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May 11, 2016

Book Notes - Michelle Latiolais "She"


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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Michelle Latiolais's short fiction collection She offers a stark and moving portrait of Los Angeles through the lives of diverse women.

Shelf Awareness wrote of the book:

"Effectively weaving stories among chapters of a novella, Michelle Latiolais displays a keen eye for the human flotsam and jetsam of greater Los Angeles."

In her own words, here is Michelle Latiolais's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection She:

4'33" by John Cage

With respect to the writing of She, there is John Cage's 4'33" and any denomination of that piece. In other words, I do not listen to anything when I'm writing but my own multi-car-crash of a mind that I try to stopper up with earplugs in order to subdue into a state of silence within which to . . . listen . . . to myself, to my thoughts, my perceptions, my revisions and refinements of those.

Michael Jaime-Becerra has created a playlist for the piece "Out." Michael wrote the marvelous story collection Every Night Is Ladies Night and the fine novel This Time Tomorrow, a novel about work, in fact, work is always in Michael's writing, the dignity of work.

"Alone Again Or" by Love from Forever Changes

"Out" perfectly captures mid-city Los Angeles at dusk, that time when day surrenders to night, the slipperiness between light and dark. This is what I've always heard in Love's music and in this song in particular, with the tension between Arthur Lee's volatile eccentricity and Bryan MacLean's delicate, flamenco-style guitar. And I'm now reminded further of Lee--his firing a handgun into the ceiling of his apartment, a sentence of twelve years, incarceration for six, on the same three-strikes law mentioned in the story. I offer this as a starter, aware that it may be too on-the-nose and yet feeling unable to resist how it fits.

"Crazy Chickens Entrance" uploaded to YouTube by "spindles"


No piece of music quite captures the intense spectacle of masked Mexican wrestling better than this. Played when the Crazy Chickens, two wrestlers in black rooster costumes, make their entrance to the ring, this is chicken squawks backed with an unrelenting techno thump, loud enough to make ears ring, so penetrating that one's bones might vibrate.

And then Lil' Chicken emerges from the crowd, half-sized, baby chick mask and yellow fluff feathering from his arms. Uncoiled and tumbling, over the top rope and onto a turnbuckle. The audience swells with approval and the music meets this burst of energy by shifting into an even higher, more frenetic gear.

"Las mujeres mandan" by Paquita la del Barrio from Las mujeres mandan

Paquita says the women call the shots. Over more than four decades she's been singing these sorts of songs, with lyrics to poke any machos square in the chest. Were I fortunate enough to tag along on the night in this story, with this group of women, a night in downtown Los Angeles full of wrestling and danger dogs, lunch-truck tacos and cross-dressing burlesque, this is music I'd happily expect to hear.

"Me atrapaste" by Los Matematicos from Los Nuggetz: '60s [sic] Garage and Psych from Latin America

Lucha VaVoom's DJs love "refritos," Spanish-language covers of American or British rock and roll hits, and an encounter with the Crazy Chickens and Chupacabra would be incomplete without them. Los Shain's [sic], Los Locos del Ritmo, Los Apson, Los Ovnis, Los Salvajes... the list of groups goes on and on! This one, a reworking of "You Really Got Me" by the Kinks, takes on a darker cast. Where the original plays around with lust, this Spanish reinterpretation shapes itself around the idea of being caught, the sense of being ensnared, and regards love as tortuous, incomprehensible confusion.

"Paloma negra" (Live at Arena Monterrey, 2012) by Jenni Rivera; uploaded to YouTube by Noé Araiza

There are a few different versions of Jenni Rivera's re-appropriation of this ranchera standard. This one, with full banda accompaniment rather than mariachi, is from her final concert, (just hours before the plane crash that would take her life), and is perhaps the best. The performance is marked by a sense of worldly anguish, tears shed as she sings about wanting to be free of a troubled romance, the audience filling in the occasional verse, partly because they know the song, mostly because they love her.

Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth with Edin Karamazov, lutenist

During the time around the writing of She, I listened to Sting's Songs from the Labyrinth that my sister had given me in which Sting sings music composed by John Dowland whose dates are 1563 to 1626. Sting also reads a letter that Dowland wrote, a very plaintive letter, lamenting the fact that he's been passed over by the Queen for some role at court, or he wants the appointment but probably won't get it, something like that, but it's also the heart of an artist keening. And who keens better than Sting?! And who isn't a keening artist if one has hopes.

The Last Castrato: Complete Vatican Recordings, Alessandro Moreschi

The Last Castrato: Complete Vatican Recordings was something my husband Paul Davis found and played for me, and "that" is sound hard to shake, hard to forget, and even harder to qualify. I thank Ismet Prcic (Shards) for the phrase "nut sack," and, well, one is aware listening to this a cappella music that more is missing than just instrumentation. In writing "Consecrated Ground," this . . . let's call it phenomenon was very much in my mind's ear, this unnerving sound. Paul would play this for company occasionally and more often than not, people would beg to have him turn it off.

The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady Charles Mingus

There are several sections of "She," and Mingus is all through it. I grew up listening to a contrabass being played, and Mingus' incandescent originality is a gift to any ear listening for license.

Verklarte Nacht by Arnold Schoenberg, (Transfigured Night) Op. 4 for string sextet

This is music that, as I understand it, does all sorts of things it wasn't supposed to when it was written. I heard all of that eery and stark dissonance as She walks around Los Angeles at night, walking, walking, walking—Schoenberg! But there's discovery and beauty, hard-won beauty, in that music, too. It ain't gonna leave you alone, and it may seriously underscore your aloneness, but it takes you places, enters those places, doesn't lie to you.

"Why'd Ya Do It?" by Marianne Faithfull

She arrives at a billboard and gazes at it across Santa Monica Boulevard in the night sky. That defiant anger of Marianne Faithfull in that song (and others!), "why'd you spit on my snatch," being just one of the lines—I hear that in my mind's ear, and I wrote a passage which is just shy, I hope just shy, of so not working. I felt we had to hear She's anger, but we couldn't turn it off, or turn away, or subdue it, either.

You Must Believe in Spring by Bill Evans

She helps out in an art gallery for an evening, and it's perhaps the first time that she's ever heard instrumentalized music. She's grown up in a fundamentalist church that doesn't allow anything but the human voice in praise of God, and maybe even the human voice is in contention. Bill Evans, always Bill Evans, that piano is so elemental it seems to me, the sounds of what matters most.

Tschaikovsky's 1880 Serenade for Strings in C, Opus 48,

Serenade is a ballet by George Balanchine set to Tschaikovsky's 1880 Serenade for Strings in C, Opus 48. I was having trouble with my readers on the story "Dogs," with respect to the dancer in the story. My friend the wonderfully surreal poet Molly Bendall told me to use the ballet Serenade by Balanchine to enliven the dancer's character. She's corps de ballet and wants to be corps de ballet; she has never ever wanted to be principal dancer or a prima ballerina; she's grown up with all the alpha dogs and none for her! But I was having this aspect of her rejected, "every ballet dancer wants to be a prima ballerina." Molly Bendall told me Serenade' s a ballet choreographed for the corps de ballet, and so it was perfect, and the music is sublime, too, very moving, and very sad, and then very hopeful, busy, and then rather sweepingly resolute. I took a little poetic license and used the blue moonlight of the stage to mimic the weird dark light of an x-ray of her bad knee.

"That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" by Lyle Lovett from The Road to Ensenada

Lyle Lovett's song "That's Right (You're Not From Texas)" is an interesting song, and of course it's been used commercially up the wazoo, but it's better than that . . . or maybe not. But after I'd written "Spa," I felt a little bad about my character being so nasty about the Texans at this wedding in Colorado and so I thought I'd write something a little less pointed, something that got at that pride and sense of belonging that Texans exhibit. "Hospital" has lots of Lyle Lovett playing through it, but what you hear as you read is the loudspeaker calling out the names of family members, those who belong to patients being operated upon.

"All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)" by Hank Williams, Jr.

Please know I'm not suggesting anyone listen to the music I was thinking about in "Spa," though line dancing is very fun. "Achy Breaky Heart" by Billy Ray Cyrus makes me run screaming, but the phenomenon of that song, and of line dancing, well that was in the first half of "Spa." "All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down)" by Hank Williams, Jr., "Footloose" by Kenny Loggins—there's lots of line dancing songs.

Scarlatti Sonatas, Mark Swartzentruber, piano

A sonata by Domenico Scarlatti is playing on the radio tuned to the classical station in the office in "Dentist." I'm not sure I had one particular sonata in mind, but rather that fidgety, fussy quirky music—that unapologetically audacious abruptness that Scarlatti sonatas have, sort of sternly joyous even . . . that was my dentist, or what I was hearing him listen to, and be hesitant to turn off. In fact, if I remember correctly, he turns it up so that he doesn't have to hear his next patient talk at him from the waiting room. Do I dare say this is all very amusing to me? I think Scarlatti can sound officious, too, and my dentist is officious, though he would be loath to think of himself that way.

Michelle Latiolais and She links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Shelf Awareness review

also at Largehearted Boy:

Largehearted Boy's 2016 Fundraiser

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