Author Playlists

Freda Love Smith’s playlist for her memoir “I Quit Everything”

“In I Quit Everything, I document my experiment of kicking a bunch of addictive habits and investigate the cultural influences—mostly songs and movies—that helped define my relationship to intoxication and addiction”

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.

Freda Love Smith’s memoir I Quit Everything is powerful and wise, a book as insightful as it is entertaining.

Eula Biss wrote of the book:

“Searching for the sweet spot between excess and deprivation, I Quit Everything explores the challenges of our immoderate times. Quitting can be revelatory, Smith concludes, even when it’s temporary.”

In her own words, here is Freda Love Smith’s Book Notes music playlist for her memoir I Quit Everything:

In I Quit Everything, I document my experiment of kicking a bunch of addictive habits and investigate the cultural influences—mostly songs and movies—that helped define my relationship to intoxication and addiction. I saw it as a form of detective work, an attempt to better understand myself and my often-destructive patterns. What I found was a tangle of beautifully contradictory messages about the perils and profits of messing with your consciousness. My playlist explores this shambolic terrain.

Toreador Song from Carmen

IQE starts and ends with The Bad News Bears (1976). I basically love everything about this scrappy, grubby, foul-mouthed movie, including the score, which adapts themes from Bizet’s Carmen. The effect is often comedic—uncoordinated young baseball players miss balls, strike out, and bite the dust to this romantic, heroic music. But there’s something subtler communicated too, a reminder of how intensely we experience the world in our youth: how every baseball game is vividly real and painfully consequential. In IQE I try to take my childhood—and my childhood self—seriously and this piece of music reflects that. It’s hell to be a kid sometimes, and we all faced down some form of rampaging bull.

Stephen Bishop “It Might Be You”

A big hit for The Bish, beloved singer/songwriter of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s Saturday Night Live crowd, this soaring (if sappy) love song from Tootsie (1982) struck 15-year-old romantic me right where it hurt. I had a crush on Dustin Hoffman’s character in the film, Michael, and I wanted to be Jessica Lange’s Julie; glamorous, wine-swilling, talented, and slightly tragic.

Albert King “Born Under a Bad Sign” and Booker T. and the M.G.’s “Hip Hug-Her”

You’ll find these sublime, soulful recordings setting the aural atmosphere in Barfly (1987), starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway, based on the life of poet, novelist, and short-story writer Charles Bukowski. Barfly makes being an irredeemable drunk look good, somehow managing to equate alcoholism with integrity. These songs help cast the slinky spell.

War “Low Rider”

I can’t exactly recommend that you watch the entirety of Cheech and Chong’s Up in Smoke (1978), unless you are super, super high, but I insist that you watch the spellbinding and delightful opening credits, which features Cheech slowly, lovingly wiping down his beat-up car, climbing in and rolling up his back window (to reveal a “Love Machine” inscription), and driving while puffing on a reefer the size of a small log. This all happens to the irresistible groove of “Low Rider.” To that soundtrack, Cheech’s labor is pure joy and exemplifies a point I make in the cannabis chapter of IQE: that weed can lend a glow to everyday tasks. I write about high yoga, high baths, high sex. If I had a car, I might add high car buffing.

Sturgill Simpson “Turtles All the Way Down”

I became obsessed with this song the first time I heard it. For me, it brings to mind a Terrence McKenna quote that I cite in IQE: “If the words ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’ don’t include the right to experiment with your own consciousness, then the Declaration of Independence isn’t worth the hemp it was written on.” Simpson’s glorious song celebrates the exultation of expanding your mind, and although he includes a respectable list of drugs (this is surely the first country song to mention DMT), he concedes that love is “the only thing that ever saved my life.”

The Replacements “Here Comes a Regular”

The Replacements, the Charles Bukowski of indie rock bands, are one of my lifelong favorites. The lyrics to this particularly aching, beautiful song recall an Atlantic piece by Kate Julian about drinking (with a focus on alcohol habits during the pandemic). She describes the kind of drinking alone that many of us were partaking in as the “can’t-bear-another-day-like-all-the-other-days variety.” We weren’t drinking to feel good. We were drinking to “take the edge off of feeling bad.”

Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson “No Reason to Quit” and “Reasons to Quit”

Merle Haggard’s moody, nihilistic “No Reason to Quit” (co-written with Willie Nelson) is on his critically acclaimed album Hag from 1971. He sings about losing friends and feeling alienated by his excesses, but it’s not enough to make him sober up. In 1983, Haggard and Nelson answer their 1971 song with “Reasons to Quit.” Now we get a litany of reasons to sober up: friends aren’t coming around; the lows are lower than the highs; the habit is expensive; and it’s taking its toll on the creative process. And yet… the reasons for quitting still “don’t outnumber all the reasons why,” and the regret of the verses is trumped by the gleefully tipsy chorus. We keep smoking, they sing. We keep drinking.

Lucinda Williams “Changed the Locks”

Standard breakup lyrics evolve into something much more surreal: Lucinda goes from changing the locks on her door after a breakup to changing the name of her town. This song became my theme song while writing IQE — I so badly wanted to make big changes in my life. It wasn’t enough for me to just change the locks; I wanted to change the name of the fucking town.

George Michael “Freedom”

Near the beginning of IQE I declare my intention to make myself “something like free” from addictions and bad habits. This track, which I have loved since 1990, helped me get through some of the harder moments of withdrawal. Try singing, at full voice, the line “I don’t belong to you, and you don’t belong to me” to booze. It feels good. Add some dancing. Dance harder. Now we’re getting somewhere. Something like free.

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

Also at Largehearted Boy:

Freda Love Smith’s playlist for her memoir Red Velvet Underground

Freda Love Smith is a writer, teacher, and retired indie rock drummer. Her first book, Red Velvet Underground, was published in 2015. She teaches at Northwestern University and Lesley University, and she played drums with Blake Babies, Antenna, Mysteries of Life, Gentleman Caller, Some Girls, and Sunshine Boys. Freda reviews nonfiction for Booklist, writes for the Sound of our Town podcast, and is the programming director of Bookends University, the curricular arm of Bookends & Beginnings bookstore in Evanston, IL.

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