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May 16, 2017

Book Notes - Andrew Roe "Where You Live"

Where You Live

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.

Andrew Roe's excellent new short fiction collection Where You Live brings hardscrabble working class California to life.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Carver-esque...Roe writes assuredly, without condescension or sentimentality."

In his own words, here is Andrew Roe's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Where You Live:

Music plays a big part in my life, but I was still surprised, when I sat down to write this playlist, by the number of songs and frequent music references that appear throughout Where You Live, my newly published short story collection from Engine Books.

"Song of 27" – Richard Buckner

The book's epigraph comes from singer-songwriter Richard Buckner: "Never tell them where it hurts." The line is from "Song of 27," which appears on his masterful 1997 album Devotion + Doubt. This was a mainstay, go-to album for me for many years. It's unfortunate that Buckner has never received the recognition he deserves. I once saw him play at a house party in San Francisco. Just a guy and his guitar and his raw soul. Buckner showed me the power, the simplicity of that, and it's something I've never forgotten.

"California Dreamin'" – Bobby Womack

Several of the stories in "Where You Live" take place in California—from Southern California to Say Francisco and the Bay Area to Humboldt County and the far northern reaches of the state. But it's not the La La Land of surf and sand, celebrities, and plastic surgeries. It's the California you don't often see depicted in movies and TV shows and books—it's more gritty, more working class, and the characters are more unsettled, more unsatisfied. The dream of California is strong, but it's not the reality for many, many people who live there. Womack's version of this iconic song evokes the dream, but its slow, soulful arrangement also conjures a wistfulness and a sense of unfulfilled expectations.

"Hello, I Love You" – The Doors

The narrator of "Renters" is a young boy who tells us that his mother says his father used to look like Jim Morrison. As we learn in the story, the father no longer has the flowing Adonis hair, and he's clearly been beaten down by life—and so the comparison to the Lizard King is meant to suggest a sense of thwarted longing, of time passing uncontrollably. And when I think of Morrison I usually see the picture that's on the cover of The Doors Greatest Hits. I listened to that album (I had a cassette) religiously in high school. It was the soundtrack that accompanied many nights spent driving through suburban streets, trying to imagine a bigger, more fulfilling world that was out there, beyond me, yet also somehow within reach. "Hello, I Love You" is the first song on the album. And it always signaled the possibility that something could happen on that drive, on that night.

"I Wanna Be Your Dog" – The Stooges

I played in a band in college. We started off with the typical garage band covers ("Wild Thing," "You Really Got Me," "Louie, Louie") and eventually I began writing songs. On the cover front, I wished we'd learned this one, but at the time I don't think I was ready for The Stooges. The narrator of "Solo Act" is in his early twenties, drifting, playing in a band that doesn't even have a name. Yet it's kind of all he has (the same goes for his bandmates). They jam and meander with their poorly tuned instruments, working on three-chord songs, and "I Wanna Be Your Dog" is one of them. The band is never really going to go anywhere and they all know it. The story is full of musical references, including Yoko Ono, This Is Spinal Tap, and singing through a bass guitar amplifier (something I did in my college band).

"Shine a Light" – The Rolling Stones

"She swayed in front of the jukebox after having made a selection—the Stones, a fairly obscure track from Exile on Main Street, 'Shine a Light,' something only a die-hard would pick, which made her all the more alluring."

"Sexual Healing" – Marvin Gaye

The right song at the right time—if you're out at a restaurant/bar with someone you've never been out with before, and things are already going a certain way, and you start to get the feeling that this could, possibly, lead to something more, something you hadn't expected, and then "Sexual Healing" comes on over the restaurant/bar's sound system, is that a sign? Maybe, maybe not. But that's the situation that the main character of "Are You Okay?" finds himself in.

"Bad Boys" ("Cops" theme song) – Inner Circle

It's rare that one of my stories springs from a premise or question, but that's what happened with "The Riot and Rage That Love Brings." I wondered: What if someone got arrested and the arrest was filmed for Cops and then later that person would watch herself appear in an episode of the long-running TV show? What would it be like to see yourself and your vulnerabilities on screen like that? (Apparently, the producers of Cops bought this song from Inner Circle for a mere $2,500.)

"Rebel Yell" – Billy Idol

I don't know for sure if there are Billy Idol impersonators. But there is one in my story "Not the L.A. in My Mind." And this is the song he sings. Three times.

"So. Central Rain" – R.E.M.

In the book's closing story, "Rough," one of the main characters is listening to early R.E.M. I didn't cite a specific song, but I'm pretty sure this was the one I had in mind (I wrote the story several years ago). The first time I saw/heard R.E.M. was when they played "So. Central Rain" on David Letterman's show (the late-night, post-Johnny Carson version on NBC). The song made an impression on me. I loved the jangly guitar, the ambiguity of the lyrics, the effortless drive of the rhythm. There's also a melancholic vibe, which feels like a kindred spirit to not only "Rough" but the entirety of "Where You Live." That said, it's no mistake that this story—and the book—ends with the word "hope."

Andrew Roe and Where You Live links:

the author's website

Kirkus Reviews review

Writer's Digest post by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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