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February 4, 2019

Andrew Cotto's Playlist for His Novel "Cucina Tipica"

Cucina Tipica

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.

Andrew Cotto transports the reader to Italy in his compelling novel Cucina Tipica.

The Brooklyn Rail wrote of the book:

"Any reader with a passion for food, wine, literature, and, most of all, the streets of Florence, will find the release of Andrew Cotto's latest novel, Cucina Tipica: An Italian Adventure, a rare delight to the senses and intellect. Through Cotto's hypnotic prose, one finds themselves lost in Italy."

In his own words, here is Andrew Cotto's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Cucina Tipica:

I’m probably one of the few writers out there who claims more inspiration from music than literature (not that I don’t love me my books!). That said, this new novel is the one with the least amount of music directly referenced in the narrative, so there’s no easily-accessible soundtrack to compile, but the spirit of music is threaded throughout as the protagonist, Jacoby Pines, is a former Boston musician whose epic fail in the real world of New York inspires his escape to Italy, and one of the subplots involves a young Italian artisan shoemaker who worships Pearl Jam and convinces Jacoby to accompany him in a concert during the village sagra (festival) where things get very rock & roll and spiral out of control. So, the Pearl Jam connection aside, this compilation is informed by songs that capture the pathos of the novel along with a nod to some of the Boston-based rock that I imagine Jacoby would dig.

“All These Kids Are Way Too High” - Low Cut Connie

I love this band, and singer Adam Weiner is my idea of a 21st century rock star. This particular song also works as a great opener with the immediacy of the guitar riff, and it thematically matches the mood of Jacoby who wants to get the fuck out of New York. The song is really a criticism of entitled (and wasted) contemporary youth, but its being appropriated here to represent the forces at large that lead to Jacoby’s general estrangement from American culture.

“Jetlagger” - Bette Smith

I met Bette after seeing her at the Bowery Ballroom (opening for Low Cut Connie!), and we became friends. She played the book release party for Cucina Tipica, and the crowd was as mesmerized by her as I was upon seeing all that she brings through her voice, music, arrangements, style, and spirit. She is a reincarnation of every soul singer I ever loved or wished I’d heard of, all in someone wholly unique and magical. This song - the title track from Bette’s debut album, about the often surreal experience of travel - accompanies Jacoby on his way to Italy, on the flight where he drinks himself stupid but still can’t get any rest, arriving in Europe with jet lag abetted by a hangover.

“I Found Love” - Bette Smith

I’m not favoring Bette because she’s my friend, but this song - an upbeat, rollicking number about the magic of new love - captures the sense of wonder that Jacoby experiences upon discovering the splendor of Italy. There is romantic love in the story, but the primary heart emoji is between a man and a place, as Jacoby falls hard for the land of his ancestors and all of its offerings, so much so he vows to never leave.

“Love is Heavy” Julianna Nash

I actually used this song on the Book Notes for Outerborough Blues: A Brooklyn Mystery. The aching, elegiac feel of the song speaks to the magnitude of heartbreak and how complicated love can be in myriad circumstances. I love the boat/ship metaphor throughout and especially in the chorus: “Boat arrives, the cargo sinks; love is heavy.” This reality resonates in the novel when things fall apart for Jacoby romantically, also dooming, it seems, his plans for redemption in Italy. Julianna is also a friend, and I so admire her music as a solo artist and leader of the former, Boston band, Talking to Animals, which I loosely based Jacoby’s musical history upon.

“Lonesome Day Blues” Bob Dylan

This one also appeared on my previous Book Notes, but I had to use it again since it’s referenced in the novel, fitting the mood when a forlorn Jacoby is accepting his fate and drifting off to sleep listening to his favorite Dylan song on his favorite Dylan album (mine, too!), Love & Theft. No, I’m not friends with Dylan, but I’d like to be…

“Disappear” by Expanding Man

This song, also from a Boston-based band, culminates Jacoby’s blue period with a searing, image-laden ode to desolation, regret, and escape. These guys rock very hard, and I can imagine Jacoby finding solace in their sound. They could be friends…

“Suffer Me” Todd Thibaud

Continuing the Boston-motif, this song from a seminal singer-songwriter, I consider Jacoby’s comeback tune, when he decides not to succumb to sadness, to try to get his shit together, and find a way to stay in Italy. I was going to go with the Rocky soundtrack song, but, yeah, no…

“Long Way Down” Amy Fairchild

Boston sure has a lot of musicians! Who knew? Among them is one of my new favorites, Amy Fairchild, a prolific singer-songwriter whom I can imagine Jacoby really admiring, especially this ethereal, pragmatic, hopeful, and lovely contemplation of life’s challenges: He can relate (can’t we all?).

“Corduroy” Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam is huge in Italy, and they play a role in connecting Jacoby to the artisan cobbler in the nearby village. The friendship is initiated by overhearing Pearl Jam being played, and then cemented by Jacoby’s ability to accompany the young singer for a set of PJ tunes at the village fair. One of the songs is “Corduroy” as the tension and resolution match the mood of the event (some shit about to go down, but it’s all good).

“This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody)” Talking Heads

I love this song for its elongated and quirky introduction, but it’s the sentiment of home through exquisite lyrics that makes it the perfect ending to the novel. It’s such a universal theme, the idea of a place where we belong, where love and comfort can be found. This is all Jacoby wants, and I can imagine this song being played as the credits role, and Jacoby and company walk off into their happy ending.

Bonus Track!

“Boozophilia” by Low Cut Connie

This bouncy rocker would be the perfect post-credits clip, as Jacoby and the other characters tear it up at the local “cantintetta” where they are heading for a celebration at the novel’s end. I can see them dancing on the tables and drinking straight from bottles of prosecco.

Andrew Cotto and Cucina Tipica links:

the author's website

Brooklyn Rail interview with the author
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Outerborough Blues
Parade essay by the author
Season's Readings interview with the author
Total Tuscany interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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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)
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my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

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guest book reviews
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