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January 14, 2019

David A. Taylor's Playlist for His Book "Cork Wars"

Cork Wars

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.

David A. Taylor's Cork Warsis a surprisingly personal examination of the cork industry and espionage before World War II.

Mark Athitakis wrote of the book:

"Cork Wars doesn't just illuminate a critical element of the World War II economy: it reveals the surprising ways that war reshapes lives. Whether he's writing about Baltimore immigrants or globetrotting spies, David Taylor fills his story with emotion and intrigue. It’s richly researched history, delivered with a novelist's heart."

In his own words, here is David A. Taylor's Book Notes music playlist for his book Cork Wars:

In Cork Wars, I write about the private lives of people caught up in World War II, a period that we often think of in uncomplicated terms. The enemy was unambiguous. But in fact at the time life during the war was very complicated, especially for immigrant families.

Music plays a big role for me while writing, and music provided key memories for people I interviewed for the book. Sometimes the songs that lingered in their stories segued in my mind to other sounds.

This sequence reflects the story’s main characters: a Baltimore-born business mogul named Charles McManus; a Catalan-born factory manager named Melchor Marsa in Portugal; and Frank DiCara, son of Italian immigrants in east Baltimore.

"Stewball" by Peter, Paul and Mary

One thread of the story follows Charles McManus, the son of a hardscrabble construction worker. Charles dropped out of school after a school shooting, took night school classes, and reinvented himself. He ended up a major player in the bottle-cap business. He took a long-shot mentality to business and the race track. “Stewball” is a folk song that tells the story of a similar gamble – one that the song’s narrator doesn’t trust himself to make, and lives to regret it. As a kid I loved this song’s bittersweet loss.

Vida Vivida (“Life Lived”) by Nadia Leiriao

Fado is a Portuguese form made for wistfulness and loss – a mournful, wistful blues. It suits the thread of Melchor Marsa, who spent much of the war in Lisbon. Leiriao has a supreme fado voice and Vida Vivida brings you right into that atmosphere.

Postcard from NY by Marc Ribot

Spying and espionage came into the story in Lisbon, along with listening and silence. Marc Ribot’s haunting Silent Movies is full of atmospheric melodies that belonged in this space.

"Bateau" by Marc Ribot

In “Bateau,” also on Silent Movies, Ribot’s solo guitar steps up the tension with a drone oscillating between two strings, almost like the zither in the opening credits of The Third Man. It rises, falls, circles back, heightening emotion until it spins into a finale.

The song and its title evoked for me Marsa’s daughter Gloria story of standing on the deck of what she believed was the last ship out of a free Europe in early 1941. She looked up and wondered, with a foreign correspondent also fleeing Europe, “When will we be back? What will the continent be like then?”

“Hold On” by Tom Waits

The need to reinvent yourself happened a lot in the war, alongside a relentless desire to stay true to yourself. The tension comes through in Waits’ lyrics and his ragged voice.

"O Leaozinho" by Caetano Veloso

Brazilian Portuguese is very different from the European version, and Brazilian music is perhaps even further from Fado. But something about Veloso’s gentle song captured the undulating lines of an American family’s life in Lisbon, shafts of light as Europe unravels around them.

"I’m Shipping Up to Boston" by Dropkick Murphys

As Americans waded further into the war, they got harder. The lead U.S. spy agency, the OSS, adopted a business model and looked at shipping and other businesses as prime targets for recruiting spies and shipmates with divided loyalties in U.S. ports. And sometimes it used blackmail on the docks in a way the Dropkick Murphys seem to understand.

"Pistol Packin’ Mama" by Bing Crosby

Bing Crosby’s silky, low-key voice stuck in the head of a 13-year-old kid in east Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood at the start of the war. The bar nextdoor to Frank DiCara’s family played this song on the jukebox in the wee hours. He was the one to earn pocket change the next day sweeping up the place, so this segues for me into “The Dirty Jobs,” from Quadrophenia that captures a certain feeling.

“Sentimental Journey” by Glenn Miller

Frank was a teenage draftee in the Army when he climbed onto a ship taking him to the Pacific theater in the war’s last months. The band on the pier played Miller’s hit as he made his way up the gangway.

"I’ve Had Enough" by The Who

The drive of this song echoed what Frank experienced even before he’d left his teens: wartime factory work, death of his father, conscripted and sent to the frontlines in the Pacific. Unlikely to make it to twenty.

“Handle With Care” by Traveling Wilburys

For the ones in this story who survived, even just barely.

David A. Taylor and Cork Wars links:

the author's website

Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Soul of the People

also at Largehearted Boy:

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

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