August 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.
Derek McCulloch's graphic novel Displaced Persons is an ambitious and wonderfully complex collection of three connected stories, each 30 years apart.
This is my third entry for Book Notes; my previous entries were for books I wrote—Stagger Lee and Gone to Amerikay—that were inspired by and dealt explicitly with specific songs. Displaced Persons, the Book that inspires these Notes, is concerned less with music and more with time—though of course you really can't have the former without the latter.
Displaced Persons is very rigidly constructed, divided into three 50-page chapters, and each of those chapters is divided into a 2-page prologue and a 48-page main section. The three main sections take place in the years 1939, 1969, and 1999. Two of the three prologues take place in 1879, and the third in 1909. Although music doesn't run through these pages the way it did in my earlier books, I have many specific musical associations for those periods, and have a good idea what the characters in the story might have been listening to at the time. Well, that's the case for 1939, 1969, and 1999 at any rate. We'll take our chances and see what I come up with for 1879 and 1909.
Without the road map available to me in my first two Book Notes books, I wasn't sure how to proceed. I decided that I would select a period scene for each individual scene in the book. Sometimes the association between song and scene is one of mood, sometimes one of lyric, sometimes matching, sometimes in ironic opposition. Sometimes the only person it will make sense to is me, but I hope you find the "soundtrack" entertaining. Also, I'm keenly aware that although it seems to me (because I worked on it for so so long) that the characters in this situation in this have been around since the dawn of time, almost nobody reading this column will have already read it. Consequently, I find myself caught between expounding with an excess of familiarity and retreating into cryptic indirectness to avoid spoilers. I hope I've found some sort of medium between these poles, but I'll leave that to you to judge.
And one last note: it will more than likely take you longer to listen to this soundtrack than it will to read the book. Still, I highly recommend doing both.
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Book 1 Prologue: 1879 (pp. 12). The popular music of 1879 is, shall we say, somewhat distressing to the modern ear, unless you have a modern ear eagerly attuned to minstrel songs…but that last day of the year saw the debut of one of the titanic achievements of 19th century musical theatre, Gilbert and Sullivan's The Pirates of Penzance. Displaced Persons opens with a cameo by an indelible San Francisco character, His Imperial Majesty Emperor Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico. Such was the title adopted by Joshua Norton, a once-successful businessman who lost his fortune and his sanity and took to the streets as a royal vagabond. He dressed very much like a Gilbert and Sullivan character, with epaulettes on his shoulders, a plume in his hat, and a sabre at his side. He issued his own currency, which was honored by indulgent proprietors. There were a number of songs from Pirates that seemed apt for this scene, but on closer consideration with the rest of the book, I find that the most appropriate song to begin with is "The Pirate King." The opening stanza seems almost specifically written to coincide with the way one of the book's major players is introduced in this scene:
"Oh, better far to live and die/
Under the brave black flag I fly,
Than play a sanctimonious part,
With a pirate head and a pirate heart.
Away to the cheating world go you,
Where pirates all are well to do;
But I'll be true to the song I sing,
And live and die a Pirate King."
BOOK 1: 1939
Of all the musical eras represented in Displaced Persons, 1939 is somehow the one I feel closest to, even though it's so long before my time. I like the sound of big bands, and I like the big emotions and big vocal performances that were necessary to keep pace with the big bands. I think the 1939 part of this playlist is the one I'll be listening to the most.
1939 (pg. 36). Perhaps it's a little on the nose to back a scene that opens on a dream sequence with a song called "You Meet the Nicest People in Your Dreams," but this song, recorded by Fats Waller in 1939, also plays nicely over the family breakfast that follows. It's a truly fun song – "I've looked the universe over/From wacky Nagasaki to Dover…" – and I think our lead character, Garland Price, could use a lift on a day that's already starting to go wrong.
1939 (pp. 79). Frank Sinatra recorded "All or Nothing at All" for the first time in 1939, as the vocalist for Harry James' orchestra. The record wasn't terribly successful on its initial release, but did very well on re-release a few years later, once Sinatra had established himself as a teen idol. I've paired this song with a scene where Garland Price meets a new employer, a man who definitely wants all or nothing at all. But I think the key line here is "And if I fell under the spell of your call/I would be caught in the undertow..."
1939 (pp. 10-12). The Wizard of Oz had a generally positive reception when it was released in 1939, but it was not a huge commercial success – and I don't think many people recognized that it would endure as one of the greatest movie musicals of all time. The songs, by Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg, have endured ever since. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" gets all the accolades, but I picked a different song for the scene where the investigation commences. It's a song I've often found myself whistling when the answer just wouldn't come: "If I Only Had a Brain."
1939 (pp. 13-17). Cole Porter's "Begin the Beguine" was far from new when British big band vocalist Chick Henderson recorded it in 1939; it was introduced on Broadway in 1935 and was a hit for Artie Shaw in 1938. It's serendipitous that Henderson's version was released in 1939, because his own biography fits so well with the themes of the book. World War II cut short both Henderson's career and his life…he had been recording for only five years when he enlisted in the Merchant Navy. He died at the age of 31, killed by a German bomb in Southsea. His otherworldly reading of Porter's dance tune is a perfect complement to the scene I've selected it for, where we meet another young man in the grip of forces far beyond his control.
1939 (pp. 18-21). Glenn Miller didn't come back from World War II either. Moonlight Serenade debuted in 1939 and became possibly the song most closely associated with him. I've chosen it here to play over a series of short sequences that take place through the night, at a time when the song surely would have been playing from many radios.
1939 pp. 22-25). Harry James' "Two O'Clock Jump," a variation on Count Basie's "One O'Clock Jump," ups the tempo from "Moonlight Serenade," reflecting the momentum developing in Garland Price's investigation. I suppose this swings too much to pass for a "detective on the hunt" song, but I like the way the energy steadily builds through the song, and by the time it reaches its crescendo, a key piece of evidence has been unearthed.
1939 (pp. 26-27). "Displacement" is a theme that runs through this book. The displacement in time suffered by characters in the book mirrors the physical displacement suffered by so many people throughout history…and specifically, for the purpose at hand, in the twentieth century. The was in Europe caused mass evacuations, not just in the face of tanks and marching troops, but in the face of rockets launched from far away. Millions of Britons, mostly children, evacuated to rural areas of the U.K., or to safe havens overseas. Vera Lynn's "Goodnight Children Everywhere" could accurately be called the anthem of this evacuation. In the scene on these two pages, Garland Price contends with the possibility of sending his own children away, for very different reasons.
1939 (pp. 28-30). In this sequence, Garland Price delivers a report to his employer, and is met with something less than an unqualified vote of confidence. Sy Oliver's "T'ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It)" runs in the background, expressing an important working principle for detectives and jazz musicians alike.
1939 (pp. 31-35). "Body and Soul" was already a standard by the time Coleman Hawkins recorded it in 1939, but Hawkins reinvented the piece with his landmark interpretation, casually setting a new standard for recorded jazz improvisations. In the scene this music accompanies, the characters are also improvising, trying to invent new paths through a dangerous situation. They aren't up to the artistic standard that Hawkins sets in "Body and Soul," but then nobody was trying to kill Hawkins while he was finding his way to the next phrase.
1939 (pp. 36-37). On a nighttime investigation in Golden Gate Park, the past catches up to Garland Price and an old wound reopens. "I'll Never Smile Again," written in 1949 by Ruth Lowe and recorded the following year the Dorsey Brothers Orchestra (featuring, again, Frank Sinatra) plays here like a vow. "I'll never smile again until I smile at you."
1939 (pp. 38-39). In another great 1939 film, Destry Rides Again, Marlene Dietrich sang "The Boys in the Back Room" to an audience of rambunctious western frontier drunks. The boys we discover in this scene are in a different sort of back room than the one Frank Loesser had in mind, one imposed on them by the social code of the time, but still one that would be perfectly familiar to Ms. Dietrich. Or perhaps the boy in the back room here are our investigators, finally piecing together the information to make sense of the mystery they've been unraveling. Either way, this is the right song for this moment.
1939 (pp. 40-44). Hoagy Carmichael wrote "I Get Along without You Very Well (Except Sometimes)" (from a poem by Jane Brown Thompson) in 1939, and it was a million seller that year for Red Norvo. For this soundtrack, though, I will zip into the far-flung future of 1954 and select Chet Baker's interpretation of the song, which I think more perfectly suits the mood of this scene, where two old friends come to a parting of the ways.
1939 (pp. 45-48). Page 47 of this chapter was actually the first page I scripted for this book, as a sample page for an early proposal. I've seen the page drawn three times, twice by Rantz Hoseley (in the original proposal, and in our abandoned first version of this book) and then the final published version by Anthony Peruzzo, and through it all the image of Adam Hayes peeking through the drapes in the living room of the empty house has remained for me one of the defining images of the book. To accompany that moment, I select "That Sly Old Gentleman," by Mildred Bailey. I didn't know this song at all at the time I scripted the page, but the opening lines set the scene for me 60 years in advance: "That sly old gentleman from Featherbed Lane/Is watching you, he's peeking through your window pane…" I assume that the "sandman-as-peeper" image was unintentionally creepy, but it fits this moment in Displaced Persons well.
1939 (pp. 49-50). This chapter closes with a quiet family dinner at home, accompanied on my soundtrack by the #2 hit of the year (after "Over the Rainbow"), Kate Smith singing Irving Berlin's "God Bless America." I'd be lying if I said I looked forward to repeatedly experiencing the bombast that is Kate Smith when I review this playlist, but this recording is so perfectly reflective not only of the anxieties of the period but of how 1939 America responded to those anxieties that I think it's impossible to omit. I believe this song would be, to Garland Price's ears, the grace at his family's dinner.
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Book 2 Prologue: 1879 (pp. 51-52). Returning briefly to 1879, I return briefly also to The Pirates of Penzance. I had considered using "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" in the prologue to the first book, based solely on the epaulets worn by the inimitable Emperor Norton; but I think it plays better here, illustrating the buck-passing military chain of command.
BOOK 2: 1969
I turned five in 1969, and this section of the soundtrack is full of songs I remember from childhood. The songs of the late 60s were still filled with a sense of idealism, no matter how implacably events in the real world around them moved to stamp it out, and at their best they still retain the power to make one feel the world is full of unbounded possibility. Not everything I've chosen here demonstrates that.
1969 (pg. 53-54). We arrive at the end of the sixties with another dream: Davy Abramowitz dreaming of lost love. Backing the scene on my soundtrack is not a song of lost love, but one of love yet to be realized - Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour." Davy's amour is long lost, and Wonder's is yet to be found, but both men are yearning for something out of reach, "distant as the milky way."
1969 (pg. 55). The #1 song of 1969 in most of the western world was "Get Back" by The Beatles (with Billy Preston). I include it in this sequence as a warning to Daniel Abramowitz, a character who's already out of his depth as his story begins. Naturally, it's the sort of warning that will always go unheeded.
1969 (pg. 56). This second short scene introduces the other co-lead of the 1969 section, Daniel's brother Richie. "You've Made Me So Very Happy," by Blood, Sweat & Tears may not seem the most obvious choice to illustrate a minor drug bust, but I thought it made sense as the background for a character having a good day at work.
1969 (pg. 57-59). "Everyday People," by Sly and the Family Stone is about accepting one another regardless of our differences. I use it here as the rest of this chapter's cast is introduced simply to underscore the fact that we see them here exactly as everyday people, an ordinary family about to suffer extraordinary circumstances.
1969 (pg. 60-62). I'd thought for this scene I'd pick a song that bore some relation to The Love Bug, the movie playing in the background as Daniel finds himself in ever deeper water. But then I was struck by how well the opening lines of "Suspicious Minds," Elvis Presley's great comeback single of 1969, mirrored the lines from The Love Bug that we hear in this scene:
Presley: "We're caught in a trap/I can't walk out/Because I love you too much baby."
Love Bug: "We all prisoners, chicky-baby. We all locked in."
At the very least, there are enough suspicious minds in this scene to warrant the selection of the song.
1969 (pg. 63). In this short scene, Garland Price and his wife Annie each express, in their own way, their concerns about Davy Abramowitz. The relationship between Gar and Davy and its evolution from boss/sidekick to in-laws is, to my mind, the central one of the book, and I don't think I could describe the state of that relationship at this point with any song more apt than "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother," by The Hollies.
1969 (pg. 64-65). In this scene, an epiphany takes place, and I think there's no better song for a moment of epiphany than "This Magic Moment." Jay and the Americans took the song to #6 in 1969…but as I zipped ahead from 1939 to the 50s to use Chet Baker's version of "I Get Along without You Very Well," I think here I'll run back to the recent past of 1960 to go with the original version by Ben E. King and The Drifters, which in addition to being the better version in every important respect also opens with a magical swirl of strings, a perfect aural approximation of sudden wide-eyed gobsmackery.
1969 (pg. 66-67). Nina Simone's 1969 version of The Bee Gees' "To Love Somebody" strikes me as a natural accompaniment to the thrift shop romance depicted in this scene. The Gibbs actually wrote this song for Otis Redding, who died before he could record it. It's a song about unrequited love, but here it plays for a couple whose love is not so much unrequited as unmaintained. I prefer the Nina Simone version to the original Bee Gees version here, partly because I'd prefer the Nina Simone version of anything to the Bee Gees version of anything, but mostly because I really want there to be a female vocal on it for this scene—with the couple in question, I don't see the feelings in this song being expressed the other way around. At least not yet.
1969 (pg. 68). "The Cuban," Ernesto García, strikes me as a man completely and consciously in tune with his time. "Time of the Season," by The Zombies similarly strikes me as a song completely if accidentally in accord with its moment— accidentally because it was recorded in 1967 but not released in the U.S. until 1969, long after the band had broken up but long before the moment I think it typifies. The song has the sound of hippie idealism undercut by a strange, almost destabilizing current of psychedelic menace…in short, it's the sound of the Summer of Love gone wrong, and a completely fitting theme song for Ernesto García.
1969 (pg. 69-70). As I've said, the relationship between Gar and Davy is central to the entire book, and as I imply earlier, they view each other as brothers. I can't help, though, thinking of it as a love story, and as the old men stroll on the beach in this scene, I want to hear a love song—and with perhaps an overdose of irony, I offer "Je T'Aime…Moi Non Plus," the quivery orgasmic duet by Serge Gansbourg and Jane Birkin. The couple in the song manages to discuss the futility of physical love while in the middle of the act. I suspect Gar and Davy are a more harmonious couple precisely because it's not a subject that ever comes up for them.
1969 (pg. 71-72). This two-page sequence contains (I think) the only overt reference to a real song in the entire book, a close-up of the label for the 45 rpm single of Steppenwolf's "Born to Be Wild." That single was actually released in 1968, but 1969 was the year Easy Rider debuted, associating the song forever with Harley-riding counterculturalists in search of America. Having written the appearance of the 45 label into the script, I suppose I always thought this song should accompany this scene, and I see no reason to change it now.
1969 (pg. 73-75). In this scene, a character dubbed "Lady Sunshine" appears out of a burst of psychedelic colors. If it's too obvious that I pair it with "Good Morning Starshine," so be it. The song was introduced the previous year in the Broadway musical Hair, and was a #3 hit for Oliver in 1969. I am certain this is the song running through Daniel's head as he looks up and sees the woman in the strange burst of color.
1969 (pg. 76-77). I mentioned earlier that there was an earlier abandoned version of this book, with art by Rantz Hoseley. When Rantz drew page 71, he argued strongly for substituting a different song on the 45 label for "Born to Be Wild." His idea was "In the Year 2525," by Zager & Evans which, unlike "Born to Be Wild," actually was released in 1969. I think the song's dystopian time-hopping could really fit anywhere in Displaced Persons, but I think this spot, where the ripples in time are felt most strongly by the characters, is the place for it.
1969 (pg. 78-82). Dionne Warwick covered The Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" in 1969, and while her version has a lot to recommend it, I use it in this sequence of scenes mostly for the decidedly unlovin' feelin' one character experiences when he receives first a literal boot to the gut and then a metaphorical one.
1969 (pg. 83-85). "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" originated in the 1968 Bacharach/David/Simon musical Promises, Promises. Bobby Gentry covered it to great effect in 1969. I think this is the song running through Daniel's mind in this scene, as he ponders the many and varied relationships he's in the act of turning his back on.
1969 (pg. 86-88). "Time Is Tight," the second-most-classic track by Booker T. and the M.G.'s (after "Green Onions"), was written for UpTight, Jules Dassin's now largely forgotten translation of John Ford's The Informant from IRA drama to Black Panthers drama. The song's cinematic origins are palpable, a good match for tension that builds as a biker punk finds he's tried to intimidate the wrong old man.
1969 (pg. 89-90). In its original incarnation as a ballet-within-a-musical-comedy, "Slaughter on Tenth Avenue" tells a story about a dancer in an unwise love affair. The girl he loves gets murdered by a jealous boyfriend, and the dance in turn shoots the boyfriend. In the story outside the ballet, gangsters are watching, waiting to kill the man playing the dancer. The Ventures turned this into two and a quarter taut minutes of surf guitar and in 1969 the British band The Shadows stretched it back out again. The Shadows' version again has a very cinematic feel to it, opening after a short organ intro with a guitar sound like something out of a Morricone western score. To me, it feels like the right song to cover one of the more purely visual sequences in the book, as Daniel has a brief and comic western-style standoff before a dramatic chase sequence.
1969 (pg. 91-92). Like many of the characters in Displaced Persons, "Two Little Boys" was a time traveler. Written as a music hall song in 1902, it was long forgotten by 1969, when Rolf Harris found it, dusted it off, and to everyone's surprise made it the #1 song in the U.K. In digging about for period-accurate songs to include on this list, I was often surprised to find details of the story echoing back to me through old songs, and this was one of the most striking examples. I hit on using "Two Little Boys" for this scene because it concerned the relationship between twin brothers Daniel and Richie. I vaguely remembered the song from my childhood but until I listened to it I had forgotten that the boys are playing with wooden horses…and a wooden horse is an important part of a recurrent visual in Displaced Persons. It's an awful song, really, but the coincidence was too perfect to ignore.
1969 (pg. 93-94). The Blue Swede version of "Hooked on a Feeling" was a favorite song of my childhood, and I still well remember the delight I felt the first time I saw Reservoir Dogs and heard the unforgettable "ooga chaka" opening start up. Throughout that whole movie I felt like Quentin Tarantino had cracked open my skull and sifted through lost musical memories. Since that time, it seems like the Blue Swede version has resurfaced on more soundtracks than it really needs to, so for this one I'm selecting instead B.J. Thomas' earlier (1969, of course) ooga chakaless version—what it lacks in ooga chakas it makes up in electric sitar. I'm placing the song here, in a scene where a climactic arrest takes place because…well, when I said earlier that some of my choices would make sense only to me, this is one of the ones I was thinking of. I don't know why, but I enjoy the thought of a drug bust to the tune of this song.
1969 (pg. 95-97). In this sequence the first tentative steps toward a love connection are taken, and the last scene in a sad old story of lost love is played out. Is there anything sadder than a lifelong hope realized when it's too late to matter? "(If Paradise Is) Half as Nice," by short-lived Welsh pop band Amen Corner plays a major character out and, I hope, softens the blow. "They say paradise is up in the stars but I needn't sigh because it's so far./'Cos I know it's worth a heaven on earth for me where you are."
1969 (pg. 98-99). Things in 1969 draw to a close to the sound of "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby," by Marvin Gaye. Like so many of the songs I've listed so far, this was not the first version—that was by The Temptations a few years earlier—but I think Gaye's version makes for a sweet and poignant accompaniment to this grim scene. The protagonist of the song lists all the things he doesn't have time for when there's his baby to be thought of. The characters in this scene, on the other hand, have all too many things to think about, and all too little idea how much time is left them.
1969 (pg. 100). I've left the remnants of this family in a sad way at the end of this chapter. The least I can do is send them into the future to the soaring gospel sound of "Oh Happy Day," by Edwin Hawkins, native of my home town of Oakland, and his eponymous Singers.
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Book 3 Prologue: 1909 (pp. 101-102). I searched for songs from 1909 to pair with this scene, and when I saw that early recording artist Billy Murray had a novelty hit that year called "The Whole Damm Family," I knew without even hearing it that I didn't need to look any further. The whole damn family—or enough of it, anyway–passes through these two pages. Probably none of them would be terribly amused to hear this song at this particular moment, but I get a kick out of it—I can't find lyrics for it anywhere on the Internet and I'm not sure I'm perfectly understanding the scratchy old 78 recording I found on YouTube, but I think the chorus goes, "There was Mr. Damm, and Mrs. Damm, the Damm kids two or three, with U.B. Damm and I.B. Damm and the whole Damm family…"
BOOK 3: 1999
Ironically, not counting years in the three prologues, 1999 is the year in music with which I was least familiar when I set out to write this piece. In 1999 I was starting to plan my book Stagger Lee, and I was immersing myself in early blues and jazz, songs from long long before the then-present day. Lomax recordings of prison work songs and field hollers from the 1930s had much greater immediacy for me than the careers of various alumni of the New Mickey Mouse Club. With some digging around I've found bits of music I actually do remember from that year—there was a Tom Waits album in 1999!—but for the most part I've had to educate myself in the kinds of millennial dance pop that I would have otherwise been only too happy to continue ignoring. Some of it, unsurprisingly, fit the story very well.
1999 (pg. 103-104). As the century draws to a close, the final dream sequence plays out, with Lily Martinez visiting her long-lost father. On our soundtrack Lily processes her old traumas to the tune of Sarah McLachlan's 1999 live-album hit, "I Will Remember You."
1999 (pg. 105). In 1999, even for someone hopelessly lost in the archives of Okeh Records, Ricky Martin's "Livin' La Vida Loca" was inescapable. I match it to this short scene partly because one of the characters depicted here is living–though we can't see it yet–a truly crazy life, but mostly because the scene is set in almost the exact geographic location where I first remember hearing this song. The office building in the background of this scene is the one where I was working in 1999, and it was in the "Main Tower General Store," on the ground floor, facing the plaza where Mike and Pat converse, that I mistakenly thought I heard someone singing over the radio, "I'm living, my feet are loco." Which has ever since been, for me, the name of the song: "My Feet Are Loco!"
1999 (pg. 106-107). As Lily Martinez drives her SUV with the KQED and Clinton/Gore bumper stickers, listening to Fresh Air on NPR as she makes her way across town to a book signing at A Clean Well-Lighted Place for Books, we stop to wonder…could I possibly have made her an any more stereotypically Bay Area mother? Possibly not, but even so we have a sense that something now is being set in motion…and so as the scene plays out, the music we hear is "The Next Movement," by The Roots.
1999 (pg. 108-111). "I may appear to be free/But I'm just a prisoner of your love/I may seem alright and smile when you leave/But my smiles are just a front…" In "I Try," Macy Gray means those words in a different way than I hear them when I look at Lily and Mike Martinez's strange date night, which begins in a shooting range and ends in a crêperie in the Mission. As the chapter continues, we'll see that "Games, changes and fears/When will they go from here/When will they stop/I believe that fate has brought us here" could well be the Executive Summary of the Martinez family.
1999 (pg. 112-113). Hedwig and the Angry Inch opened off-Broadway in 1998 and the original cast album was released in January 1999. To welcome the new arrival to the 1999 cast who appears in this scene, I offer "Wicked Little Town," and the warning invocation it carries: "Oh Lady, luck has led you here/and they're so twisted up/they'll twist you up, I fear."
1999 (pg. 114-116). In this scene, Mike Martinez approaches Sunshine Abramowitz with an offer…of which she's rightly suspicious. What's he up to? Only Mike knows for sure, but I can think of no better musical approximation of the thoughts that pass through Sunshine's mind in this moment than "What's He Building?" from Tom Waits' 1999 album, Mule Variations.
1999 (pg. 117). In this short scene, Mike Martinez sits under the watchful gaze of the Doggie Diner head and ponders the frustrating gap between his ambitions and his reality. I went looking for a song that would communicate the emptiness at the core of a man living behind a carefully maintained façade of perpetually upward mobility, and what I came up with was "Welcome to the Goodtimes," by The Black Crowes. The horns of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band can make anything sound like Mardi Gras, and here they whip up a roistering good time behind words like "Did you make a big mistake/You curse your fate/And you wish you could leave this life/For just one day."
1999 (pg. 118-120). In this scene, Lucy Hayes very much needs a friend and is fortunate against all odds to make the right one…she befriends a Production Assistant, a person whose very job description is getting done absolutely anything that needs to be done. Moreover, Chad, the Production Assistant, is a sharp-tongued mensch and truly does seem to be the right person at the right time. I wanted a song to reflect both Lucy's relief and happiness in this moment and Chad's willingness to do the right thing. I've searched far and wide through 1999 releases, and I can't find anything that hits that note quite the same way as "I Will Be There," by the inevitable Britney Spears.
1999 (pg. 121-122). I'll admit right off the bat that "Central Reservation," Beth Orton's opus of a morning after with no regrets, has virtually nothing to do with this scene, where Lily meets Lester Moro in her garage. I include it because it's a hopeful song, and because Central Reservation is one of the rare contemporary albums that I do personally associate with 1999. (Oh, and I'm picking The "Then Again" version here.)
1999 (pg. 123). Mike and his friend Pat meet again, this time in Rincon Center, where I used to eat lunch at least once a week, and the song I hear inevitably accompanying these bros as they plot world domination and commiserate about their fathers is "Pretty Fly (for a White Guy)," by The Offspring. Exhibit A: "He may not have a clue/and he may not have style/but everything he lacks/well, he makes up in denial."
1999 (pg. 124-127). "Hello Time Bomb," says the Matthew Good Band…and in this scene we finally see that this is the only possible theme song for Mike Martinez, as he explodes in what seems obviously to be only a preliminary way.
1999 (pg. 128). This page, for me, is the equivalent of the climax of the New Year's Eve scene in Boogie Nights. In the Boogie Nights scene we saw the 70s die with a bang, and in this scene we see the millennium turn early. What else could accompany this moment but "Fuck the Millennium," by Scooter.
1999 (pg. 129-131). Lucy sees a doctor in this scene, and maybe I'm being silly, but my pick for the soundtrack here is "Mister M.D.," from the wonderfully titled 1999 album The 90's Suck and So Do You, by first-wave punkers Angry Samoans. Just as the Samoans' M.D. doesn't have any practical help for the patient's complaint of lovesickness, the clinic doctor Lucy sees is unlikely to come up with a cure for time travel.
1999 (pg. 132-135). Some writers find it easier, I think, to put their characters in horrible situations. I find I have to work at it, to keep myself from shying away from the unpleasant. The domestic violence in this scene is a far cry from the most extreme ever depicted, but it still comes pretty close to the boundaries of my dramatic comfort zone. I don't think I make the moment any more pleasant by pairing it with the global Eurodance hit "Better Off Alone," by Alice DeeJay, but at least the title offers some useful advice to Lily Martinez.
1999 (pg. 136-137). In this scene, Chad articulates his life philosophy to Lucy, a philosophy that can be summed up more or less as "Pay It Forward." I didn't know that term when I first thought about this scene—the movie of that name didn't come out until 2000. The story Chad tells is fictional in its details, but is based in its essence on my own life experiences. To underscore Chad's point, I add to the soundtrack "Up Up Up Up Up Up," by Ani DiFranco, with the observation, "But God's work isn't done by God/It's done by people."
1999 (pg. 138-140). Here, Mike Martinez returns home, certain that he's just an apology away from restoring his family life to normal. I think no song could better illustrate Mike's aggressively douchy self-image in this moment than "If I Could Turn Back the Hands of Time," by R. Kelly.
1999 (pg. 141-142). Lucy Hayes comes home in this scene, and friends join together…but there's an obvious shadow hanging over them. In the soundtrack, this shadow is represented by "I See a Darkness," by Will ("Bonnie ‘Prince' Billy) Oldham. First recorded on the album of the same name in 1999, the song was covered the following year by Johnny Cash on one of his "American" albums. It's a song of dread, but dread of what? The lyrics don't tell you, but the song slowly, creepingly envelopes you in a certainty that something, somehow, is going to go terribly wrong. In other words, it's the song for this scene.
1999 (pg. 143-144). One of the few hits I really do remember from 1999 is the inescapable "Mambo No. 5 (A Little Bit of…)," by Lou Bega. Would a rational person think that song fits naturally with a brutal murder? Probably not, but the moment depicted on these pages is not a rational moment, and I remain convinced that in the moment the gunshot explodes, "A Little Bit of…" is running through the mind of the one who pulls the trigger.
1999 (pg. 145-147). I hope the irony doesn't land too heavily here, but for the last half of this violent scene, I select Pearl Jam's cover of the classic teenage death song, "The Last Kiss." "The Last Kiss" has a convoluted history. It was recorded first in 1961 by Wayne Cochran, and became a hit in 1964 for J. Frank Wilson and the Cavaliers. Coincidentally, as they toured to promote this song about a fatal car wreck, the Cavaliers were themselves involved in a car wreck that severely injured Wilson and killed their promoter. This unhappy case of life imitating art didn't stop the single's momentum, though—the song went as far as #2 on Billboard in 1964, and charted again ten years later on re-release. It was during this 1974 re-release that I first remember hearing it, and I suspect that might be when Eddie Vedder got to know it too. At any rate, I place the song on the soundtrack here as a "Last Kiss" for a troubled relationship.
1999 (pg. 148-150). Displaced Persons draws to a close here with two short scenes that each in their way gaze into abysses. To lighten that heavy gaze, our soundtrack ends with "Promises of Eternity," from Volume 2 of Magnetic Fields' 1999 release, 69 Love Songs. The central question in this delirious vision of love as theatre is "What if no show ever happened again?" As the curtain draws on Displaced Persons, the answer is simple: turn the last page, flip the back to the front, and start again.
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Derek McCulloch and Displaced Persons links:
Bleeding Cool interview with the author
Comic Book Resources interview with the author
The Comics Alternative interview with the author
Comics Bulletin interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Gone to Amerikay
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Stagger Lee
San Francisco Chronicle profile of the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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