July 22, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Dale Marlowe's Digging Up The Bones is a dark and brilliant linked story collection that examines the harsh life of one southern family over several generations.
Josh Emmons wrote of the book:
"Marlowe has created a world at once strange and familiar, where love and violence move in lockstep, and where the sound of one family's barbaric yawp echoes over rooftops and reminds us of our own. This is a brave, brilliant book."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
"Fortunate Son," Creedence Clearwater Revival, Willy and the Poor Boys: It would be a simple case of authorial malpractice to attempt exposition of the Vietnam's War's effects on a deeply wounded character like Digging Up The Bones' Junior Nash without first planting one's face in a speaker wired to a sound system capable of cranking this fucker to ee-leh-ven. Thank you.
"I'll Fly Away," Gillian Welch, Alison Krauss, O Brother, Where Art Thou? (Soundtrack): I have heard this song sung my whole life (usually a cappella, solo, and by women), but I've only heard it sung better than Welch's and Krauss' interpretation a few times; in fairness, the singers besting their effort were usually Holy Ghost “native speakers,” in a church, who'd never lived anywhere but Appalachia. Singers who believe their songs voice a presence of the soul that can be heard, but not always described. The Welch/Krauss version is the next best thing. It transports me in much the same way I imagine Opel, the Nash family's cursed matriarch In Digging Up The Bones, would rely on it as a dissociative trigger that dimmed and diminished the crimes committed in her presence.
"Wonderful (The Way I Feel)," My Morning Jacket, Circuital: Sometimes voice, instrument, time, and place converge, and at their nexus create something more complex and valuable than any of the four alone. My Morning Jacket, featuring Jim James' peerless talent and musicianship, informed by the tragedy, comedy and triumph of modern Kentucky, is a great example. Frankly, I used "Wonderful (The Way I Feel)" as a means of invocation on the cusp of editing jags for Digging Up The Bones. If MMJ doesn't change your mood, your head's the problem. It sure set mine, and rightly—I hope.
"I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," Hank Williams, Sr., The Complete Hank Williams: Hear these words, this voice, and know the gashes bleeding a writer's soul. You can't fake verses like this, nor the notes accompanying them. Truth is, were it not for Hank Williams, Sr., The Carter Family, and Johnny Cash, I'd be without a vocabulary to explain my people to anyone, including myself. I aspire to that degree of sincerity. I have not met it, but Senior calls, and the call pulls me up, out, and forward.
"When Johnny Comes Marching Home," Ultima Thule, Vikingabalk: Indulge me here, if you will, as Google informs me Swedish stomp-rockers Ultima Thule may have a fraught, white-pridey past. Now, I added Ultima Thule's cover of the Civil War standard "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" to the playlist long before I thought to conduct a due-diligence arsepucker-sweep to roust any tatted idiots in Docs and suspenders who can't tell Oi! from Oy! Still, "When Johnny Comes Marching Home's" inclusion is apropos of an episode in Digging Up The Bones treating the twisted psyche of Junie Nash, a skinhead whose worldview implodes when he becomes a father and widower in a single afternoon. Junie as we find him would insist readers know he'd never cotton to milquetoast race-traitors like Ultima Thule, whose meh-xplanations in response to charges of Nazi-flirting wax between apology and apologia. Junie's playlists would host dozens of angrier, more explicit, more extreme, more hateful bands. They probably wouldn't even be playlists per se, unless cassette mix-tapes count, and they do not. The sickening research I endured to render Junie was task enough. I had no inclination to delve further into scenes that might interest him. Ultima Thule's "When Johnny Comes Marching Home" served well as bad-enough; its squelched fury hints at the vicious noise that cements identity in tortured minds.
"Sissyneck," Beck, Odelay: In which we find Mr. Hansen writing his will/on a $3 bill. in addition he explains, with abject impunity, that he's got a beard/that would disappear/if [he]/ dressed in/leather. I name-checked this tune to title an episode in Digging Up The Bones celebrating a taboo-shattering extravaganza of super-hot, socio-economically nuanced, racially-integrated, inter-generational, Bluegrass-tinged, man-on-man action. As with many of the rorschach blot memes dotting Beck's early pop-poems, the word "Sissyneck" hints and winks: it shows, it tells, it covers, it lies. It's a hook for hanging up whatever's on your mind, so it doesn't get wrinkly while you chase the boogie.
"Goodbye Earl," Dixie Chicks, Fly: The Dixie Chicks bring Dennis Linde's kill-the-abusive-bastard farce to full relief. I kept "Goodbye Earl" in rotation while writing and editing Digging Up The Bones to prevent the mood in my crypt from listing too far toward darkness. The cheeky tone and macabre concerns link the song to the struggles of Penny Mastropolous, a Nash girl done-good in "Chicagoland," whose abusive husband seems intent on denying her a happy ending. Penny's life changes track Wanda and Mary Ann's, but then her life changes forever upon her brother's unexpected visit. The topic, and the tale, are deadly serious. When took her bow, I hope Penny was wired into into the same satisfying righteous thrumming current that helped the Dixie Chicks crush it on "Goodbye Earl's" gloating refrain. Press play, set repeat.
"Ennie Meenie," Wally Wilette, Rockabilly Rampage: In another life I wore a lawyer's skin. It did not fit me well, and not much came of it, but it did result in my having the honor of tending some of Wally Wilette's affairs. At one time, Wilette toured with Hank, Sr., on bass. Between Williams' demise and Wilette's creatively proscriptive conversion to Pentecostalism, the French-Canadian Maine-Country Mountain-Madman wrote, played, and published a stack of Rockabilly keepers that remain popular among the continental European “greaser” set, especially in Germany. But Wilette's an obscure figure Stateside, and I threw Eenie Meenie on the platter because I knew him, and I loved him; he was a sage, and he was a star. I drew on memories of Wilette to detail the character of Doyle in "Simmer Till You Can't Stand It." Digging Up The Bones resurrects some of Wilette's better Nor'easter rants, but distills the creole accent and sets them in Doyle's mouth, e.g., Doyle's discourse on Appalachia's disparate peoples as a single People.
"Lit Up," Buckcherry, Buckcherry: There's a dreadful thanatoptic urge marking the men and women of Digging Up The Bones. It calls to mind the “Linkhorn gene” Hunter S. Thompson postulates in Hell's Angels. I carry this “passenger,” as do my kin, and I have seen it expressed in the lives of many others of a similar background. The transgressive urge serves me ill, by most measures, but with the right music striking a mood, a writer might channel this baser instincts into creativity, or for editing a book like Digging Up The Bones. One tool for the job was Lit Up. Because Buckcherry.
"Down South Jukin'," Lynyrd Skynyrd, Skynyrd's First…and Last: The abomination that appears on Fox & Friends and tours with Charlie Daniels is a fake. The real Lynyrd Skynyrd died in 1977 among among a downed plane's smoldering debris. That band's memory suffers the same affliction bedeviling Jesus of Nazareth and Ayn Rand—taken on their own terms, each deserves consideration, if not admiration and affection. Not Rand, though. Skynyrd, JC, and Rand suffer "devotee-drag,” which occurs when a notable figure's most devoted, vocal, and least-informed admirers' epic douchebaggery prevents sensible folks from treating the notable figure as worthy of reflection. Which Ayn Rand is not. Skynyrd's discography goes deeper than well-known arena-rock Zippo-lifters. The deep cuts are politically progressive and socially-conscious, e.g., "Things Goin' On" (checking white indifference to black suffering), "That Smell" (anti-drug), "The Ballad of Curtis Loew" (sincerity trumps differences of race and age), "Simple Man" (income inequality), and "Saturday Night Special" (pro gun-control). In the aftermath of the '77 crash, MCA Records hot-shopped Skynyrd's First…and Last, a hodgepodge of demos, B-sides, cast-offs, and one-takes. It's mostly forgettable, but "Down South Jukin'" is a gem. Unlike the fetid doorstop that is Atlas Shrugged. Digging Up The Bones explores difficult terrain; the music I enjoyed as I wrote aligned with those concerns. As with "Goodbye Earl," "Down South Jukin'" is light enough to help a listener keep perspective, but not so frivolous as to queer the vibe. Unlike Rand, who soured milk with her smile.
"Box of Rain," Grateful Dead, American Beauty: Ditto devotee-drag for the Grateful Dead, but there's no solvent strong enough to dissolve the band's bonds to strange, trips, or lengths. Protean comes packed alongside permanence. As often as not, it turns out the two don't compete, but complement. Charged by magick notions simple and clear as here, mine, for you, or in love, Robert Hunter's superb lyrics quote the great throbbing oversoul of poetic melancholy real creators have always channeled, regardless of medium, era, or style. For me, The Grateful Dead's haunting "Box of Rain" was the song of Liney Nash, a doomed young man from Digging Up The Bones whose ultimately illusory hope springs from brute resort to craft, artifice, will, beauty, impermanence, and excess.
"Cocaine Blues," Hank Williams III, Risin' Outlaw: Hank III's self-aware cow-punk braids his DNA to America's, toward an end best envisioned thusly: don your black ten-gallon Stetson. Strap a set of fringed rawhide chaps to your nekkid thighs, then ride an overchromed badass Indian Scout to the most dangerous dive in howling distance, strut up to the bar and box-out anyone fool enough to get between you and the hooch. Gulp down a few belts of raw corn liquor and a shot of raw Oaxacan pulque, back, before whipping somebody senseless with the sharp end of a snapped-in-half cue, for no damn reason at all. Finally pull a long, fat line of blow off the cracked glass of an ancient jukebox playing a Gregorian monks' reggae time medley of "Kaw-li-ga," "Country Boy Can Survive," and "Dick in Dixie." Or something thereabouts. "Cocaine Blues" is a great entry point to the Hank III oeuvre. It's his best take on Johnny Cash's manic "Folsom Prison" remix of T.J. Arnall's C&W big-band fable "Little Sadie." Hank III plays it straight, right down to Cash's classic “suet!” denouement; in forsaking caricature for homage, he carves out a space big enough to fit song, story, history, and all the considerable egos in the pantheon of badasses who've kept it vital for a century. "Cocaine Blues" bridges time, genre, and space, and extends the consolations of shared, cyclical time to succeeding generations: if they're brave enough, buckwild enough, hellbent enough, and hellbound enough to make the early-morning rounds with safeties off and their hearts on their sleeves.
Dale Marlowe and Digging Up The Bones links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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