February 27, 2017
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Activism and love are the themes of Susan DeFreitas's stunning debut novel Hot Season.
Cari Luna wrote of the book:
"Hot Season, Susan DeFreitas's finely wrought debut novel, explores the charged terrain where the youthful search for identity meets environmental activism and the romantic, illicit lure of direct action. A compelling book."
My debut novel, Hot Season, is a coming-of-age story set at a college known for its radical politics. Over the course of the book—which the Portland Mercury called "activist lit [that] gets it right"—we spend time with punks and hippies at the local anarchist infoshop, go bar hopping in a bona fide Wild West town (the book is set in Arizona), and chill with the students and working poor of the barrio.
Needless to say, the book has a soundtrack, and it's not one you're liable to hear on your local Clear Channel affiliate.
As the book opens, we meet Katie, a child of East Coast privilege who's decided to flip the script on parental expectations by moving across the country to Deep Canyon College. Despite her bravado, she's terrified—not only of the big move she's made but of the fact that she wants to be an artist. Late at night, she smears paint on canvas and listens to Gillian Welch, whose "husky whiskey voice and raw clawhammer banjo had sustained [her] through bouts of heartache and homesickness and crushing self-doubt that semester."
Hot Season revolves around three college roommates—Katie, Jenna, and Rell—two of whom are single and one of whom is unhappily coupled. It's girls' night out, and guess who's going to get hit on first?
Like my characters, I went to college in a small mountain town (Prescott, AZ), and the local bar scene was not rife with electrifying live music, nor were there a whole lot of reasons to throw off those Carhardtts and puffy coats for something a bit more festive. Funk night at Coyote Joe's was an excuse for all of us ladies to don the most outrageous outfits imaginable and get down like James Brown. Hearts were broken, relationships sparked, and, I'm sure, children conceived.
Rell, the protagonist of Hot Season, was recently dumped by her trustafarian boyfriend, which forced her to move out of his pimped-out cabin in the mountains and into something a bit more affordable. That something turns out to be a room the size of a shoebox in a janky old rattrap in the barrio, a neighborhood that comes with itw own soundtrack.
I grew up in a farm town where Hispanic migrant workers come each year to pick the crops; for me, there is a sense of familiarity in the sound of ranchera, the "country music" of Mexico, nortena in particular. With its polka-like bass line and overwrought emotional lyrics, nortena is the opposite of intimidating—but for Katie's high-strung mother, who's dropped in out of the blue to check out her daughter's new digs, it's as alarming as the most aggressive of gangsta rap.
Back in the prologue, Katie met a nice older gentlemen who happened to have founded The Black Cat, Crest Top's anarchist infoshop. By the time this chapter arrives, that man, Dyson Lathe, is on the run from the FBI, and his girlfriend Michelle has to face the heat, both literally and figuratively, as the hot season is coming on.
To me, there is no song that better encapsulates the struggles taking place at the Black Cat—and activist centers across country—than Blackfire's "One Nation Under." Blackfire was a Native punk band from the Navajo Nation that, for me and many others in the Southwest, was the voice of the resistance in the Aughts.
5. Chapter Four: Entrapment
"The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald" by Gordon Lightfoot—Summertime Dream
Remember Jenna, the roommate who's unhappily coupled? She really wants to leave her boyfriend, but managing a mature break up is too hard—she'd really sort of just rather cheat on him with the hot guy from the bike shop. Only problem is, the hot guy from the bike shop might be an undercover agent.
Like me, Jenna has a strong connection to American folk music, and to my mind, no song so thoroughly captures the beauty and power, as well as the extreme cheese factor, endemic to this genre as the song Neil Diamond made famous, "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald." As a kid, I was enthralled by it, the fact that it tells a true story of shipwreck on Lake Superior—but jeez, there are so many verses! The shipwreck seems to take forever.
In this, I found it an apt metaphor for Jenna's relationship with Scott—and though the section where Jenna plays the song was eventually cut from the book, it remains, to me, the soundtrack of this chapter.
6. Chapter Five: Rad Summer
"West Reign" by All Autonomy—unreleased
In this chapter, Rell's trying to locate her estranged roommate, Katie, and follows her trail to The Black Cat. There Rell runs into a friend from work, Arin, and Arin's friend Gabriel, two teenagers who are part of the local punk scene. Gabriel, though introduced briefly here, occupies a central role in Book Three of the Greene River trilogy.
Gabriel is based on a real person, Brian Gianelli, who was the lead singer of the popular Prescott punk band All Autonomy. They turned down a major record deal because they, you know, were punk AF, and not long after, Brian Gianelli died, tragically young. RIP.
In this chapter, illusions that have been perpetuated through the novel are revealed for what they are. And while I can't say too much without offering spoilers, many of the truths behind them turn out to be less than flattering.
To me, this song perfectly encapsulates two classically adolescent ideas—that of hiding your true self behind a mask and the need for violent, "no compromise" revolution. How perfect that, in the act of pouring gasoline, as suggested in this song, the saboteur must wear a mask—presumably because he's showing his "true self?" The adolescent contradictions are both totally understandable and utterly maddening.
In this chapter, Michele, down at The Black Cat, is faced by the one-two punch of some difficult news, both on the personal and political front. For someone with her history of addiction and self-harm, this a dangerous time.
Though Michele's too angry to be the sort of emo-chick who would have listened to the Smiths, the struggle at the heart of her childhood is very much in the spirit of this song: she's so sensitive to the cruelty upon which modern life is built that she cannot "stomach it."
In this chapter, we see Rell struggling with the big question of what to do with her life, postgrad: The pipe dream of planting trees, way up north in Canada; the safe, salaried desk job in Iowa; or a risky internship in her college town that will put her at the heart of the struggle to save the Greene River.
That river is based on the Verde River, which the subject of this song by Puscifer, the side project of Tool front man Maynard James Keenan. Keenan actually owns a home on Mingus Mountain, near the town of Jerome, overlooking the Verde Valley. Presumably, it called to him the way the Greene River, in this chapter, calls to Rell.
"The show that night had boiled down to a party, and the party had boiled down to this: nine people propped up on pillows and each other, listening to Jenna picking clawhammer banjo with the Devil." In the epilogue, the book's cast of characters have joined the members of an underground circus for a late-night session of songs and stories.
This song by The Devil Makes Three takes me back to similar times in my own life—times when an impromptu party might turn into a night you'd remember for the rest of your life. When mysterious travelers might blow into your sleepy little town trailing stardust. A time when we passed the bottle and sang songs and shared travelers' tales and forged friendships, some of which, like the stories, would stand the test of time.
Susan Defreitas and Hot Season 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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