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April 24, 2018

Joe Donnelly's Playlist for His Essay Collection "L.A. Man"

L.A. Man

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.

Joe Donnelly's book L.A. Man collects his profiles of Wes Anderson, Werner Herzog, and others who have shaped our culture.


In his own words, here is Joe Donnelly's Book Notes music playlist for his essay collection L.A. Man:



During the question and answer section of readings, inevitably someone asks me how or why I became I writer. It's a simple question with no simple answer, but I often reply that the reason is in part, at least, that I didn't have the guts to follow through on my first desire: to be in a band. I've been in a band or two, or half, but never made the commitment to really try to make a life out of my first love, music. It just seemed too bold a quest, but one I often wish I had tried a bit harder at when it was time to try (though my ski-town band did get paid $300 a for a regular gig at a local waterhole popular with the women's softball league... we typically ended up in the red after the bar tab was settled.). Music and story, though, have been in my ears forever and I hope they will be until the end.

For L.A. Man, a collection and a bit of a retrospective, I'll try not to be bound by the time and place, but rather what comes to mind now when I recall scenes from those encounters.

"Driving Wes Anderson"
For this piece, Wes Anderson and I drove to Texas while Rushmore was premiering on both coasts. If someone filmed the drive, it might have played more Rich Linklater than Wes Anderson--lots of talking, lots of silence, lots of insinuation, broken up with reports coming in from both coasts as we traveled into the interior. American Analog Set's The Fun of Watching Fireworks is what I think of. It's such great driving music. It's unobtrusive but entirely engaging. Perfect for watching the country and your youth move into the rearview mirror. You need the whole album.

"Morning Becomes Electra"
The conceit of this 1997 profile was a "date" with Carmen Electra. For some reason Madonna's "Who's That Girl?" It's cute and bubbly like she was, but sly also. Also, weirdly, she's the subject in this collection, I feel like I got to know the least.

"Lou Reed Laughs Last"
Though this was a pretty upbeat encounter, we talked a lot about Berlin and The Blue Mask. Reed liked to needle our comfort zones and while "The Blue Mask" might be one of the most transgressive rock songs ever, I'm going with "The Kids" from Berlin because it is the bleakest pop song ever recorded... and it's beautiful.

"The Birth of the Now"
Picking a song to go with this (arguably... but not really) definitive piece on Dogtown and Zboys was easy. "Search and Destroy" by Iggy and the Stooges. I might just be echoing Stacy Peralta's documentary, but it's still the right choice.

"Understanding Craig Stecyk"
Craig is a seminal L.A. artist, cultural historian and raconteur. The Zboys were in many ways just another of his conceptual art pieces. The Beach Boys' "Sloop John B" comes immediately to mind.

"The Malloy Brothers' Conspiracy"
These guys surfed like gods, behaved like gentleman, bonded like the brothers-in-arms and, for awhile, made art-damaged, eco-conscious, retro surf movies that harkened back to surfers as watermen and stewards. I'm ripping Beta Band's "Needles in My Eyes" from their 2004 film Brokedown Melody.

"Who's That Girl?"
Oh, maybe that's why the Madonna song was in my head. But for this piece on the amazing comedian and performance artist Lauren Weedman I'm going with the Door's "L.A. Woman" because in many ways she's the quintessential L.A. Woman: fierce, funny, blonde, and from Indiana.

"Christian Bale and the Art of Extreme Acting"
Okay, here's where we go with Lou Reed's "The Blue Mask." Forget American Psycho, or Batman, have you ever seen The Machinist? He goes the distance.

"Sean Penn, With His Own Two Eyes"
Perhaps hitting the nail to squarely on the head, I immediately go to the Clash's "Clampdown."

"Fucking With Drew Barrymore"
At the time I did this piece, she was really going for it, producing a blockbuster franchise with girl-power subtext, stretching out as an actor and director and working on herself as a lifelong project, managing to be sun-kissed despite all the damage she'd endured. Joni Mitchell's "California" comes to mind.

"Monster Out of the Box, a Sandow Birk Omnibus"
For this piece on fearless artist Sandow Birk, I'm going with the Stones' "Street Fighting Man." The song is both rebellious and resigned and I think there's an element of that in Birk's art.

"What's Wrong With Wes Anderson"
We caught up ten years after the road trip to Texas and he seemed weary. The National's "Fake Empire" comes to mind mostly because it reminds me of smoking cigarettes and being lonely and I was doing a lot of that then. I sometimes think this piece was more reflective of my state of mind at the time than Anderson's.

"Into The Wilde"
Olivia Wilde was active in Haiti following the devastating 2010 earthquake. Bob Marley wrote "Get Up, Stand Up" after witnessing the poverty in Haiti in the early '70s. The song remains the same.

"The Pirate of Penance"
For this epic tale about Eddie Padilla, an original member of the Brotherhood of Eternal Love who escaped from the notorious Lurigancho Prison in Peru, I recommend the Grateful Dead's "Estimated Prophet."

"Lone Wolf"
This story about OR7, the wolf who went on an odyssey to reclaim lands and history that had been sacked by Manifest Destiny the choice is pretty obvious, Los Lobos's "How Will The Wolf Survive?"

"The Farewell Tour"
Another road trip tale, this one with my dying dad. I'm going with one of his favorites, The Moody Blues "Lovely To See You." Put it on and then tell me The Moody Blues aren't great.

"Werner Herzog in Los Angeles"
Terrence Trent D'Arby "Wishing Well."
It's funky, optimistic and sprockets-y at the same time. I like to imagine Herzog doing this at a karaoke bar.


Joe Donnelly and L.A. Man links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book

LA Weekly interview with the author
Quaker Campus profile of 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)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
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