July 14, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Providence Noir is yet another standout short fiction collection in the series from Akashic Books, edited by Ann Hood and containing stories from John Searles, Elizabeth Strout, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Amity Gaige, and others.
The New York Journal of Books wrote of the collection:
"Providence Noir is teeming with muscular, gritty, hard-boiled short stories alongside borderline modern-day gothic tales. Damaged characters, flawed plans of bloody retribution, double-crossing ambitions, and pure murder in mind make it a must-read. You won't find better noir stories this year."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
If ever there was a Noir City, my beloved hometown is it. Not only was Providence founded by a rogue named Roger Williams back in 1636, but it's held up that tradition over past five hundred years. The city has a proud history of mob activity, crooked politicians, and shady business deals; artists, musicians, and immigrants, all of which are touched upon in the fifteen short stories included in Providence Noir. It's exciting to find the music that reflects the contradictions of Providence, its name itself a contradiction of sorts.
"Rhode Island Is Famous for You" by Blossom Dearie
In a state this small, it's impossible to escape anything. So this song that celebrates Rhode Island celebrates Providence too, merely because here everything is connected. The city and the state are one of those, if you're from Providence you must know my wife's cousin kind of places. And you do.
"Downtown" by Petula Clark
In Providence we call it Down City, but we mean Downtown. We also call milkshakes cabinets, water fountains bubblers, and hot dogs saugies. The first section of Providence Noir is titled Down City, and my own story takes place under Down City's most famous landmark, the Shepard's clock.
"Sunday Morning" by Duke Robillard
Duke Robillard was born in Woonsocket, RI and co-founded one of Rhode Island's most popular bands, Roomful of Blues. I used to dance to them at beach bars in Misquamicut when I was in college, so i was especially grateful when Luanne Rice chose this song to represent her short story Gold Leaf. She likes Duke's Down Along the Cove too. So do I. Put it on, kick off your shoes, and dance in the sand.
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by Hank Williams
The main character in John Searles' story "The Pig" thinks about lyrics from country songs, including this one. Add You Were Always on My Mind by Willie Nelson and Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash and you'll have even more insight into his dark ruminations.
The Theme From The Godfather by Nino Rota
No noir story or song about Providence would be complete without the theme from The Godfather. Our mob roots run deep, and Robert Leuci's story "The Vengeance Taker" explores the cruelty and revenge of the mob here in Providence.
"On the Dark Side" by John Cafferty and Beaver Brown
Another Rhode Island band, Beaver Brown scored the soundtrack for the movie Eddie and the Cruisers. And now one of those hit songs is a good soundtracks for LaShonda Katrice Barnett's story "Waltz Me Once Again".
"Give My Regards to Broadway" by George M. Cohan
Down the street from my house in Providence stands a statue of George M. Cohan, born here in 1878. Elizabeth Strout has set her story at Providence's beloved theater, Trinity Repertory Company. A nod to Cohan and theater seems appropriate.
"This Must Be the Place" by The Talking Heads
David Byrne, Chris Frantz and Tina Weymouth all attended Providence's famous art school, The Rhode Island School of Design, in the early 70s. They formed a group called The Artistics, which morphed into The Talking Heads in 1975. This song of theirs seems aperfect fit for Amity Gaige's short story "The Autobiographical House".
"Charlie Darwin" by The Low Anthem
Another Providence band who Hester Kaplan says understands the noir of the city. She describes their sound in the song as mournful and plaintive, and the tale they tell in it as weird. Charles Darwin, alas, is not a native son. But for the purpose of the soundtrack of her story, Kaplan says he is. She writes: Who can resist the lines Oh my God, the water's cold and shapeless/Oh, my God, it's all around when writing about a boy who doesn't know if the river offers him escape or salvation. Kaplan listened to Ring of Fire, by the way, as she wrote "The Femur". But the Elvis Costello version.
"We Can Fly" by The Cowsills
The Cowsills put Rhode Island on the musical map back in the 1960s, and this song oddly matches "Missing Sri" by Marie Myung-Ok Lee. It is completely opposite in tone, yet somehow fits the idea of flight.
"The Weary Kind" by Ryan Bingham
"Fallin and Flyin" by Colin Farrell and Jeff Bridges
Rhode Island's very own Thomas Cobb wrote the novel Crazy Heart, which became the Oscar winning eponymous movie starring Jeff Bridges as down and out country singer Otis "Bad" Blake. Cobb's story, "$1000 Nassau" has nothing to do with the novel, the movie, or country singing. But the soundtrack to Crazy Heart is so good we need to share it's most well known song and Cobb's own favorite.
"If I Had a Million Dollars" by Barenaked Ladies
Although I can find no real evidence of this, I swear that one of the Barenaked Ladies bought my friend's house in Providence. Even if that's an urban legend, I like the story. And this song is a good one for Bruce De'Silva's story :All in the Family," which is about, amongst other things, stolen art.
"Island Vapors" by Death Vessel
Contributor Taylor Polites likes Joel Thibodeau's beautiful, moody, foly and percussive tunes that alternate vibrations of sweetness and darkness. Thibodeau lives two doors down from Polites on Parade Street in the Armory District of Providence, where Polites' story "Armory Park" is set. the two don't know each other (though maybe now they'll meet?), but Polites is a big fan.
"Who's Zoomin Who" by Aretha Franklin
Dawn Raffel thinks this song is perfect for her story, "Training", which is set in Providence's Amtrak station. And she's right.
"El Niagara en Bicicleta" by Juan Luis Guerra
This is the song that plays as the murderer's ringtone in Pablo Rodriguez's story "WaterFire's Smell Tonight". He chose it for its particular theme of dealing with a difficult situation as the song title implies: crossing the Niagara River on a bicycle. In the story, the phone rings and plays this ringtone. On the other end is the murderer's mother, asking about the disappearance of his best friend.
"Easter Parade" by Fred Astaire and Judy Garland
Peter Farrelly's story "The Saturday Night Before Easter Sunday Morning" is a complicated classic noir story, full of twists and turns, deceptions and trickery. This song may not conjure any of that, but say the word Easter, and I thin Astaire and Garland.
Ann Hood and Providence Noir links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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