Kevin Clouther’s Maximum Speed is an impressive collection of linked stories.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“These wonderfully evocative, interconnected stories are about growing up, growing apart, and how modern communications technology enables distant figures from the past to suddenly be brought into the present.”
What a privilege to write another “Book Notes” for my second story collection, Maximum Speed. This collection doesn’t much resemble the first, and neither do the selections below, each of which I listened to between 2018 and 2021 while drafting the fourteen stories that comprise the book.
“Time Is On My Side” by Irma Thomas
A few months before the Rolling Stones covered this in 1964, Irma Thomas covered it more satisfyingly. Time is a preoccupation for my characters, and sometimes—when they’re seventeen, especially—time does feel like it’s on their side.
“How Lucky” by Kurt Vile & John Prine
One of the stories opens: “There’s a short window—a fraction of a life—when everything is exactly right, and if you’re lucky, you never forget that time.” I’m always heartened when people explore gratitude, which is as worthy as any emotion for attention. Kurt Vile and John Prine recorded this shortly before Prine passed from COVID-19 in 2020.
“Falling from Grace” by The Gentle Waves
Isobell Campbell is better known for her work with Belle & Sebastian, but I’ve long enjoyed this song from her 2000 solo album Swansong for You. There’s a relentlessness to the movement, which contrasts with the softness of her vocals.
“Remember” by Air
What a bizarre, addictive two-and-a-half minutes. The only English-language lyrics by the French band in this 1998 track are “remember together” and “remember forever,” variously repeated. I said my characters are preoccupied with time, but it would be as accurate to say they’re preoccupied with memory.
“Since I Left You” by The Avalanches
I missed this when it came out in 2000 and discovered it through one of the algorithms that decides much of what people listen to or watch or read (not you, dear reader of “Book Notes”). I appreciate the orchestral chaos. So much of art is tidy but not whatever is happening here.
“The Underdog” by Spoon
I remember feeling underestimated as a teenager. The horns bring a sort of triumph and respectability to that feeling in this 2007 song.
“Baby Drugs” by Tristen
The refrain of this 2011 recording is “Baby don’t you want me to bring you those drugs.” The characters do a fair bit of drugs in Maximum Speed.
“Mama You’ve Been On My Mind – Demo” by George Harrison
Bob Dylan wrote this in 1964 after he broke up with Suze Rotolo, whom you might remember from the iconic cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. As with several of Dylan’s songs, I like it better in someone else’s interpretation. There’s an even insistence to Harrison’s version that I buy.
“zombie girl” by Adrianne Lenker
There are multiple zombie girls in “Errand,” a title I borrowed from Raymond Carver, who was thinking about Anton Chekhov, whom I think about a lot. I dig everything about this 2020 track: the birds in the background, Lenker’s trembly voice, and especially her plea to “emptiness / Tell me ‘bout your nature / Maybe I’ve been getting you wrong.”
“Shadow People” by Dr. Dog
Around the time this came out in 2010, I drank in a Brooklyn bar while Dr. Dog also drank in that bar, somewhat unhappily. Stars—they’re just like us!
“Never Going Back Again – 2004 Remaster” by Fleetwood Mac
Famously, this breakup song is about Stevie Nicks, who served as both breakup muse and artist. In the manner of many songs in the genre, it’s sweet and a little stupid and emotionally convincing. Lindsey Buckingham’s guitar allegedly had to be restrung every twenty minutes for the 1976 recording; it sounds that hard to play.
“You Don’t Know How It Feels – Home Recording” by Tom Petty
Most of Maximum Speed takes place in Florida, and as far as I’m concerned, the state should put Tom Petty on the flag. Wildflowers was one of the best loved albums of my youth, so I consumed the home recordings released in 2020 ravenously. Of particular interest to me are the lyrics that found their way into other tracks on the album, such as the following aphorism: “I’m so tired of being tired / Sure as night will follow day / Most things that I worry about / Never happen anyway.”
“Try Some, Buy Some – Remastered” by Ronnie Spector
Spector is a wizard. She casts a spell. The 1971 cover (by George Harrison, see above) begins: “Way back in time, someone said try some / I tried some, now buy some, I bought some, oh oh oh.” Well, that happens in this book too.
“To Live Is To Fly” by Townes Van Zandt
Speaking of aphorisms: “We all got holes to fill / And them holes are all that’s real / Some fall on you like a storm / Sometimes you dig your own.” I could quote all of this 1971 beauty—I hope you listen to it.