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November 6, 2015

Book Notes - Freda Love Smith "Red Velvet Underground"

Red Velvet Underground

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.

Freda Love Smith's Red Velvet Underground is appropriately subtitled "A Rock Memoir, with Recipes." The former Blake Babies drummer's stories of food, music, and family resonate with warmth and humility.

Juliana Hatfiled wrote of the book:

"These are sweet, unsentimental scenes from the ever-evolving life of a woman of many shifting and balancing roles: mother, wife, drummer, student, teacher, friend, daughter, food enthusiast. It’s all tied together with tantalizing recipes that have been lovingly improvised and tweaked into a life-affirming doneness."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.


In her own words, here is Freda Love Smith's Book Notes music playlist for her memoir Red Velvet Underground:


Red Velvet Underground is a fusion of cookbook and memoir, framed around a year of cooking lessons I did with my oldest son. Music is as integral to the story as food, and there's a soundtrack that flows through the book, from the Velvet Underground cassette tape that I listened to obsessively during my first bakery job, to the Midwestern punk bands that shaped my teenage identity, to the postpunk bands that first inspired me to be a musician, to the influential Boston bands of the late "80s, where I found myself part of a vibrant college rock scene. Later in the story, music reconnects me to the Midwest and helps express my identity as a grown-up and parent. The soundtrack is punctuated throughout with tracks from my own evolving musical efforts, from my first band, the Blake Babies, to the band of my heart, The Mysteries of Life.

"I'm Waiting For The Man" - The Velvet Underground

Lou Reed changed everything for me. I grew up in Bloomington, Indiana, a small Midwestern college town, and Lou's persona—dark, dangerous, sexy, and so New York—told me, at the age of 17, that I had much to learn, a few things to be afraid of, and a lot to look forward to.

"The Midwest Can Be Alright" - The Gizmos

The Indiana punk bands that meant the most to me were the Gizmos and the Zero Boys. I recall the moment when—living in Boston and feeling overwhelmed and homesick—I fully appreciated the lyric, "I like the Midwest because it's fun to feel young."

"Shaking Through" - R.E.M.

Remember how startling and fresh this record sounded when it came out? I have a chapter in my book that's largely a love letter to Athens in the "80s.

"Bastards Of Young" - The Replacements

Before the Blake Babies formed in full, Juliana and I would meet and play songs in my studio apartment in Boston. When we learned that The Replacements, our favorite band, had booked all-ages shows at The Living Room in Providence and The Channel in Boston, we started learning Replacements songs and recording them on her boombox. We gave the sole cassette tape to Paul Westerberg at the Providence show.

"Steamie Gregg" - Blake Babies

An easily overlooked track, "Steamie Gregg" came back to my attention recently when Robbie Fulks singled it out as "unguarded." I fell in love with Juliana's singing the first time she opened her mouth and sang in my presence, in her Berklee College of Music dorm room in 1986. Unguarded is the perfect word.

"Different Drum" - The Lemonheads

Evan Dando has written some truly great songs, so why choose a recording of a cover? For one thing, there's my lifelong adoration of "Different Drum", a feeling I've bonded over with select songwriters (including Evan). For another, there's the way Evan allows himself to let loose and soar when he's singing someone else's stuff. This recording explodes with talent and promise.

"Tugboat" - Galaxie 500

When Galaxie 500 hit the scene I instantly felt overeager and lame. My friend Steve Michener, from Big Dipper (another amazing Boston band) observed of bass player Naomi Yang's stage presence that she appeared to be waiting for the bus. They didn't have to try hard—Galaxie were effortlessly cool and their songs were minimalist masterpieces.

"White Elephant" - Volcano Suns

I write in my book about being underage and determined to get into the Rathskeller in Kenmore Square to see the Volcano Suns, the most exciting band in Boston at the time. I had a driver's license with a photo that didn't remotely resemble me, so I wore a wig and a ton of makeup and it worked, I got in. "White Elephant" might be their most epic and perfect song.

"Lord Can You Hear Me?" - Spacemen 3

I am a sucker for this glorious, druggy spaciousness. I will always associate Spacemen 3 with my brief, happy stint working for Jimmy Johnson at Forced Exposure Magazine, during which time I was exposed to artists that remain among my favorites—The Bats, Michael Hurley, and Spacemen most of all. Later, the band was a primary reference for Antenna. A typical Antenna set might include four or five Spacemen covers. That was fun. For us.

"There's a Family" - The Vulgar Boatmen

After the Gizmos left Bloomington, moved to Hoboken, and broke up, Dale Lawrence returned to Indiana and formed a band called Right to Left which eventually—in collaboration with film professor Robert Ray—became The Vulgar Boatmen. The Vulgar Boatmen played at my wedding. Later, my husband became their bass player. My kids call Dale "Uncle Dale." So I can't claim a lack of bias, but I am wont to scream like a teenage Beatles fan when The Boatmen play at Schubas in Chicago. They are everything a band should be.

"I'll Trade You Money For Wine" - Robbie Fulks

Soon after I moved to Evanston, my current home, a friend from Indiana urged me to get out and see Robbie Fulks. He was positive I'd be a fan. "Yeah," I said, "but that would mean I'd have to leave the house." My early years in Evanston were lonely and almost entirely bereft of music. But one night Fulks was playing a benefit right down the street and a friend offered me a ticket. He loped onto stage, said something goofy, and launched into "I'll Trade You Money For Wine." What the fucking hell? I thought. Everything about that performance was riveting. Robbie has an ongoing Monday night residency at The Hideout in Chicago, and I joined the regulars there, in awe week after week. Some months later he asked me to do a Monday with him—we played mostly Blake Babies songs! It was the first time I'd drummed in eight years. Now I'm playing again. But that's not why I love this song.

"Naive Melody" - The Mysteries of Life

The Mysteries of Life is my band with my partner Jake and a revolving lineup of musicians including Kenny Childers from Gentleman Caller. Jake recently introduced this song before we played it at a party by saying, "This is our favorite love song." Yep.


Freda Love Smith and Red Velvet Underground links:

the author's blog
excerpt from the book
excerpt from the book

Library Journal review
Under the Radar review

Earth Eats interview with the author
Huffington Post interview with the author
Rolling Spoon 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

Online "Best of 2015" Book Lists

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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