March 28, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Ashley Warlick's The Arrangement is a fascinating reimagining of M.F.K. Fisher's life.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Stellar... It’s a treat to find such a beautifully written treatment of love in its different forms amid M.F.K. Fisher's tale of unlikely success."
I do listen to music while I write, often the same album over and over, until it becomes texture rather than sound, a thing to focus me. I don't think I'm very unique in that, amongst writers or inmates or penitents either. Previous books have all had their unlikely soundtracks: Mary Chapin Carpenter, Tom Waits' Small Change, Palace Music. In general, single albums played again and again and again.
What happens when you write something for the better part of a decade is that the trick wears thin. You get really, really sick of the draft, the desk, and most of all, whatever damn song is playing. So I skipped around more than ever before. The Arrangement was different, too, in that it's set in the 1930s, in Los Angeles and Europe, a landscape as lost to us as the Jurassic. Music was something of a moody tool to make scenes with.
Here's a selection of the decade's greatest hits:
"The Things We Did and Didn't Do," The Magnetic Fields— Basically the whole book could be scored by Stephen Merritt and I would happily just stretch out on the rug and listen for three days straight. This song, "Busby Berkley's Dreams," "The Book Of Love"— all so off-center romantic, so lovely and lush in their own weird and rather timeless ways.
"A Record Year for Rainfall," The Decemberists— This is one of those songs that I can catch in my phrasing, certain lines that made it all the way to the book, or knocked around in scenes for four or five drafts to be cut away in the end, even though I can still hear them in the space that's left behind. In particular: “temper set for tender,” and “to remember you in the entire.” There's something so old-school, loosened-tie-and-dinner-jacket suggestive about remembering someone in the entire. The entire what, darling?
"A Little Sugar in My Bowl," Nina Simone— This is song is sexy like a woman on her third martini. There's not much guessing to be done here. It's a song with some layers to it for me though, as I came to Nina Simone late in life, after college, when my best friend began dating a woman who liked to have Nina Simone playing in the bedroom. She was the sort of woman who called him “Captain” in private, and that's about the only thing I know about what all they did in private, which would have been the first time he kept anything private. Which some twenty-five years later, still makes me blush a little bit. Or something like that.
"Let's Dance," M. Ward— This version is the kind of reimagining I love, in that it takes something that was once dialed up high with teenage angst and middle school electricity, and makes it soft and romantic and sad and even a little eerie. The way the chorus resolves sweetly, instead of racing towards hysterical the way it does in Bowie's hands. Plus, dancing. My mom always said she that's what she thought you did on dates from a childhood of growing up with Hollywood musicals, you danced and you sang to each other.
"Calgary," Bon Iver— The summer this album was released, it stayed in my headphones constantly. The line here is “one piece swimmer stuck to you.” It's just so tactile. There's a moment in The Arrangement when Mary Frances offers her husband an afternoon swim, and it's kind of an olive branch, a possible distraction from the blackness that's swamping him, the best she can offer at the time. That swimmer, that suit sticking, that physical reveal became part of how I saw it.
"Romance In the Dark," Dinah Washington— The sway of this song is just bone-deep powerful. But too, I think Dinah does a perfect job of getting at the isolation, the privacy that makes for a really passionate love affair. The darkness encapsulates. “It's just you and I. There's not a sound, and there's not one sigh. There's just the beat of my poor heart…”
"Late Night Grande Hotel," Nancy Griffith— When I was a kid, and we'd get dressed up, my dad used to tell us we looked like Greta Garbo. Which was just a thing to say, of course— no real live girl ever looked like Greta Garbo, but there's this tender overlay of an extended compliment when I hear this song. And late night, lonesome hotels go with love triangles like peanut butter and jelly.
"Old Perfume," Weeping Tile— One of the things I became fascinated with while writing The Arrangement was the perfume reviews of Chandler Burr in T magazine. It's so hard to describe sensory experiences. It was something Fisher was gifted at, and Burr in another, more fabulous, florid way. The description that sticks with me was a gentlemen's scent where "the tar and smoke were transformed into a fascinating manliness with a touch of engine oil, like the cold air clinging to a leather-clad guy who's just dismounted his Moto Guzzi in December." Do I know what a Moto Guzzi is? Do I wear perfume myself? I don't have to.
"Another One Goes By," The Walkmen— Again, this is a song that just physically sways you. And that drive of piano keys pushing forward… This is less like the private world Dinah Washington makes and more about taking up your own space, spreading out, that last summer of freedom for Tim and Mary Frances before the war, before the leg, before it all began to come apart.
"Lived in Bars," Cat Power— I listened to this album a lot at the beginning of writing The Arrangement. This song sticks for the throaty bedroom quality of her voice, and the table dancing. I always knew there'd be a table-dancing scene in this book.
"Work Hard, Play Hard," Palace Music— And this is the song that makes me want to make something. Every time I hear it, and for the past 20 years, it just makes me want to write. I hope that feeling never wears thin.
Ashley Warlick and The Arrangement links:
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
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Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
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weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)