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July 15, 2015

Book Notes - Liana Maeby "South on Highland"

South on Highland

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.

Liana Maeby's debut novel South on Highland is a clever and outrageously funny Hollywood novel.

Jason Reitman wrote of the book:

"A humorous work of provocative nostalgia. Liana Maeby has written Less Than Zero for the emoji generation."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Liana Maeby's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel South on Highland:


I used music in a very specific way in South on Highland. I wanted to highlight some of our culture's coolest and most talented addicts, and emphasize the grand mythology of drug use. The songs and bands referenced all happen to be songs and bands that I love. This is a playlist of stuff that appears in the book!

"God Save the Queen" by the Sex Pistols

I remember listening to this song as a punk rock teen, yelling "no future!" alone in my bedroom, and really feeling that nihilistic messageā€¦ while taking a break from reading the annotated Candide and studying for my art history exam, of course. I transposed this memory to a scene early in the book where Leila is young and confused, and grasping at references to try and form an identity. Maybe future?

"Perfect Day" by Lou Reed

For me, this song is all about that iconic, ruthless montage from Trainspotting -- the one that sees an ODing Ewan McGregor shoved into a cab and dropped on the ground outside the ER. It's so entangled with that movie in my mind that when Susan Boyle covered it a couple years ago, it felt like she was being really bold and subversive. Even though "Perfect Day" is probably one of the few Lou Reed songs that isn't explicitly about drug use.

"The Passenger" - Iggy Pop

This song is playing at Leila's senior prom after party -- a scene that turns dark pretty quickly. I initially wrote the "singing la la la la la la la la" lyrics into the prose, but my editor pointed out that it would be a pain in the ass to license the song and probably not worth it for a couple lines that just, like, add a little atmosphere. I decided she was correct.

"Chelsea Hotel #2" by Leonard Cohen

I did something incredibly indulgent while writing a lesbian sex scene that takes place at the Chelsea Hotel. (Yes, even more indulgent that writing a lesbian sex scene that takes place at the Chelsea Hotel.) I slipped in lyrics from songs written in ode to the place, of which there are many. I ended up cutting most of this, because, come on, kid, but there are a couple lines still in there because I can't kill all my babies. Naturally, the Cohen classic is included.

"Hotel Chelsea Nights" by Ryan Adams

"Strung out like some Christmas lights / out there in the Chelsea Nights" is a beautiful lyric, and this song always makes me tear up. It makes me nostalgic for a life I haven't actually led but can vividly recall nevertheless. It makes me write wistful little sentences like a teenage girl.

"Chelsea Hotel 78" by Alejandro Escovedo

Folks: if you haven't listened to this song, or Alejandro Escovedo in general, you had better get on it. This is a meta-Chelsea Hotel song, which, I have discovered, is its own subcategory. (For the record, the most meta-Chelsea song is "Chelsea Hotel Oral Sex Song" by Jeffrey Lewis.)

"Gravity/Falling Down Again" by Alejandro Escovedo

More Alejandro! I probably listened to this song more than any other while working on the book. Usually to get into a writing mood and stir up feelings and all that stuff that writers place so much value on. It's a real stunner and I love the chorus of laughing kids.

"Rocks Off" by the Rolling Stones

"Rocks Off" is one of my absolute favorite songs. It's hard to find a line more perfect then "sunshine bores the daylights out of me." And Keith Richards is the quintessential living-the-dream druggie. God, the Stones are cool.

"Anywhere I Lay My Head" by Tom Waits

You know that horrible experience of hearing your voice on a recording and realizing you actually don't sound at all like you do inside your own head? For me, I'm constantly surprised that I don't sounds like Tom Waits. Not even a little bit.

"I'm Waiting for the Man" by the Velvet Underground

I'm pretty sure this song is about drugs. If you're wondering, Susan Boyle has yet to cover it.

"Ashes to Ashes" by David Bowie

A haunting song about addiction that also has a nice thematic tie-in to my book in terms of the way Bowie plays with the Major Tom character as a shifting representative of himself. (This connection is is something I just realized this very second but will pretend was intentional all along!) An embarrassing personal anecdote is that I once got my glam-Brit wires crossed and insisted to the entire dinner table that Elton John's "Rocket Man" was a song about heroin. Think about it. It kind of works.

"Smokestack Lightnin'" by Howlin' Wolf

After Leila gets sober, she starts listening to old blues men like Howlin' Wolf and Otis Rush while wandering the streets in grand contemplation of her life. Why these guys? Because they're cool as shit, of course.


Liana Maeby and South on Highland links:

the author's Tumblr

New York Daily News review

New York Observer 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)
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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