March 2, 2015
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.
Elliot Ackerman's novel Green on Blue is a remarkable debut, one that brings to life one young Afghan soldier from boyhood to adult in spare, precise prose.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Ackerman’s novel is bleak and uncompromising, a powerful war story that borders on the noir."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
When I was just a few weeks away from completing the last major edits for Green on Blue, a good friend of mine was killed fighting in Afghanistan, leaving behind a young family and becoming one of the last Marines to die in that long war. I don't know if Green on Blue, a story told from the perspective of a young Afghan soldier, has a western soundtrack, but the time when I fought in Afghanistan certainly does. Here's a few:
"Dead Flowers" – Townes Van Zandt
This cover of the classic Rolling Stones song about heroin addiction is better than the original. Townes Van Zandt sings it slow, transforming the tune into a ballad of sorts, one lamenting that particular type of loss which is self-destruction. It reminds me of pulling out the driveway each time I left for a deployment. "Send me dead flowers every morning / Send me dead flowers by the mail / Send me dead flowers to my wedding / And I won't forget to put roses on your grave"
"Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" – Michael Jackson
When I was in special operations, I spent one deployment at a particularly remote outpost in western Afghanistan. The dozen of us in my team lived fifty miles from the nearest adjacent American unit. Charged with advising nearly 700 Afghan Commandos whose mission was to capture or kill senior Taliban leadership, it made for an intense eight months. Against regulations, we built a small Tiki bar on our firebase out of wooden ammunition crates. Every couple of weeks, when operations were slow, we'd open the bar and have a small party, letting off some steam. Usually it started as just us Americans, but often times, as the night went on, a few of the Afghans would come over. On several occasions, I found myself in the middle of an impromptu disco replete with blinking Christmas lights as "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" boomed out the little iPod speakers. I defy anyone of any nationality, religious, or political conviction not to dance to this song. Mullah Mohammad Omar, that means you.
"Mercenary Song" – Steve Earle
"And we're bound for the border / We're soldiers of fortune / We'll fight for no country but we'll die for good pay / Under the flag of a green back dollar / Or a peso down Mexico way"
On long late night patrols, as the Afghans and us drove through the countryside with the Pakistani border in view, we'd often play this song in the cab of my Toyota HiLux. The amorality of a mercenary's war was something we could all identify with as our war stretched into its second decade.
"Love Vigilantes" – New Order
This is a dark yet up-tempo song about Vietnam. Complete with electric keyboards and Ska-like syncopation, we're on 1960s territory with a distinctly 1990s style. It's what makes this song so unforgettable, so damn good. The openings is one of my favorites: "Oh I just come from the land of the sun / For the war that must be won in the name of truth / With our soldiers so brave your freedom we will save / With our rifles and grenades and some help from God."
Would it were true.
"End of the Night" – The Doors
Much of my time in Afghanistan was spent at remote outposts—end of the line places. Living in sandbagged forts, spending days crisscrossing the high desert, leap frogging from village to village, there's just something about it that lends itself to The Doors. Of course it does. I could've picked one of many songs off their eponymous debut album but these lyrics always did it for me: "Some are born to sweet delight / Some are born to the endless night"
"Bye Bye Blackbird" – Joe Cocker
This song reminds me of my daughter. I'd listen to it when I missed her most, usually at night before bed, when I would otherwise have been reading to her. I'm still not sure if I'm the blackbird or if she is.
Elliot Ackerman and Green on Blue links:
Boston Public Radio interview with the author
Dallas Morning News profile of the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Vogue interview with the author
Wall Street Journal review
Weekend Edition 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
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)
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)