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August 12, 2016

Book Notes - R.J. Fox "Love & Vodka"

Love & Vodka

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, Lauren Groff, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

R.J. Fox's Love & Vodka is an entertaining ex-pat memoir.

Jeff Kass wrote of the book:

"Welcome to Ukraine (never The Ukraine) where, from the violent rugby scrum at the airport baggage carousel to inoperable midnight plumbing and a potential grandmother-in-law who doubles as the queen of serial vodka shots, R.J. Fox stumbles through one misadventure after another, all in the name of love. The reader is along for the ride and will walk away shaky-legged, enlightened, and undoubtedly able to correctly pronounce Dnipropetrovsk."

In his own words, here is R.J. Fox's Book Notes music playlist for his book Love & Vodka:

"Back in the USSR" by The Beatles
Maybe an obvious choice (but a moot point since we could never afford to use a Beatles song!) but with the line "The Ukraine girls really knock me out, they leave the west behind," how could I not include it here?! The fact that this song opens once of the best albums ever recorded is also a good enough reason for inclusion—although given the surrealism and confusion I would experience upon arrival in Ukraine, maybe the fourth song on the Beatles "White Album"—Glass Onion—would provide a better choice!

"The Passenger" by Iggy Pop
A fellow Michigander. While I would hardly describe myself as a wondering nomad (Iggy has stated that the song embodies the nomadic spirit of the punk outcast), the importance of simply venturing out and seeing what’s out there in the world is definitely embraced in Love & Vodka.

"Fell In Love With A Girl" by The White Stripes
Another song from a fellow Detroiter; perfectly describes my situation after returning from LA to Detroit and being in love, along with all of the confusion and uncertainty. The line "she’s in love with the world" describes Katya as she ventures from Ukraine to the U.S. It even contains the line "Bobby says it's fine he don't consider it cheating."

"I Miss You" by Bjork
After returning to Michigan and wondering if/when we would meet again. "I miss you, but I haven't met you yet. I know your habits, but wouldn’t recognize you yet." Sorrowful yearning mixed with joyful samba beat and brass. And accompanied by a delightfully bizarre video directed by John Kricfalusi (of Ren & Stimpy fame).

"Bizarre Love Triangle" by New Order
A favorite of mine since high school, this song captures the exuberance and complexity of young love like so few others. This was one of the songs from the mixtapes I had sent to Katya in the months leading up to my trip.

"Coconut" by Fever Ray
This atmospheric song would fit perfectly for the drive in my future father-in-law’s car from the airport in Dnepropetrovsk after I first arrive in Ukraine. Soviet-era apartment blocks, billboards in Cyrillic. A different world.

"18" Moby
I bought this album in Ukraine on my return trip following nine months of separation. It came to represent both the longing during our time apart, the aftermath of 9/11, and the reality that a whole new chapter of our lives was about to begin – at the expense of taking Katya away from the only life she had ever known. Now, it represents the pain and regret that it all came to an end, like most great things in life. I also wrote most of my book listening to Moby’s entire catalog.

"Born Slippy" by Underworld
No song captures the pure, mad adrenalin rush of my entire Ukrainian adventure more than this signature Trainspotting tune.

"Gulyanka" Verka Serduchka
If any song captures the spirit of how Ukrainians celebrate life (combined with the effects of vodka), it is this song by this popular Ukrainian cross-dresser. This song was played at our engagement party on my return trip to Ukraine, days before Katya came to the U.S. with me to start a new life.

"Nas Ne Degonia" (They’re Not Gonna Stop Us) by t.A.T.u
This song became our theme song from the moment I heard it on my first full day at an outdoor market. An English version hit the charts in the U.S. shortly after Katya’s arrival in the U.S.

"Ordinary World" by Duran Duran
After a life-altering experience like my trip to Ukraine, combined with impending marriage and 9/11, seeking an ordinary world was easier said than done.

"American Wedding" by Gogol Bordello
Eugene Hütz would be perfect as the vodka-pushing Uncle Vladimir in a movie version of Love & Vodka! How to pick one song by Gogol Bordello (the best live band out there)? "American Wedding" is the perfect juxtaposition to the pre-wedding celebration that took place in Dnepropetrovsk. "Where is the vodka, where's marinated herring?" asks Eugene. Well, they were there in Dnepropetrovsk!

"Sharmanka" by Nikolay Baskov
My future father-in-law’s theme song. He loved singing this song any chance he had. And it’s used to great effect in the book during an outdoor meal at the family’s summer cottage. It was also used as the father-daughter dance at our wedding.

"Somewhere over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole
A Hawaiian confection medley of two classics. Filled with a juxtaposition of both hope and melancholy. This is what following your dreams sounds like.

"Fly Me to the Moon" by Frank Sinatra
Another one of the songs from "our soundtrack". The Italian in me can’t resist Frank. I always pictured this song playing as the end credits role in my movie as we flew away to a new life together in the U.S. Another song that captures the magic of raw love.

R.J. Fox and Love & Vodka links:

the author's website
excerpts from the book
video trailer for the book

Foreword Reviews review

Dearborn Press and Guide profile of the author
Lansing City Pulse profile of the author
Living with Writers interview with the author
Michigan Radio interview with the author
WGVU interview with the author
WKAR interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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