if you tell people you're from Detroit, they offer condolences. I find this baffling. Don't they see my obvious pride?

Detroit? Pride? You bet.

I admit this is hard to explain, but certainly my pride grows from the inestimable contributions the city has made to American popular music. I knew when I sat down to write a novel set in my hometown I wanted to include the city's music, and lots of it. Below is a small sampling related to my novel Say Nice Things About Detroit.

"The Motor City is Burning"—John Lee Hooker

The blues are my first love, and this song, written in the aftermath of the '67 riot, captures for me the feel and tone I was looking for in the book. The Motor City's burning/Ain't no thing in the world I can do. Uh-huh. The MC5 also did a pretty fair cover, which brings me to—

"Kick Out the Jams"—The MC5

Welcome to punk music—before anyone had come up with the term. It's the MC5's signature song, filled with raw power and industrial-strength energy. The band plays as if it has to be heard over the clang of the Mack stamping plant. It feels as if this song could only have come from Detroit.

"The Fire Down Below"—Bob Seger

Seger is from Ann Arbor, an adopted son of the Motor City, and in this song he mentions a number of places, none of them Detroit. Still, this track, with its driving riff and raspy lyrics, captures for me the feeling of Detroit, a city with heart like no other. There are also a lot of actual fires—three times as many as Los Angeles, with one-fifth the population. The fire down below in Detroit is not only metaphorical, but literal.

"Devil with a Blue Dress On/Good Golly Miss Molly"—Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels

I watched Mitch Ryder videos in preparation for my first appearance for the book. Then I made a habit of it.

"Bernadette"—The Four Tops

This song figures into the plot of the book, and again, it has a raw quality I associate with the city. Levi Stubbs's voice is one you don't forget. As it happens, I met Mr. Stubbs once at a baseball park in Pontiac, Michigan, a little north of Detroit. My father was a baseball coach, and Levi Stubbs Jr. played second base on one of my dad's teams (if I'm remembering correctly). My father felt he had to explain who Stubbs Senior was. "Yeah, Dad," I said. "I got it."

"That's the Way Love Is"—Marvin Gaye

My favorite Marvin Gaye song. At least this week. I listened to a lot of Marvin Gaye when I was writing this book. Then again, I listen to a lot of Marvin Gaye at other times, too. Gaye's tragic death also seems fitting for Detroit, though it actually happened in LA. I wish Marvin Gaye were still singing.

"What I Like About You"—The Romantics.

Hey! We need a happy song, and I defy you to listen to this one and not at least want to tap your feet. I have distinct memories of this song first hitting the radio. I loved it immediately. That the band was from Detroit was icing on the cake. I then saw the Romantics several times at Pine Knob (Detroiters will know the venue), the place packed and going crazy. Probably for this reason the song makes me feel young, or at least younger. My fifteen-year-old daughter loves it. Of course I had to include it in the book.

Wait you say, what about (insert artist here)? Well, you're right! Where's Aretha Franklin? Stevie Wonder? Ted Nugent? Alice Cooper? Iggy Pop? They all matter a lot to me, too (especially Aretha); some are in the book. I just had to make some choices for this piece. When it comes to music, Detroit's cup runneth over.

It may also seem that I've lost track of time, that I haven't listened to any Detroit music since, say, 1979. Not true. In fact, Say Nice Things About Detroit praises, for example, "the current efforts of Ritchie, Mathers, and White."
Still, I tend to take those old records off the shelf...

Scott Lasser and Say Nice Things About Detroit links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

The Cleveland Review review
Publishers Weekly review
San Francisco Chronicle review
Slate review
Washington Times review

Detroit Free Press interview with the author
Washington Independent Review of Books interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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