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March 12, 2015

Book Notes - Richard Lange "Sweet Nothing"

Sweet Nothing

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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Richard Lange piercingly depicts the grittier side of Los Angeles in his new short story collection Sweet Nothing.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"Skillfully constructed . . . Lange portrays the lives of people struggling to survive, with the focus on families, both blood-related and chance-made."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Richard Lange's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Sweet Nothing:

Putting together a playlist like this is a fun exercise. It gives me the chance to revisit some great songs and maybe turn people on to music they haven't heard before. None of the songs listed below directly inspired any of the stories they're paired with, but they do touch on the themes of the stories or re-create musically or lyrically the mood I was striving for as I wrote the pieces. Most of the songs are sad songs because most of the stories in Sweet Nothing are sad stories. That's just the way I'm built, I guess. Enjoy.

"Must Come Down": "The Dark Don't Hide It" by Magnolia Electric Co.
Jason Molina, the broken heart and tortured soul of Magnolia Electric Co., was a gifted musician who stepped offstage too soon when, after years of struggle, booze finally got the best of him in 2013. He left behind a bunch of gorgeous songs, including this one about those moments when the illusions we cloak ourselves in are suddenly torn away.

"Baby Killer": "Sin Ti" by Los Panchos
KXLU is the radio station at Loyola Marymount University. During the week it's your typical college radio outlet, with music you won't hear anywhere else played by endearingly amateurish DJs who tend to ramble a bit. On weekends the station switches to Latin music of all stripes. The show that's on every Sunday evening when we do our grocery shopping plays romanticos, which are love songs played and sung by trios of guitarists. Most of them are from the ‘50s and ‘60s and seem like they're being beamed in from a kinder, gentler world. They're the kinds of songs Blanca, the heroine of "Baby Killer," would have heard on the radio when she was a child, the kinds of songs that might stick in a young girl's mind.

"The Wolf of Bordeaux": "River Guard" by Smog
Smog (Bill Callahan) is the only repeat artist here from the playlist I did for my first collection, Dead Boys. This song hints at some of the internal conflicts torturing the prison guard in this story. I've always thought the song had a Springsteen-y quality to it, like the best song that Bruce never wrote.

"The 100-to 1 Club": "Good Time Charlie's Got the Blues" by Danny O'Keefe
I had a shitty stepdad at the time when this song was popular, and my mom used to refer to him derisively as "Good Time Charlie." I owned the 45 of this song back then and listened to it over and over, in retrospect perhaps trying to find a way into my stepdad's head. Unfortunately, he wasn't as self-aware as the guy in the song (or in the story, for that matter). He was just another dumb drunk, just another abusive asshole.

"Gather Darkness": "Ambulance" by Manhattan Murder Mystery
Manhattan Murder Mystery is my favorite L.A. band right now. Their gutter poetry and rough-hewn sound warm the cockles of this old gritster's heart, and the self-loathing on display in this song meshes perfectly with the self-loathing that powers this story.

"Instinctive Drowning Response": "The Rotting Strip" by Crooked Fingers
This song brings a tear to my eye every time I hear it, and I choked up recently while reading this story aloud during a bookstore appearance. So, a match made in heaven. Note: If you ever get a chance to see this band live, DO NOT MISS.

"Apocrypha": "This World (Is Going Up in Flames)" by Charles Bradley
I loved this the first time I heard it, and I love it still. This guy knows how to sell a song, and the apocalyptic tilt of the lyrics fits perfectly with that of the story.

"After All": "Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down" by Merle Haggard
This story is set in post-some-sort-of- holocaust Bakersfield, and I'm certain that in post-some-sort-of-holocaust Bakersfield they'll still be listening to Merle.

"Sweet Nothing": "I'm a Stranger Here" by Lambchop
Nashville's finest do a killer version of this standard. It's got kind of a Hank Williams vibe to it, and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a song about feeling lost in a world you once knew your way around in, and that's what the story's about too.

"To Ashes": "Somewhere" by Tom Waits
This song brings together two of my favorite things: classic Broadway musicals and Tom Waits. My wife cried for two days after reading this story, and this version of the classic song from West Side Story never fails to put a lump in my throat, so it seemed like a good match

Richard Lange and Sweet Nothing links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book ("After All")
excerpt from the book ("Instinctive Drowning Response")
excerpt from the book ("The Wolf of Bordeaux")

Kirkus review
LitReactor review
Pittsburgh Post Gazette review
Publishers Weekly review

Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Dead Boys

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (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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musician/author interviews
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