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April 15, 2011

Book Notes - Weston Cutter ("You'd Be a Stranger, Too")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Weston Cutter's passion for language and skill with wordplay allows him to flaunt convention and deliver an exceptional and innovative debut collection of short fiction, You'd Be a Stranger, Too.

The Rumpus wrote of the book:

"The stories in Weston Cutter's debut collection, You'd Be a Stranger, Too, are full of breath-stopping sentences that offer themselves up as temporary shelters. They also often take as their subject this very dynamic that I'm speaking of: storyteller as fearless guide through uncharted territory, provider of occasional shelters that can’t house us forever but that we keep searching for nonetheless."

In his own words, here is Weston Cutter's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, You'd Be a Stranger, Too:

I'd just finished a novel when I put together Stranger, and that novel was so hugely influenced by music (Bon Iver and Langhorne Slim) and Stranger was fit together with so many older pieces (the stories in it were written from '03-'08) that there's no clear music line running through things, even necessarily within certain stories. I can say that all these stories started, somehow, in Minnesota, which is also where I started, and, because of that, Paul Westerberg's music looms large behind everything. Not necessarily overtly—there's nobody crooning "If Only You Were Lonely" in any of the songs—but the feeling Westerberg (solo and with the Mats) nails so perfectly in all his work—a sense of proximity, of being near but not quite part of something—is just lousy throughout Stranger. Plus, during the years Stranger was written, Westerberg was settling into his later-stage weird awesomeness—Grandpa Boy, and, now Mr. F. I can't stress Westerberg enough: this book is as much for/because of/"about" his work as it is for/because of/"about" anything else. (A note: Westerberg's solo stuff now stands as just as rich and interesting a body of work as anything the Replacements did. I'd actually argue Westerberg's solo work has eclipsed the old Mats stuff.)

Aside from the stuff listed below, folks like Spoon and Beth Orton and Roni Size and Josh Ritter and Lucinda Williams and Atmosphere and Gillian Welch and the Avett Brothers and Soul Coughing and Aesop Rock were a huge part of what played on the mental radio while I wrote Stranger. Also: I lived in NYC + Virginia from 2005-09, and, while there, I made monthly mixes for friends back home; the truest comp for the book'd just be the box set of those discs, but that seems a bit much.

"Muddy Hymnal," Iron and Wine

The sound of this whole disc, that dusty porch tone, knocked me as sideways as any other music I've ever heard when it came out. Plus story and delicacy, also (seeming) effortlessness: Iron and Wine was this hushed inversion of what I love most about Richard Buckner—great and compelling and unexpected stories, narratives which sprawl across several lines of singing. I'm sure this is a safe choice or whatever, but I don't think, since I first heard this song, that I've gone more than a week without thinking about someone's name carved in cursive with a table fork.

"Where You'll Find Me Now," Neutral Milk Hotel

In the story "Model For a Square," which I wrote real fast and far too early in my life to think or worry about mistakes or rules, I stole a painting a co-worker'd made. I worked at a bookstore, and he worked in the basement, checking books in when they arrived, entering them into the system. With the extra bar-code stickers he accumulated, he stuck them onto a cabinet in, as I remember, the shape of a heart—maybe I'm mis-remembering that, maybe they were just a background and he drew a heart around it. Regardless, he really did write vini vidi vici from top to bottom, left to right. I thought it was the coolest thing I'd ever seen, so I stole it for the story. His name was Logan, and he was also the first guy I met who knew anything about underground grafitti stuff (Fairey's Andre the Giant stuff, specifically). Eventually, of course, we both quit the job, and but then fast forward several years: I ran into Logan at a liquor store, and as we caught up he said, Hey, I'm glad I saw you: thanks for being the person to turn me on to Neutral Milk Hotel. We talked about how there should be a site that traced who'd been turned onto that band by whom, that we should establish a sort of listener tree. Maybe that sounds cheesy; I just thought it was rad he'd thank me.

"Private Conversation" by Lyle Lovett

There may be no better songwriter in the world than Lyle Lovett, and "Private Conversation" is one of the very best tracks he's ever written from maybe the best album the man's made (1996's The Road to Ensenada). It's also (unless my memory's totally f'ing with me and has been for more than a decade) about someone talking to him or herself, according to L. Lovett (he said it before playing it in concert).

"Me Gustas Tu," Manu Chao and "Work It," Missy Elliott

These were head-exploding tracks: A great friend and I got impaired then listened to "Work It" and kept freaking out about the backward-tracked vocals. And Manu Chao's "Me Gustas Tu" just destroyed me, especially the hynoticism of the repeating aspects (plus I went to Europe for a bit in '05, and got to lick the strange nine-volt that occurs when you hear, in "real life," something that's been sampled: the dude's voice all throughout Proxima Estacion: Esperanza comes from the Madrid metro, and there really is, on one of the lines, an Esperanza stop, and arriving at that stop and hearing that man's voice was more magic than I knew to ask for).

"Bedstuy Parade and Funeral March for Fighters and Lovers," Mos Def

This is an arbitrary pick, to some degree: Mos Def's probably the one rapper whose stuff's all through this book, particularly his first and second albums, and any track'd do, to a degree. Still: this track, and how he can just break into singing at the drop of a hat—how he, to my ears, was working through/into a different and new genre—still shakes me up.

Mason Jennings by Mason Jennings

This disc is, almost literally, what the book's last story's about: "Facts of the Mississippi" is about a band which, like the Mason Jennings Band back in '99, played Thursdays at a bar (in the story it's the Blue Star Bar; Mason played the 400 Bar in Mpls), and, over months, built this rabid following (true: Mason's unreleased track "Joy," was so well known people sang along on the chorus, even without a circulated recording). I adored Mason Jennings in those first years, and the book's last story's very much a valentine to him and what he did for Mpls music right then.

"Bring It On Home To Me (live)," Sam Cooke

I'll embarrassedly admit I didn't even know Cooke till I was 27; somehow I got a double dose of Otis and missed the necessary Sam. I wrote "Party at the Kay's" and "Rachel," back to back, one each night in two nights, and listened the whole time to that great Sam Cooke live disc, principally this track (it was April; the windows were open and I'd get home from running, blast Sam Cooke, and drink cans of Coors regular).

"Tonight We Ride," Jennifer O'Connor

Good lord: Jennifer O'Connor's who you listen to if you've got a thing for Jolie Holland and Cat Power and want something a little closer to the ground, a little more elemental, want songs that feel to have more forest in them. I'd be nervous to find how many times iTunes has tracked me listening to this particular song: when I look close, this song's got something to do with at least five of the stories in the book.

"Carolina," M Ward

I got this track from a mix by a friend in like '03 and didn't even know, for a year, the name of the guy singing. When I finally did dig into Ward, I certainly loved the guy's songs, yes, but, much as anything, I fell wildly for the fact that he made this whole mythology about Vincent O'Brien (and, of course, I got into Fahey through Ward, just like lots of us). That sense of building a mythology, that's something I picked up real overtly from M Ward—in Stranger certain characters and stories repeat and overlap, and I'm sure those things happened because I dig Ward.

"Not For the Season," Jeff Tweedy

This song'd later come out as "Laminated Cats" on the first Loose Fur record, but there's an older acoustic version out there that's worth tracking down. The song's weird as shit once it's been Loose Furred, but at its bones it's a stunner: the version I've got's pretty clearly from the time during which Tweedy was touring solo as Wilco sweated out what'd happen to YHF, and his voice is all ache.

Weston Cutter and You'd Be a Stranger, Too links:

Collagist review
The Rumpus review

Ploughshares blog posts by 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)
musician/author interviews
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