October 21, 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.
Kevin Fortuna's short story collection The Dunning Man is dark and compelling, a book filled with unlikable characters so keenly drawn the reader cannot help but empathize with them.
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Growing up in an Irish-Italian household in a few cities that included New Orleans, with a musical genius for a brother (bias acknowledged), music was a constant for me. Now I'm a writer at night and a tech entrepreneur by day, but I never lost my obsession with music. A few years back I founded a destination website, popdust.com, which focuses on pop music. One of my friends and co-founders is a career music guy, and we used to jawbone a lot about the industry and what makes great music. He believes that members of every generation think their music is the "best" music. His thinking is that the music you listen to while coming of age creates a kind of "soundtrack" to your life, the melodies enhance your formative experiences and lodge them in memory. Makes sense to me. But I argued with him over the nuances of the theory and over whether some genres of popular music (disco, electronica) might be fly by night, just like some of the one-hit wonder acts that have created some of the most durable and memorable songs ("Come On Eileen" by Dexys Midnight Runners or "Spirit in the Sky" by Norman Greenbaum). Still, my friend is right—popular music is the soundtrack of our youth. And some people—like many of the characters in my book—don't ever really grow up. They keep striving for meaning, keep picking up new anthems and new formative experiences. My short story collection, The Dunning Man is about characters who reject society's rules and go far away from the beaten path. The below songs are the soundtrack for my book and for for my characters' lives.
"Be My Baby" – The Ronettes
Veronica Bennett's haunting, gorgeous voice, the wall of sound, the solemn, on-a-mission backbeat, and the explosive chorus make this love song a classic. Connor Ryan ("Dead" and "The Dunning Man") knows this song and it informs and inspires his love for Ursula—and, later, for Alice. Doesn't matter that its sung by a woman—the words and mood fit his all-in approach to love and relationships, and the timelessness fits his desire to do something that matters.
"Fairytale of New York" – the Pogues
Shane MacGowan's classic Christmas tune, which still charts to #1 or #2 in the UK every Christmas, is a fitting anthem for Maggie Dunne ("Flogging Maggie"). Like Shane, she lives by her own rules. She's got a poet's heart and an angel's voice, and, also like Shane, she doesn't give a fuck what society thinks of her. Hell, Shane even asked Maggie to take Kirsty's place at a Christmas Eve show in Dublin one year.
"Almost Home" – Joey Fortuna
To me, this song is an instant classic (and yes, it is written and sung by my brother, who is one of the best singer-songwriters I've ever heard (no irony here)). With a melody and hooky chorus that compare with the best songs of John Lennon and Paul Simon, this song captures what Connor is feeling as he gets closer to Alice and starts to realize that they might be something more than just friends. He's almost home. (shameless plug: www.joeyfortuna.com).
"Come On Eileen" – Dexys Midnight Runners
This tune actually makes a cameo in "Sullapalooza" and touches off a fateful car chase. Our hero is stuck in the past and what could have been, so it makes sense that he's listening to this song from his high school days. He lives for the moment and he loves this song for one of its best lines: "In this moment, you mean everything…"
"Rocks Off" – by The Rolling Stones
I imagine Jimmy Dolan ("Poor Jimmy") blasting this song on his headphones when he's going to rescue his Afghani sweetheart. It has a 'fuck you' vibe to it that suits Jimmy perfectly. He can't stand authority, sunshine bores the daylights out of him, and he's always trying to get his rocks off.
"Running to Stand Still" – U2
In this song I see Alice ("The Dunning Man"). It has a profundity and dignity and hidden passion to it that suits her. She's a noble person, and life has been bad to her. She's got a no-good boyfriend, and her upstairs neighbor has made her living situation unbearable. But she also has Connor. He can see that she's running but standing still and tall. He feels her, wants to help her.
"Madame George" – Van Morrison
Though it's not actually in the story, I can imagine this song playing in the background at the Fahey wedding while Rose Casey ("Weddings and Burials") is talking to the club's caretaker, Rodney Meeks. She's outside of the main ballroom but can hear Van crooning this slow dance song for the wedding party. The wistfulness of words and melody echo her mood and the bitter homecoming to the Natchez Club, the scene of her husband's undoing.
"Maggie May" - Rod Stewart
Maggie Dunne ("Flogging Maggie") was named after Maggie May from this song, which probably had some impact on how her life turned out from there. Maggie is a good girl, but she doesn't want to be. She knows too much about the meanness of the world, and she can't pretend otherwise.
"We Are Alive" – Bruce Springsteen
In the movie version of the story, Connor ("The Dunning Man") plays this tune on his car stereo when he's leaving NYC and Ursula behind and heading for Atlantic City. It has a rousing, solemn energy to it, and a soulfulness. It's about dying and being reborn, becoming "alive." That's what Connor wants.
"Bastard Landlord" – The Pogues
Connor ("The Dunning Man") plays this song as he approaches the Beachgarden complex in Atlantic City. Connor doesn't want to be the bad guy, 'the Man,' but that's who he is to his favorite tenant—at least on some level. He wants to change that dynamic.
"Empire State of Mind" – Jay-Z and Alicia Keys
Stryker Jones respects this song, in spite of his long-time rivalry with Jay-Z. He knows that it was Alicia who made it work by writing one of the year's best hooks. But he also appreciates the wit and sense of history in Jay-Z's words. Sure he brags like all rap stars must, but he also talks about the girl on the bus getting caught up in drugs and promiscuity. He talks about how the city can chew you up. Connor knows this. Stryker knows this. They're both survivors of the Empire State of Mind.
"Memories are Made of This" – Dean Martin
I've always been more of a Dino guy than a Frank guy, and this might be my favorite Dean Martin song. Perfect vehicle for his smooth, warbling baritone. Tells a story, too, and works as background music for Connor's encounter with the "Fat Italian" on the train to Atlantic City. Good irony here, with a sentimental tune playing during this existential and tense conversation. Memories are what make the Fat Italian want to find the exit.
"Do Whatcha Wanna Pt. 3" – Rebirth Brass Band
In the movie of "The Dunning Man," this classic Mardis Gras track is playing when Connor walks into Stryker's apartment. It's a chaos of trumpets and trombones and sax and guttural vocals—and one of the happiest melodies you'll ever here. Makes sense for this Stryker scene for two reasons: First, as the title suggests, Stryker does what he wants. Second, the man knows music and his own stuff is influenced by the tribal, quasi-religious homegrown music of New Orleans.
"Feel the Tide" – Mumford and Sons
"You and I, now, we can be alright if we just hold on to what we know is true." I think this song belongs to the narrator of "Sullapalooza." It's a tribute and a serenade to his wife, Anne—whom he loves, whom he is finding his way back to at the end of the story. He feels the tide turning. He's growing up during the course of the story. He's figuring himself out.
"Maybe I Believe" – Joey Fortuna
Every year my two brothers and I do this thing called "Brothers Weekend." You can fill in the blanks. We go somewhere, without women, and we blow off steam and catch up with each other. We kicked this off about five years ago, and the destination was Jazz Fest in New Orleans. This song by my brother Joey came out of that weekend. It's a life-affirming song and it belongs to all the characters in my book. They all believe, they all have something to live for. They're finding it.
Kevin Fortuna and The Dunning Man links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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