Author Playlists

Jim Ruland’s Playlist for His Novel “Make It Stop”

“The music that informs Make It Stop is a mix of loud, edgy music from the late ’70s to the present day.”

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, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Jim Ruland’s Make It Stop is one of the most propulsive novels I have ever read, a fast-paced dystopian literary thriller filled with fascinating characters.

The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:

“‘Make It Stop’ is a crime novel tucked inside a social critique, but as in all good dystopian thrillers, the horror is grounded firmly in character.”

In his own words, here is Jim Ruland’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Make It Stop:

“California Uber Alles” Dead Kennedys

My novel Make It Stop is about a gang of dysfunctional vigilantes that take on the healthcare system. It’s set in the indeterminate future but describes a kind of corporate takeover predicted by punk and hardcore bands during the Reagan years. The music that informs Make It Stop is a mix of loud, edgy music from the late ’70s to the present day. What follows is a chapter by chapter playlist that follows the story’s bad vibrations. Because the novel is set in California let’s start with the Dead Kennedys’ classic song about the fascist inclinations of governing bodies that presumes to know what’s best for its citizens.  

“Mommy’s Little Monster” Social Distortion

Melanie is a recovering alcoholic and when we meet her she’s relapsing while trying to do a difficult and dangerous job: break into a prison hospital and bust out a patient. I don’t want to speak for all alcoholics, but in the back of my mind I always knew the party was going to end and when it did it was going to be ugly. Most people stop before they get that point but the addict brain urges us along. I think this mindset is perfectly captured in the lyric “I love the sound of breaking glass/If I get caught they’re gonna kick my ass.” The subtext of that line is the question: “How are you going to stop me when I can’t control myself?”

“Choices” Amyl and the Sniffers

Melanie’s mantra is “No feelings, only choices.” An alcoholic always feels like having a drink, the key is choosing not to. But catchy slogans will only get you so far. We’re all led around by our feelings—especially when love and lust are involved. The chorus of “Choices” is the perfect encapsulation of what Make It Stop is all about: “I can make my own choices / I ignore all the voices / Life has layers, it’s lawless / Ah, stuff ya!”

“Fiery Jack” The Toy Dolls

Melanie’s favorite alcoholic beverage for fucking up her life is a jalapeño-flavored vodka I made up called Fiery Cat. The name was inspired by Fiery Jack, the backache ointment made famous by English absurdist punks The Toy Dolls.

“Love Song” Idles

When addicts and alcoholics are cut off from their drugs of choice, we find other ways to transgress against ourselves: we fixate on food, gambling, sex, video games. We’ll take anything that gets those dopamine receptors going and then take things way too far. Idles’ “Love Song” captures the brooding menace of the dark side of struggling to locate the good in something that shouldn’t be so hard to find.

“Negative Thoughts” Duchess Says

There are times when this song feels like a spell: a six-and-a-half minute spiral of bad vibes. It’s about the way dwelling on negative thoughts leads to more negative thoughts until you can’t the see the good in anyone or anything. There’s a moment that all recovering addicts and alcoholics encounter when they realize their problems go much deeper than addiction.

“Suspect Device” Stiff Little Fingers

There are all kinds of subtle and not-so-subtle references to punk songs in Make It Stop. A chapter in which someone with experience handling explosives appears calls for an allusion to Stiff Little Fingers’ Belfast anthem “Suspect Device.”

“Clones Don’t Love” Lost Sounds

One of the problems with taking a long-ass time to write a near future novel is the future keeps catching up with you. Long before “chatbot” entered the discourse I invented a “Truthbot” on a dating site called TruLuv that makes pronouncements on your dating prospects. It’s as fucked up as it sounds and calls for an equally sinister song, ergo “Clones Don’t Love.” No one asked me but Lost Sounds’ 2004 self-titled record is one of the most ferocious albums of the 21st century.

“The Triangle” TSOL

I always wanted to write a song where a couple of Cold War spies meet on a gray beach at dawn. I’ve lived at or near the beach for a good chunk of my life and the truth of the matter is the weather is usually pretty bleak. Cold, blustery, socked in with fog, dead things being spat onto the shore by the sea, majestic in its indifference. TSOL, a band best known for a song about necrophilia, wrote a perfect little surfy spy saga that’s just under three-and-a-half minutes long.

“Tarpit” Dinosaur Jr

I used to work near the La Brea Tar Pits in LA and at least once a week, but usually more often than that, I’d walk to Molly Malone’s, an Irish pub on Fairfax, and drink my lunch. Something about the black tar and black pints of Guinness went well together. Tar pits and Irish bars can be found all over my work, in short stories and essays and now in Make It Stop. “Tarpit” is a little on the nose. It’s not even in my top tier of Dinosaur Jr songs but the guitars are a big muddled caterwauling mess and mirror Melanie’s mental state for most of the novel.

“I Am the Cancer” Smogtown

Make It Stop features a fictional punk rock band called The Furors that is modeled after the legendary south Orange County band Smogtown. In January of 2000, Smogtown released a record called Führers of the New Wave, a sci-fi concept album about a punk rock band who fight, and are eventually wiped out, by an entity known as Bodie 601. I loved the idea of a scrappy resistance movement rising up to fight an overwhelmingly superior force even if it meant total destruction. The record is classic mid-tempo SoCal street punk that thumbs its nose at everything from suburban sprawl to white power punker dunkers who made a nuisance of themselves in the surf and in the pit. For a brief period in the early aughts Smogtown was my Sex Pistols and if there was a gig, for better or worse, I was there. “I Am the Cancer” is Smogtown at its face-ripping finest. The Repo Man intro and outro is just the icing on the cake.

“Blood Visions” Jay Reatard

This part of the playlist is admittedly getting dark but it echoes the way Melanie keeps putting herself in dangerous situations and getting the shit kicked out of her. Melanie loses battle after battle but keeps fighting the war. I wish I could say I was like that. I admire her dumb courage and—to quote another Smogtown song—“Knock out my teeth I didn’t need them anyway” attitude.

“The Sadist” Zig-Zags

In rehab Melanie meets a Native black metal singer named Morris. It sounds absurd framed that way but stay with me. Melanie doesn’t go to rehab to work on herself. She’s on a mission for Make It Stop. However, Melanie and Morris bond over their shared love of The Furors but both parties will come to regret meeting. I could have picked another Smogtown song here, but I picked “The Sadist” to represent their connection because several years ago I was listening to this song while driving through Navajo Nation in northern New Mexico and felt my mind begin to disassociate in the most righteously epic way. If this song doesn’t make you want to mount your mechanical steed with flames guttering from its nostrils and laser beams shooting out of its eyeballs, I don’t know what to tell you.

“Five Lessons Learned” Swingin’ Utters

Every novel I write has at least one scene in a terrible Irish bar. Not all Irish bars are terrible, but all terrible Irish bars are terrible in the exact same way. When I was in graduate school I was researching a story set during the Gilded Age and found an ad for Chadwick’s Unadulterated Irish Whiskey in the Chicago Tribune. I’ve been planting it in my novels ever since. Whenever a character stumbles upon some Chadwick’s, it’s always a bad idea. When I was living in Manhattan Beach I found a bottle of blended Irish whiskey on the bottom shelf I’d never heard of. It had been there so long the bottle was covered with dust. I brought to the Roxy where I was interviewing The Swingin’ Utters and smuggled it inside. By the end of the interview the bottle was empty and I was shitfaced. I got a DUI driving home that night and needless to say I learned a few lessons that night.

“Room 13” Black Flag

The first time I heard “Room 13” I imagined someone locked up and held against their will in some kind of asylum. The lyrics feel like POW stream consciousness. Keith told me the song was about Greg Ginn’s girlfriend Medea who lived in on Pier Avenue in Hermosa Beach. #13 was her apartment number. For what it’s worth, I prefer Dez’s version to Henry’s.

“I Wanna Be Your Dog” Iggy Pop

In the playlist of your life if “I Wanna Be Your Dog” comes on, you know some bad shit is going to go down.

“Who Was in My Room Last Night?” Butthole Surfers

I love books with fictional drugs so I made one up for Make It Stop. It’s called Kannabliss but everyone calls it Bliss. It’s like a cross between MDMA and Fentanyl only the erotic effects are amped up to 11. Sound fun? Well, the shit’s super addictive and if you shoot it up you get horrible infections with sores that stink to high heaven. Nasty stuff. I think the Butthole Surfers would be super into it.

“Psychic Hearts” Thurston Moore

For people in recovery words matter. There’s real power in naming the thing that’s taken control of your life. Finding the words to articulate what the fuck is wrong with you is the step before the first step. It’s never easy, even when it’s obvious, but it gets easier and easier until your terrible secret becomes as humdrum as an empty book of matches.

“Ignored” OFF!

Is there someone in your life you haven’t been paying attention to? You might want to change that. They could be your most loyal friend or your worst enemy.

“Reality Breakdown” No Trend

The first time I heard this song it felt like it had already been hardwired into by brain. Then I found out No Trend is from the greater DC area where I grew up and the songwriter was responding to and reacting against the same shit that I was dealing with in high school. There are no accidents.

“Anxiety Attack” Surfbort

We’re at the climax of the novel when what’s left of my crew of dysfunctional vigilantes are getting ready to go to war. It’s do or die. A cliché except for when lives are in the balance. So why this song? Because at the end the day, a raid on a heavily fortified prison hospital is just a metaphor for the struggle to get through the day. “All are is what you are. You can’t be more. You can’t be less.” None of us are making it out of this lifeboat alive. How sad would it be to spend our time on this planet a prisoner to a disease?

“Fuckers” Savages

You know this it, right? This is the fight of your life except there’s no winning or losing just living or dying. So which one is it going to be?

“I Get Nervous” Lost Sounds

In this chapter, Melanie is out cold and comes to in a hospital. What did she dream about? Where did she go? What happened to her when she was out?

“Look Back and Laugh” Minor Threat

When I was writing Make It Stop I had the words “I WILL SHOW YOU INTENSITY” taped over my desk. I hope if nothing else this playlist accomplished that. If you are struggling with drugs or alcohol and are ready to make it stop, please know there are broken people like me who want to help.

Jim Ruland is the co-author of Do What You Want with Bad Religion, and My Damage with Keith Morris, the founding vocalist of Black Flag, Circle Jerks, and OFF! Ruland has been writing for punk zines such as Flipside and Razorcake for more than twenty-five years and his work has received awards from Reader’s Digest and the National Endowment for the Arts.

If you appreciate the work that goes into Largehearted Boy, please consider supporting the site to keep it strong.