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December 9, 2015

Book Notes - Marc Weingarten "Thirsty"

Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown

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.

Marc Weingarten's Thirsty is a fascinating and timely look at Los Angeles of the early 20th century and the city's struggle to provide water to its citizens.

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Marc Weingarten's Book Notes music playlist for his book Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown:

I always write with the stereo blasting. I think it has something to do with my Monkey Brain; I can only concentrate on one thing if I'm distracted by something else. I shouldn't say distracted; it helps to keep my inner editor in check. When I write and blast tunes, I can just get on with it, and not be so precious about what I'm writing. I turn the music down when I'm doing revisions.

My previous two books had fairly obvious musical corollaries; one of them, Station to Station, was explicitly about music. For my new book Thirsty, an historical non-fiction book that is set in early 20th century Los Angeles, I had a tougher time finding the right soundtrack. There were some obvious signposts, at least for when the narrative moves into the 1920's: Louis Armstrong, whom I have on fairly regular rotation anyway; Fats Waller, for the same reason. I don't think my protagonist, William Mulholland, was big on Hot Jazz, but I am.

"Potato Head Blues" and "West End Blues" by Louis Armstrong

Armstrong is pretty much my favorite musician of all time. His trumpet tone just blasts out of these records, and he pretty much invented Jazz singing, too. I love all of the Hot Five and Hot Seven sides; I just arbitrarily picked these two favorites. Los Angeles' jazz scene didn't take off until the 50's, really, but Angelenos were certainly high-stepping to Armstrong in the 20s.

"Ain't Misbehavin'" by Fats Waller

Waller was so much more than a consummate entertainer; he was also one of the great stride pianists. And his bands were pretty great, too. Waller's music is pure joy; whenever I felt myself sinking into a morass of writerly self-pity while writing Thirsty, I would just put on some Waller to get my head straight.

"Waltz for Debby" by The Bill Evans Trio

My favorite pianist. No one caresses a melody like Evans. Listening to this track and many others, I feel as if Evans has cracked some code within the melody that only he knows about. His lines are so inventive, so beautiful, that it moves me more than just about any other music I can think of.

"Cool Cool Water" by The Beach Boys.

Because my book is about water, essentially, and there are only a handful of decent pop songs about water. This happens to be a gorgeous song, as well. Brian Wilson was already half out the door by the time the Beach Boys recorded this track for the Sunflower album in 1970, but he did manage to summon up his genius for a track or two during the early 70's. This is one of them.

Astral Weeks by Van Morrison

For me, the closest thing to meditating is listening to Astral Weeks. It always transports me to a serene space. Which is extremely helpful when you're a neurotic, self-doubting writer struggling with the Los Angeles water laws of the early 1900's.

"Poptones" by Public Image Ltd.

I've been going back to Public Image lately for some reason. Perhaps because John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band still sounds like the future to me. Second Edition is one of a handful of sui generis records; it is like nothing else in Rock. Totally demented, grooving, trancey and disturbed.

"King Kunte" by Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar's album To Pimp a Butterfly isn't perfect, but it has moments of perfection. This is one of them. It's just damn funky, and Lamar's flow is dexterous and original. Hip-Hop is by far the most vital genre of this moment. There are a lot of great rappers and producers pushing music forward with sounds we've never really heard before. That's pretty exciting to a middle-aged hipster like me.

Marc Weingarten and Thirsty: William Mulholland, California Water, and the Real Chinatown links:

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Yes Is The Answer: (And Other Prog-Rock Tales)

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

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