September 9, 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.
Laird Hunt's Neverhome dazzles with the authentic voice of its protagonist, a young woman masquerading as a man as she fights in the Civil War in a novel assuredly told and brimming with humanity.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"Hunt brings an especially bittersweet and lyrical tone to this forgotten part of Civil War history and gives to several hundred women who did indeed make the momentous decision to fight....An amazing book."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
The following are songs I listened to regularly, repeatedly during the years I spent writing Neverhome. Each song, which came to serve as gateways to the gone world I sought to evoke, is illuminated by a brief description of one of the many (more than 400) extraordinary women who disguised themselves as men and went to fight in the American Civil War. Neverhome's protagonist, Constance "Ash" Thompson, was not based on any one of these actual women, but inspired by them all. I like to imagine them marching through their fierce, chosen trajectories with the song I have set alongside their name. Thanks to DeAnne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook for their invaluable study They Fought Like Demons from which some of this information was gleaned.
1. "Happiness" by Jonsi and Alex (from the album Riceboy Sleeps)
Sarah Rosetta Wakeman aka Lyons Wakeman. Fought for the New York 153rd. Sent her family letters and money during her service. Was a good soldier by her own account. Saw terrible things. They all saw terrible things. Tough as nails. Died of disease in a Washington D.C. hospital and never made it home.
2. "The Luxury of Dirt" by Aix Em Klemm (from the album Aix Em Klemm)
Loreta Velasquez aka Lt. Harry T Buford. Born in Havana to a wealthy family that settled in Louisiana. Recruited more than 200 men and went to war in disguise as an officer. Fought at the first Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff and Shiloh among other engagements. Served as a spy for the Confederacy. Did the same for the Union. Survived the war and wrote a memoir, The Woman in Battle, upon which many an aspersion regarding authenticity was subsequently cast.
3. "Captain, Captain" by Crooked Still (from the album Still Crooked)
Fanny (sometimes Fannie) Wilson, alias unknown. Joined the 24th New Jersey with her friend Nellie Graves. Following their sweethearts.. Both women were taken ill and sent to the military hospital in Cairo, Illinois where their gender was discovered (such discoveries often took place in hospitals). Recovered, they parted ways and Wilson took a job as a ballerina. She grew tired of that and joined the 3rd Illinois Cavalry. Upon her discovery there she was branded a spy but an oath of loyalty to the Union got her off the hook and she was sent north. Whether she went off on horse or foot is unknown.
4. "The Birth and Death of the Day" by Explosions in the Sky (from the album All of a Sudden I Miss Everyone)
Maria Lewis, alias unknown. African American. Disguised herself and rode for 18 months with the 8th New York Cavalry. Thus adding the considerable burden of having to pass as white to the burden of discovery as a woman. Hear the song and you can just about see her, galloping of an early morning, carbine raised, hooves pounding, bugles sounding… Just about.
5. "Those Who Didn’t Run" by Colin Stetson (from the album Those Who Didn’t Run)
Melverina Elverina Peppercorn, alias unknown. Fought out of Tennessee for the Confederacy. Joined with her twin brother, Alexander the Great "Lexie" Peppercorn. Tall, strong and could spit tobacco 10 feet. Laid down her arms and disguise when Lexie was wounded after their one significant battle. Went to the hospital with him to be his nurse. The two hoped to reenlist after his recovery but the war was coming to its close. Hard not to wonder a little who it was of those beautifully named siblings who wanted to fight. Then try to fight again. No way to know but my money’s on Melverina.
6. "Leyfdu Ljosinu" by Hildur Gudnadottir (from the album Leyfdu Ljosinu)
Jenny Hodgers, aka Albert Cashier. Irish immigrant who served with the Illinois 95th. Served with distinction, survived the war, took an army pension and never went back to being Jenny again. Not even, one imagines with reason, when discovered to be a woman late in life he was forced by hospital authorities to wear a dress.
7. "Sorrow, Sorrow" by Lorna Hunt (can be found at https://soundcloud.com/lhuntx/sorrow-sorrow)
Emily, full name unknown, alias unknown. Served in a Michigan regiment. Mortally wounded at the battle of Lookout Mountain. As she was dying, gender discovered, dictated to her colonel the following letter home: "Forgive your dying daughter. I have but a few moments to live. My native soil drinks my blood. I expected to deliver my country, but the Fates would not have it so. I am content to die. Pray, pa, forgive me. Tell ma to kiss my daguerreotype." Then she was gone.
Laird Hunt and Neverhome links:
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Exquisite
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Kind One
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Ray of the Star
Publishers Weekly 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