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July 30, 2019

Joel Mowdy's Playlist for His Story Collection "Floyd Harbor"

Floyd Harbor

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.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"In form and substance, this closely resembles Denis Johnson's classic linked collection Jesus’ Son. Mowdy’s sharp eye and melodic prose shine a strange light into these otherwise dark stories about the unique . . . A strong new voice in fiction."

In his own words, here is Joel Mowdy's Book Notes music playlist for his story collection Floyd Harbor:

I never write to music, but once a story is done, I like to imagine a soundtrack for it. Not long ago I had the opportunity to do this for Floyd Harbor in a purposeful way. For one of my book launch events, I conceived a Tour of Floyd Harbor in which I read sections of the book, taking the audience to different parts of its fictional neighborhood, with two songs as live music interludes to accompany the storytelling. These songs are the first two on this playlist. Others are songs I had cut from scenes in early drafts, only keeping the moods they suggested, and a few of the songs I’ve considered just now, given this opportunity to indulge in this process once again. Fun!

“Hotel California” by The Eagles

This one song could be enough for the whole playlist. It’s the song that refused to be cut. In fact “Hotel California” keeps popping up so often in the collection that I’ve lost count how many times it’s mentioned. It’s Grady’s favorite song, and probably in Dan’s top five. In Floyd Harbor, you will hear it played whether you like it or not, and, like any song, it gains significance when listened to repeatedly.

“Where is My Mind” by The Pixies

Around the time in my life when I found myself more often waiting around in parking lots for someone to show up or a plan to evolve, one of my brothers got heavily into The Pixies. This period was also when dropping blotter acid became the default plan when nothing else was going on. I’m pretty sure I spent an entire trip listening to Surfer Rosa on repeat. The stories “Far-Off Places” and “Battery” come out of those years, and this song from the very late 80s captures that trippy loss of control and mind expansion perfectly. The imagery in the song also pairs well with “Fatta Morgada”.

“The Unknown Soldier” by The Doors

“Breakfast where the news is read / Television, children fed / unborn living, living dead / bullet strikes the helmet’s head.” See “The Shaft” and “Battle of Floyd Harbor”, the two stories about Vietnam veterans and their families. If “The Shaft” were a series of images rather than a story, it might make a good video for this song.

“Cursed Female” and “Cursed Male” by Porno for Pyros

“Cursed to be born / Beautiful, poor and female / There’s none that suffer more.”


“All the guys / that really have the money / are too old / to have a good time with it.”

This solidly '90s alt rock band is mentioned in the story “Golden”. These two songs sit well with this and two other stories, “Salty’s” and “Chubba Chuck”. All three stories involve sex for sale, love, money, and heartbreak.

“(I’ve Invented a) Maneuver” by The Morning Sea

From this New York City rock band’s third album Destruction Songs, “Maneuver” is based on a joke by Eddie Izzard, but the lyrics somehow take it beyond a joke into something sad and a little desperate without the music ever losing its chipper edge. Or maybe the song is just a joke and I’m reading too much into it. It’s the kind of song the character John in the story “Chubba Chuck” might compose. He was in a New York City rock band once. They had five songs and a demo. But that’s all over now.


“How’s your Heart?” by The Morning Sea

“Sometimes at night you walk the streets / Like you’re a character on some old movie screen / You say ‘How come every one I see / Seems like they have it figured out except for me?’” This one is for Jared, the narrator of “Golden”, specifically in the Penn Station scenes.

“I Will Always Love You” by Whitney Houston

Years ago, this guy I knew—call him Silas—attempted to rob a migrant Mexican worker of his hoarded cash at gunpoint, in the man’s own home, and the man stabbed Silas to death with a kitchen knife in self-defense. Back when we were in high school, Silas used to drive slowly around the neighborhood in a dark blue low-rider sedan with tinted windows. You knew when he was coming because the car announced itself with a bass that rattled your teeth in your skull. Always the same menacing bass line: Boom-BOOM! A pause. Boom-BOOM! Repeat. He came from a somewhat privileged background, but had adopted all these things that announced his badness to the world, like owning that car, dealing drugs, and hanging out with all the proud young criminals. My brother Adriel, who was the most notorious kid in high school for reasons I won’t get into, became best friends with Silas for a while, which is why one time I found myself squeezed in the back seat of Silas’s car between a pair of young thugs while Adriel rode shotgun. It was only then that I heard the song beneath the one-two thunder clap exploding from the subwoofer in the trunk. It was this sweet melancholy jam that belied a sensitive, sappy heart under Silas’s tough boy exterior. I wrote a story based on this unfortunate misguided soul once, but I lost that story. Later, I wrote “Far-Off Places”, and the characters Jeff and Rob are somewhat inspired by Silas. In an earlier version of that story, Jeff, too, had a subwoofer in the trunk and blasted “I Will Always Love You” on repeat everywhere he went after his girlfriend dumped him. I had to cut that part, though. There’s no way a guy who tapes the bumper to his car could afford a subwoofer.

“Like a Virgin” by Madonna

This is another song cut from a story through revision. In the breakfast scene in “Battery” you can imagine this playing on the kitchen radio. It’s from the good old days of the narrator’s mother’s late teen years, and it speaks to her in this delusional moment of optimism.

“Pomp and Circumstance” by Sir Edward Elgar

This one is for “The Luz”, a story about a defeated teacher. It’s the only real song besides “Hotel California” that appears in the book.

“Lost in the Harbor” by Tom Waits

The line “And the sheep are all lost in the harbor” was almost the book’s epigraph, but the mood didn’t quite capture the whole collection. I went without an epigraph in the end. But this could be a song for “Battle of Floyd Harbor”, a story about a Vietnam veteran with a wife and ten children who decides to leave them and go back to the war, even though the war had ended years ago.


“Eggs and Sausage” by Tom Waits

There’s a late night diner scene at the end of the last story, “Stacked Mattresses”. In the last lines of this song, Tom Waits might be singing the thoughts of the narrator, Michael. Michael’s had a rough weekend, and he hadn’t planned on drinking coffee at a diner booth in a crowd of strangers close to midnight on a Sunday.

“I've been 86ed from your scheme / I'm in a melodramatic nocturnal scene / I'm a refugee from a disconcerted affair / As the lead pipe morning falls / And the waitress calls…”

“Hotel California” by The Eagles

“You can check out any time you like / but you can never leave.” This song plays twice a day in the summer on Rockin’ Radio, the station that comes in clearest on the Mastic Beach peninsula. Go ahead, give it another listen.

Joel Mowdy and Floyd Harbor links:

Atticus Review review
New York Journal of Books review
ZYZZYVA review

GreaterMoriches profile of the author
Long Island Press profile of the author
Newsday interview with the author
The Rumpus interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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