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April 5, 2018

Jonathan Evison's Playlist for His Novel "Lawn Boy"

Lawn Boy

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.

Jonathan Evison's novel Lawn Boy is as masterfully crafted as it is readable.

Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:

"Moving . . . Evison convincingly evokes the small disasters and humiliations that beset America’s working poor. Mike's gradual growth into self-awareness is punctuated by moments of human kindness and grace that transpire in and among broken-down trucks, trailer parks, and strip malls. Focusing on the workers who will only ever be welcome in gated communities as hired help, Evison's quiet novel beautifully considers the deterioration of the American Dream."

In his own words, here is Jonathan Evison's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Lawn Boy:

While I think Lawn Boy might be my funniest book, and maybe my most "socially engaged," I know without a doubt it's my angriest. There's a lot of frustration and despair at work inside Mike Muñoz, who wants his fair shake from the good old U.S.A, but can't quite seem to escape his destiny, which seems to be picking up dog shit in rich people's yards, and forever feeling like the opportunity to elevate himself is somehow beyond his reach. My playlist reflects mostly this sentiment, I think, though there are touches of hope and humor.

The Mummies - Victim of Circumstances
The Mummies' gritty, barbaric yowling cover of "Victim of Circumstances" really captures an anger and frustration that Roy Junior's 1966 R&B original never quite achieved to my ear. The song speaks directly to Mike's disillusion with occupying one of society's lower rungs, and his frustration with the double standards he faces daily. "Why was I born down here? . . . I'm just a victim of circumstances, pointed fingers, and dirty glances."

Baby Huey – A Change is Gonna Come
This is another cover that somehow manages to eclipse the original, which is hard to believe given the near-perfection of Sam Cooke's silky, heartrending original. But Huey takes it to another level. Chalk it up to his largesse in every way. Again, this song speaks to Mike's dashed hopes and expectations: "Then I go to my brother, and I say brother help me please, but he winds up knockin' me back down on my knees." But like Mike, the song still dares to be hopeful, as its title suggests.

The Angry Samoans – My Old Man's a Fatso
In spite of their rampant adolescent macho homophobia and cringe-inducing flippant misogyny, the Angry Samoans still somehow managed to be a great punk rock band. Which is the first reason the Angry Samoans are such a good fit for Mike's best friend, Nick Colavito, who is irrationally homophobic, inexplicably bigoted, and potentially Trump bate. Nick grew up in a lousy situation. His old man was a terror. He sometimes sneaks away at night and sleeps on Mike's floor. "My old man's a fatso, but you know he own this house," is a pretty good summation of Nick's early life.

Detroit Cobras - I Wanna Holler (But the Town's Too Small)
The Detroit Cobras are one of my all-time favorite party bands, and a good counter-argument to the evils of cultural appropriation. This song (yet another cover, this one of Gary U.S. Bond), captures Mike's frustration with wanting to share the thrill of a certain revelation with the world (no spoilers!), but the town is too damn small.

The Growlers - Someday
Beach Goth? WTF? I'm officially old, but I can dig it. This song references baloney, tallboys, and the promise of a better future, placing it firmly within the Lawn Boy lexicon.

Mandolin Orange - Poor Boy, Poor Me
For me, this one, from Chapel Hill's dynamic duo, speaks to the way young Mike has resolved himself to his station in society, and his expectations for life. "As sad as it may seem, I call pennies in between these cushions a good means of saving dimes. I never claimed that I'd be rich, never said I would try. But I live well enough to eat, and I'll live long enough to die."

The Impressions - Keep on Pushing
God love Curtis Mayfield. "Keep on Pushing" is an anthem for the hard working, underprivileged, societal fringe-dweller who still has the courage to believe in the American Dream, even though it has forever held him at arm's length, and he's never even seen a working example of it. "I've got to keep on pushing, I can't stop now. Move up a little higher, some way, somehow."

Fugazi - Waiting Room
Despite its sometimes preachy tenor, I've admired Ian's earnest insistence on personal accountability and empowerment since the first Minor Threat 7, back in 500 B.C. Having grown up in hardcore bands in the dawn of the Reagan era, I've always felt Fugazi is what grunge might have been, had arena rock not entered into the equation; sort of natural extension of the punk ethos. In terms of Lawn Boy, everything about "Waiting Room" relates to Mike's dilemma, his patience, and his determination to eventually empower himself in spite of the odds stacked against him.

Melanie – What Have They've Done to My Song, Ma
This 1970 gem from Melanie Sofka relates to Mike in a bunch of ways, particularly his frustration with regard to professional landscaping as he experiences it early in the novel. Mike is a master at his craft. He's got a vision. He's got mad topiary skills. Yet, there he is, picking up dog shit. And also there's this, which speaks to Mike, the autodidact: "Wish I could find a good book to live in, wish I could find a good book 
Well if I could find a real good book, I'd never have to come out and look at what they done to my song."

Jonathan Evison and Lawn Boy links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia page

Kirkus review
Publishers Weekly review

Bainbridge Island Review profile of the author
Electric Literature interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes piece by the author for his novel All About Lulu
Largehearted Boy Book Notes playlist by the author for West of Here
Seattle Times 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

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