March 1, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Darrin Doyle's The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions is a collection of stories that both haunt and amuse.
Since a young age I’ve had an affinity for country music; I loved to watch Hee Haw, and one of the first tunes that really moved me was Kenny Rogers’ “Coward of the County.” While I don’t listen exclusively (or even primarily) to country music, compiling this list has shown me that classic country has probably touched me more than any other genre. The songs are simple on the surface, but the range in tone and mood – threading humor with pathos; comedy with tragedy; aggression with tenderness; pain with joy – is an aspect I strive for in my art, and especially in my story collection, The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions.
Hoyt Axton is criminally under-appreciated. His amazing voice can jump effortlessly from tender-as-a-Teddy-Bear into a frightening guttural growl. This tune is an especially great showcase for his throat skills, and it works as a cautionary tale like my short story, “The Art of the Dead,” which tells of an artist who is a heroin addict and a stalker. My favorite line from this song is “I seen a lot of people with tombstones in their eyes.” This sort of figurative language is very much in line with the narrator’s wild, unhinged point-of-view in “The Art of the Dead.”
This song features Axton at his most tender, displaying a range from warm buzzsaw to smooth falsetto. The ethereal harmony by co-writer Renee Armand elevates the tune into a beautiful, heartbreaking sadness: for missed opportunities; for lost chances; for strained relationships. The lyrics evoke an unnameable melancholy that perfectly complements my story “The Kaleidoscope,” which deals with a young married couple returning to the United States after living in Japan for a year – only to find themselves feeling like foreigners in their own homeland.
“Stand By Your Man” – Tammy Wynette
The unadorned, vulnerable-yet-strong vocals begin quietly and end with a sad (or is it triumphant?) crescendo. The lyrics are ambiguous, starting with a feminist nod (“Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman”) before seeming to capitulate to a husband’s bad behavior (“But if you love him, you’ll forgive him”). And what should listeners make of the line “After all, he’s just a man”? Is she giving the old excuse “boys will be boys” or saying that men are inherently, well, lesser? Is the narrator a weak woman or a strong one? I love that there’s so much depth and complexity, which is exactly what I was aiming for in my story “The Baby Doll” – about a wife who ultimately decides whether to stand by her husband after he was unfaithful and possibly involved in a suspicious death.
“In the Summertime (You Don’t Want My Love)” – Roger Miller
I’m a fan of songs that sound happy but are actually about sadness. The music here is gleeful and bouncy, fast-tempoed and light, with images of colorful birds and trees in bloom, and yet these things only remind the speaker that his heart is broken: “In the summertime, when all the trees and leaves are green / And the redbird sings, I'll be blue / 'Cause you don't want my love.” Plus you simply can’t beat Miller’s amazing vocal scatting. My story “The Odds” tells of a gambler whose grandmother needs a lifesaving operation – and he makes a wager on Death. The story uses humor to discuss the bigger, more grim questions about how we handle grief.
“God’s Gonna Cut You Down” – Johnny Cash
This gospel standard is the Man in Black at his most apocalyptic: “Well you may throw your rock and hide your hand / Workin’ in the dark against your fellow man / But as sure as God made black and white / What's down in the dark will be brought to the light.” His quivering voice, like a wizened grandfather, warns sinners that their day of reckoning is nigh. My story “The Big Baby Crime Spree” is about a hospital custodian whose father is in late-stage dementia. The custodian hatches a wild plan to kidnap newborn infants to help him with a string of robberies. But all of this is of course a delusion meant to stave off the inevitable death that we all have to face.
Darrin Doyle teaches at Central Michigan University. The Big Baby Crime Spree and Other Delusions is his fifth book of fiction. He’s the author of the story collections Scoundrels Among Us and The Dark Will End the Dark (Tortoise Books) and the novels The Girl Who Ate Kalamazoo (St. Martin’s Press) and Revenge of the Teacher's Pet:A Love Story (LSU Press). He lives in Mount Pleasant, Michigan with three other humans and a cat. His website is darrindoyle.com.