July 29, 2014
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.
Christy Crutchfield's How to Catch a Coyote is a marvelously told novel of a family tragedy.
Mary Miller wrote of the book:
"At once epic and spare, beautiful and ugly, Christy Crutchfield's How to Catch a Coyote will make you question whether you ever knew the difference between a scavenger and a predator."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
How to Catch a Coyote is a novel about a fractured family. But rather than telling the story of the event that broke them, it concentrates on the aftermath. It's told in a fractured timeline, and we hear from each family member but one. We hear from other members surrounding the characters and the incident. The reader decides who's right or if anyone is.
For this playlist, I was interested in songs that represent the family members and in songs that these characters would actually listen to.
"Things That Scare Me," Neko Case
Neko Case is from Canada, but this song feels like Southern Gothic to me. I listened to Neko Case while writing this book because her music is full of country tendencies, animals, and hopelessness. The novel shifts point of view, and we get into the minds of many characters, but the character we hear from most is the youngest child Daniel. The lines that always get me in this song are about the black birds, those "same birds that followed me to school when I was young." Daniel has a lot to be afraid of at an early age. He can't quite understand or articulate what is happening to his family when he is 10 years old so he focuses his fear on the coyotes overtaking his neighborhood, the ones her can hear at night, the ones eating neighborhood cats. Later in life, he will be more afraid of death, sex, genetics, splinters, his father, his mother, and his sister. But for his earlier years in this book, his fear can be placed on something outside of himself.
"Seedling," Bonnie "Prince" Billy
This playlist could very well be made entirely out of Will Oldham songs. The Letting Go became an important album while writing this novel. His songs are both sweet and nefarious. You want to laugh with him and you want to look away. This album in particular is full of songs about innocent love and songs that deny that innocence, and the song that's always drawn me in even though I don't want it to is "Seedling." The dissonance, the yelling chorus of background voices, and the unapologetic lines like "My full-sized child with full-sized spread" echo the tone and plot of How to Catch a Coyote, especially the "List of Fears" sections of the book, which are told from father Hill Walker's perspective. The novel deals with the question of incest. The teenage daughter Dakota accuses Hill of molestation, and he denies it for the rest of his life. Daniel and his mother Maryanne spend the novel retracing events, deciding how to deal with Hill who, though separated from them, is not out of their lives. And if Daniel believes Dakota, what does that mean about his own genetic makeup?
"Jolene," Dolly Parton
Maryanne Walker wouldn't be a huge fan of Dolly Parton, but she would buy this single and play it on repeat. The lyrics would be so important to her long before she was even in a relationship. She would dig it out after her separation with Hill. Maryanne's self esteem will always place her as the speaker in this song, and she will see many Jolenes in her life, even when they are her own children. What's interesting to me in this song, and many others like it, is that the person blamed here is Jolene. The speaker can't keep herself from crying when her partner calls Jolene's name, instead of kicking him out because she deserves better. It's common, and while this is not exactly how it plays out for Maryanne, this jealousy and pining for the wrong partner is with her throughout the novel.
"Workin' Woman Blues," Valerie June
After her separation with Hill, Maryanne has to go back to work. She's not a stranger to work, but she hasn't held a job since she waited tables at age 19. They live in a dying mill town, but there are a few factories still in operation, and the best paying job she can find is at a yarn factory. Hill does not pay child support so she becomes a full time provider and full time mother. The opening lines of "Workin' Woman Blues" are my favorite on the album: "I ain't fit to be no mother/ I ain't fit to be no wife/ I've been working like a man, y'all/ I've been working all my life." The quick guitar drives the song forward, like the rhythm of Maryanne's factory machine keeps her working. Maryanne's muscles grow and she spends the rest of her life scraping grease out from underneath her nails, dreaming of a job in the factory's office where she can type and wear pencil skirts. She dreams of her son succeeding and saving them. She is not technically divorced, but she is no longer a wife.
"Only Happy When It Rains," Garbage
There is no doubt in my mind that sixteen-year-old Dakota would blast this song on her headphones. She would write these lyrics down in her notebook instead of taking notes. She, like a middle school me, would imitate Shirley Manson's eyeliner (the best part being that you don't have to know how to make a straight line—just smear liquid liner as far up your lids as possible). I think this song is perfect for her because its lyrics are so cliché and mainstream ("I'm only happy when it rains/I'm only happy when it's complicated), but to a small town teenage girl who is forced to go to Catholic school, this is the perfect anthem to show off who she is in the face of the girls who listen to the pop station instead of the alternative one.
"The Fox," Sleater-Kinney
As soon as she's old enough, Dakota leaves small-town Lafayette, NC and her family. She travels farther and farther away with one partner after another as her chauffer. Daniel only sees her when she comes to ask for money and then, after she moves to Boston, he doesn't see her again for a long time. I imagine as she changes and grows, so does her musical knowledge. She's still only happy when it rains, but she's educated on the riot grrrl scene, on music she hopes will make people clutch their pearls. I chose "The Fox" not only because Dakota would love screaming "Land Ho!" but because in many ways Dakota is the fox (or really the coyote) in this story. Daniel wonders if his sister is a predator or a scavenger, killer or prey. In many ways, she is both. If he believes her story, she is a victim and no one stood up to support her. Whether her story is true or not, she shows her manipulative side to lovers and family when she returns back home.
"A Well Respected Man," the Kinks
Any time I can put the Kinks on a playlist, I will. This time it's for Hill Walker. Hill loves music. He loves to noodle on his guitar. His music taste mostly sticks to classic rock, and he stopped seeking out new music some time in the 80s. I imagine Hill would love the Kinks because of their irreverence, their humor, and their fairly easy chord progression. He plays their songs at the beach to tune out. He is drawn to "A Well Respected Man" because he hates the rules he's expected to follow as a young man: a man must go to college and get a good job, a man must marry the woman he knocks up, a man must drop out of college and be the breadwinner for that wife and child, a man must be a respectable father, a real man hunts. He follows these rules for quite some time. On the surface, he seems like the best of family men. In the Kinks song, we're ready for the respectable man to break and show us the opposite of respectable.
"Resurrection Fern," Iron and Wine
There's a bittersweet quality to Iron and Wine songs that work for Daniel. Daniel is innocent but marked. He wants to do the right thing in spite of his sadness. I see him as a young adult putting on this album when he needs to de-stress or when he's driving home to visit his mother. I think "Resurrection Fern" is also appropriate for the chapter "How It's Supposed to Work." Daniel loses his virginity in this chapter, and he's torn about what it means to be the boyfriend who takes his girlfriend's virginity. I've always thought of this song as a story of childhood and first sexual experiences. It's tender, but there's a sadness there for what is lost. Not innocence, but youth and the tight nerves during these early, secret encounters.
"You Are a Runner and I am My Father's Son," Wolf Parade
I could not stop listening to this song in the early 2000s. This song would terrify college-age Daniel, whose greatest fear is to end up like his father. The lyrics, "I'll draw three figures on your heart/one of them will be me as a boy/one of them will be me/one of them will be me watching you run," are representative of so many of the characters in the book. Characters who have been hurt, characters who can't see the good in themselves, and characters who don't think they deserve love. They self-sabotage, and they push people away until they run. When that happens it's easy to say, "I warned you." It's easier than being the one who runs.
"Father, Father," Laura Mvula
Most of Mvula's songs are upbeat with a 60s Motown vibe, so this quiet, sad song stands out. She asks her father and her brother why they let her go. The bridge repeats, "Let me love you" four times. This song could work for any of the Walker family members and all of the family members could be the ones pleaded to. I see all the Walkers wanting to love each other and instead abandoning each other in different ways. But I think the speaker in this song is most appropriate for Daniel, who tries the hardest to figure out how to love his fractured family.
Christy Crutchfield and How to Catch a Coyote links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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