April 15, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
In his short story collection Light Lifting, Alexander MacLeod wonderfully magnifies and illustrates the weight of everyday life.
The Los Angeles Times wrote of the collection:
"Every so often a new writer comes along with a true gift for language - not necessarily heavy with metaphor or profound imagery but having an elegant, conversational simplicity. It takes a certain clarity of mind not to burden sentences, and Alexander MacLeod has it in the story collection '"Light Lifting.'"
I wrote Light Lifting with a lot of different music running through my head. Most of the stories in the book revolve around decisions or moments of change where one set of circumstances gives way to another. There are a lot of transformations in here, some more intense than others, so the songs vary quite a bit between the fast and the slow and the new and the old.
This is a story about two nearly world class distance runners who have to sign over their lives in order to achieve something that almost nobody else really cares about. The intensity of their training isolates them from other people and forces them into places where the normal rules don't apply. When they were kids in high school, for example, they used to race the freight trains through the dark in the rail tunnel from Detroit, under the river, and up to Windsor. I'm going with "If I Should Fall from Grace with God" on this one because one of boys wears a lucky Pogues T-Shirt as part of his superstitious warm-up ritual. I'll follow that with "Lose Yourself" by Eminem because nobody works a rhyme better than he does and because he knows all about the things that get ‘Imported from Detroit.'
"Wonder About Parents"
I guess this is a story about the tough accommodations that come along with any relationship so "Hotel Yorba" by The White Stripes gets the call. More Detroit truth here. Anybody who's seen the real Hotel Yorba knows the shelter it provides isn't deluxe, but it will do until the next day arrives. This is earlier White Stripes, back when Jack and Meg were still together or kind of married and that fits in with the story, too. I'll back it up with "There's an Arc" by Newfoundland's Hey Rosetta!, mostly for the line - "This could be our reward. This could be it." Check out the one-take video for this song: a victory in low-tech film making.
For a while, I thought I'd call this book The Work Stories so these are the easiest choices: "Work Song" by Nina Simone and "Working Full Time" by The Constantines. Nina's voice comes though low on the bottom, but it's backed up by the horn section and a huge orchestral wave. That's the mix I wanted: thin and thick, tired and strong at the same time. The Constantines take care of everything else. This is a story about paving stone and bad sunburns and both these songs have lyrics that touch on the weight inside a rock and the way you can't get out of the light.
"Adult Beginner I"
This one focuses on a girl who nearly drowns as a kid and then has to try and turn it around and re-negotiate her relationship with water. Mistakes get made and in one bad moment she and her drunk friends dive off the roof of a Holiday Inn into the dark Detroit River. Modest Mouse uses tons of water imagery and many of their songs could work here, but I'm going with "Missed the Boat." The second slot goes to "Keep the Car Running" by Arcade Fire. Like all of Arcade Fire's masterpieces, I love the way this one builds and builds until you get the three drums going and the two fiddles and the mandolin and the guitars and the banging piano and the hurdy gurdy and the four or five screaming voices on the chorus. The song, like the story, is all about being scared.
A double shot of Tom Waits. "The House Where Nobody Lives" and "Come on up to the House," both from Mule Variations. The story is about a street of kids and an abandoned house and falling real estate values. "Come on up to the House" has one of TW's best lines - "Come down off the cross, we can use the wood" - and "The House Where Nobody Lives" is just straight sad and sentimental and true. What happened in that house across the road? "Did someone's heart break or did someone do somebody wrong?" I was trying to get at that mysterious feeling of being left behind.
There are a million different versions of "Will the Circle be Unbroken," but the one I like best is June Carter singing it by herself. The story is about a boy delivering prescriptions for a pharmacy and it plays with a lot of circling images: his bike, the looping route, and the cyclical relationships between young people and old people. "What Becomes of the Broken Hearted" by Jimmy Ruffin is another good Motown song about wandering around and it can accompany this kid as he moves through.
"The Number Three"
More old, or old seeming, country music. "I Dream a Highway" by Gillian Welch has sixteen verses and runs for 14 minutes, but I wouldn't cut a second. The slowness is the whole point: the even tempo and the beat and the plodding loneliness, like walking a long way on the side of the road. "The Number Three" gets its title from a two-lane highway in Southern Ontario. The story is about a man who used to build the Chrysler Minivans so I'll close out my list with "One Piece at a Time" by Johnny Cash, the classic assembly line song (and the only one I know). It will teach you how to smuggle a Cadillac out of the plant in your lunch box: If you take it one piece at a time, it won't cost you dime.
Alexander MacLeod and Light Lifting links:
An Adventure in Reading review
Free Range Reading review
Globe and Mail review
Kate's Bookcase review
Los Angeles Times review
The Mookse and the Gripes review
National Post review
Pickle Me This review
The Rover review
Salty Ink review
Serendipitous Readings review
That Shakespearean Rag review
The Sil review
Toronto Star review
The Walrus review
The Winnipeg Review review
Wise Monkeys review
CBC News profile of the author
Earideas interview with the author
Globe and Mail interview with the author
The Inverness Ran profile of the author
Maisonneuve interview with the author
National Post profile of the author
Toronto Star profile of the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists