Author Playlists

Mary Camarillo’s playlist for her novel “Those People Behind Us”

“The novel starts just before Memorial Day in 2017 with realtor Lisa Kensington planting American flags in every yard in her territory—the Prestige Haven neighborhood in the fictional suburban coastal town of Wellington Beach, California.”

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.

Mary Camarillo’s novel Those People Behind Us captures a southern California beach town thoughtfully in all its complexity.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

“. . . . we all need to step back from our prejudices and assumptions, take a deep breath, and realize that we are all in this together . . . . mesmerizing . . . . A worthwhile read with characters who grapple with timely political conundrums.”

In her own words, here is Mary Camarillo’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel Those People Behind Us:

Track #1, Memorial Day, James McMurtry

It’s Memorial Day in America/Everybody’s on the road/Let’s remember our fallen heroes/Y’all be sure and drive slow.

Holidays are complicated days in the increasingly less united US of A. “Those People Behind Us” is about five neighbors searching for home and community in a neighborhood where no one can agree who belongs. The novel starts just before Memorial Day in 2017 with realtor Lisa Kensington planting American flags in every yard in her territory—the Prestige Haven neighborhood in the fictional suburban coastal town of Wellington Beach, California.

Lisa gushes about the holiday in her latest newsletter, reminding everyone that “summer is just around the corner and it’s almost bikini season.” Her next-door neighbor complains that the flags seem flimsier this year but neither of them mention plans to honor fallen veterans.

In the song “Memorial Day” James McMurtry (the Texas-born singer-songwriter son of novelist Larry McMurtry) describes the cold beer, the freshly baked pie, the 98-degree heat, and the family fighting, arguing and cussing. Lost in the squabbling is what the day is supposed to be about. “Memorial Day” was released on July 7, 2020, on the album Childish Things, a collection of stories about families, a nation at war, the quiet of night, the awkward rites of passage, and those endless vacation squabbles.

Track #2 “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” The Monkees

Rows of houses that are all the same and no one seems to care, here in status symbol land. Mothers complain about how hard life is, and the kids just don’t understand.

Lisa is juggling her job, her shopaholic husband, a mother-in-law who knows how to push her buttons and teenagers with ideas of their own. In her one creative outlet (those perky real estate newsletters) Lisa describes the Prestige Haven neighborhood as a “shining example of the Wellington coastal lifestyle.”

The song “Pleasant Valley Sunday” is a much darker description of suburbia. Gerry Goffin and Carole King wrote the song about a street where they lived (apparently not very happily) in suburban New Jersey. The Monkees released this title on July 30, 1967. They played their own instruments on this song, which was a first for them. Back in those days, most rock and rollers relied on the studio musicianship of the Wrecking Crew.

I was a Monkees fan regardless of who was playing the instruments and went to their concert at the Hollywood Bowl on June 9, 1967. If you’d like to know more about the Wrecking Crew, check out the 2008 documentary.

Track #3 “What’s He Building?” Tom Waits

He never waves when he goes by, he’s hiding something from the rest of us. He’s all to himself, I think I know why, He has no dogs, he has no friends, and his lawn is dying.

One of the neighbors in “Those People Behind Us,” Vietnam vet Ray Murdoch cares for his aging mother and feels increasingly out of place among the newer residents who drive cars that cost more than he ever earned in a year. He doesn’t even know most of  their names and is sure they are judging him, so he judges them first.

Tom Waits released “What’s He Building” on the Mule Variations album on April 16, 1999, and it won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. The song’s about the obsessive and invasive mindset of suspicious neighbors. Especially when their grass is dying. Lawns are very important in suburbia.

Track #4 “Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin

Been a long lonely, lonely, lonely time.

Sixteen-year-old Josh Kowalski would agree with the Goffin/King take on the blandness conformity of suburbia. As he pulls weeds in his mother’s raggedy front yard, Josh observes his surroundings. “It’s a typical June Gloom morning, the sky slate metal, the neighborhood silent. Empty sidewalks and concrete driveways outline tiny plots of lawns up and down the street. The houses are all different shades of beige. This is the most boing place in the world.”

Josh is dealing with his father’s recent abandonment by pounding on every flat surface he can find. Annoying everyone is his sole intention until an old man living around the corner hears him playing and offers to help. Turns out he was in a celebrated rock band back in the 1970’s. He introduces Josh to Led Zeppelin and drummer John Bonham quickly becomes Josh’s idol.

Zeppelin’s song “Rock and Roll” was released on November 8, 1971, on Led Zeppelin IV. John Bonham transformed the drum beat from Little Richard’s “Keep a Knockin’” into the motor behind “Rock & Roll,” not the first time the Zep “borrowed” from original artists. Led Zeppelin has an extensive history of swiping songs from other people and only giving credit only under duress. They’ve been sued by the estates of some of the best blues artists—Willie Dixon, Howlin Wolf, and Blind Willie Johnson.

Conversely, Led Zeppelin’s music is notionally difficult to license but the 2018 HBO series “Sharp Objects” featured four of their songs blasting from car speakers as Amy Adams’ character drives around her hometown, investigating the murders of two young girls. The band admired how the character used driving and music as a means of escape.

Track #5 “Sad But True,” Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

I’m your dream, make you real, I’m your eyes when you must steal. I’m your pain when you can’t feel. Sad but true.

When he’s not trying to sleep in his older model Honda Accord, Keith Nelson spends a lot of time driving the streets of Wellington Beach, listening to Metallica on the radio. “The bass vibrates from the steering wheel up into Keith’s arms and adrenaline comes alive in his heart. Whoever wrote this song understands what it means to be alone.”

“Sad But True” is from Metallica’s Black Album, released August 12, 1991. James Hatfield of Metallica got the idea for this song from the 1978 Anthony Hopkins film Magic, which is about a ventriloquist controlled by his evil puppet. Most of the band members were going through divorces during this period.

The track included in the playlist is Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s version of the song. It appears on the 30th anniversary tribute album to Metallica’s Black Album

Track #6 “American Girl,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers

She couldn’t help thinkin’ that there was a little more life somewhere else. After all It was a great big world

Jeannette Larsen is at a party with people she doesn’t know and is pretty sure she doesn’t want to know, when “American Girl” starts playing on the sound system. “I love Tom Petty,” a woman says, and Jeannette smiles, glad to find something in common. Music can be a unifier when people can’t find much of anything else to agree on.

“American Girl” was released on Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers self-titled album debut in 1976. It’s a huge part of the American film/television soundtrack canon, featured in titles ranging from Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Silence of the Lambs, to The Sopranos and The Handmaids Tale, usually during scenes where the character longs for something bigger than their current existence.

Jeannette is numb with grief during most of “Those People Behind Us” because of a horrific tragedy but she is looking forward to seeing Tom Petty at the Hollywood Bowl on September 25, 2017. “American Girl” was the last song the band performed that night, closing out the encore. Tom Petty died on October 2, 2017.

Track #7, “The Pretender,”  Foo Fighters

Keep you in the dark/You know they all pretend/Keep you in the dark/And so it all began…

Josh has decided that adults all pretend. His father pretended he had a job when he was really sitting in a bar all day. His mother pretends she doesn’t care his dad left while she cries herself to sleep every night. Josh takes his frustrations out on his drum kit and another drummer he admires is the late Taylor Hawkins of the Foo Fighters.

“The Pretender” was written by Dave Grohl and is on the 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. Grohl doesn’t like to explain his lyrics but he did admit that “The Pretender” alluded to the political unrest of the time. He said, “everyone’s been fucked over before and a lot of people these days feel they’re not getting what they were promised.”

Still a common feeling today, especially among most of the characters in “Those People Behind Us.”

Track #8 Fortunate Son, Creedence Clearwater

Some folks are born made to wave the flag. Hoo, they’re red, white and blue. And when the band plays “Hail to the chief” ooh, they point the canon at you. It ain’t me, I ain’t no fortunate one

In the summer of 2017 in Wellington Beach folks are waving all kinds of flags. Keith Nelson has even acquired a red MAGA hat which he wears mostly because it was free and he thinks he looks good in red, because also because he knows his father would hate it. His dad is not a fan of the new president.

Keith hasn’t seen his father since the night two months ago when his dad called him a moron. That was also the night Keith realized his dad was afraid of him, which made Keith feel powerful and sick to his stomach at the same time. And definitely not fortunate.

“Fortunate Son” was written by John Fogarty and released by Creedence Clearwater on their fourth studio album Willy and the Poor Boys in November 1969. It quickly became an anti-Vietnam war anthem. When the truly fortunate son Donald Trump also used it at a campaign rally, Fogarty issued a cease-and-desist order.

Track #9, Sam Stone, John Prine

And the time that he served had shattered all his nerves and left a little shrapnel in his knees. But the morphine eased the pain and the grass grew round his brain.

Ray Murdoch,  the  Vietnam vet in “Those People Behind Us,” is no longer a flag waver. When he came home from the war, people called him baby killer and worse so he put away his uniform. Ray’s also not a fan of the relentless fireworks on the Fourth of July in Wellington Beach. He tries his best not to dwell on the past though. Ray almost buys a poster from a John Prine concert and then decides it will only remind him of all the things he’s worked too hard to forget.

John Prine’s song, released in July of 1971 on Prine’s debut album, showed sympathy for a struggling vet when it wasn’t fashionable to show sympathy. When he wrote the song, Prine had just gotten out of the Army and realized how difficult it was to adjust to civilian life and how little support was available.

Track #10 Red Dirt Girl, Emmylou Harris

Somewhere out there is a great big world/That’s where I’m bound/And the stars might fall on Alabama/But one of these days I’m gonna swing/My hammer down.

Jeannette Larsen has this song on the radio as she pulls into her neighborhood, although she’s not really listening, too distracted by her own demons and by needing to pee. The album Red Dirt Girl was the nineteenth studio album by Emmylou Harris, released on September 12, 2000. This album was a significant departure for Harris, who normally interprets other songwriters’ material. Eleven of the twelve tracks on the album were written or co-written by Emmylou. The red dirt girl in the title track feels trapped by the decisions she’s made. The song explores how home can often feel confining, a place we long to escape from.

The title track was inspired by Harris’s childhood memories of growing up in the town of Birmingham, Alabama and by the film Boys Don’t Cry. “It unnerved me,” she said of the film, “not only because of the violence, but also because of the underlying theme of how trapped those young people were. We all come into this world with so much potential and so many dreams. Who knows why some people escape and other people don’t?

Track #11 “One Time One Night,” Los Lobos

A quiet voice is singing something to me/An age-old song ‘bout the brave in this land here of the free. One time one night in America

Josh Kowalski frequently wears his dad’s black Los Lobos baseball cap, the one with the grinning wolf. It’s a way of staying close to his absent dad. That and blowing up the fireworks his dad left behind in their garage.

Los Lobos included “One Time One Night” on their 1987 album By the Light of The Moon. Louie Pérez and David Hidalgo wrote this song, which tells the stories of multiple American hopefuls whose lives end in tragedy–newlyweds who are victims of a shooting, a child killed in a car crash and a woman forced into an unhappy marriage.

Despite the pain and heartbreak that comes from living in this world, the resilience of the human spirit shines through the song. As it does through all of the characters in “Those People Behind Us” who ultimately discover they have more in common than they ever expected.

Here’s to resilience and hope and finding community with those we don’t quite understand.

also at Largehearted Boy:

Mary Camarillo’s playlist for her novel The Lockhart Women

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

Mary Camarillo is the author of the award-winning novel “The Lockhart Women.”

Her awards include the 2022 Indie Author project Winner, California Adult Fiction, the 2022 Willa Literary Award Finalist in Multiform Fiction, the 2021 First Place Award in the Next Generation Indies for First Fiction, a 2022 Finalist for the Screencraft Cinematic Book Award, a 2021 Finalist in the American Book Awards in Women’s Fiction, a 2022 Silver Titan Award, and mentions in the 2022 Honorable Mention, Los Angeles Book Award for Regional Fiction and the 2022 Honorable Mention, Hollywood Book Award for Fiction.

Her second novel “Those People Behind Us” will be published in October of 2023. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in publications such as TAB Journal, 166 Palms, Sonora Review, and The Ear.

Mary writes about living in Southern California, a place she’s called home for more than fifty-five years and is still trying to understand. She had a long career with the postal service, which might be genetic—both her grandfathers were railway mail clerks. She sorted mail, sold stamps, worked in the accounting office, and went to night school, eventually earning a degree in business administration, a CPA license, and a Certificate in Internal Auditing.

She currently serves on the advisory boards of Citric Acid, An Orange County Literary Arts Quarterly, and LibroMobile, An Arts Cooperative and Bookstore in Santa Ana, California. She’s a member of Women Writing the West, Women Who Submit, the Orange Chapter of the California Writers Group, and Women For Orange County. Mary lives in Huntington Beach, California with her husband, who plays ukulele, and their terrorist cat Riley, who makes frequent appearances on Instagram.

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