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May 22, 2014

Book Notes - Bill Hillmann "The Old Neighborhood"

The Old Neighborhood

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.

Bill Hillmann's debut novel The Old Neighborhood is a gritty and compelling account of growing up on Chicago's north side.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Hillmann’s first novel is a sprawling, gangland coming-of-age tale. Set on Chicago’s north side, this urban crime story is full of surprises, thanks to its portrayal of gang affiliations complicating and even transcending racial divisions. The violence is graphic, the occasional sex almost pornographic, and the dialogue profane. Chicago writer Hillmann, founder of the Windy City Story Slam and a Golden Gloves champion, has written a vivid, visceral, and curiously sentimental novel of gang life."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Bill Hillmann's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, The Old Neighborhood:


Joe Walsh, The Eagles "In the City" from The Warriors soundtrack.

Probably the greatest gang film of all time is The Warriors. This story had deep impact on me as a child. It made me want to be in a gang and be like my big brothers who were running around committing all forms of mayhem in the neighborhood.

The despair of The Old Neighborhood can be pretty much summed up with these powerful lines from Joe Walsh of the Eagles. Joe Walsh of The Old Neighborhood would be moved to tears as he glides over the Skyway Bridge finally escaping the city…

"Out there on that horizon… Out beyond the neon lights… I know there must be something better but there's nowhere else in sight… It's survival in the city, where you live from day to day, city streets don't have much pity, when you're down that's where you'll stay… In the City…"

Cypress Hill "Insane in the Membrane"

These guys launched out of nowhere in the 90s. This song really made me laugh back then. They had a way to deeply explore the world of smoking a lot of weed and getting in a ton of fist fights that pretty much sums of low level gangbanging. The teens in this book are definitely "Insane in the Membrane, Insane in the Brain… Crazy-Insane, got no Brain…"

But probably my favorite line is.

"Punks just jealous cause they can't out write me!"

Which goes out to all those haters out there…

Suicidal Tendencies "Institutionalized"

"I'm not crazy INSTITUTIONALIZED! You're the one that's crazy INSTITUTIONALIZED! You're driving me crazy INSTITUTIONALIZED!" This song is perfect for the insanely violent metal-head, Rich Walsh especially after he goes on the warpath in the aftermath of Simon's murder.

Joe is not far behind as he starts to feel the effects of the horrific violence in the neighborhood and the rage starts to flow and manifest in bloody wrath.

Boyz 2 Men "I'll Make Love To You"

I spent a good chunk of my adolescence making fun of these guys and their overly dramatic love songs. But man when I hit 14 and fell in love for the first time, you better believe I played these songs over and over while I made out with my girlfriend. They just about brought tears to my lovesick eyes when my romances hit the fritz. And I was convinced I was a real tough guy at the time. My main character Joe Walsh is no different. But yeah, try and tell me you were a teenager in the 90's and this ballad doesn't bring back memories of the virgin version of yourself.

John Prine "Sam Stone"

John Prine was an icon in my household. My Dad was a big folk guy and outdoorsman with a lot of hillbilly friends. These songs played all weekend long at the Hillmann house. Prine has far Northside roots, he was a mailman in Roger's Park and played up there all the time before he made it big.

In the novel the eldest brother, Pat Walsh's heroin addiction creates much of the drama in the book and this song seems like a good fit with lyrics like:

"There's a hole in Daddy's arm where all the money goes and Jesus Christ died for nothing I suppose."

Macklemore "Can't Hold Us" from The Heist

This cat just had a break out year. I am enamored with this album. It's fun, it's silly, it's powerful, and it inspired the hell out of me. Every time it came on I thought about my near future the fact that the book I've been working on for nearly a decade was finally coming into being. I thought of all the people who stood in my way and tried to toy with my destiny over the years and thought "yall can't stop me, go hard like I got an 808 in my heart beat…"

And to all of those guys, yeah y'all can't stop me.

House of Pain "Jump Around"

Everytime I think of the white gangbangers in The Old Neighborhood, the guys from House of Pain flash in my mind. These guys were the embodiment of white inner city gangbangers in the 80's/90's they were tough, aggressive, but still clearly white guys doing it their own way and proud of their Irish heritage. This was probably Ryan and Joe's favorite song during the novel.

Otis Redding "The Dock of the Bay"

This song always makes me think of Da. Da was my real grandfathers nick name and he is portrayed very similarly in The Old Neighborhood. He was a kind, heartfelt guy, who loved his grandchildren dearly. He suffered from severe Manic Depression. Us kids never really saw him in his manic phase, we mostly saw him in his depression. We were like medicine for his sadness and we'd go on these long walks with him and I could feel the darkness lifting from him as us kids ran around and did silly things. I suffer from similar manic depression and remembering how Da tried to find happiness even on his darkest days helps me do the same when my sadness comes. Da also had a deep love for sailing and we spent a lot of time where he kept his boat at a star-dock in Montrose harbor. I always think of him and his sadness and his longing for the open water when this song comes on.

Crucial Conflict "To The Left"

On one level this is a Chicago gangbanger novel. I can't think of a better gangbanger song from the 90's than Crucial Conflicts' "To The Left". Crucial Conflict originated on the Westside of Chicago, these guys were Vice Lords. The chorus is "You shoulda broke it to the left man…." To break it to the left, is to wear your baseball cap twisted to your left. This aligns you with the Peoples Nation. If you break your hat to the right, you are aligning yourself with the Folks Nation. The chorus is a message to Crucial Conflict's victims in essence it's saying 'you should have tilted your hat to the left, so I didn't have to F-you up but you broke it to the right, so now you're in a pool of blood'. My main character Joe Walsh of course rolls with Peoples, so Joe Walsh most definitely broke it to the left man…

Tom Waits "Get Behind the Mule" from Mule Variations

When I was 23, I moved down to this little pueblo in the mountains of Guana Guato Mexico called San Miguel de Allende. This is an epically beautiful Spanish colonial town where Jack Kerouac visited frequently and Neal Cassidy left the night he was counting rail ties to the next town and died of a sudden aneurism. The point of me moving down there was to finally write a serious novel. I'd wake up every morning to the sounds of roosters crowing and put this album on and write for hours and hours. It was hard and it was exhilarating.

"You gotta get behind the Mule in the mornin' an plow…" The wordplay of this album really helped get the juices flowing for me.

And it goes out to all you aspiring writers out there if you're ever gonna write and complete a powerful novel. "You got to get behind the mule, in the morning and plow…"

Ice T "Colors" from the Colors soundtrack

Second on my list of all-time greatest gangbanging films is Colors. This song by Ice T just obliterated my ten year old mind. This is a deeply disturbing and accurate exploration into the psyche of the angry young men who tormented urban centers in 90's. It will haunt you. This song melds well with the inner monolog of several of the characters in The Old Neighborhood.

"I am a nightmare talkin, psychopath walkin, king of my jungle just a gangster stalkin…"

The Neighbourhood "Afraid"

This album is one of my favorites right now it is a deep exploration of psychosis. I've been dealing with a great deal of anxiety, depression, over excited mania, absolute euphoria and just about all the emotions you can expect when your dream finally comes true. So pretty much every morning I wake up expecting somehow that my dream has vanished, that the Chicago Tribune hasn't reviewed my book; that it's still just a manuscript on a computer no one has read. I picked this song because yeah pretty much every morning lately "When I wake up I'm afraid somebody else might take my place…"

But I've heard from monstrously famous writers that it's fear of failure that drives you to success, so hopefully this fear stays healthy and propels me forward in my career to a whole lot of triumph and many more books.


Bill Hillmann and The Old Neighborhood links:

the author's blog
video trailer for the book

Chicago Reader review
Newcity Lit review

CCLaP interview with the author
Chicago Sun-Times interview with the author
Curbside Splendor 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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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