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May 15, 2014

Book Notes - Kevin Clouther "We Were Flying to Chicago"

We Were Flying to Chicago

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.

Kevin Clouther's short story collection We Were Flying to Chicago is inventively told through the collective voice of airline passengers stranded on a layover, the stories imaginative and acutely observed.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"[These] stories develop an intimate voice and the reader can feel characters' hopes and despair. The title story is a particular standout. A group of airplane passengers are stuck on a layover; the story is told from their collective perspective ("For no good reason, we were flying to Chicago," it begins). The first-person plural point of view is inviting and fresh."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Kevin Clouther's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection, We Were Flying to Chicago:

I was both surprised and unsurprised to discover that all of the songs I picked were released in two distinct periods: 1968-1972 and 1994-2002. The latter represents my high school and college years, the time when I cared most desperately about music. The former is when the best rock and roll ever made was recorded (possibly, this is negotiable). My listening habits haven't much matured over the past dozen years.

"Range Life" by Pavement

I'm disproportionately proud that Stephen Malkmus and I share an alma mater. I'm also unreasonably obsessed with the part of this song where Malkmus sings "I/they don't have no function." Was it intentional, or did Malkmus flub the line and decide he liked the take too much to do it again? I don't want to know the answer. There's something affirming about leaving someone else's process a mystery.

"Fight Test" by The Flaming Lips

It's pretty clear that Wayne Coyne borrowed both the melody and content from Cat Stevens's "Father and Son." Cat Stevens was great, but I like this better. In terms of communal experience, it's hard to beat a Flaming Lips show. As much as I value the intimacy of the writer-reader experience, I'm a little envious of the oceanic feeling that comes from a live performance where the band is having as much fun as the audience.

"Sweet Virginia" by The Rolling Stones

If this song is on a jukebox, I will play it. I've played this song at the Brooklyn Inn five million times. It's the perfect song to play at a bar: slow building, vaguely country, faintly obscene. Even when I heard the Rolling Stones perform live in Virginia, "Sweet Virginia" wasn't as good as it is at the Brooklyn Inn. I don't write when I drink, but I occasionally come up with images or experiences, not all of which I abandon the next day.

"Girl from the North Country" by Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash

"Please see if her hair hangs long, / If it rolls and flows all down her breast. / Please see for me if her hair hangs long / That's the way I remember her best."

So many of my favorite stories--so many of the stories I try to write--are about remembering the world the way it used to be, whether the world was ever that way or not.

"Jenny" by The Mountain Goats

All Hail West Texas sounds like it was produced under water for twenty dollars, and pretty much every song is spectacular. The way John Darnielle sings here is the way I want a character to sound when he or she falls in love: totally committed, totally unembarrassed.

"The State I'm In" by Belle & Sebastian

"And so I gave myself to God / There was a pregnant pause before he said okay."

I'm dubious of reading song lyrics as poetry--the accompanying music is too integral--but Stuart Murdoch's lyricism here--particularly the gentle rhyme of "God" and "pause"--can stand alone.

"Strangers" by The Kinks

Why weren't The Kinks as popular as The Rolling Stones or The Beatles? To my ear, The Kinks are right there. My mother--who was a teenager during rock's peak, which is good timing--thought they were bad boys. I love the way the piano walks alongside the vocals in this song. The sound really echoes the sense, something I struggle to do consciously on the page, though I sometimes find it in revision.

"Jesus, etc." by Wilco

I have no idea what's going on with the orchestration in this piece; it seems more like magic than music. Wilco streamed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot at the beginning of my first semester at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and I played it more or less without pause. Frank Conroy had told me my writing should be slow and difficult, so I labored every morning on my stories, which felt like an incredible luxury.

"Stephanie Says" by The Velvet Underground

"Stephanie says that she wants to know / Why she's given half her life, to people she hates now."

Lou Reed was on to something here. I have characters who feel this way, and I have friends who feel this way, and I suspect many people do. A lot has to happen before someone gets to this point, no matter how young he or she might be.

"Car" by Built to Spill

"You get the car, I'll get the night off / You'll get the chance to take the world apart / And figure out how it works."

You know what I was like in high school, what everyone I knew was like in high school? Like this. I didn't have my own car until I was 24 or 25, so I allowed cars to develop a whole mythology. I don't regret it. People are always driving in cars in my collection. As one character notes, that's where the best conversations happen.

Kevin Clouther and We Were Flying to Chicago links:

Kirkus review
LitReactor review
Publishers Weekly review

Miranda Beverly-Whitemore 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
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