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May 31, 2018

Cutter Wood's Playlist for His Book "Love and Death in the Sunshine State"

Love and Death in the Sunshine State

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.

Cutter Wood's Love and Death in the Sunshine State is an impressive work of creative nonfiction, a captivating mixture of true crime and memoir.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:

"Wood's mixture of fact and art yields a tale both gritty and introspective, with a real murder providing an entree to an examination of the nature of love. Wood’s prose is detailed yet deft... This is a fine true-crime mystery and a touching journey into the human heart."

In his own words, here is Cutter Wood's Book Notes music playlist for his book Love and Death in the Sunshine State:

Music is such an integral part of my writing (I construct a playlist as I write, and I’m continually tweaking it throughout the process, adding songs here, replacing others there, moving some up, some down, wondering what the hell I ever saw in this or that song) so it’s a slightly surreal experience to publish this playlist and to have to explain for the first time what had previously been largely unconscious decisions on my own part. It’s especially strange with a book of reportage and memoir that’s really a book essentially about the difficulties of being in love. The songs below reflect my own work researching and writing the story and my own part in that story, but since a playlist for me has always been part of the currency of a relationship, I also feel a little like I’m divulging some sort of love letter written to the people in this book.

Santigold – Chasing Shadows

Why do I feel guilty about admitting that I listened to this song all the time as I was working on Love and Death? This was sort of my writing version of the club’s get-hyped song. I’d get my coffee, sit at the desk, look out the window and press play. I have a hard time explaining why this seemed to me to fit so well with the story. It’s both morose and triumphant, and it also captures the experience of walking listlessly around an island in Florida in the heat trying to figure out why one night a woman named Sabine Musil-Buehler simply disappeared.

DYAN – Looking for Knives

One night I went down to the neighborhood where they found Musil-Buehler’s car after her disappearance. It’s the part of Florida most people like to pretend doesn’t exist. Liquor stores, pawn shops, people loitering on street corners, and police sitting in cruisers looking distinctly nervous, and inexplicably, a motel named after an obscure 18th century painting by Thomas Gainsborough: The Blue Boy. It was one of those humid nights when the lights from the cars seem to blur down the street, and I could see so perfectly the moment when the police found Musil-Buehler’s car and realized there was blood all over the inside. On that night in my memory, this song plays endlessly.

Frankie Cosmos – Young

Sabine had started seeing William Cumber not long before she disappeared, and their relationship was so much about the recapturing of youth. He was ten years younger, and I think largely because of this, she had devoted herself to regaining her former figure. She worked out all the time during the two months she and William lived together, and just before she disappeared, she’d been bragging to friends that she now had the same body as when she was eighteen.

Emahoy Tsegue-Maryam Gebrou – Homesickness

Those brief moments of happiness and perfection, they visit us all, even in the worst of circumstances. When the detectives searched Sabine’s apartment, they found a few scorecards from board games, some sand dollars collected on the beach, and a photo from a ride at Busch Gardens, one of those ones where two people are screaming on their way down the roller coaster with their hair flying wildly behind them.

O – I Admit I’m Scared

Love is bewildering, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how long you’ve been in in it. This song captures everything about that feeling of not having any idea what you’ve gotten into.

Empress Of – Woman is a Word

And this song is the quick swing, so common in relationships, to the exact opposite emotion. Who hasn’t experienced this feeling: “I’m only an image of what you see.” Sure, we can be in love, but fuck you, my life is still always my own. Sabine always struck me as someone who wasn’t afraid to be herself, and what better song for a person like that. This song to me isn’t even a break up song, it’s more badass than that. It’s a we-can-stay-together-but-we-might-as-well-have-broken-up-because-there’s-a-part-of-me-you’ll-never-have-access-to song.

Spectral Display – It Takes a Muscle to Fall in Love

See title.

Nina Simone – Stars

Have I ever made a playlist that didn’t have a spot on it just asking for Nina Simone to break out in song? “But anyway that isn’t what I meant to say, I meant to tell a story that I live from day to day… always all you see is glory.” God, she’s so great. And this live version, so scratchy, you can almost see the smoke in the room. The feeling here, that everything is slipping away, and yet, and yet… I have to feel it’s essentially a song about getting closer and closer to death.

Ultra Orange & Emmanuelle – Don’t Kiss Me Goodbye

I love the way the French singer mangles the English in this song: “The world looks better into the dark.” Do I need to say anything else?

Hank Williams – My Love For You (Has Turned to Hate)

After Sabine disappeared, a lot of people on the island thought William had killed her. Late one night, he’d had enough of everyone acting like he was a murderer, and he decided to leave Florida. He had no car and no license, but he took off that night in a pickup truck whose owner was too drunk to drive, never realizing that the car’s registration had expired. When I imagine that midnight drive, the owner asleep in the passenger seat, William staring hard over the arc of the steering wheel, I imagine this song coming on the radio. It’s not until the final refrain that the sirens come on and he’s pulled over by the police.

Gillian Welch – Everything is Free

I’d been listening to (and loving) this song for years before I realized it was about Napster, and although it seems silly to include a song about an early music-sharing software in a story about love and murder, the song so captures the feeling of the world slipping out from under your fingers. When the murderer finally confessed, and led the detectives out to where he’d buried the body, he told me that the thing that struck him most as he stepped out of the squad car was how much the area had been developed since he buried her there. The world had changed so much, it was so built up, he said, he wasn’t even sure there was a place for him in it anymore.

Charley Crockett – I Am Not Afraid

Isn’t this the strangest concept for a song? To insist that you’re not afraid to be in love. Especially a song that has this funny kind of island vibe to it. And yet, this is how it ends.

Cutter Wood and Love and Death in the Sunshine State links:

the author's website

Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Publishers Weekly review

Salon interview with the author
Sarasota Herald Tribune interview with the author
Tampa Bay Times interview with the author
WAMC interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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