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August 31, 2016

Book Notes - "Mississippi Noir"

Mississippi Noir

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.

Mississippi Noir is another outstanding collection of dark and unsettling stories in the Akashic Books series.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Mississippi boasts a notably corrupt state government and the highest rate of poverty in the country. No wonder, then, that area writers have found some pretty nasty stories to tell, several of which are included here: stories about a girl who murders her mother’s live-in boyfriend; a drug dealer who goes to extreme lengths to repay his source; a jilted lover who kills her exlover’s wife; college students who are having their fingers removed. And, of course, stories about sex and rage and white trash. Some of the 16 contributors are appearing in print for the first time, and some big names—Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins, for example—offer fine stories."


In their own words, here is the collaborative Book Notes music playlist by contributors to the short fiction anthology Mississippi Noir:


Mississippi Noir, edited by Tom Franklin, is out now from Akashic Books. Here’s a playlist for all sixteen stories in the book.



Ace Atkins, "Combustible"

Miranda Lambert, "Kerosene"
Waylon Jennings, "Mental Revenge"

A lot of "Combustible" came from the idea of pent-up anger, frustration, and then being set free through revenge. I'm not a big fan of modern country music but Miranda Lambert can be pretty damn noir. "Kerosene" definitely has an angry, Shelby-like vibe to it. And Waylon's "Mental Revenge" is a really gorgeous song with some really mean-spirited lyrics. For me, it sounds like the peace Shelby would have found putting her plan into action. I can see her riding into the sunset with Waylon on the radio. God bless her.


Jimmy Cajoleas, "Lords of Madison County"

Rae Sremmurd, "Look Alive" : Tupelo's finest. A perfect song for right before everything goes wrong.

The Chariot, "Die Interviewer" : Best youth group metal band of all time. From Douglasville, Georgia.

Julien Baker, "Rejoice": Julien's from Memphis, TN and she's pretty much the greatest. This is a song my narrator would really get something out of if he would shut up long enough to listen to it.


RaShell Smith-Spears, "Losing Her Religion"

Atlantic Starr, "Secret Lovers": This song tells the story of two people in an adulterous affair, attempting to evade detection. Although it is about something as ugly as deception and betrayal, it has a sweet melody that speaks to an existing charm and beauty in the feelings between the couple.

Alanis Morissette, "You Oughta Know": I believe this song captures the anger and murderous rage of Jada as she deals with abandonment and as she realizes that the feelings she had for lover were not reciprocated.


William Boyle, "Most Things Haven’t Worked Out"

Junior Kimbrough, "Most Things Haven’t Worked Out": Where this story started for me. Junior Kimbrough is a big part of the reason I wanted to be in Mississippi. I followed his sound. I started spending a lot of time in Holly Springs when my wife got work there. The music matched the place. The story thundered from me with this as my soundtrack.

Tom Waits, "Little Drop of Poison": Who knows how a place can creep up on you better than Tom Waits? Holly Springs could be the setting of a ‘70s crime film. I hear this song when I think about the beautiful destitution and the low rumble of the town.

Larry Brown, "Don’t Let the Door": One of my favorite novelists and short story writers. His words are another big reason why I wanted to be in North Mississippi. You can hear in this song all the dark humor that defines his work and this place.


Mary Miller, "Uphill"

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, "Can’t Hold Us": "Uphill" is fiction but the guy it’s based on is real. One day we were riding around in his boss’s truck (not going to kill anybody at all) and he played Macklemore for me. At the time, I’d never heard of him. I didn’t like it. Macklemore is a good guy pretending to be bad and the guy in the story is a bad guy pretending to be good or they’re both bad guys who think they’re good . . . or something. Anyhow, Macklemore still sucks but this is the first song that comes to mind.

Chris Isaak, "Blue Hotel": At the end of "Uphill," the narrator finds herself alone in a hotel room waiting for her boyfriend to return so this song is pretty on the nose. It goes like this: "Blue Hotel, on a lonely highway / Blue Hotel, life don’t work out my way / I wait alone each lonely night / Blue Hotel . . . / Blue Hotel . . . / Blah, blah, blah / The night is like her lonely dream." It’s repetitive in a way that is very much like this character’s situation. I found this song on a site that listed the thirteen best songs about hotels. Apparently it was a hit in France.


Jamie Paige, "Boy and Girl Games Like Coupling"

Van Morrison, "The Way Young Lovers Do": There is a clear disconnect between two young lovers in my story in terms of how they see their relationship—one has the typical romantic ideals and the other regards the world with a brutality that cannot be denied. Still, they stick together. Maybe there is hope for romance and room in the universe for hearts and stars after all.


Megan Abbott, "Oxford Girl"

Almeda Riddle, "The Oxford Girl" : My story, "Oxford Girl," is inspired directly by a particularly haunting English murder ballad with multiple lyrical variations dating back at least until the 1820s and possibly as far back as the 17th century. Other variations include the more famous "Knoxville Girl." I found this beautiful recording by Almeda Riddle at the John Quincy Wolf Folklore Collection at Lyon College and listened to it throughout the writing of the story.


Michael Kardos, "Digits"

April March, "Chick Habit": Were I to be truthful about the soundwaves snaking from computer to headphone to my ears as I wrote "Digits," I would say that the compositional soundtrack to my story is the "Water Stream Noise Generator" at mynoise.net with the lows and highs raised and the mids lowered, thus drowning out the ubiquitous coffee shop songs and conversations and espresso machines. Trust me, water stream noise beats white noise any day of the week. But were I to suggest a song that best complements the story’s mood and tone, then I would have to say "Chick Habit," written by Serge Gainsbourg as "Laisse tomber les filles" and recorded by April March (born Elinor Blake), as featured in Quentin Tarantino’s Death Proof—reason being, it’s 46% fun and 54% creepy. Evidence? Look no further than this lyric: "You're gonna need a heap of glue / when they all catch up with you / and they cut you up in two."


Andrew Paul, "Moonface":

Blind Willie Johnson, "If I Had My Way I'd Tear the Building Down": I just want my stories to have half as much emotion as Johnson's voice. There's such an anger in this song, Johnson can't even seem to finish his sentences sometimes. The title says it all, pretty much, and I think it applies to each character in "Moonface" in its own way.

Kinky Friedman, "They Ain't Makin' Jews Like Jesus Anymore": My dad used to play this for me as a kid, around the time he was converting to Judaism. Always in the back of my mind.

The White Stripes, "Offend in Every Way": Great song about a crippling sense of inadequacy, which I think is pretty applicable to a lot of my writing. And when that piano kicks in on the chorus—there's nothing better.


Dominiqua Dickey, "God's Gonna Trouble the Water":


Billie Holiday, "God Bless the Child": This song speaks to me in terms of family, loss, and need. "God's Gonna Trouble the Water" explores the interesting, confusing, and somewhat dysfunctional relationships between mothers and daughters, lovers, and that which cannot be clearly defined. Protagonist Elnora May Hardin may believe that she "has her own" and is doing just fine, but then Cissy comes knocking and reveals that there is one blessing Elnora truly craves to claim.

Lena Horne, "Stormy Weather": Dark clouds and heavy rain beg to be considered a supporting character in "God's Gonna Trouble the Water," and by the end of the story, their presence delivers a significant impact. While the lyrics emphasize the ending of a romantic relationship and how that feels like "it's raining all the time," the dynamics in my short story differ but the sense of sadness and disappointment hang low over Elnora and those closest to her. This song also defines Cissy and Graham Lee, who because of bigotry and racism cannot be together in the way that they wish. The darkness of the time period produces stormy weather that offers little relief for a couple whose main desire is to love each other and be a family.


Lee Durkee, "My Dear, My One True Love"

"Handcuffed to a Fence in Mississippi" by Jim White: a demented and homicidal love song to Mississippi by a fellow cab driver.  Also by Jim White: "The Wound that Never Heals," a tribute to crazy lovers.


Michael Farris Smith, "Hero"

Drivin N Cryin, "Straight to Hell": While "Hero" begins with the gritty life of living across the tracks, this song has the perfect opening lines to match, with "I grew up just west of the tracks…" And then both the song and story deal with a wayward and abandoned youth, and it all feels like it’s going straight to hell.

Drive-By Truckers, "Hell No I Ain't Happy": I just love the dirty guitars of the Drive-By Truckers and this song is not lacking. A powerful chorus where you just feel the sense of being sick and damn tired of everything, and that's the battle going on in "Hero," where the next minute might be worse that the one before.


John Floyd, "Pit Stop"

The Viscounts, "Harlem Nocturne": I like this one because it evokes a noir-like mood of mystery and suspense.

Willie Nelson, "On the Road Again": I think this works because the story also has a lighthearted side, and the characters are, after all, on a road trip.

Charles Gounod, "Funeral March of a Marionette": This piece, also used as the longtime theme for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, seems to combine "spooky" and "quirky," both of which I think apply to this story.


Robert Busby, "Anglers of the Keep"

Drive-By Truckers, "Your Daddy Hates Me": Most of my stories are either near-plagiarisms of or—at the least—are inspired by a Drive-By Truckers anthem. It’s a bit on the nose, but "Your Daddy Hates Me" pairs well with "Anglers of the Keep" because much of the inadequacy and regret expressed in the song parallel Topher’s own remorse and desperation for some opportunity for repentance—both from Erin, his ex-wife, and Lafayette, his former father-in-law: "I know your Daddy hates me and I got a room in hell reserved / I know he wants to kill me and it’s the least that I deserve… / You always knew I was a screw up, long before I screwed us up…And I always loved your Daddy, I loved your Mama even more / And I always loved their daughter, that’s for sure."

Johnny Cash, "I Hung My Head" (written by Sting): Jebb’s brother shoots "a lone rider / crossing the plain" after his "brother’s rifle / went off in [his] hand." Lafayette has also committed accidental manslaughter but within a context even more heinous. It’s not "the gallows / up on a hill," but on his way to a lung transplant surgery, Lafayette’s mortality and the question of where his soul will land seem just as imminent and urgent.

Theme Song to Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist: This was one of the first computer games I ever played. The game was released the year before the actual ice storm that provides the backdrop for "Anglers of the Keep." I was nine, I think. Don’t remember if it was the floppy disk or CD-ROM version. I do remember a lot of fart jokes. Anyway, Freddy Pharkas is a former gunslinger-turned-nineteenth-century pharmacist. Lafayette is a retired pharmacist who inadvisably still carries around a gun after going to prison for manslaughter. Both were shot in the ear. My father is also a pharmacist. His ear has never been shot.


Jack Pendarvis, "Jerry Lewis"

Jerry Lewis, "By Myself": Here's a noir clip. It's Jerry Lewis in The Delicate Delinquent. The name of my story is "Jerry Lewis," that's the connection. And I'm pretty sure there's a cat in this movie. Just look at that alley! And there's a cat in my story. And here's Jerry Lewis almost doing a hardboiled voiceover, except it's a beautifully self-pitying song, "By Myself," a noir mission statement. I like when Jerry cranks it up to the old Hollywood warble, but I especially love the first part where it's all in his head, like Olivier did his Hamlet soliloquies. JUST LIKE IT! Listen how his voice breaks. Wasn't Philip Marlowe always by himself? I mean, not later on. But the Continental Op was. Mike Hammer had Velma, until he didn't. You know who Walter Neff had. Jerry has nobody. Just look at him. It's his first picture without Dean.


Chris Offutt, "Cheap Suitcase and a New Town"

Bob Dylan, "Mississippi": "I was raised in the country / I been working in the town / I been in trouble ever since / I set my suitcase down." This song describes Betsy's life in the story. It also describes mine.

Billy Grammer, "Gotta Travel On"
"I've laid around and played around / This old town too long / And I feel like I gotta travel on." No matter where Betsy goes, she eventually feels this way. One day she hopes she'd find a home. She tells herself she's not running away but running toward. She never asks herself what is the difference between the two.

Lucinda Williams, "Side of the Road"
"If only for a minute or two / I wanna see what it feels like to be without you / I wanna know the touch of my own skin / Against the sun, against the wind." Betsy invariably chooses the wrong man, or maybe they choose her. Either way, she knows early she'll have to leave soon. She's not ready to go yet, but needs to get a sense of being alone, again.


Mississippi Noir links:

Biloxi Sun Herald review
Kirkus review
Library Journal review
New York Daily News review

Mississippi Edition interview with editor Tom Franklin
Oxford eagle profile of editor Tom Franklin


also at Largehearted Boy:

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