September 29, 2017
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Melissa Fraterrigo's Glory Days is a dark, compelling, and powerful novel-in-stories.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"If Willa Cather and Cormac McCarthy had a love child, she would be a writer such as Fraterrigo, whose imagery is equally evocative and unforgiving and whose characters are every bit as anguished and forlorn."
I don’t listen to music when I write. I’m a distracted person to begin with and I don’t need any more temptation. I mainly listen to Pandora and I have yet to figure out what to do with all those jewel cases from the 1990s. When I do listen to music I always get swept up in the narrative, that’s usually what I seek. But the thing is that I don’t just want to understand the narrative thread of a song—I want to actually feel it—the song’s motivation for being and its particular way in the world. Most of the songs I love capture both—a good narrative hook and an artist who experiences the song on an altogether different level and is able to convey that depth to listeners.
I can’t think of anyone who does this better than Patty Griffin. In the song “Sweet Lorraine” from Living With Ghosts, you have the basic story of a girl who comes from “a long line of drinkers and dreamers.” Her parents never wanted her, so they pretty much beat her down even though she’s a good girl, trying to do what’s right.
In the battle of time in the battle of will
It’s only your hope and your heart that gets killed
And it gets harder and harder Lorraine, to believe in magic
When what came before you is so very tragic.
Goodness, Glory Days is tragic as well, and I think it encapsulates how no matter how hard we try sometimes we just can’t overcome our personal histories—these are our ghosts, the voices in our head, and the characters in Glory Days, like many of us, spend much of their time trying to learn to live with them.
“Astral Plane” by Valerie June. I heard an interview with June where she described “receiving a song” and how she heard voices during the songwriting process. I think that’s just lovely. I also frequently hear a voice at the start of a piece, and if the voice is really strong, it can propel the narrative to the point that I have a visceral sense of the characters and the place and every item within the world of that story.
A good example of this is the first story I wrote for the book—“Teensy’s Daughter”—which begins with the line “Gardner hears dogs scrambling up the trees after a squirrel or a neighbor’s cat, he tells himself, eager to be calmed. It’s not Teensy’s he thinks. The same thing he’s been telling himself for months. Teensy doesn’t want anything to do with him. Isn’t the sort who craves revenge.” At the time those lines came to me, I had pretty much stopped writing prose. Someone very dear to me was diagnosed with cancer and my nerves were shredded and I was just getting by.
At the time I was only reading poetry and yet here these lines came to me fully dressed and with the allusion to the strained history between Gardner and his childhood nemesis Teensy. At the opening of the story “Teensy’s Daughter” Gardner is on house arrest after causing the death of Teensy’s daughter Luann. One two three—I had three characters, only the three of them had known each other for some time and I had to work backwards to figure out why Teensy and Gardner hated one another and what happened with Luann—what was she doing taking up with Gardner, a guy as old as her dad?
The poetry I read began to teach me to look at words in a new way. I started keeping an image journal and I found that the more images I captured on the page, the more came to me. These images served as a sort of portal to deepen my understanding of the novel as a whole and it also made the town of Ingleside feel as rich as any character.
Because this novel-in-stories spans about 25 years, we have the chance to experience the complicated relationship between Teensy and his adopted daughter Luann over a significant time. Loudon Wainwright III is another guy whose relationships with his kids have been challenging. In “A Year” he explores what it’s like to feel hesitant around someone—to be uncertain of your place in this person’s life, and Teensy and Luann duplicate this repeatedly. Luann has never felt like she fits in to the small town of Ingleside, Nebraska, and she also feels like she’s never been good enough for her dad. She gravitates toward the attention men can provide—and this is the attention they offer her in the backseat of a pickup or on an afghan along the riverbanks. She craves her dad’s attention but doesn’t know how to be the girl she thinks he wants her to be. Fathers and daughters. Could anything be more complex?
“Revelator” by Gillian Welch just has this ache to it and every time I hear this song I think that this is exactly what Gillian Welch is meant to do—to sing this song and play the guitar and recreate this rural place.
Darling, remember when you come to me
I’m the pretender, not what I’m supposed to be
But who could know if I’m a traitor
Time’s the Revelator.
During the writing of Glory Days I was really swallowed by the small plains town of Ingleside, Nebraska, a place that is very much undergoing a transition. As it becomes impossible to make a living farming, developers come in and buy up farmland and erect an amusement park—Glory Days—and this brings new money to town. Suddenly we have wealthy landowners alongside folks who were already struggling to get by and this really ushers in dark times.
I have long loved amusement parks. I love being outside, whipped around by some colorful contraption that hurls me into the sky. I love hearing people screaming, their inhibitions stripped away. I love food on a stick and people chewing with open mouths as they walk on the blacktop. I love the way bodies begin to smell after a long day in the sun and how at the end of the day your legs ache and your feet are ripe. “Back in Black” by AC/DC – I don’t think I’ve ever been to an amusement park without hearing some AC/DC and it’s always on some spinning ride, like the Hay Baler where the ghost-boy Jeremiah, accidentally starts a fire. Jeremiah is caught in a sort of purgatory outside the Glory Days amusement park and the only person who can see him is Fredonia the Great, a seer who shares with park-guests visions of their deaths. On the night of the fire Jeremiah’s frustration with his in-between place reaches a crescendo and Fredonia the Great sees the engulfing flames as a chance to actually help those who she’s long abhorred.
“Miss World” by Hole. In a book with a clairvoyant named Fredonia the Great, a tornado, ghosts, drugs, blood, violence, cows, and despair, we need an angry fist-thumping song like “Miss World,” where you can almost visualize Courtney Love swearing at the audience while playing her heart out—
Now I've made my bed, I'll lie in it
I've made my bed, I'll die in it
I've made my bed, I'll cry in it
I've made my bed, I'll lie in it
Her angst reminds me so much of Luann—the obvious heartache that she tries to disguise through self-medication and casual sex. Luann’s disdain for herself and her need to belong underpins the whole book.
“Alberta” by Doc Watson - While this song has been sung by everyone from Eric Clapton to Bob Dylan, I love Watson’s version and the way he is able to get inside this song and belt out the lyrics as if every moment in the song is one he’s personally experienced. It’s a heartbreaking song, reflective of the heartbreak that opens Glory Days, where Teensy and his adopted daughter Luann are facing the double loss of both their farmland and the death of Luann’s mother. Teensy and Luann are not the only ranchers in town challenged by the economic realities of farming and poverty. Despite these hard times the characters in Glory Days take comfort in the land—both the memory of what it once was and in the growing sense of what it might become. In this longing to begin again, residents of this small town take comfort in one another—and go on.
Melissa Fraterrigo and Glory Days links:
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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