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October 15, 2018

Tom Bennitt's Playlist for His Novel "Burning Under"

Burning Under

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.

Tom Bennitt's debut novel Burning Under is a smart and fast-paced literary thriller.

John Brandon wrote of the book:

"Burning Under eloquently evokes the landscape and customs of the mining territory along the West Virginia / Pennsylvania border. Like with most great reads, though, it’s the distinct, idiosyncratic, believable characters that carry the load. These are the foot soldiers of a derided Army, with nothing left to fight for but themselves and those they love, and Tom Bennitt knows them inside and out."


In his own words, here is Tom Bennitt's Book Notes music playlist for his debut novel Burning Under:



Most writers I know love music and will passionately defend their favorite bands and songs. I’m no exception. I listen to music – from instrumental to metal, whether for mood or inspiration – while writing, and I believe that my music choices somehow bleed onto the page and influence my work. I love many genres, but this list skews toward classic rock, alt-rock, grunge, and metal, along with a few New Wave, Country, and Rap cuts. The main reason is my novel’s setting, western Pennsylvania: growing up there in the late 80s/early 90s, this music dominated the airwaves. Even today, I find that western Pennsylvanians have an uncanny knowledge and appreciation of classic rock. So, here is the soundtrack to Burning Under.


1. AC/DC – “For Those About to Rock”: AC/DC was huge with my older brother’s crowd, and I love this song’s riff. I’d imagine it playing early in the book, as a prelude to the boxing match or at the Pour House, where Larry and his mining buddies drink.

2. The Clarks – “Cigarette”: An essential nineties tune by Pittsburgh’s best alt-rock band of that decade. And the lyrics capture my novel like nothing else can: In a black and far off corner of my mind there’s a box of something I can’t quite define, and it houses circus freaks, temptation, and the Fayette County Fair.

3. Grateful Dead – “Fire on the Mountain”: Blends two big elements of the novel: the setting and the coal mine fire.

4. Metallica – “Creeping Death”: Such a great tune that would fit many scenes. For example, Larry driving to the Sarver Mine, on the day of the explosion.

5. Devo – “Uncontrollable Urge”: The perfect song for Simon’s nervous tics, playing during his first dinner date with Anita.

6. Explosions in Sky – anything from How Strange, Innocence: I listened to that album so much writing the first draft, I can hear it playing during quiet, cerebral moments.

7. Steve Earle – “Copperhead Road”: Brings to mind Appalachian moonshiners and outlaws. This would play during one of Larry’s flashbacks.

8. Gary Numan – “Cars”: Since the novel has a few extended car/road scenes, I threw this in, one of my favorite '80s/New Wave tunes.

9. The Pixies – “Gigantic”: Reflecting Simon’s “big, big love” for Anita.

10. STP – “Sex Type Thing”: At the bowling alley with Larry, a slightly drunk Denise dances to this tune on the jukebox.

11. David Bowie & Freddie Mercury – “Under Pressure”: Another song that would fit into many scenes.

12. Missing Persons – “Words”: Captures Simon’s frustration when being attacked and mocked, in court, by the coal company’s litigators.

13. Rush – “The Trees”: Thematically, it captures the slow violence of mining (and capitalism) against the environment. And Simon would make this connection.

14. Styx – “Crystal Ball”: Pittsburgh LOVES Styx! WDVE, the classic rock station, has them on heavy rotation. The Steelers play “Renegade” at every home game. And in the novel, Simon sings “Lady” in his car. But “Crystal Ball” is a more underrated Styx tune that captures Simon’s growing paranoia.

15. Wilco – “Handshake Drugs”: Another great tune I could plug into various chapters.

16. U2 – “Red Hill Mining Town”: From U2’s best album, The Joshua Tree, “Red Hill” is so evocative, almost like Bono singing about a coal-mining ancestor: We scorch the earth, set fire to the sky, we stoop so low to reach so high.

17. Wiz Khalifa – “Black & Yellow”: Would play during the Steelers’ game.

18. Maurice Ravel – “Bolero”: playing right after Simon gets abducted by George. My grandfather loved classical music, and I wrote a paper on “Bolero” for a music theory class in college. (I listened to it for hours.) But the repeated melody still has a hypnotic pull on me.

19. Yes – “Heart of the Sunrise”: The greatest (and creepiest) song intro of all time! Would play during the one of the chaotic final scenes, in the woods.


Tom Bennitt and Burning Under 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

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