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October 11, 2017

Book Notes - Wiley Cash "The Last Ballad"

The Last Ballad

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.

Wiley Cash's novel The Last Ballad is a gripping and evocative retelling of a brutal 1929 North Carolina textile mill strike.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Inspired by the events of an actual textile-mill strike in 1929, Cash creates a vivid picture of one woman's desperation. . . . A heartbreaking and beautifully written look at the real people involved in the labor movement."

In his own words, here is Wiley Cash's Book Notes music playlist for his novel The Last Ballad:

"I've Endured" – Ola Belle Reed

There's a toughness to Reed's voice and a drive in these lyrics that I know Ella May would appreciate. "I've Endured" could be her theme song. I listened to it a lot when thinking about how to portray Ella's struggle on the page.

"Blue Ridge Mountains" – Fleet Foxes

The Fleet Foxes' sound is so mysterious and haunting, much like the Blue Ridge Mountains themselves. This song makes me feel the uncertainty and overwhelming possibility I imagine Ella felt as she and John descended the mountains for the mills in the South Carolina upstate where their lives would change forever.

"Old Shoes" – Tom Waits

This song is told from the perspective of a man who's leaving a woman he's pretty certain he never loved. I imagine John could have felt this way about Ella, especially after their lives began to come apart after so many years of struggle. But I don't think John was nearly as sensitive or decent as the man in this song.

"Daisy Bell" – Dinah Shore

This song was very popular in the early twentieth century. It's about loving someone who may be above your social standing, but perhaps your love is enough. In the novel Katherine is listening to this song on the night of her daughter's engagement party, and she's reflecting on her marriage and wondering if the love she once felt for her husband will be enough.

"The Night We Met" – Lord Huron

Katherine and her husband Richard are recalling the first time they met years ago. Who were they then? Are they still the same people now? Can they find their way back to being the people who'd once seemed so pure and interesting and kind?

"Two Little Blackbirds" – Charlie Hope

I sing this song to our daughters every night, and I always change the words and put their names in it: "Two little blackbirds flying to the moon; One name Early, one named June; Fly away Early, fly away June; Come back Early, come back June."

"Mississippi Goddam" – Nina Simone

This is a powerful protest song written and performed by one of the most socially active and politically engaged musicians in American history. There's rage here, but there's also intense sadness. These are the emotions Hampton is feeling as he travels south to organize African American workers for the union.

"Can't Buy My Love" – Barbara Lynn

This song feels bright and charming, but if you give it a good listen it's tough and wise, and that's exactly how I would describe Ella's friend Violet, especially when Violet suspects that Hampton may be hitting on her.

"Bright Morning Stars" – The Wailin' Jennys

The lyrics in this song are so beautiful, but the melody feels like a funeral dirge. I wanted readers to feel similarly conflicted on the morning Ella sets out to travel to a rally for the last time. We're proud of who she's become, but we're heartbroken by what that means.

"Feel Like Going Home" – Charlie Rich

At the end, Brother must confront who he's become while also looking back on who he was. How did the mistakes he made earlier in his life lead to tragic consequences for others? This song captures the melancholy that comes with the realization that the past is gone; you can't change it, and you can't outrun the ways in which it will follow you.

"Big Country" – Edgar Meyer ft. Mike Marshall and Bela Fleck

I was listening to this song the first time I sat down to work on The Last Ballad after we moved home to North Carolina from West Virginia in the summer of 2013. It was a spiritual moment for me. I wrote my first novel, A Land More Kind than Home, in Louisiana and my second novel, This Dark Road to Mercy, in West Virginia. The Last Ballad is the only novel I've worked on while living in my native North Carolina.

"Gastonia" – The Star Room Boys

I was so thrilled to learn that someone had written a song about my hometown. I don't know that there's much of a relationship between this song and The Last Ballad but both the song and the novel are set in Gastonia, which is reason enough to include the Star Room Boys here.

Wiley Cash and The Last Ballad links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

BookPage review
Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Asheville Citizen-Times profile of the author
Blue Ridge Public Radio interview with the author
Charlotte Observer interview with the author
Mountain Xpress profile of the author
Raleigh News and Observer profile of the author
West Virginia Public Radio interview with the author
WHQR interview with the author
Writer's Bone interview with the author
WUNC interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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)
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