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March 12, 2019

William Boyle's Playlist for His Novel "A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself"

A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself

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

William Boyle's novel A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself is a madcap literary thriller both funny and dark.

NPR Books wrote of the book:

"Part Martin Scorsese's Goodfellas and part Mario Puzo's La Mamma, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself is a funny, gritty, touching narrative about the strength of three New York women caught in a world of abusive men, broken families, and mob violence. Friend is a rarity; a fresh novel about New York's underbelly. Crime fiction usually stays within the confines of the genre, but Boyle breaks away from those restrictions."

In his own words, here is William Boyle's Book Notes music playlist for his novel A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself:

My new novel, A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself, is a screwball noir. The songs I’ve included below soundtrack the action and illuminate things about the plot. But many of the choices would also be go-tos for the characters if they were standing in front of a jukebox with a few wrinkled bills or making a mix or bringing a box of cassettes or CDs on a road trip. The book is set in 2006, and fifteen-year-old Lucia loves Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, while Wolfie, in her sixties, is a Stevie Nicks nut. Richie, a middle-aged mobster, likes his classic rock. Adrienne, his younger ex-girlfriend, was weaned on hair metal, even seeing Guns N’ Roses when they played L’Amour in Bensonhurst back in October ’87. The other main character, mob widow Rena Ruggiero, isn’t terribly into music, but the songs still glint off of her as in a Scorsese movie. There are four significant covers here, in large part because I’m drawn to a certain type of reinterpretation. There are also some aggressive transitions, which I hope speak to the book’s wild tonal shifts. (Sorry—I didn’t expect to use a phrase like “aggressive transitions,” but it couldn’t be helped.)

1. “Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?,” Jimi Hendrix

A lesser-known Dylan cover by Hendrix from his BBC Sessions. Crunchy, rolling, alive. One of my favorite Barry Hannah lines is: “Hendrix [is] like the blues with a helicopter in it.” Seems like the perfect place to start.

2. “Family Affair,” Mary J. Blige

One Lucia loves. I imagine her pressing play on her boombox over and over.

3. “Mack the Knife,” Mark Lanegan

Dumb old Bobby, who Wolfie has conned out of some cash and left heartbroken, sings this as he gets drunk. He’s probably thinking of the Bobby Darin version, but I’ll choose Lanegan’s for all its grizzled glory and the way it makes the song feel so small and real.

4. “Heart of the Sunrise,” Yes

I’d be lying if I said I was a big Yes fan; I haven’t gone too deep with them. I was introduced to this song through Buffalo ’66, a film I really love, and Vincent Gallo’s use of it haunts me. I need it here during one of the set pieces full of violent, screwball action.

5. “Thunder and Lightning,” Chi Coltrane

A song I didn’t know until I stumbled across a Chi Coltrane LP at the record store where I work. Seemed like something Wolfie and her old pal Mo would know and love. Mo even sings a bit of it after hearing it on the radio.

6. “After the Glitter Fades,” Stevie Nicks

This one’s for Wolfie and Mo, rabid Stevie fans. The lyrics, no doubt, have some real resonance for them both given their former profession. On the cutting room floor: a scene where they sing this at karaoke.

7. “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” P.P. Arnold

A great Stones song that I almost never want to hear because it’s so overplayed at supermarkets and gyms and gas stations and just everywhere (didn’t Trump even ruin it further by using it at a rally recently?), but P.P. Arnold’s version makes me listen in a different way. Richie jokes about not wanting to hear the Stones version as he’s dying, but I’d happily give him this one instead. This wouldn’t be bad to die to.

8. “Money Changes Everything,” Cyndi Lauper

I revisited the video while I was revising, and it just felt like it matched the book perfectly. The lyrics, the feel, everything. Magic.

9. “Anything Goes,” Guns N’ Roses

I knew there had to be a song from Appetite for Destruction since Lucia’s running around in one of her mom’s old GNR shirts. True story: a friend dubbed Appetite for me in fifth grade and he left off “Rocket Queen,” so—for many fucking years—I thought “Anything Goes” was the last track. It held special significance to me for that reason. It still does, as one of the more undervalued tracks on the record (though it’s no “Rocket Queen”).

10. “Map of the City,” Royal Trux

Hectic and intimate like the best of Royal Trux. Chase music.

11. “Caught in the Middle,” Dio

Another one for Richie, who’d surely prefer Dio to the Stones as he fades in and out of consciousness. A song to stir up ghosts.

12. “Life’ll Kill You,” Warren Zevon

Tonally, I hope the book feels like a Warren Zevon song. No other writer or singer I know can move between light and dark like Zevon. Here’s one that lays our death sentence out for us.

13. “It’s a Good Day,” Peggy Lee

Mo’s got a Peggy Lee cassette she puts on when the crew is hiding out in a vacant house. This choice feels right. I’d want it used the way Lynne Ramsay uses songs in her films.

14. “It’s Like That,” Mariah Carey

Lucia hums this song as a means of survival.

15. “Time is On My Side,” Irma Thomas

Another killer Stones cover, this one by Irma Thomas. A good song to end with.

16. “It’s OK,” Dead Moon

Closing credits need a Dead Moon song. So it’s said, and so it shall be. Unnerving and hopeful at the same time.

William Boyle and A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself links:

the author's website

Booklist review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
NPR Books review
Publishers Weekly review

Daily Mississippian profile of the authors
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Death Don't Have No Mercy
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for Gravesend
Largehearted Boy playlist by the author for The Lonely Witness

also at Largehearted Boy:

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