Author Playlists

Kathleen Rooney’s Playlist for Her Novel “From Dust to Stardust”

“…my novels do tend to be heavily researched and driven by a desire to get their subjects remembered and re-appreciated long after their deaths.”

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.

Kathleen Rooney’s novel From Dust to Stardust is a compelling fictional account of silent film star Colleen Moore.

Booklist wrote of the book:

“Kathleen Rooney deftly weaves delectable film and women’s history into her enrapturing tale… [Her] delight in the real story behind this richly faceted novel burnishes it to a bewitching luster.”

In her own words, here is Kathleen Rooney’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel From Dust to Stardust:

When I revealed the cover of my latest novel From Dust to Stardust, I explained that my heroine, Doreen O’Dare, is based on the silent film star, philanthropist, and Fairy Castle visionary Colleen Moore, whose one-ton miniature dollhouse is on display at the Museum of Science and Industry here in Chicago.  Fellow writer Heidi Czerwiec commented: “I love your novel projects, like a cross between fiction & docupoetics!” I had never thought of my work in quite those terms, but I liked the description because my novels do tend to be heavily researched and driven by a desire to get their subjects remembered and re-appreciated long after their deaths. Here are a few songs that capture the spirit of Doreen and her milieu almost exactly 100 years after she became a box office smash.

“I Am Stretched on Your Grave” by Sinéad O’Connor (1990)

The second track from O’Connor’s second album combines the words of the anonymous 17th century Irish poem, “Táim Sinte ar do Thuamba”— translated into 20th century English by Frank O’Connor—sung over the break from James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” with a traditional fiddle solo near the end played by Steve Wickam of the Waterboys. O’Connor’s blending of contemporary influences with a more distant Irish heritage relates to how Doreen is influenced by the fairy tales her Irish grandmother raises her on, and how she navigates that heritage in her career and rise to fame.

“Screenwriter’s Blues” by Mike Doughty (1995)

Doreen becomes a star in the jazz age and Mike Doughty called his band’s sound “deep slacker jazz.” The goofy, wry lyrics of this song typify the absurdity of trying to make it in an industry town like Los Angeles, and Doreen was a brilliant comedian, so a funny song is fitting. Doughty refers to LA as having “Gone savage for teenagers who are aesthetically pleasing / in other words ‘FLY’.” Hollywood’s obsession with youth was present in from the jump, and in her memoir, Colleen writes about how directors rejected even babies for looking too old.

“That’s Not My Name” by the Ting Tings (2007)

Colleen Moore was born Kathleen Morrison. Doreen O’Dare’s is born Eileen Sullivan. In both cases, the stage name was coined with the help of her journalist uncle Walter Howey, a Chicago newspaperman with a knack for publicity. The way Katie White sings “that’s not my name” over and over embodies Doreen’s quest to get her name out there, even though that name is both real and not real.

Will Do” by TV on the Radio (2011)

Doreen falls in love with the married director Victor Marquis during a shoot on location in the California mountains. Both of them know that their romance can’t last, and they call it off when they return to sea level. The lyrics “Any time will do, my love / Any time will do, the choicest words will take me back to you” evoke the choice words the two of them use forever after in their letters and films to remind one another that LND or “Love Never Dies.”

“I Belong in Your Arms” by Chairlift (2012)

Not long after her affair with Victor, Doreen meets and is mutually smitten with Jack Flanagan, a publicity executive for First National Pictures. Her life and career provided the inspiration for the original version of A Star Is Born, and this is where that plotline kicks in. As talented as Jack is as a publicist and producer, and as much as he loves Doreen and works to help her become a star, so too does he threaten their happiness with his instability and alcoholism. But all that comes later. When they first lay eyes on each other on a warm West coast night, everything between them sweeps along in that breezy, invincible feeling of infatuation and destiny that this song’s melody commemorates.

“They Don’t Know (About Us)” by Kirsty MacColl (1979)

This is a beautiful and old-fashioned song about an ill-fated relationship whose opening quatrains lay out the whole sad and sticky situation:

You’ve been around for such a long time now
Or maybe I could leave you but I don’t know how
And why should I be lonely every night
When I can be with you, oh yes you make it right

And I don’t listen to the guys who say
That you’re bad for me and I should turn you away
Cause they don’t know about us
And they’ve never heard of love

When Jack’s sober and kind, nobody’s more mesmerizing, but when he’s drunk and cruel, nobody hurts her more. In spite of both her own better judgment and other people’s advice, Doreen stays with him for a long time out of a sense of loyalty and love.

“Circles Around This Town” by Maren Morris (2022)

Even as her personal life falls apart behind the scenes, Doreen keeps working hard, her cheery comedic persona and overall professionalism never flagging. And sure, Morris’s song is about the frustrations and humiliations of trying to make it as a singer-songwriter in Nashville, not about being a star in Hollywood’s first Golden Age. But the idea about trying to do quality creative work under capitalism in a town where a majority of the population is either working in or trying to break into a super-difficult industry still applies

“On to the Next One” by Jay-Z (2009)

Doreen’s work ethic is audacious. She’s forever going on to the next one and bringing “back some money.” She made so many movies, so many of them hits—including the now-lost Flaming Youth in 1923 and the massively successful WWI film Lilac Time in 1928—in such a short span.

“Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars” by David Bowie (1972)

The title of the novel has stardust in it because that’s a common trope for becoming famous, but also in homage to David Bowie, someone who—like Doreen—knew how to produce excellent work in a tough field and could “lick ‘em by smiling.”

“Skyscraper” by Automatic (2022)

This is a song about work by an LA trio. According to band member Halle Saxon-Gaines, “It’s about spending your life making money and then spending it to fill the void created by said job.” Her band-mate Lola Dompé adds: “Kind of like going to LA to live your dreams.” Doreen amasses fame and wealth, fulfilling her childhood dream of being an actress, and that’s awesome. But then, she’s approaching 30 and has to ask if this is how she wants to spend the rest of her life—she can make talkies, but does she want to? “Your skin fits so tight now you can’t move at all,” say the lyrics. Doreen doesn’t want to be stuck; she wants to move, hence the construction of her Fairy Castle and tour.

“For the Love of Money” by the O’Jays (1973)

This song is so funky and its lyrics are so assertive: “Don’t let, don’t let, don’t let money fool you / Money can fool people sometimes / People! Don’t let money, don’t let money change you, / It will keep on changing, changing up your mind.” Money is a source of potential corruption when not used correctly. After earning her fortune, Doreen realizes that she needs to see her wealth not as an end, but a means—not something to be hoarded, but to be used as a tool to create something for herself and for other people in the form of her Fairy Castle and its subsequent tour to raise funds for children in the Great Depression.

“Sweet Home Chicago” by Robert Johnson (1936)

Chicago might not be the first location people picture for a happily-ever-after, but Doreen settles there after she leaves California for good and the city does end up being a pretty sweet home. Johnson sings, somewhat perplexingly: “But I’m cryin’ hey baby, / Honey don’t you want to go / Back to the land of California, / to my sweet home Chicago.” The geographic mystery—Chicago? California? Where are we?—sums up the reasons people relocate: romance and finance, ambition and myth. Often, our ideas of where we’re heading have a dreamy, fairyland aspect. A place might not be all that various legends promised, but once we are there, we do what we can.

Also at Largehearted Boy:

Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her novel Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her essay collection For You, For You I Am Trilling These Songs
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her memoir Live Nude Girl
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her novel O, Democracy!
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her poetry collection Oneiromance
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her book René Magritte: Selected Writings
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her novel Robinson Alone
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her poetry collection Where Are the Snows
Kathleen Rooney’s playlist for her poetry collection “Where Are the Snows”

For book & music links, themed playlists, a wrap-up of Largehearted Boy feature posts, and more, check out Largehearted Boy’s weekly newsletter.

Kathleen Rooney is a founding editor of Rose Metal Press, a nonprofit publisher of literary work in hybrid genres, as well as a founding member of Poems While You Wait, a collective of poets and their vintage typewriters who compose poetry on demand. Her most recent books include the novels Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk and Cher Ami and Major Whittlesey. Her poetry collection Where Are the Snows won the 2021 X. J. Kennedy Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in fall of 2022. She is a winner of the Ruth Lilly Prize from Poetry magazine and the Adam Morgan Literary Citizen Award from the Chicago Review of Books, and her criticism appears in the New York Times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the Brooklyn Rail, Chicago magazine, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and elsewhere. She lives in Chicago with her spouse, the writer Martin Seay, and teaches English and creative writing at DePaul University.

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