August 9, 2007
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
Richard Lange's debut short fiction collection, Dead Boys, captures Los Angeles noir at its grittiest. The comparisons to Raymond Carver and Denis Johnson are well-founded, and this collection whets my appetite for Richard Lange's debut novel due in 2008.
At Bookslut, Clayton Moore wrote of Lange's stories:
Lange is a cultural sponge and his stories represent a kind of patchwork of real-life incidents, imaginative leaps of fantasy, and eavesdropped, intimate snippets of conversation.
The first album I bought was a battered copy of The Ventures Play Telstar from a swap meet in Bakersfield, CA. It was all-instrumental, and I remember setting out to write a story for each song on the record. Like a lot of the big projects I started when I was 11, this one didn't get finished.
The first record that really moved me was Springsteen's Born to Run. I listened to that thing over and over, and I maintain that it had as much influence on my artistic development as any book I ever read.
In fact, I learned a lot about writing from pop music. A good pop song conveys a wealth of emotion using a few well-chosen words, and good songwriters are masters of pacing and rhythm.
Below, I've chosen one song for each story in my collection Dead Boys (no, the book doesn't have anything to do with the late, great band). These songs didn't inspire the stories, but they do strike some of the same emotional chords that I was going for. Coincidentally, a lot of them come from artists associated with L.A.
For an overture for the book, I chose "Los Angeles" by X. I love this band, and the songs on their first two albums give a great gutter-level view of L.A. that nobody has ever matched. I've always said that if I could write a story about Los Angeles that was a good as one of X's songs about the city, I could die happy.
Now, the stories:
"Fuzzyland": "Georgia Lee" by Tom Waits
I've been a fan of his since I was 14, and when he starts braying one of his beautiful ballads, tears always spring into my eyes. This song is about a murdered child, but it conveys the overarching mood of the narrator of the story quite well.
"Bank of America": "Sin City," The Flying Burrito Brothers
My buddy George Edmondson turned me on to this classic many years ago. Financial ruin, sin and redemption, apocalyptic visions and a stern warning to the rich and powerful - this one's loaded for bear.
"The Bogo-Indian Defense": "Riches and Wonders" by The Mountain Goats
John Darnielle is another guy whose songs always get to me. This one's about doing your best to hold on to love in a world that isn't made for it.
"Long Lost": "Ex-Con" by Smog
Smog is basically Bill Callahan, an exceedingly talented singer-songwriter. This song of his fits this story like a glove.
"Telephone Bird": "What I See," by Black Flag
Had to put an old L.A. hardcore song on here because I've loved all those bands forever. I'm one of the few people who liked Black Flag more after Henry Rollins joined. There's a lot of inchoate rage floating through this collection, and nobody does inchoate rage like Black Flag.
"Culver City": "You Can't Put Your Arms Around a Memory" by Johnny Thunders
Sad story, sad song.
"Love Lifted Me": "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" by Hank Williams
I grew up on Hank Williams, and this has always been my favorite. How many haunted, lonely men have drunk themselves into a stupor listening to this?
"Loss Prevention": "Revolution Blues" by Neil Young
This is another one from George. It was unavailable on CD for many years, but George gave it to me on a mix tape. It's supposedly about Charles Manson, L.A.'s original bogeyman. The ominous tone suits "Loss Prevention."
"The Hero Shot": "Please Tell My Brother" by Golden Smog
This is by Jeff Tweedy of Wilco. It's about family, and it wrecks me every time I hear it.
"Blind-Made Products": "Carmelita" by Warren Zevon
A chilling song about being strung out, desperate and too tired to do anything about it. It also mentions Echo Park, where I live. The Pioneer Chicken stand is still there.
"Everything Beautiful Is Far Away": "Everything Beautiful Is Far Away," by Grandaddy
This is off their first, and best, album. It's about a man stranded on the moon pining for his old life on Earth. Perfect for this story, but I actually discovered the song after the story was written and stole the title.
"Dead Boys": "I See a Darkness" by Bonnie Prince Billy
A great song from a great songwriter, Will Oldham. It's kind of about a yearning to explain yourself, and so is the story, kind of. By the way, I lied about the first record to ever really moved me. It was Neil Diamond's soundtrack for Jonathan Livingston Seagull. Be a bro, though, and don't tell anybody else.
Richard Lange and Dead Boys links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
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