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November 30, 2018

Dan Callahan's Playlist for His Novel "That Was Something"

That Was Something

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.

Dan Callahan's That Was Something is an enveloping and insightful novel.

The Bay Area Reporter wrote of the book:

"That Was Something captures that time of our youth when slightly older, charismatic, more fully realized personalities could captivate us completely. It's a novel about youth, and like youth, it's slim (102 pages), fleeting, and always off to the next thing ... This is a book for those of us who have or had friends with larger-than-life personalities trapped, alas, in real life."


In his own words, here is Dan Callahan's Book Notes music playlist for his novel That Was Something:



Bobby Quinn, Ben Morrissey, and Monika Lilac, the three main characters in my novel That Was Something, aren’t really music people, per se, but Bobby’s dancer lover Heinz Laranthal is devoted to music. Monika believes in the power of silence, and she gives silent movie parties where people are not allowed to speak but can only pantomime. When Bobby first falls in love with Ben, they do a box waltz around a studio classroom, without music. There is a sense, I think, that music would be too much for these three people, who are all repressed in very different ways. And yet music does find its way into their lives, and it is crucial.

There is a point when Bobby and Heinz go to see Marguerite Duras’s India Song (1975) at the Museum of Modern Art and have a decisive encounter with Susan Sontag. Bobby says that the repeated musical theme of that movie, called “Cet Amour-Là,” is “tattooed on my brain” and that he “couldn’t forget that melody if I tried.” The great French actress Jeanne Moreau, who also makes an appearance in the book, did a recording of this song, which I couldn’t find on Spotify, though it is on YouTube. Like so much of the music that haunts the lives of these characters, “Cet Amour-Là” is about thwarted desire and longing, remembrance, something just out of reach.



Brahms’s Fourth Symphony, First Movement, Carlos Kleiber, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, 1980

In an earlier draft of the book, Bobby and Heinz actually did a dance together to the first movement of Brahms’s fourth symphony at P.S. 122 in downtown Manhattan. If there were a movie version of my novel, I’d love it if the four repeated, dissatisfied notes that obsess this movement played whenever Ben Morrissey was on screen. They are the essence of restrained romantic devotion. This is my favorite recording of this symphony.

Ravel’s La Valse, Pierre Boulez, Berliner Philharmoniker, 1993

Heinz loves Ravel music and talks Ravel up to Bobby, and what he and Bobby share is exemplified in this neurotic “choreographic poem for orchestra,” which sounds like a Viennese waltz having a nervous breakdown. It’s another piece of music that gets across the mood of romantic and sexual obsessiveness that motors this narrative, and it also harkens back to the box waltz that Bobby shared with Ben, one of Bobby’s favorite memories.

Billie Holiday, “Some Other Spring,” 1939

Bobby asks a key question of the main characters, “Billie or Ella?” What they answer tells us something about who they are. This is a memory story, and one of Bobby’s favorite memories of Heinz involves putting on this very sad song sung by the greatest of all recorded singers, Billie Holiday.

John McCormack, “Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time,” 1928

Monika has an old Victrola record player stationed outside a house on Washington Square Park for her first silent movie party, which is devoted to romantic movies. This song is playing faintly as the guests enter, and so they hear the major Irish tenor John McCormack dreaming about making a girl his in “lilac time,” which is the name of Monika’s favorite movie. Again, it’s a song about dreaming of another person, wanting them.

Van & Schenck, “Ain’t We Got Fun,” 1921

At Monika Lilac’s silent movie comedy party towards the end of the first part of the book, she has a piano player pounding out songs like this, a fox trot that appears prominently in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Dorothy Parker also featured it in her story “Big Blonde,” and she hated this song particularly. Parker had reason to, but Monika loves it, which reveals something, I think, about Monika’s essential perversity.

Dusty Springfield, “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me,” 1966

This to me is the ultimate power ballad devoted to romantic abjection. I never get tired of hearing the opening horns and the ghostly chorus, and Springfield’s exhausted, soulful voice, fragile and willfully strong at once. A perfectionist, she did 47 takes of “You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me” until she was satisfied. The sound of her voice on this song is what I hoped to capture in words in this book.


Dan Callahan and That Was Something links:

the author's website

Bay Area Reporter review
Lambda Literary review

Full Stop interview with the author
NYLON profile of the author
Paris Review interview with the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Support the Largehearted Boy website

Largehearted Boy List of Online "Best Books of 2018" Lists

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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