August 25, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jamie Iredell's memoir Last Mass brilliantly recollects the author's Catholic childhood along with the history of Father Junípero Serra, forging an unforgettable reading experience in the process.
D. Foy wrote of the book:
"How do you reconcile your love for the California you call home, for your deeply pious Californian family, with the history—protracted and hellish—that is the father of both? Iredell navigates his world with deftness, beauty, brutality, and light. In the face of so much, it's a feat next to holy."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I don't listen to music when I write, unless I happen to be in public at a bar or restaurant where I'm writing (this happens more often than is healthy). When you work from home a lot it's tempting to lie in bed with your reading and before you know it you wake up and it's 3 PM and, oh god, do I need to justify it? I work in bars a lot, so I guess I inadvertently listen to a lot of music while I'm writing, although it's almost always simply background noise and I'm not really paying attention to it at all. Although, one time, I was working and some jerk at the bar had typed "Adelle" into Pandora or whatever and I suffered through that bullshit for about an hour before I gave up and went home.
Despite music not being a central part of my process, in the composition of Last Mass music and other forms of popular culture regularly invade the text, interweave with it, fold into it. So what I've done here is provide a more or less chronologic (that is, while one's reading) progression of the kinds of music you encounter in the book itself. There's everything from traditional Spanish Catholic songs to Iron Maiden. It is, at least, an eclectic collection, not unlike Last Mass itself is an eclectic collection of thoughts and ideas that add up to something that is its own. I've put together a Youtube playlist of these, in case you'd like to listen.
The Fandango: Any kind of flamenco guitar will do. The period of California history I write about in Last Mass would likely not have included much, if any, of this kind of music. Though the period of Spanish colonial California only lasted for about fifty-two years (from 1769-1821), the first twenty or so years of that was a slow process of establishing missions and presidios and eventually the first pueblos (Yerba Buena—what became San Francisco—San Jose, and Los Angeles), and these were hardscrabble times of survival. It would only be in the later years of Spanish control (and, later still, that of Mexico), that the romantic ideal our culture has claimed for early California was established. This would be the period of the Ranchos, pueblos, and missions and with that the colorful fiestas complete with the Fandango and other dances, and the time that would birth legends that live on today, like Zorro. Still, this kind of music I think puts one in the mood of early California and is therefore fitting for a read of Last Mass.
"Don't Stop Believin'"—Journey: I actually hate this song. But it was/is on this CD that my wife burned for me when we were dating, and I was listening to that CD when I drove to this artist colony in north Georgia, which was where I wrote the first draft of Last Mass. That isn't what made me hate this song. It was being on that show Glee, which my wife used to watch, and I would sit in another room writing or goofing off on the Internet while she watched her stories. And I could hear that show bastardizing this already horrible song. That show of course boosted the already-popular tune to levels untold, and now should you listen to any radio station that plays rock and roll you're bound to hear this Journey classic. Yes, some were born to sing the blues, indeed. I'm currently writing in a bar and this goddamn song just came on—not kidding.
"Sing a New Song": This popular religious hymn is popular for obvious reasons: it's catchy. It's the Taylor Swift of Christian hymns. I always liked this song when we sang it in church. Seemed like they planned it in such a way that this song, when sung, was the processional upon the end of mass. Therefore the reasons for my liking it might very well have to do with the knowledge that it meant mass was finally over.
"Like a Rolling Stone"—covered by Jimi Hendrix, live at Winterland (but for added Last Mass effect, watch video of his performance of this song live at the Monterey Pop Festival: "After I'd quit drinking I again ran up the mountain, and at its rounded top I found a Toyota. Inside sat a bear, and in the passenger seat Zorro gripped the end of the lasso with which he'd lassoed his bear to the steering wheel. Jimi Hendrix's cover of Dylan's "Like a Rolling Stone" blared from the dash. They passed a joint, Zorro and his bear. I jogged back down the mountain, wanting to 1) not sweat in the Toyota's back seat; and 2) have nothing to do with any of that scene."
"Junipero Serra"—The Ziggens. I'm trying to remember who told me about this song, but I think it might have been Kevin Sampsell. This is like instrumental surf punk rock. Driving beat, steel guitars, a Les Paul sound, but with distortion, but still with the requisite whammy bar pulls. God knows why it's called "Junipero Serra." Other than that title, this song has nothing to do with this book.
"Wishing Well"—Terence Trent D'Arby. Mostly, I don't really care for Terence Trent D'Arby, or Sananda Francesco Maitreya, as he calls himself these days. And I didn't care for him in the 80s either. But his music was like a soundtrack that played anywhere public, especially in places like malls, and when I got caught stealing the Michael Jordan T-shirt (I tell this story in Last Mass) I imagine that one of his songs—with "Wishing Well" being, in my opinion, the catchiest—might have very well been playing over the JC Penney sound system.
"My Michelle"—Guns n' Roses
"Children of the Damned"—Iron Maiden:
". . . we wandered the mall, scoped out the high school chicks, tooled around Hot Topic, goggle-eyed over the knives and Megadeth T-shirts. We spent our shitty allowances on stickers and the Guns n Roses T-shirt with the band's crossed guns and roses logo, because that was a shirt Dad would let me wear, unlike the Iron Maiden T's I really wanted, with a ghoulish Eddie screaming and stretching a bony clawed hand out for my soul. It wasn't that my father thought of heavy metal as Satan's music, or anything. He just thought it was tacky and ugly and, looking back, it was, even if that ugly tackiness is badass. Thus, we had with us shopping bags and these bags factor importantly into this narrative."
The Kyrie from the Catholic Mass: While the masses that I attended as a boy were not recited in Latin (thanks, Vatican II!), vestiges of the old rite remain, though recited in the common tongue, including this portion of the mass wherein the priest asks for God's mercy three times (symbolic of the Holy Trinity) and the congregants repeat after the priest: "Lord Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Christ Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy, Lord Have Mercy." Have mercy on me for this longwinded series of notes. Forgive my transgressions.
"I Left My Heart in San Francisco"—Tony Bennett: "My grandfather sometimes sang ‘I Left My Heart in San Francisco' while he fixed his Datsun pickup or tilled his petite syrah. In the early summer of 1776 Father Francisco Palou, along with an escalta and Father Pedro Font and Juan Bautista de Anza, set out for the peninsula of the great bay of San Francisco, and there, on the Friday of Sorrows, they found the creek and lagoon that they named appropriately for La Nuestra Señora de Los Dolores. Palou founded Mission San Francisco de Asís, and to this day the mission is nicknamed Dolores."
"If You're Going to San Francisco"— "Whenever I hear Scott McKenzie's ‘San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)' I think of my grandparents. The song was released in 1967, when my mom was nineteen years old and living in Los Altos, where she had moved with my grandparents from New York in 1951."
"Damn it Feels Good to Be a Gangsta"—Geto Boys: I'm just gonna let this song stand in for this paragraph: "Freshman year Randy got into rap and guns. We carried an unloaded .25 caliber semiautomatic to school a couple times. We were that stupid. We exploded terra cotta in the strawberry fields with another gun we'd ‘borrowed': his neighbor's .32, lifted from the house while Randy was pet sitting. When rap evolved into Randy's love for Nirvana and Pearl Jam, it came with the weed he started smoking. Anyone can see the pattern here. It was still a year or two before Dre's The Chronic, and pot wasn't much of a subject for N.W.A. But being stoned fit the Ozzy, Metallica, and Jane's Addiction we rocked. I followed Randy in my own flannel and Baja hoodies. Randy stopped going to his parents' church while we were still in high school, but it wasn't until I left home for college that I stopped going to church regularly, and it wasn't until after my grandmother's death that I stopped going for good."
"Stayin' Alive"—The Bee Gees: My favorite line from Saturday Night Fever is when Tony tells a cop "There are ways of killing yourself without killing yourself," one of which is by listening to the Bee Gees.
Theme Music for The Exorcist: This is just appropriate mood music for when you're reading about Native Americans being inadvertently, but systematically, conquered, raped, murdered, and completely decimated.
"Canto el Alabado": This song just kind of goes on and on forever, with the same progression, same melody. But it's hauntingly melancholy and beautiful despite the repetition. It feels like the perfect ending, something bittersweet, something so sad you can barely stand to listen to it, but you can't help yourself.
Jamie Iredell and Last Mass links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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