November 17, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The stories in Odie Lindsey's collection We Come to Our Senses are startlingly poignant but also very readable, filled with depictions of American veterans in the American south.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Lindsey writes with quiet confidence and sometimes arch humor that invites comparison to Ben Fountain and Phil Klay but that wouldn't displease Flannery O'Connor. Superb atmospherics coupled with arresting story lines."
I was introduced to narrative in 1975, care of my dad's vinyl copy of Red Headed Stranger; my mid-80s were defined by the aggressive micro-fictions of hardcore punk. These influences blurred in 1991, on the Iraqi-Saudi border, when a fellow Desert Storm troop gave me a cassette dub of Uncle Tupelo's No Depression. That mash—country and punk, passive and aggressive—plays out in much of We Come to Our Senses, with a particular focus on militarism and gender, and the compulsion to tear into both.
Though music is my undercurrent, I can't play anything while writing. Still, I often pivot from listening straight into typing. Sometimes, I even sing my drafts—a terrorizing affair.
Loretta/Conway: "As Soon as I Hang Up the Phone"
Partisans: "Blind Ambition"
What matters is the wailing, "Oh no" Loretta issues after Conway confirms his love for another. My character, Evie, feels this anguish, only she holds it in. The narrator of "Blind Ambition" has tried, and failed, to fit in. The result—"Beat me up if it pleases you"—brings a defiant strain of resignation. This, too, echoes Evie's state.
Hem: "When I Was Drinking"
I was marooned in LA when this song came out (2002). One of Bukowski's fabled dives, Boardner's, had just been rehabbed/returned to its upscale origins—yet everybody still hyped it care of seedy-ass Buk. "When I Was Drinking" throws this same, backwards, poetic sheen on ruin, and was a vibe I went for with "Darla": one partner moves forward while the other ruts in intoxication, and, mostly, nostalgia.
So Bored in Nashville
Flatlanders: "Tonight, I think I'm Gonna Go Downtown"
This song deals with sad hearts, and the search for meaning…as delivered by Jimmie Dale Gilmore's trancelike warble, in duet with a musical saw. My narrator—a young man who spends his last night before deployment facing the fuck up of having enlisted—echoes the song's claim of not being able to find truth until it's too late.
Don Williams: "Good Ole Boys Like Me"
The narrator in "Chicks" refuses to abandon his paternalist, old-school notion of the South…and it costs him everything. On the flipside, Don Williams' narrator does abandon his "washed in the blood" southern boyhood, yet still winds up in a no man's land of identity. To echo the song's central concern: what do you do with that?
Billy Holiday: "Strange Fruit"
In "Clean," I wanted to fuse sexual identity—and related homosexual panic—to the race-based violence, fear, and terrorism so associated with the southern and American past.
Pretenders: "Tattooed Love Boys"
Wrath, truth, innocence, horror, mob mentality. A 7/16 time signature. The sexual abuse found in Hynde's lyrics echoes the plague of related, military behavior I want the book to bring up. The story's final sentence—"We depart"—communes with the song's last lyric: "You are that."
Bird (on back)
Bobby Charles: "Small Town Talk"
The song, like the story, deals with a couple trying to "live together" in a space where people "can't stand to see you / being who you are." In the story, however, the narrator's consolation-speak is of no importance to his partner.
In the Alley That Runs Behind My Rotted Clapboard Apartment House There Are Sick Cats
Neil Young: "Pocahontas"
Gentrification, colonialism, and the hiccup of criticizing from inside a bubble of privilege. "In the Alley" questions whether you can make change from within a space of power, or if you're simply selling out. Neil Young, Pocohontas, Marlon Brando…and my narrator.
Stanley Brothers: "Rank Strangers"
Like Colleen, a veteran who redeploys to rural north Mississippi, the song's narrator comes home to an alien landscape, where "no mother, nor dad, not a friend could I see."
Jessie Mae Hemphill: "She Wolf"
You shouldn't write north Mississippi without trance blues. From Jessie Mae's family legacy to her mastery of guitar, fife, snare and bass drum, boogie and holler and snarl, she was royalty. And she died alone in a goddamned rotting trailer.
Ruth Welcome: "La Golondrina"
The zither echoes the feel of this story: spacey, hopeful, yet at times, distorted. In the original song, a bird and the narrator caretake each other while suffering an inability to be home. This theme girds the entire book.
Doug Sahm: "I Want To Be Your Mama Again"
Beyond the lovely gender twist (a male misses being a partner's "mama"), is the creepy narrator who is always there, yet never-to-be-found. In "Pickle," a tyrannical father's presence looms largest after his death…spurring his children through dysfunctional sibling rivalry.
Jovanotti: "Stella Cometa"
When living in Umbria, I learned basic Italian from overdubbed Friends episodes, then moved to song lyrics. "You are a field of melancholy / When I'm not with you, you are a field of sweetest fruits." My story "Wall" pursues a kindred resignation: distance is critical to a relationship.
We Come to Our Senses
Woodstock Mountain Review: "Killing the Blues"
Aretha Franklin: "Tracks of My Tears"
The former claims that "There is nothing sadder than losing yourself in love." Agreed.
A digitized copy of Aretha's Soul '69, vinyl pops and all, is one of 3 albums stored on my old phone. Now and again I'll let those tiny speakers loose. The album never fails to waylay.
D. Garcia Brings the War
Conway/Loretta: "I've Already Loved You in My Mind"
It's not fair to pin my beloved Conway and Loretta to a story provoked by photos from Abu Ghraib. Yet "D. Garcia," like the song, is about the dark propriety of the mind: the idea that just thinking about something makes it pursuable, consummate, a done deal—reality or morality be damned.
Uncle Tupelo, "Graveyard Shift"
Jerry Jeff Walter, "Some Go Home"
These tunes bookend my 1991 deployment. In the desert, the former led me back to the music I'd grown up with. After redeploying to Tennessee, war-sick and uncertain, I dug up Jerry Jeff's "Some Go Home," in which "A soldier rides on a train from Tennessee" and makes up stories. Seemed like a good plan.
Odie Lindsey and We Come to Our Senses 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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