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July 21, 2015

Book Notes - Jill Talbot "The Way We Weren't"

The Way We Weren't

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Jill Talbot's The Way We Weren't is an impressive memoir-in-essays.

Matthew Gavin Frank wrote of the book:

"Jill Talbot's memoir-in-essays gloriously and disarmingly proves that the ephemera of one's life—memories unearthed from top-shelf closet boxes labeled with magic marker, memories wedged into narrative wine lists, memories redacted with erasers, tongues, song, and the morning rose light bursting from so many of last night's sticky glasses— when carefully organized, is capable of yielding an intimacy that we can hardly bear, but that we would never give up. A bewitching meditation on love, loss, and motherhood."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Jill Talbot's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir The Way We Weren't:


There's a moment in The Way We Weren't when I'm driving from Stillwater, Oklahoma to Oklahoma City listening to the seventies station thinking about my daughter, Indie. The year was 2010, the day before her ninth birthday. I write, "So many times, when she's singing along to Ambrosia or Bread, Jackson Browne, especially America, in the car, I ask her how she knows all the words to those long-ago songs, and she always has the same answer. 'You sing all the time.' Kenny used to tell me that, too." Kenny is Indie's father, the man I loved and lived with for years before he abandoned us when Indie was only four months old.

"Make it With You," Bread

Kenny and I met in Minturn, Colorado, where we shared a house with three other people. He and I stayed up talking on the couch hours after everyone else had gone to sleep, then we'd spill out onto the back porch to drink Shiner Bock from bottles and smoke Marlboro Lights, listening to the rush of the Eagle River. I loved him immediately, his large frame and flannel, the red flecks in his goatee, the overalls he'd wear to the construction site he left for on weekday mornings. After a month living in that cramped house, he started hinting at loving me through the stereo in the living room. I kept my Anthology of Bread in the six CD changer, and in the mornings, I'd often wake to hear him fumbling with the changer, and then I'd hear this song.

"Heard It In a Love Song," Marshall Tucker Band

Not long after we got together, Kenny and I were driving down the highway one afternoon, and I had a mix tape in my Jeep. I played him this song and told him it reminded me of him. He said the song was him: "I never had a damn thing, but what I had I had to leave it behind." I should have paid more attention.

"Put Your Dreams Away," Frank Sinatra

When Kenny and I lived in a basement apartment in Fort Collins, I read Tina Sinatra's My Father's Daughter. I had always been a fan of Sinatra's, and Kenny kept one of his CDs in his truck for me. One afternoon, he came home to find me sobbing in the reading chair moments after I finished Tina's memoir. I told him I couldn't explain it, how I felt her losses—Sinatra's leaving the family when Tina was only three and his death. There's an essay in The Way We Weren't that briefly includes examples of famous artists and writers who abandoned their children for one reason or another, and in it, I write, "Years after Frank Sinatra left his wife and three young children for Ava Gardner, he would tell his youngest, Tina, ‘I was selfish—my choices would affect you forever.'" That was a line from My Father's Daughter, and in that book, I learned that Sinatra ended every concert with this song. When Kenny left us, I recalled how I had been inexplicably effected by the Sinatra memoir, and I shuddered at the thought that perhaps we know, before we know, what's to come in our lives.

"The Old Apartment," Barenaked Ladies

This song has been misinterpreted to be about a man who breaks into his ex-girlfriend's apartment, but the writer of the song explains it's actually about a couple who breaks in to their old apartment to reminisce. I like the way that both interpretations make sense with the lyrics, and this idea of competing versions is prominent in The Way We Weren't. I always associate this song with the last apartment Kenny, Indie, and I lived in together, a third-floor two-bedroom in University of Colorado's family housing.

"Please Come to Boston," Dave Loggins

Kenny and I both had a history of moving place to place before we met, and when we were together, he worked in refineries around the country, and I always wanted him to come home. This was our song. Months after he left, he called me from a bar to tell me someone has played it. I could hear it in the background.

"If You Could Read My Mind," Gordon Lightfoot

For years, the draft of my manuscript included an essay with references to this song that included, "‘Stories always end,' another line from that Gordon Lightfoot song. How can they if we keep telling them?" I'm sorry I cut you, Lightfoot, but we'll always have Gord's Gold.

"Sister Golden Hair," America

One of the essays in the memoir ends, "At the intersection, I press the first button preset, the seventies station. America. 'Sister Golden Hair.' Indie really likes this one. I sing along."

"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)," Kelly Clarkson

Indie often surprises me with songs on my iPod that she thinks I'll like to run to, and one afternoon I was running along NY-310 in Canton, New York, and I heard this line for the first time: "You know the day you left was just my beginning." If you've ever wondered if it's possible to cry and run at the same time, I'm here to tell you I did that afternoon.

"How Much I Feel," Ambrosia

When we lived in Chicago, mornings began with me setting my Macbook on the kitchen counter and turning on the "Firefall" station on Pandora while I made Indie breakfast. She'd eat and get ready for school, and I'd sing through all the songs. For some reason, even though it's the "Firefall" station, an Ambrosia song was most often the first one played every morning. This is my favorite Ambrosia song, and after so many years of listening to it, I'll still stop everything I'm doing and every sound to listen closely to one stanza in particular.

"On and On," Stephen Bishop, "Go Your Own Way," Fleetwood Mac, and "Ventura Highway," America

These three songs are all mentioned in the final essay in the memoir, when Indie and I hear them on the radio as we're driving west on I-40.

"Right Down the Line," Gerry Rafferty

When Indie was nine, we moved from Oklahoma to New York. Once we got settled on I-44 East, I turned to the seventies station to hear Gerry Rafferty's "Right Down the Line." Indie looked out her window and said she loved the song. I told her I did, too, that it reminded me of the two of us. She agreed. This is our song.


Jill Talbot and The Way We Weren't links:

the author's website

Passages North review

The Billfold profile of the author
The Los Angeles Review of Books interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author
Santa Fe New Mexican profile of 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)
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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