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March 8, 2018

Book Notes - Leesa Cross-Smith "Whiskey & Ribbons"

Whiskey & Ribbons

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 Jesmyn Ward, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Leesa Cross-Smith masterfully depicts the complex relationships of the characters in her impressive debut novel Whiskey & Ribbons.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"Written with the emotional impact of Ayobami Adebayo's Stay with Me, this work will appeal to lovers of literary fiction."

In her own words, here is Leesa Cross-Smith's Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel Whiskey & Ribbons:

“Twin Peaks Theme (Main Titles)” by Angelo Badalamenti

This was the v. first song I put on the soundtrack when I made it years ago. The moody synth, the loneliness. All of it reminds me so much of my novel, the characters. There's a creepiness to it, but also, it's really beautiful too. And weird, like a feverish dream. It gives me a v. specific feeling I can't put into words and sometimes I quite like it when I can't put something into words. This is one of those times.

“You Make Loving Fun” by Fleetwood Mac

This song is romantic and sweet. You, you make loving fun. And I don't have to tell you but you're the only one. Before my character Eamon is killed, he and his wife Evangeline live a pretty, romantic, sweet, idyllic life. Evi loves Fleetwood Mac and Eamon doesn't...until he warms up to them only because he loves Evi so much. Also I've never written a book without mentioning Fleetwood Mac at least once.

“One More Night” by Phil Collins

My characters Evangeline and Eamon? This is their song. They danced their first wedding dance to this song. It started out kind of a joke because Eamon had a dream they'd broken up and to get Evi back, he stood outside her window like Lloyd Dobler and blasted “One More Night” by Phil Collins. It appears several times in the book and I really do just love Phil Collins so much.

“Rocket Man” by Elton John

This song is about loneliness and a man, doing his job. Eamon is a police officer and the weight of that is sometimes heavy on him. It's lonely out in's just my job five days a week. I think this is one of my favorite songs ever and I love it even more ever since I attached it to Eamon because I love Eamon and he's a good, kind man. I'm not the man they think I am at home...and in order to protect his wife from things, he does keep secrets from her, so she can rest easier. I hear it and think of Eamon.

“If You Asked Me To” by Patti Labelle/Celine Dion

I love both versions of Diane Warren's song so much. I said I'd never let nobody near my heart again...I said I'd never let nobody in but...if you asked me to, I just might change my mind and let you in my life forever. This is Evi's song to Dalton. No way would Evi be interested in pursuing a romantic relationship with someone so soon after Eamon's death unless it was Dalton, the person who besides her...was closest to Eamon. And this song is giving herself permission to feel how she feels about Dalton and their life together.

“The Chain” by Ingrid Michaelson & “Chained and Bound” by Otis Redding

Chains. I mentioned these songs re: the short story “Whiskey & Ribbons” when I put together the soundtrack for my collection Every Kiss A War. They're important enough to my novel to mention them here again! “The Chain” is Evi's song after Eamon is killed. “Chained and Bound” is the Otis Redding song Evi and Dalton dance to in the kitchen at the beginning of the novel while the snow is falling.

“Drive” by The Cars & “Africa” by Toto & “Foolish Heart” by Steve Perry & “True” by Spandau Ballet

These songs represent just some of the 80s vibe that runs through the 13-ish hour Whiskey & Ribbons playlist I made on Spotify. I made it years ago and listened to it a lot as I was writing and revising. Eamon loves 80s music and power ballads. He would listen to these. These songs remind me of being so small and watching MTV when I was a kid. These are songs I never turn off when I hear them out in the world. I have such sweet and bittersweet memories of yacht rock and slow rock and 80s music and listening to them always makes me feel the same way...that way I can't fully explain...that way I love to feel. Nostalgia-soaked and dreamy.

“My Darkness” by Lookbook

Same Twin Peaks-y vibe here. Emotional and muffly electronica. And this song is played @ the beginning of one of my fave movies Stuck Between Stations and that movie takes place over a short period of time...a boy and girl hanging out all they do in my book. Those things are my favorite things. In this song she sings oh I fear you, my darkness and it reminds me of Evi...feeling her darkness...fighting her darkness.

“Midnight Sun” by Diana Krall & “In A Sentimental Mood” by Duke Ellington & John Coltrane & “Where Is My Mind? (Pixies cover)” by Maxence Cyrin

These songs represent Dalton's love for the piano. His mother was a concert pianist. He was a child piano prodigy. He plays often throughout the novel. He plays in an attempt to cheer Evangeline up from time to time. And he opens the window so his elderly neighbor can hear him play, after she asks. Diana sings and after you were gone, there was still some stardust on my sleeve and that lyric feels so romantic and dreamy and magical to me. And “In A Sentimental Mood” is just a classic piano/jazz beauty. I listened to a lot of piano covers of pop and hip-hop while I was writing the book. Any version of “Where Is My Mind?” is a wonder—I heard this cover version for the first time when I was watching Mr. Robot. At one point in my novel, Dalton plays a piano cover of “N*ggas In Paris” and other songs like “Epic” by Faith No More and “Gypsy” by Fleetwood Mac. While they're snowed in, Dalton and Evi spend a lot of time at the piano and it's there that they kiss for the v. first time too.

“Christiansands” by Tricky & “Possibly Maybe” by Bjork

These are such sexy songs. Tricky's fire-crackly voice. Bjork singing possibly maybe, probably love and and as much as I definitely enjoy solitude, I wouldn't mind perhaps spending a little time with you, sometimes...sometimes. Dalton's on/off girlfriend Frances listens to a lot trip hop like this. She and Dalton have a pretty intense sexual connection even when their emotions don't match up. These songs remind me of her in her black dresses with her hair pinned up. These songs remind me of her slipping her heels off, letting her hair fall down her back. These songs remind me of Dalton's feelings of powerlessness when he's around her.

“By Your Side” by Sade & “No Ordinary Love” by Sade

Dalton and Frances dance to these songs at Evi and Eamon's wedding reception. Such romantic, pretty song and who doesn't love Sade? Don't answer that. I legit don't want to know.

“How To Fight Loneliness” by Wilco

I love Wilco. I love this song. This is Dalton's song and Dalton is tough, he's been through a lot and he's still hanging around. But he has his lonely moments, those dark moments. You fill your heart with smoke. And how the song ends with Tweedy singing just smile all the time at the end of the song. It's heartbreaking, the things we never know people are going through, what people are fighting. Makes love and kindness even that more important.

“Death With Dignity” by Sufjan Stevens & “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” by Sufjan Stevens

In “Death With Dignity” Sufjan sings what is that song you sing for the dead in his beyond-precious alien angel voice and it's always reminded me of Whiskey & Ribbonsbecause Whiskey & Ribbons is a requiem. And in “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross” he sings there's blood on that blade, fuck me, I'm falling apart...there's no shade in the shadow of the cross and I love that complicatedness of Christ and spirituality and cursing and confusion. When we're grieving and lost and scared, where do we go? What do we do? How?

“The Funeral” by Band of Horses & & “I Go To The Barn Because I Like The” by Band of Horses & “No One's Gonna Love You” by Band of Horses

Eamon (like me) is hyper-aware of his mortality. And “The Funeral” reminds me of that. At every occasion I'll be ready for the funeral. Anyone's? Our own? Yes and yes. And in “No One's Gonna Love You” when Ben sings no one's gonna love you more than I do I think of it as both Eamon and Dalton thinking that about Evangeline...Dalton only thinking it after Eamon is killed. In “I Go to The Barn Because I Like The,” Ben sings outside, by your doorstep in a worn-out suit and tie. I'll wait for you to come down where you'll find me, where we'll shine and it makes me think about Dalton after Eamon's funeral, in his suit, back at Eamon and Evi's place, taking care of Evi, waiting on her.

“Murder In The City” by Avett Brothers

Eamon is murdered. This song is about family, the finality of death. Always remember there was nothing worth sharing than the love that let us share our name. And it's also an attempt at comforting those left behind...from beyond...I'm coming home.

“Let It Be Me” by Ray Lamontagne & “Can I Stay” by Ray Lamontagne

Both of these songs belong to Dalton. Such tenderness and vulnerability in these songs. Ray singing that's when you need someone, someone that you, you can call when all your faith is gone
and it feels like you can't go on. Let it be me—Dalton's song to Evi, opening his heart to her. And in “Can I Stay,” Ray sings can I stay here with you til the morning and Dalton begins sleeping at Evi's place after Eamon is help out, to be a physical presence there for her...for whatever she may need. It's a tender, vulnerable time for both of them as they try to figure out how to go on.

“Learning To Love Again” by Mat Kearney

Mat sings hey brother, we're all learning to love again over and over again in this song and one thing my book is about is brothers, that bond. And the gravitational pull of grief when one brother loses the other. In my novel, one brother is murdered in a random act of violence. Mat sings that was the real you singing hallelujah, looking down a barrel. This song is so pretty and quiet and feel-y and perfect. And Mat sings that was the real you...that was the real you over and over again and Eamon and Dalton can't bs one another because they know one another so well. It makes me super-emotional in a wow being a human is so weird and wild way.

“Company” by Justin Bieber

A lightish/happier song in this mix. Just Justin singing can we, we keep, keep each other company? Reminds me so much of Evi and Dalton...just deciding...HEY I ENJOY LIFE MORE WITH YOU IN let's do that. Together. Keeping each other company. (This song can also apply to Dalton's relationships w/the other women in his life, as well.)

“Re: Stacks” by Bon Iver

This is not the sound of a new man or a crispy realization. It's the sound of the (me?) unlocking and the (you?) lift away. This has been Dalton's song/love letter to Evi from the first moment I heard it about ten years ago, when I was working on this book...this book eighteen years in the making. If Whiskey & Ribbons were a movie, this song would play during the final credits. Your love will be safe with me.

Leesa Cross-Smith and Whiskey & Ribbons links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

Kirkus review

Electric Literature interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for Every Kiss a War
Oxford American essay by the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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