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September 22, 2014

Book Notes - Courtney Moreno "In Case of Emergency"

In Case of Emergency

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.

Courtney Moreno's debut novel In Case of Emergency offers a compelling look at both the lives of the working class of Los Angeles and the effects of trauma.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"In this emotionally moving, well-written, engaging novel, Moreno strikes a profound balance between the clinical logic of trauma and the personal irrationality of a young woman dealing with her demons"

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Courtney Moreno's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel In Case of Emergency:


I worked for two and a half years as an EMT in some of the worst areas of Los Angeles, and when I first started writing In Case of Emergency, I thought I'd be able to stuff into its pages almost every interesting or horrifying call I'd ever ran. But what happened instead was more interesting: my narrator, Piper Gallagher, had a mind all her own and the story took off in unexpected directions. This songlist is for Piper, who's trying to cope with too many things at once, who's terrified of falling in love but tired of being alone, in hopes that it will offer some comfort the way only good music can.

"The World at Large" by Modest Mouse

This is where it starts, I think. Piper, our unlucky 28-year-old heroine, has been restless and melancholy, with a history of dead-end jobs and false starts and romantic failures, and this song isn't so much about that exact personal history as it is about that feeling—the feeling of not belonging anywhere, of being simultaneously stuck and unencumbered—and how that kind of freedom and lack of limitation should perhaps feel like a gift but often doesn't.

"Reality Check" by J Dilla feat Black Thought

And this is where it ends up, somehow, because Piper makes the decision to do something, to take action, which to her means becoming an EMT, trying to save lives and help others even while she has no idea how to save or help herself. This decision introduces her to the world of emergency medicine as well as the ghettos of Los Angeles with its overlooked inhabitants. After a couple months on her new job, Piper notes, "Lately I listen to what the birthplace of gangster rap booms and hums on a daily basis: Ghostface Killa, Immortal Technique, Lloyd Banks… I almost know all the words to J Dilla's ‘Reality Check.'"

"Arms of Mine" by Otis Redding

Oh, romance. How Piper dreads and craves it. This song has a hint of that kind of desperation, in which you stalk the aisles of a grocery store for months like Piper, because you have a crush on the woman who works there, because there's something about the way she wears her apron and her hair tumbles into her face that fills you with longing, and because now that you are an EMT, now that you have a job in which you see things most people would run screaming from, surely you can finally work up the courage to ask out your longtime crush.

"Oh My God" by Ida Maria

This song so perfectly captures that surreal feeling of spinning out of control, something Piper does more than once, along with the alarmed, self-deprecating, and cathartic joy that comes with the awareness that even as you spin out, people assume you're in control—or at least have a handle on things—despite how obvious the truth feels. Ohhhhhh Myyyyyy Goddddddd.

"Heartbeats" by Jose Gonzalez

One aspect of In Case of Emergency is that about every twenty pages the reader comes across a lyrical description of a body part or system, such as the lungs, the nervous system, or the inner ear. I chose this song because although there are so many out there that refer to parts of the body, especially the heart, this one made me think of my own pulse, and the literal function of the organ that creates it, before I ever knew its name.

"Little Weapon" by Lupe Fiasco

I fell in love with Lupe Fiasco's The Cool while working as an EMT. The entire album, from start to finish, is incredible. This song describes violence in children, from video games to child soldiers to gangmembers and high school shooters. Over the almost-three years I worked as an EMT, I responded to a lot of calls for gunshot wounds, either experienced or caused by children. This song is a reminder that this is a global problem.

"Staying Alive" by Bee Gees

Every good mix needs an intermission of sorts, but also: if you ever have to do CPR, think of this song. The beat sets the correct rhythm for compressions.

"You or Your Memory" by The Mountain Goats

John Darnielle is a writer and musician both; each Mountain Goats song is a short story with a beginning, middle, and end. I can picture the events in "You or Your Memory" so clearly: a man checks into a hotel, shuffles barefoot to the closest convenience store to pick up "supplies," and then focuses on making it through the night. I've run calls on people like this one, people who don't have a medical complaint but get so lonely or scared they can't think of what to do besides call 911. But also, much of my novel has to do with what medicine can and can't do for us, the line between clinical care and healing, which mirrors the desperation Piper feels as she realizes that there are no clean or absolute coping mechanisms. This song is as much about that as anything. What's more therapeutic—chasing baby aspirin with wine coolers? Or sitting alone in the dark, at some bargain hotel on La Cienega, hoping that by daybreak everything will be okay.

"Love They Say" by Tegan and Sara

I think this is what Piper wishes falling in love felt like but of course, for her, it doesn't. This song has it all, everything people believe or want to believe—love at first sight, finding "the one," getting lifted out of a dark situation, becoming the best version of yourself, the soaring feeling, the abandonment—and all of this unfettered optimism is set against the utter sing-along-ability of a Tegan and Sara song. Can love be like this? Of course it can, maybe.

"I'm Going Slightly Mad" by Queen

Toward the end of the novel, Piper agrees to work a 72-hour shift in South Central. In a busy area like South Central, that's basically the same thing as signing up for a sleepless, trauma-drenched, three-day period in which you'll be lucky to get any regular meals or rest. After 72 hours of this, your brain starts to do things you'd never have predicted. This song is a fairly accurate description of what that feels like.

"103rd St Theme" by The Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band

Susan Straight kindly wrote a blurb for In Case of Emergency, calling it "a dark love song, dark as a bruise, for the Los Angeles no one seems to see." With that in mind, here is The Watts 103rd St Rhythm Band. Their theme for 103rd St isn't dark: it's joyful and triumphant and full of funk. I wish I could go back to 1967, to 103rd St in Watts, and see it through their eyes.


Courtney Moreno and In Case of Emergency links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review
San Jose Mercury News review

Guernica 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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