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October 5, 2018

Anne-Marie Kinney's Playlist for Her Novel "Coldwater Canyon"

Coldwater Canyon

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.

Anne-Marie Kinney's brilliant second novel Coldwater Canyon is a haunting and heartbreaking portrait of loneliness and Los Angeles.

Ben Loory wrote of the book:

"Hot, gritty, swirling, hypnotic and sensual… an unhinged, sweetly sinister sun-baked noir; all danger, doomed love, and compassion."


In her own words, here is Anne-Marie Kinney's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Coldwater Canyon:



I like to ascribe an imaginary genre to everything I write, mostly as a tool to propel the writing and keep me in a certain headspace. The genre I chose early in the writing of this book is “San Fernando Valley melancholia.” It lives in strip malls, shitty cars, and brutally hot summers. The main character is a guy named Shep, a Desert Storm vet and transplant from the Midwest who’s come to Southern California in hopes of rewriting the past as a means of rebuilding his life. Each of these songs speaks to a certain mood, moment or theme in the book.

1) Peaceful Easy Feeling by The Eagles
The Eagles are Southern California classic rock radio’s North Star. You can’t listen to any classic rock station for longer than an hour without hearing them; it’s the law. That’s why I used the Eagles as a refrain throughout the book—on Shep’s car radio, in his head, on the wind—a refrain that becomes increasingly menacing. There’s a tranquilizing effect to this song in particular that can lull you into a false sense of security. It’s a song tailor-made for falling asleep at the wheel and crashing into the guardrail.

2) Believe by Benjamin Booker
In a workshop I took with Matthew Salesses, he said the great American arc is one of denial—how do we see ourselves and to what lengths will we go to preserve our self-image? That idea really stuck with me, and I think it applies to so many stories. It relates to a theme that comes up a lot in this book, the damage done by obsession with a particular path or end goal. There’s a dark recklessness in the chorus here, I just want to believe in something / I don’t care if it’s right or wrong. Booker said in an interview that this song is about the ways people try to fill voids in their lives—the identities they construct—but the void will always remain unless you dig deeper.

3) I’ve Loved Her So Long by Neil Young
Shep is propelled by his longing for a life he might’ve had, one he associates with a particular girl, Lorene, in his Nebraska hometown. His brain is kind of a broken record, in that he just can’t free himself from this repetitive longing that mutates over time into a fixation on Lila, the girl he believes to be his daughter with Lorene. This song embodies that feeling of fixation on someone, and how it’s as much about the “so long” as it is about the “love.” It’s lush and delicate, and the lyric repeats over and over and over: Oh, I’ve loved her so long, that “Oh” growing more anguished each time it comes around.

4) Favorite T by The Lemonheads
This song takes that same kind of longing and distills it into something unhealthy that has little to do with the original object of affection, which is what Shep’s actions lead to. The song sounds like it was recorded in a closet, the words sung softly, as though Evan Dando is hiding from someone as he relays the tale of stealing a beloved t-shirt from a past love and wearing it obsessively until it becomes a hair shirt.

5) Rhiannon by Fleetwood Mac
This is another song you’ll hear several times a day if you’re driving around L.A. listening to any of several classic rock stations. I don’t think you even have to have the radio on, it’ll find its way in. In the book, Shep has a memory of Lorene singing along to “Rhiannon” while riding in his car, only to then question whether it really happened or whether it’s an image he conjured out of thin air because she’s his Rhiannon, his cipher.

6) Body Electric by Lana Del Rey
In L.A., Shep follows Lila, a struggling actress, who is also a mystery to him, and the closer he gets the more she surprises and dismays him. It’s through Lila that Shep discovers the world of background actors and black box theaters, hungry young artists who aspire to a mythic existence. Shep perceives Lila as alternately inviting and forbidding, but in reality, she’s not performing for him at all—she’s on her own trip. This song is an anthem of personal mythmaking and an ode to unknowability.

7) Garbage City by Hanni El Khatib
The primary landscapes of the book are the streets of the valley, the oil spots on the pavement, the 24-hour strip mall donut shops, the pigeons splashing in parking lot puddles. But it looks upward too, to the mansions used interchangeably as porn and yoga video sets, and to the palm trees swaying in the wind above it all. I have a lot of aesthetic appreciation for the valley and its quirks, having lived there for years. Incidentally, I wrote a lot of this book at a coffee shop (since closed) that was owned by the guy who plays Mike Damone in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and it was often just him behind the counter and me at a table. A lot of the book’s action takes place in a particular strip mall and its parking lot, where Shep has befriended Hung, the owner of a convenience store who knows a lot more about their neighborhood than he does. “Garbage City” is a love song to grime. The first time I heard Hanni El Khatib was on a tiny stage at a “food truck festival” back when food trucks were a novelty in L.A. My husband and I walked in during his set and just grabbed onto each other’s arms like, Holy shit, who is this??

8) All Was Well by Benjamin Booker
I had to include another Benjamin Booker song because I associate it with the book’s climax and desperation point. The anxiety-inducing tempo and repeated lyric as warning (If I have my way, I’ll tear this building down) represent that frantic moment when self-destruction turns outward.

9) Fireworks by First Aid Kit
Fireworks are a running motif in Shep’s daydreams, where he imagines an entirely different version of himself strolling placidly through a county fair, surrounded by the people he loves, fireworks in the distance, the smell of cotton candy and kettle corn in the air. It’s the safe place he returns to when things get too real, and this song too uses fireworks to illustrate a dreamy distraction from painful cycles of behavior. No one harmonizes like the Söderberg sisters.

10) Half Asleep by Korey Dane
The book’s ending isn’t exactly “upbeat,” but certain characters do get a way forward and out of the muck. Korey Dane, like Hanni El Khatib, is an L.A. artist who really ought to be a lot more famous. This is just a simple and perfect rock ‘n’ roll song. I’m waking up on my own, keeping up with that slow tide out that everyone’s talking ‘bout.


Anne-Marie Kinney and Coldwater Canyon links:

the author's website
excerpt from the book


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)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists


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