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June 28, 2013

Book Notes - Nancy Jo Cullen "Canary"


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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Nancy Jo Cullen illuminates the extraordinarily broken lives of common people in her debut story collection Canary.

The Globe and Mail wrote of the book:

"Reading Cullen … is a little like drinking booze. Definitely not wine, because it's not all that genteel, and not beer, because it's not all that commonplace, but hard liquor because it's edgy, fast-acting, more than a little disorienting and frequently mixed with something sweet."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In her own words, here is Nancy Jo Cullen's Book Notes music playlist for her short story collection, Canary:

I can't listen to music when I write, I don't need absolute silence but music pulls my brain out of the story I'm working on and into its own orbit, so, no tunes.

But I love music's capacity for helping me to travel through time or to sit with a big, bad (and good) feeling. Yes, I am that person who plays a song/album on repeat, like my neighbours who share a wall; they've been playing the same album for the past several hours. (I get it.) My current project has me listening to The Rural Alberta Advantage (both albums) to such an extent that my son asked if I ever listen to anything else?

In my story collection, Canary I often used music to locate my characters in place and time, and, for the most part, those are the songs I'm talking about on my playlist, plus a few others for characters who might not have hummed a tune in their story.

Tab Hunter - "Apple Blossom Time"

Although I would like to think of Jean, from the story Ashes, grooving along to Rickie Lee Jones's first album (as I did around the same in age in the late 70s) the song that goes with this story is Tab Hunter's 1959 rendition of "Apple Blossom Time." Jean's dad sings the song while he teaches her to drive. But oh, Jean has got to love "Last Chance Texaco."

Rush - "Tom Sawyer"

In my late teens and early twenties I knew a lot of guys who liked Rush. They probably still do and some of them probably have 14 year-old daughters. Hopefully their daughters aren't making out with their cousins in the bushes, but 14 is a weird age so they might be. Parents are embarrassing; parents who imitate Geddy Lee are worse, but if they're Rush fans underneath that embarrassing exterior is a good guy, like Warren, the hapless dad in "Bet Your Boots."

Celtic Women - "Goundod: Ave Maria"

I grew up loving Ave Maria and hearing it sung regularly at Mass. So, while I wrote "The 14th Week in Ordinary Time" I listened to the Celtic Women version of Ave Maria. (Actually, I watched the Youtube video, complete with cheesy harp and soft lens camera.) The soloist at Immaculate Conception Church, where I grew up, had a deeper, richer voice than the Celtic Woman soloist; nevertheless the Celtic Women rendition was the version that helped me write my character Kelly's story.

Whitney Houston - You Give Good Love"

Like the narrator in the story "Regina," I too worked in a bar that had a state-of-the-art TV wall that broadcast Much Music all day long. Whitney Houston was young and clean in those days, and sugary and sweet – and an anathema to anyone with even a lick of punk in them. "You Give Good Love" was a guaranteed earworm, for me and for the narrator in the story too.

Ferron - "Ain't Life a Brook"

This is a bittersweet song about the end of a relationship. "Valerie's Bush" details a rather outlandish response to the end of a long-term relationship, but I think once her anger is let go, the sentiment of this song would remain for Valerie.

Kool and the Gang – "Celebration"

Judi, the central character in "Canary" sings this song to herself in the story. Kool and the Gang mark the time in Judi's life when she was young, pretty, and out fooling around – fucking but not feeling fucked over.

Gossip - "Standing in the Way of Control"

In "Passenger," old-timer, Harvey and his young passenger Rayanne, a queer, left-wing refugee from small-town northern BC, make their way towards Niagara Falls. "Standing in the Way of Control" is Rayanne's jam, because she's fed-the-fuck-up with the small minds that want to tell her how to live.

Eddy Arnold - "Make the World Go Away"

My mom used to sing this Eddy Arnold song around the house when I was growing up. The character, Mary in "Happy Birthday" is loosely based on my mom, and given the unhappy state of the relationships in this story I thought it was a fitting song to include in my playlist.

Ray Price - "This Cold War"

The title of my story, "This Cold War," came after I finished writing it and included a reference to the old country song. I grew up hearing my mom singing this song too. She loved those old country songs and instilled a love of them in me as well.

Radiohead - "Lucky"

The character Daisy in the story "Eddie Truman" takes her name from the Jud Strunk song her dad used to sing to her ("Daisy a Day"). But Daisy's song is Radiohead's "Lucky" to mark the birth a child she's doesn't really want, but can't relinquish.

Tom Waits - "A Little Rain"

Caroline, the sister of the narrator in "Big Fat Beautiful You" and the character around whom the story turns was a big fan of Jack Kerouac. Tom Waits is also a fan of Jack Kerouac, and his song, "Little Rain," is the song I imagine Caroline listening to on repeat.

Nancy Jo Cullen and Canary links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Globe and Mail review
Necessary Fiction review
Quill and Quire review
The Winnipeg Review review

Plentitude Magazine interview with the author
Writers Festival interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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