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June 2, 2014

Book Notes - CJ Hauser "The From-Aways"

The From-Aways

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.

Compelling alternating first-person narratives and a strong sense of place make CJ Hauser's The From-Aways an impressive debut novel.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Hauser's style is expressive, clever and compelling, and she offers readers a thoughtful and engaging debut."

Booklist wrote of the book:

"This impressively crafted first novel is likely to leave readers wanting both a Maine lobster dinner and more from this author."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In her own words, here is CJ Hauser's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel, The From-Aways:

I believe in jukeboxes.

My first novel is called The From-Aways, and it takes place in Menamon, an imaginary fishing town on the coast of Maine. In my imaginary town you’ll find The Monkey’s Uncle, an imaginary bar, and in that imaginary bar there is an imaginary jukebox, a Wurlitzer, of course, which is full of songs, which are quite real...not imaginary at all.

Selections from The Monkey’s Uncle Jukebox

Patsy Cline – "I Fall to Pieces"

Each time I see you again/I fall to pieces/How can I be just your friend?

The ultimate jukebox song. I never play a jukebox without putting on some Patsy Cline. In fact, I refuse to acknowledge a machine that contains no Patsy Cline as a jukebox at all.

The Band – "Ophelia"

I cried the day Levon Helm died. Levon used to have these potluck dinners/barn shows up at his studio in Woodstock. I took my dad up there on his sixtieth birthday and I have never been happier. If the rag-tag folksy spirit of the town in The From-Aways has ever been made manifest someplace in the real world, I think Levon Helm’s barn was it. And, of course, Ophelia is THE JAM. I was listening to this song a lot as I was writing the book, thinking about the ways our old hometowns change on us, so sneakily. Levon sings it best: The old neighborhood just ain't the same/ Nobody knows just what became of Ophelia/ Tell me, what went wrong?

The Felice Brothers – "Frankie’s Gun"

Slip make a fender shine/Frankie you're a friend of mine/Got me off a bender after long legged Brenda died

The Felice Brothers are best live, where they conduct something they refer to as the “Midnight Scumbag Church.” Someone is playing a washboard, no one is sober, someone is named Christmas, everyone is singing along. I love these boys. They are trouble, for certain.

Loudon Wainwright III– "Motel Blues"

Chronologically I know you're young/But when you kissed me in the club you bit my tongue/I'll write a song for you, I'll put it on my next LP/ Come up to my motel room, sleep with me

Wainwright is begging with his voice, pleading. I heard this song for the first time on an old record I bought for a dollar and it stopped me cold. I reset the needle a dozen times.

Emmy Lou Harris – "Guitar Town"

Nothin' ever happened 'round my hometown/And I ain't the kind to just hang around/I heard someone callin' my name one day/And I followed that voice down the lost highway

This is a Steve Earle song, but I like when Emmy Lou sings it, because I like just about everything that woman does with her silver hair and boots and yodel-for-days. Never underestimate the power of a woman on the road with her guitar.

Tom Waits – "I Don’t Wanna Grow Up"

Fall in and get married then boom/How the hell did I get here so soon/I don't wanna grow up

You know how Dorian Gray has his outside self...and then his true-inside-self that you can only see in that portrait? If you painted a portrait of my true-inside-self you would see Tom Waits’s fantastic mug, contorting into impossible shapes, as he growl-belted this song.

Gillian Welch – "Look At Miss Ohio"

Gonna drive to Atlanta and live out this fantasy/Running around with the rag-top down/ Yeah, I wanna do right but not right now

In my next life I would like to be reincarnated as Gillian Welch. Miss Welch is a cosmic queen of the universe and I love this song about not wanting to settle down. The pure keening notes when she sings gonna driiiiiiiiive are enough to fell a girl. Or: to make her feel a little less alone.

Jenny Lewis – "Carpetbagger"

I'm a carpetbagger, baby/I'm coming to your town/I'm gonna treat you kind/I'm gonna rob you blind/I'll smile all the time/Whoa, yeah

A carpetbagger is a short etymological hop away from a from-away. A from-away is what you call someone not from your town, who then moves there. New England synonyms include outta-statah and flatlander. Jenny Lewis is a magic-woman, and I love how cheerful this song is despite the fact that it’s about some from-aways coming to town and wrecking the place…which happens to be the plot of my novel.

Guy Clark – "Dublin Blues"

Damn is this a sad song. Clark sings: I loved you from the git go/ I’ll love you til I die/I loved you on the Spanish steps the day you said goodbye. Oh, oh, oh. The From-Aways has so much to do with love and what it lives and dies by… can I quote Junot Díaz for a second? Díaz says, “The half-life of love is forever.”

Tift Merritt - "Sweet Spot"

I'm just looking for that sweet spot/Where I can live the way that I want

Tift Merritt’s pipes are sweet enough to make you cry. I want to sing this song every day, and so do the ladies in The From-Aways.

Fleet Foxes – "Helplessness Blues"

A sad anthem about growing up and looking for your place in the world and wondering if all those American-dream-type-myths about how special you are were just so much horseshit…but it’s about wanting to feel vital and useful too. The ladies in The From-Aways have romantic visions of their future lives just like the speaker of Helplessness Blues does: If I had an orchard, I'd work till I'm sore/ And you would wait tables and soon run the store.

John Prine – "Angel From Montgomery"

But that was a long time/And no matter how I try/The years just flow by/Like a broken down dam.

I am pretty sure this song has saved my life a time or two. I saw the inimitable Bonnie Raitt sit on a stool and play it once and all I could do was shake my head and say yes, yes, yes.

Townes Van Zandt – "Poncho & Lefty"

Living on the road my friend/Was gonna keep you free and clean/Now you wear your skin like iron/Your breath's as hard as kerosene

I would give my left arm to have written that. Oh, Townes.

Carter Marks – "Leave Your Shoes Behind (Whiskey-Eyed Dame)"

Okay, I lied: there is one imaginary song in this jukebox. Quinn Winters, one of the narrators, is on a mission to find her folk-singer father who wrote this song about her recently deceased mother. Sometimes, if she thinks no one will notice, she plays it on the Uncle jukebox. It is number J42.

Bruce Springsteen – "Thunder Road"

It's town full of losers/And I'm pulling out of here to win

A Boss classic. A story of hometowns and blowing out of them and missing them too. This is a song for Henry’s character, who grew up in Menamon but thinks it’s a dying kind of place, and so tries to leave.

Guns N' Roses – "Paradise City"

Take me down to the paradise city/Where the grass is green and the girls are pretty/Oh, wont you please take me home?

These lyrics are the epigraph to the book, along with W.B. Yeats's "The Lake Isle of Innisfree," which are basically saying the same thing. Don’t argue. JUST THINK ABOUT IT. I listen to this song every time I get dressed to go out for a party, and I am not ashamed, because I love Guns N' Roses and so does Rosie Salem, a character in the book who plays it on the Uncle jukebox every night. It is number E32.

Shovels & Rope – "Hail, Hail"

Well, hail, hail Rock and Roll!/I love you till you slit my throat and swallow me whole/You're a bad, bad boy/with a selfish little soul/Rock and Roll.

This song is pure sex. I’m obsessed with everything Shovels & Rope do and the way they sing about Rock and Roll in this song makes you feel like they love it so much they want to do terrible, foul things to it.

Hem – "Half Acre"

But I am holding half an acre/Torn from the map of Michigan/I am carrying this scrap of paper…/Every night my heart unfolding/My home

Sally Ellyson’s voice is a thing you can’t believe is real. It is a low and haunting dream-voice…and when she sings about how we sometimes have to carry our homes along with us, like so many scraps of paper? Well, I like to think we all know what she’s talking about.

Bob Dylan – "The Mighty Quinn"

Come all without, come all within/You'll not see nothing like the mighty Quinn

Quinn Winters, one of the narrators of The From-Aways, is named after this song by her folk-singer father, who runs away shortly after doing so. And she is mighty. My mother wanted to name me after this song too, but was dissuaded by my father who thought perhaps a fictional Eskimo was not the best bet, as far as namesakes go.

Neil Young – "Unknown Legend"

She used to work in a diner/Never saw a woman look finer/I used to order just to watch her float across the floor

A song for Rosie, the town sweetheart in the book who does, in fact, work in a diner. People are always falling in love with waitresses, she tells her roommate Quinn, who, sure enough, does just that.

Tom Waits – "Hold On"

Sorry I’m not sorry for doubling up on Tom Waits. This song is so different from the other it might as well be written and sung by a different human—such is his genius. "Hold On" has so many wonderful lines, but this one, about the way a song takes you back to a place, and the way we pine for the places we used to be from, gets me every time: Well your old hometown is so far away/But, inside your head there's a record that's playing/hold on.

Talking Heads – "Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)"

I'm just an animal looking for a home/Share the same space for a minute or two/
And you love me till my heart stops/Love me ‘til I'm dead

If I could listen to only one song for the rest of time, this would be it. The From-Aways is, in a lot of ways, about the family we are not born to and so must discover along the way. What Vonnegut calls our karass. Have you seen the video for this song? Tina Weymouth dims the lights so David Byrne can show home movies on an old projector and soon everyone in the band is happy and dancing and laughing. You watch them together and realize that this is their home, these people, this karass-family, and it always will be, wherever they go.

CJ Hauser and The From-Aways links:

the author's website
video trailer for the book

Kirkus review

Examiner interview with the author
Kirkus profile of 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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