September 8, 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.
Lisa Howorth's Flying Shoes is an impresseive character-driven debut novel.
The Washington Post wrote of the book:
"Flying Shoes offers a well-done portrait of a girl who survived a horrific tragedy and emerged in middle age with her empathy, sense of generosity and ability to forgive intact."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Flying Shoes is a novel set in 1996 in a university town modeled on Oxford, Mississippi, where I live. The main character, Mary Byrd Thornton, a somewhat bored, distracted and insecure wife and mom, is confronted by the reemergence of the unsolved case of her young brother's murder on Mother's Day thirty years ago. Selfishly, she drags her feet on returning to her Richmond home to meet with authorities and her family, and revisiting the tragedy. The case remains in the background through much of the novel, and what's revealed is Mary Byrd's world, her relationships with her children, husband, maid, and a host of edgy friends—some "inappropriate"--and the moral confusion in her head, perhaps having something to do with her guilt about her brother's death and damaged family life. Readers should not expect the novel to be a true crime or mystery, or for there to be neat, Hollywood resolutions or moralizing. There's a lot of humor in this book, as there must be in anything I write, and most of what I read. I'm more interested in how characters get through challenges in life, rather than how they are brought down by them. And there's a shit-ton of music in Flying Shoes—something else I can't seem to do without. The title itself I ripped-off from the great Townes van Zandt song, but not without the blessing of his son, J.T.
"Gin and Juice," Snoop Doggy Dog
Unnamed Dog music is played in the distance by some white frat guys in a hot tub where they are "hollering and floating around…like beer-sodden dumplings in a testosterone stew," which has to be this song, no doubt. The phenomenon of otherwise conservative white southern kids loving Rap intrigues Mary Byrd, as does the use of the N-word, which she fears her pre-teen children will now thing it is OK to use.
"Surfin' USA" the Beach Boys, "Poison Ivy," the Coasters, and early 60s dance songs like "Monster Mash," the "Monkey," and the "Swim," evoke a more innocent time, and when dancing first became partnerless, and even little kids could listen to it.
"In My Room," the Beach Boys
Who'd forget their first big make-out songs? The main character recalls the loveliness of 7th grade basement parties.
"It's Over,", Roy Orbison
The perfect song to inspire a dog to sing along.
"Cherry Pie," Warrant
A favorite in the South in the 90s, in this case a beat-off soundtrack for a farm boy riding a cultivator. There's a 1958 doo-wop song with the same title by Marvin and Johnny that's worth checking out—also double entendre-y.
"How low can you go?" is a frequent refrain in the head of the morally confused Mary Byrd.
"Skinny Legs and All," Joe Tex
An incongruous song to be heard in the midst of tragedy in the home of Evagreen Bon, an older African American character. Incongruous is often good.
"Fire of Love," Gun Club
Homage to the late Jeffrey Pierce. Jack Ernest, an "asshole's asshole," takes the cut "Jack on Fire" as his anthem.
"The Night They Drove Ole Dixie Down," The Band
What needs to be said? A semi driver and unreconstructed southerner has taught his parrot, Virge, to sing the refrain when asked "What were all the people singing, Virge?"
"Bobby McGee," Deadman's Curve," "Leader of the Pack," "Dynaflow Blues," "Eastbound and Down," "Lost Highway," "Cadillac Boogie," "Rocket 88," and "Ramblin' Man." The tracks on a mix tape of rig-rock made by the aforementioned truck driver. Played on a haul from Mississippi to Richmond.
"Cement Mixer Blues," by me, in the manner of the late great Greenville, Mississippi bluesman, T-Model Ford.
"Drive My Car," the Beatles
Mary Byrd recalls her dead little brother's favorite song, also on the rig-rock tape.
"Dixie," Black Oak Arkansas
A song so loaded with implications it can no longer be played in the South. We want to hate it, but in our secret heart of hearts it can still raise the hair on our arms. I know; creepy, and maybe wrong. The insane BOA interpretation is so particularly cheesy and melodramatic I had to have it. Poor White Thrash.
"Tom Dooley," "Coplas," "Where Have All the Flowers Gone," the Kingston Trio. Two traditional songs, one evoking the dreamy folk era, the other the playfulness of the Trio, and one the lovely anti-war anthem , lyricized by Pete Seeger from a Russian folk song, that we (and Russians)might be paying more attention to right now: "When will they ever learn?" I know, their shirts were terrible.
"Ferry Cross the Mersey" Gerry and the Pacemakers
A peace offering to the adolescent Mary Byrd from her stepfather, even though he thought all the British Invasion bands were "a bunch of nellies."
"Unchained Melody," Righteous Brothers, "Tracks of My Tears," Smokey Robinson and the Miracles
Yeah, more nostalgia, but what 1960s teenaged girl (and no doubt many guys) didn't lounge around, basted with iodine and baby oil, sunbathing and mooning over these two songs?
"Memo from Turner," Rolling Stones
One of my all-time faves, for a long time only available in the US on the extraordinary soundtrack to "Performance," the wonderful ly dark, druggy Nicholas Roeg film of 1970. (Also the music for Ray Liotta's coke binge in Scorsese's "Goodfellas.") The "Performance" soundtrack also features Ry Cooder on slide, Randy Newman on piano, Buffy Sainte-Marie on mouth-bow, and the Last Poets, whose track "Wake Up Niggers" was a seminal influence on Rap, and a cross between that and the intellectual, free-form poetry of the Beats and 60s coffee-house poetry. To use a few lines of MEMO in my novel I had to cough up 1K of my own money, but worth it to set the tone for the pussy-struck Jack Ernest's ice storm roadtrip in pursuit of Mary Byrd.
LA VOZ DE DIOS, Julio Elias. Cheesy keyboard, bells and organ, mediocre vocals from a singer who might be the Guatemalan equivalent of Christian musician Stephen Curtis Chapman. I spied this CD at the trailer of an immigrant worker here in Oxford.
"Amazing Grace," the Reverend Al Green
Is there a funeral that does not feature this song? Forget the bagpipes—I've heard Green sing this at his church in Memphis, where he preaches every Sunday, and it's enough to make a believer out of a hard-core atheist. Well, almost. Knowing that the song was written by a reformed slave ship captain in 1799 adds some irony. Green's version is played on a jam box at the funeral of Jack Ernest, where the fundamentalist preacher points out what a wretch Ernest was. Wretches, all of us.
"Young Woman's Blues," Bessie Smith
It isn't specified which of Bessie's songs was played, but it must have been this one, recorded about 1926, in which The Empress laments failed relationships and being a young woman pegged as trash because she's wild and likes a good time. At the end of the song, she perks up, declaring fuck it—"I'm gone drink good moonshine, and rub these browns down." (Although until I checked the lyrics, I always thought she sang "run," not "rub.") Played at a late-night party during the ice storm.
"Tangled Up in Blue," Bob Dylan
Ernest, still in pursuit of Mary Byrd, takes off, dementedly deciding that if he finds and kills the killer of her younger brother he will have "helped her out of a jam" which he hopes might make her his lover out of gratitude. One of Dylan's greatest songs.
"Ashokan farewell," composed by fiddler Jay Ungar in 1982, I was surprised to learn—it sounds so much like a traditional Scottish lament. Also a popular funeral song, ubiquitous after the 1990 airing of Ken Burns' series, "The Civil War," in which it was the hugely effective but somewhat overused theme song. Hauntingly sad and beautiful.
Playlist of Ernest's favorite songs, which somehow were allowed to be played at his funeral:
"To Live Is To Fly," Townes van Zandt, "No Expectations," Rolling Stones, "Tom Ames' Prayer," written by Steve Earle, but this would be the version sung by Robert Earl Keen and beloved by southern boys, "Cardiac Suture," a great garage-y song by the iconic Oxford band, The Neckbones, "Free Again #2," Alex Chilton, "Lawyers, Guns, and Money," Warren Zevon, "Hurt," Nine Inch Nails (unfortunately Ernest didn't live long enough to hear the miraculous Johnny Cash cover that Rick Rubin coerced Cash into recording), "Drunk Moon Falling," Jim Mize ( a lovely, gravelly, brand new song that I wanted to have so badly I anachronistically used it. Hey—it's fiction), SIMPLE MAN, Skynyrd, a fave of good ole boys, "When I Come Around," Green Day, "Sarabande," Handel, this version is by the Chieftains and is the theme song for Kubrick's "Barry Lyndon." All the above are suggestive of Ernest's umm, wacky weltanschauung—his over-the-top bravado and romantic love of women, guns, freedom, taking chances, substance abuse, and himself. Carpe diem.
"Leaning on the Everlasting Arms," sung by funeral choir
The old hymn, chillingly sung by Robert Mitchum and, at one point, with Liillian Gish in The Night of the Hunter, which btw, James Agee adapted from the novel by Davis Grubb. Yikes—deeply creepy.
"Jail Bait," Andre Williams
Teever Barr, a homeless African-American Vietnam vet, catches this 1955 song he loves on WEVL out of Memphis, and taunts Mary Byrd, asking if she knows the other, more salacious song by Williams, which he can't bring himself to mention. Neither can I.
"Engine Joe," Slobberbone
No specific track is given, but a tape of the Texas alt-country band is playing in the truck when L.B., a local fireman, picks up his friend Teever, injured and stranded by the ice storm. Teever, not a fan of white-boy music, hates it, and says "Sound more like Clobberbone to me." One of only one or two characters in the novel whom I did not make up, L.B. is the late, great Oxford writer, Larry Brown, who was a devoted Slobberbone fan, and his friendship with the band was mutual. I'm pretty sure L.B. was listening to this song, because Brent Best says that Larry once told him that he was teaching himself "a broke-ass version" of the song. The song was released in 1997, but let's just say the band gave L.B. an earlier demo. This one's for Larry: RIP, L.B. baby, in that great Cool Pad in the sky.
Lisa Howorth and Flying Shoes links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
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Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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weekly music release lists