March 7, 2014
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.
Pitch-perfect dialogue and an exacting evocation of 1920s Los Angeles make Kim Cooper's debut novel The Kept Girl an engaging work of literary noir, and the fact that a young Raymond Chandler is a key character makes the book even more interesting.
Matthew Specktor wrote of the book:
"Nervy, bold, and shot through with a deep sense of Los Angeles history--the kind that feels practically tactile, as all the best noir narratives do—Kim Cooper's The Kept Girl is a delightful addition to this city's literature. The effortlessness with which it borrows against the Chandler tradition while at the same time retaining its unique intelligence and slyly contemporary flavor is just plain stunning."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Thanks for the opportunity to share a Book Notes playlist. The last time I was here, it was with songs relating to my little 33 1/3 series book about Neutral Milk Hotel.
I didn't know it at the time, but that 33 1/3 book would be among my last pieces of music writing. While finishing it, I fell in love with the man who was my nemesis in college, and he shook me up both personally and professionally.
We wanted to work on creative projects together, but there wasn't a place for Richard anywhere in Scram, my journal of unpopular culture, bubblegum music and oddball rock and roll. None of my musical obsessions were his. Love can be funny that way.
We did share an interest in Los Angeles history and architecture, and in the nascent tools of digital publishing. With Richard's technical support, I launched the 1947project crime-a-day blog, which proved so popular that we spun it off into a successful tour company, Esotouric. I write and host the true crime tours, Richard handles the literary and urban history ones, and every so often he lets me co-host a rock and roll history tour with my old zine world cronies. And we're out on the bus most Saturdays, sharing stories of the city we love with the nicest of folks.
It was on the crime bus that I first unveiled the story of the Great Eleven cult, a daffy yet dangerous consortium led by a pair of seductive angel worshippers who beguiled dozens of true believers, and buried a few, in jazz age Los Angeles. These ladies were so compelling that I decided to write a novel, my first, with their crimes at its core.
The Kept Girl is an historical mystery set in 1929 Los Angeles and starring the young Raymond Chandler, his devoted secretary Muriel Fischer, and Tom James, a real L.A. policeman who is a likely model for Philip Marlowe, all on the trail of the Great Eleven cult.
Although the real Chandler was probably not an amateur detective, the cult's secrets truly were revealed right under his nose: the victim of their fraud was the nephew of Joseph Dabney, Chandler's millionaire oilman boss.
But enough back story... here are a few musical selections that suggest aspects of The Kept Girl to me.
Ruth Etting "Ten Cents a Dance" (1930)
Before the cult priestess Ruth Rizzio gained followers and retreated to a life of pampered inspiration, she worked in one of Main Street's notorious taxi dance halls, where pretty women offered short term companionship for a dime a shimmy. This colorful Rodgers & Hart tune, sung from the perspective of a jaded dance hall dame, evokes the sad and sinful world Ruth leaves behind: "Fighters and sailors and bowlegged tailors can pay for their ticket and rent me!"
Doc Watson "Omie Wise" (from Doc Watson, 1964)
During a quiet spot in the investigation, Raymond Chandler is feeling sorry for himself, and suggests it might have been better for everyone if he had died in battle. At a loss for words, his friend Tom James sings this old American murder ballad, based on the real story of Naomi Wise and her cruel lover John Lewis, because the unsettled feeling of the melody reminds him of Ray's self-pity. The song, and Tom's mention of his Kentucky boyhood, inspires Ray to share a formative tale of his early life in Los Angeles.
Alice Cooper "The Ballad of Dwight Frye" (from Love it to Death, 1971)
After saddling Chandler with the task of cleaning up his financial foibles, oil heir Clifford Dabney checks himself into a Pasadena sanitarium for some very special treatments. Alice's hysterical tribute to the character actor who gibbered his way through some wonderful early horror roles suggests this psychiatric interlude.
The Byrds "Dolphin's Smile" (from The Notorious Byrd Brothers, 1968)
After my heroine Muriel escapes from the cult's rural compound, she takes a sleepy dawn drive from Malibu Beach into Santa Monica, and gazes out at the shimmering place where the mist meets the sea, hoping to spy a dolphin or a seal.
This mysterious piece of hermetic psychedelia is deservedly subject of an internet cult, though nobody seems to know who Jonathan Halper is or if he recorded anything more than these wonderful tracks. Belatedly spliced onto Kenneth Anger's 1949 short "Puce Moment," it provides a perfect soundtrack to the frolics of the luscious Yvonne Marquis, luxuriating in her Hollywood lair amid a riot of beaded Technicolor 1920s gowns. When I picture the cult priestess Ruth Rizzio, it's Yvonne's black curls and busy eyes I see.
Patti Smith "Kimberly" (from Horses, 1975)
Late in the novel, the cult priestess Ruth Rizzio agrees to an interview with detective Tom James. Letting down her guard, Ruth explains her mother's mystical vision, which has bound them since the moment of Ruth's birth in service to the angels. Her expression of their relentlessly felt faith makes me think of Patti's glossolalia on so many early tracks, but especially this one centering around childbirth and ritual.
The Loud Family "Just Gone" (from Interbabe Concern, 1996)
Scott Miller, my favorite songwriter and a friend, died unexpectedly on April 15, 2013. I grieved him all through the writing of The Kept Girl and still do. This song, one of so many perfect bolts from his quiver, seems particularly apt. "Can it just be gone?" Yes, and no.
Kim Cooper and The Kept Girl links:
Deranged L.A. Crimes interview with the author
Hardboiled Wonderland guest post by the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for In the Aeroplane Over the Sea
Los Angeles Magazine interview with the author
Los Angeles Times interview with the author
Omnimystery News interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists