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September 19, 2018

Kimberly Lojewski's Playlist for Her Story Collection "Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart"

Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart

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

Imaginative and often surreal, Kimberly Lojewski's Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart is one of the year's most impressive short story collections.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Magic realism meets bildungsroman... In just a few pages, Lojewski creates deeply imaginative and textured worlds. However mundane the plights of her characters--a crush on a boy, a tense mother-daughter relationship--those surreal environments make magic of the moments."

In her own words, here is Kimberly Lojewski's Book Notes music playlist for her story collection Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart:

My stories stem from obsessions and fascinations. And a lot of these are musical. I am absolutely that person that plays a song over and over… and over again, in order to evoke whatever imagining I’m trying to get on paper. Talk to anyone who has ever been a passenger in my car and they will bemoan the torturous repetitions of sea shanties, twangy bluegrass, humpback mating calls, and Cajun Zydeco.

The playlist for my short story collection, Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart, spans the breadth of Klezmer Circus Punk to Polish lullabies. I narrowed it down to one song for each story, with the exception of the “Ballad of Sparrowfoot” which has three picks because, really, that entire story is about the power of song.

“Lochloosa” by JJ Grey and MOFRO
The title story of my collection is about a worm fiddler and an alligator wrestler and it takes place in the strange and sweltering Florida swamps that I grew up in. Pretty much every song that JJ Grey has ever written depicts this world far more eloquently than I ever could, but this song in particular always makes my pulse slow down to a southern crawl and I can nearly smell the silty black waters and see the slow creep of alligator eyes dotting the surface.

“Cape Cod Girls” by Baby Gramps
Sea shanties were the theme for “About the Hiding of Buried Treasure,” and Baby Gramps became my go-to musician for this. In this story, the main character, Charlie, lives on a remote, treasure-filled island with his adopted sister Jezebel, a hot air-ballooning rake, and a rummy old pirate of a father. Baby Gramps, who has a Popeye the Sailor-type of singing voice, became the inspiration for the father. This song is a straight-up salty sailor’s anthem, replete with a didgeridoo-like vocal performance, historically accurate south Australian sea shanty lyrics, and a fervor that would compel any good man or woman to devote their god fearin’ soul to the mighty, mighty ocean.

“The Midnight Special” by Leadbelly
In “Baba Yaga’s House of Forgotten Things,” a group of kids are sentenced to a juvenile delinquent camp run by a troupe of terror-inducing grannies and overseen by Baba Yaga, the monster-witch of Slavic folklore. Although I was tempted to use one of the polkas that the grannies would have played on their record player, I settled on Leadbelly’s rendition of this traditional prison folk song. This is because I love the fact that when Leadbelly played this song at Angola Prison in 1934, he adlibbed a few verses about a prison jailbreak. It would have given those poor kids in the granny camp such hope.

“Dearly Departed” by Shakey Graves
The story “How to Get Rid of a Ghost (and other Lessons from Camp Pispogutt),” is about an alcoholic camp counselor who is being haunted by her dead friend. With its ghostly refrain and bone clacking rhythm, I like to think this song makes a fitting companion to the story. It is practically made for driving with the windows rolled down, a bottle of whiskey stashed in the glove compartment, a filicidal flying squirrel on your hands, and about a billion other problems that you don’t want to face. Especially when you’re a girl trying to escape your ghost.

“The Fiddler and the Devil” by Bella’s Bartok
Bella’s Bartok is one of my favorite bands, and they also used to be my next door neighbors. I listened to their music a lot when I was writing “The Ballad of Sparrowfoot.” Literally. Being that they lived next door. But it was a lucky fit. This song is such a fun clash of circus gypsy music, Klezmer punk, and handlebar mustaches. It is absolutely perfect for a bunch of misfit monsters in a Beastie Bazaar planning an insurrection. I think I may have actually seen a macaque riding a tricycle and wearing M. Bastien’s stolen top hat at one of their shows.

“The Littlest Birds” by The Be Good Tanyas
This one is for Sparrowfoot herself. Although she can’t sing throughout most of the story, I feel sure that once she escapes the Beastie Bazaar and finds her voice, she travels through the bayous of Louisiana warbling this refrain. It’s a song for liberated bird-girls everywhere.

“La Vie en Rose” by Edith Piaf
Minette is a French-Cajun water nymph who riles up the monsters and helps Sparrowfoot plan her escape. I imagine her singing this wistfully in her cage as she pins turtle shells and waterweeds in her hair.

“Byl Sobie Krol (There Was a King)” by Bachka Konieczna
A kolysanka is a traditional Polish lullaby. My grandmother used to sing these to me as a child, and that is where the inspiration for “When the Water Witches Come Dancing for Their Supper” comes from. Kolysanki are unbelievably beautiful and creepy, much like the rusalki who try to lure Hannah outside in the story. The song itself is about a king, a princess, and a page who find themselves in a love triangle. In an unlikely turn of events (if my Polish translations can be trusted) they are all horrifically slaughtered when a dog eats the king, a cat eats the page, and a mouse eats the princess. Then they all turn into sugary confections. And that is why Polish fairytales make for such wonderfully bizarre and macabre inspiration.

“Cornbread and Butterbeans” by Carolina Chocolate Drops
The story “One for the Crow” is an Appalachian re-telling of The Handless Maiden. Most of the principal action happens during an all-night husking bee in Hannah’s father’s cornfield. Had the Carolina Chocolate Drops been there that night, I feel certain they would have been playing jigs and reels from the sidelines. This band is amazing for resurrecting traditional songs and instruments and infusing them with some solidly modern Julliard-trained talent.

“Dominique” by Soeur Sourire
I picked this song for “The Church of the Living God and Rescue Home for Divine and Orphaned Children,” which is about a group of orphaned fairytale children who have been taken in by some self-serving nuns. Soeur Sourire, the Singing Nun, always pops into my mind whenever I imagine how the nuns would have entertained their magical wards.

“Der Hölle Rache” by Lucia Popp
I listened to a few different operas while I was working on “The Decline of a Professional Marionette,” and this aria from Die Zauberflöte became one of my favorites. The staccato parts are absolutely stunning. Cressida, the main character of the story, is an accomplished marionette who has been classically trained at the Salzburg Marionette Theatre. When she suddenly finds herself stranded in a small English village full of provincial puppets, they do not appreciate her need to burst into fancy opera numbers. Which is difficult for Cressida. Just imagine, if you could sing like this, how hard it would be to keep quiet.

“I Am Stretched on Your Grave” by Vintage Wildflowers
In “Thinking Like a Hog Deer in the Himalayas,” the main character is a homesick moth girl who pines for the mudflats and mangrove forests of her native Sundarbans. She wants to return to the place where her mother is buried. Although this folk ballad comes from a 17th century Irish poem, I think it captures the tone of longing and homesickness that Gurdeep feels in the story.

“There is a River” by Gaither Vocal Band
“Swamp Food at the Rapture Café” is about a bunch of gospel singing carnival freaks in the swamps, and the story’s protagonist is in love with a golden-throated wolf boy named Percival. David Phelps became the inspiration for that character after I heard him perform at a Gaither Homecoming show while I was dreaming up the concept for the story. If anyone can bring a girl to spiritual salvation with their voice as quickly as Percival the wolf boy, it’s this fellow.

Kimberly Lojewski and Worm Fiddling Nocturne in the Key of a Broken Heart links:

excerpt from the book

Foreword Reviews review
Kirkus review

also at Largehearted Boy:

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Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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