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June 13, 2014

Book Notes - Bret Anthony Johnston "Remember Me Like This"

Remember Me Like This

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.

Bret Anthony Johnston's debut novel Remember Me Like This is a powerful and moving portrait of family trauma and redemption.

The Boston Globe wrote of the book:

"The book is alive with the fully imagined inner lives of each of its characters. Johnston's scenes are exquisite, the internal and external worlds kept in taut balance."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Bret Anthony Johnston's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel, Remember Me Like This:


Thank you for inviting me to do this. I feel excited and honored, like I've been invited to a cool kids' party. I also feel as though I'm about to embarrass myself. As in, while I'm at the cool party, while everyone's playing their obscure and sophisticated music, I'm wearing a ratty Iron Maiden t-shirt and acid washed jeans and thick, unlaced high tops. I might also be wearing spiked wristbands and a bandana with a pentagram on it. Maybe the party goes fine while I'm here—maybe the cool kids give me the benefit of the doubt and think my get-up and music are ironic and clever—but after I've left, everyone laughs and decides to never invite me back. It's all very sad, and, you know, embarrassing. Then, the next morning, the parents of the kid who threw the party realize that someone has swiped all of the jewelry from the mother's vanity and most of the father's baseball card collection. When the police track the loot down at the local pawnshop, the pawnbroker just says that some headbanger weirdo swapped everything for a bunch of KISS and Judas Priest albums. And a skateboard.

Or maybe that's just a memory and this party is going to be a lot better. I hope so. Either way, it's nice to be here.

Here's the playlist for my novel Remember Me Like This, a novel that I hope you'll buy—I mean, enjoy.

"To Bring You My Love" by PJ Harvey. I mean, look. I tried to use the song/album title as the title of the novel, but the publisher shot me down, so I settled for using her lyrics as the epigraph. In fact, if we just say the whole album (which is perfect in every manner) is the playlist for the novel, then we can all just close up shop and go home. There isn't a better song to start the novel, to set the mood and tone, to establish the longing the characters feel. Really, though, don't get me started on the innumerable merits of PJH.

"Until I'm One with You" by Ryan Bingham. More longing here, too. And some really good brooding and pain and stripped-down music/emotion. I think the sentiment of the song carries from one character to another in the novel, each of them isolated and alone, even when they're together, waiting for their missing loved one to return and make them whole.

"Far Away" by Jose Gonzales. Okay, so this song might sound somewhat similar to the last one, but if I'm tracking the characters through the book, I think right now they'd be feeling more hopeful and desperate, like they're stepping "in front of a runaway train just to feel alive again." I also love the music under the vocals.

"Pride and Joy" by Stevie Ray Vaughn covered by Bonnie Raitt. I understand that this version may be difficult to find, but it's worth the effort. And perfect for the novel. The blues. Texas. And when the inimitable Ms. Raitt changes the lyrics to "You mess with him and you see this woman get mean," I'm reminded of the internal turmoil that the character of Laura endures in the book. Her resolve, her temper, her love.

"Fourth of July" by Soundgarden. Pages 117-120.

"Bottom of the River" by Delta Rae. Not only is this one of the most stirring songs I've heard in a long time—and one of the few whose main instrument seems to be a heavy chain and a garbage can—it was on my mind a lot as I wrote the novel. I love the spare musicality that showcases the increasingly raw desperation of her voice. Again, I'm thinking of Laura, the mother in the novel, but I'm also thinking of Fiona.

"The Scientist" by Coldplay covered by Willie Nelson. A) Part of me, let's call it my brain, hates myself for putting a Coldplay song on here. B) But the lyrics are actually kind of trenchant and nuanced and revelatory. C) And then other parts of me, let's call them my ears and heart, hear Willie singing the song and I feel as though I'm in the presence of some sort of divine alchemy and, like that, everything else surrenders. I think everyone in the Campbell family could sing this song to Justin.

"I'm Broken" by Pantera. A) Everyone in the book is broken, duh. B) They're also all very angry. C) Texas. Metal. D) The aggressive (and awesome) music under the imploring pre-chorus lyrical progression ("Look at me now", "Look at you now", "Look at us now") that taunt us with the perils of empathy. E) That riff. F) Pages 258-261.

"Outlaw Sh*t" by Waylon Jennings. Maybe you've heard the original version called "Don't You Think This Outlaw Bit's Done Got Out of Hand," but I don't know many people who've heard this slower, more melancholic rendition. Remember what Johnny Cash did with NIN's "Hurt"? That's what Waylon—who could do no wrong with a song—does here. I think of this as the theme song for the character of Cecil, the cagey and violent grandfather, in the novel.

"Jimmy" by Tool. The whole song, every note, every lyric, every whisper and scream, but just to be perfectly clear: "Hold, your light/eleven, lead me through each gentle step, by step/by inch by loaded memory ‘til/One, and one, are one/Eleven, so glow, child, glow/I'm heading back home." (Punctuation mine.)

"Not Ready to Make Nice" by Dixie Chicks. Laura's theme. Near the end of the book, these lyrics ring especially loud in her brain: "I'm through with doubt/there's nothing left for me to figure out/I've paid a price and I'll keep paying/I'm not ready to make nice, not ready to back down."

"Where Did You Sleep Last Night" by Lead Belly covered by Nirvana. Epilogue, from Eric to Laura: "My girl, my girl, don't lie to me, tell where did you sleep last night?"


Bret Anthony Johnston and Remember Me Like This links:

the author's website

BookPage review
Bookreporter review
Boston Globe review
Kirkus review
Los Angeles Review of Books review
Publishers Weekly review
The Rumpus review
Washington Post review

All Things Considered interview with the author
Daily Beast interview with the author
Daily Blender interview with the author
Everyday eBook essay by 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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