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February 5, 2015

Book Notes - George Pelecanos "The Martini Shot"

The Martini Shot

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.

George Pelecanos' debut short fiction collection The Martini Shot: is gritty and resonant, and a brilliant depiction of Washington's seamy side.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:

"Here we see what makes Pelecanos' best writing so resonant: the sense of longing, of miscommunication, the way love does not enlarge us but rather makes us small."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In his own words, here is George Pelecanos' Book Notes music playlist for his short fiction collection The Martini Shot:


The title novella of my latest collection, The Martini Shot, takes place on the set of a network cop show filmed in an unnamed Southern city. In the novella, Victor, the show's lead screenwriter, is in a relationship with the company Art Director, Annette. After the last shot of the day ("the martini") they often meet in Victor's hotel room, where they drink wine, converse, listen to music, and make love.

In the opening pages, after Annette's late-night arrival at his room, Victor plays XX, prompting Annette to comment, "Wine candles, and make-out music." Victor admits, "Not very original of me, I know." To which Annette says, "It's perfect."

So this begs the question: what is the optimum music experience for a long session of lovemaking? There's no easy definition, because the answer is personal and subjective. So I can only put it in the hands of my characters. Here, then, is the Victor-and-Annette soundtrack, to be played over several hours, in a room bathed in moonlight.

XX, by The XX
Yes, there's a sameness to their songs, which is part of the appeal. Music like this demands quiet, but not concentration. I would add some of their reconfigured tracks, like "Sunset (Jamie Jones Remix)," which bubble and pulse. Pair with: Mazzy Star's Seasons of Your Day.

Mezzanine, by Massive Attack
There are so many atmospheric records of this kind to choose from, but this one builds slowly and powerfully, like, you know, and at sixty four minutes, it's timed just right. Pretty much the perfect background music for doing that thing you both love to do. Pair with: Blue Lines, their debut.

Joy, by Isaac Hayes
Worth the price of the ticket for the title track alone, nearly 16 minutes of raw, slow-burning, muscular funk, followed by several bedroom ballads in the trademark Hayes style. On my vinyl copy, you can hear champagne bubbles rising out of the mix. Pair with: Hot Buttered Soul, his landmark breakthrough.

At Dawn and It Still Moves, by My Morning Jacket
In the novella, Victor takes note of Jim James's "otherworldly" vocals, most obvious on these reverb-heavy records. When you listen to it by candlelight, it's kind of like being high in church. Pair with: Demolished Thoughts, by Thurston Moore.

The Ultimate Otis Redding
There are better complete albums from our greatest soul singer (Otis Blue gets my vote), but this twenty-track collection has everything, from raucous shouters to gut-wrenching ballads like "Pain In My Heart" and "I've Been Loving You Too Long (To Stop Now)." Otis is all about emotion and desire. He can bring lovers to their knees and drive cynics to tears. Pair with: Call Me, by Al Green

Colfax, by the Delines
Willy Vlautin's latest project is a moving set played by an extraordinary group of musicians fronted by vocalist Amy Boone. Organ and pedal steel shade these stories of want and wandering set across a back-road American landscape. I can envision Victor playing this for Annette, a widow leading the rootless life of a crew member, late at night. Pair with: Best of Sammi Smith.

If You Don't Know Me by Know, The Best of Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes
Everyone knows what Teddy Pendergrass can ignite in the bedroom, but I prefer the pre-'76 soul sides to disco-era Teddy, when he left the Blue Notes and went solo. These are the long versions of the hits, all with the signature Gamble and Huff production, all on one disc. Pair with: The Complete Goldwax Singles, by James Carr.

Sea Change, by Beck
If you let this sad, sonic masterpiece wash over you, the effect is hypnotic. Yeah, it's a breakup record, but this CD can have the opposite effect in a darkened room. It brings couples together. Pair with: The Boatman's Call, by Nick Cave

Anthony Hamilton
I've written about this guy on these pages before, the most soulful, spiritual, and carnal singer of this generation. Hard to pick one CD, so the shuffle button is in order from the following records: Ain't Nobody Worrying, Back to Love, Soulife, The Point of It All, and Comin' From Where I'm From. Trust me, Anthony brings it, satisfaction guaranteed. Pair with: The Soul of O.V. Wright.

I've Got So Much to Give, by Barry White
His debut is his finest achievement, groove-heavy, symphonic, and stately. In the 70s, before his persona influenced the content, we knew his act was genuine, because we sensed that he believed it, too. In Barry's world, love was just as strong as sex. Key songs include the title track, the long, hot version of "I'm Going To Love You Just a Little More Baby," and "I've Found Someone," one of the greatest I'm-in-love-and-I-want-to-tell-the-world songs ever recorded, where the Big Man works himself into a lather in the final verses as the Love Unlimited women come on strong. This is no joke. Barry White was real. Pair with: Real Mother for Ya, by Johnny "Guitar" Watson.


George Pelecanos and The Martini Shot links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Chicago Tribune review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Toronto Star review
Washington Post review

Fresh Air interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Cut
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for The Double
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Drama City
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for What It Was
Washington Post interview with the author


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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