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January 30, 2015

Book Notes - Kevin Morris "White Man's Problems"

White Man's Problems

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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Kevin Morris's short fiction collection White Man's Problems is filled with diverse and skillfully told stories.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Life undermines the pursuit of success and status in these rich, bewildering stories … a finely wrought and mordantly funny take on a modern predicament by a new writer with loads of talent."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Kevin Morris's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection White Man's Problems:

White Man's Problems is a collection of nine stories about nine guys at different stages in their lives and from varying socioeconomic classes. It's hard to locate where and when pieces of music kicked in on the matrix of thinking, writing, rewriting and arranging the stories, but at a point each of these was in my head, inspirational and aspirational, sometimes on-the-nose, sometimes in the vague background of memory.

Summer Farmer
"Waltzing Matilda" - Tom Waits

There's a melancholy mood to this story of two men from different parts of Los Angeles—one is a wealthy producer named Harrigan and the other is an elevator repairman named Kingsley. They've both suffered a loss that connects them for a single moment as they go about their separate daily lives. The slow tempo of "Matilda" and raw, woeful tone of Tom Waits's voice captures the sadness that lingers over these characters.

The Plot To Hold Hands With Elizabeth Tremblay
"Thunder Road" – Bruce Springsteen

Simply straight up East Coast love song for a love struck ninth grader living in the outskirts of Philadelphia in the 1970's. "I would do anything for you." That's high school wrestler and protagonist Roman's mindset.

"Olympia" – Hole
"I Shall be Released" – The Band

Klezak, the lawyer/homeless man in this story, has the crazy dissonance and righteous indignation of "Olympia," and Richard Manuel's voice on "I Shall be Released" has the perfect spiritual hopefulness that comes out of nowhere – I watch The Last Waltz a lot, and was thinking about that song wrapping up the whole chaotic and mystical evening at the end of this story.

Here Comes Mike
"Above the Clouds of Pompeii" - Bear's Den
"I Keep Faith" – Billy Bragg
"Wonderful Remark" – Van Morrison

"Here Comes Mike" is full of mourning and sadness and trying to pull out of it with a spiritual solution. These three touching songs go at the inevitable need for faith. They convey vulnerability and strength at the same time.

Mulligan's Travels
"Janie Jones" – The Clash
"It Was An Accident" – NRBQ
"Middle of the Road" – The Pretenders

The Clash's "Janie Jones" catches the noise in the title character's head. NRBQ's classic is the ultimate plea for the hapless male who has messed up, and "Middle of the Road" describes the place where Mulligan finds himself. Middle of the book, too.

Starting Out
"Modern Girl" – Sleater Kinney
"One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" - George Thorogood

"Modern Girl" has always struck me as such a multi-dimensional song, sneering and romantic, disaffected and sensitive, mocking and angry, big heart inside…all kinds of layers. It gets at the personality of the first-year law associate hero of this story who rolls into the office late with a hangover, not sure about anything, more than a little alienated even so young, and definitely hating the jerk he shares an office with. And he ends up, for better or worse, with Thorogood's swagger.

Rain Come Down
"Ooh La La" – The Faces
"You Are So Beautiful" – Joe Cocker (RIP)

The Faces's "Ooh La La" speaks to wistful memory and hints at the feelings between the characters of the story, a husband and his dementia-stricken wife. And Joe Cocker—may he rest in peace—sang everything there is to sing about when a man looks at the woman he loves in "You Are So Beautiful".

Miracle Worker
"Take the "A' Train" – Billy Strayhorn
"Take the A-Train" comes to mind because the central character in this story, Elliot, is an old-fashioned guy, almost from another era, and it's set in New York, but in a throw-back, WASP-y, moneyed milieu, which the song so gloriously evokes.

White Man's Problems
"Don't Mess Around With Jim" – Jim Croce
The title story is about a divorced guy, Doug Hansall, who is chaperoning his son's 5th grade class on a field trip to DC. He is a jackass and full of bravado, and I love the tone of the Jim Croce song for the story, which is hopefully funny as much as anything. When Croce sings that "he's big and dumb as a man can come," it reminds me of Hansall, who is not exactly the most self-aware man on the planet.

Kevin Morris and White Man's Problems links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Foreword Reviews review
Kirkus review
Newark Star-Ledger review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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

List of Online "Best of 2014" Book Lists
Essential and Interesting 2014 Year-End Music Lists

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
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)

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