October 11, 2019
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Timothy J. Hillegonds' The Distance Between is a compelling memoir.
Hypertext Magazine wrote of the book:
"In his memoir, The Distance Between (Nebraska, 2019), Timothy Hillegonds trains his unflinching gaze on addiction, white male privilege, toxic masculinity, and failed relationships. Hillegonds doesn’t try to win the reader over with excuses for past behavior but instead finds the language to excavate then examine his actions with ruthless precision. Instead of allowing himself to become symbolic of any one vice, Hillegonds captures the struggle—in all its grief and beauty—of reckoning with a difficult past."
The Distance Between takes place primarily in the 90s, the decade I grew from twelve to twenty-two, the decade that music, as it does for everyone, began to shape and mold and narrate my life. The music I had listened to in the early 90s, mostly skater rock and punk—311, Sublime, The Offspring—had transitioned to hip hop, and I was obsessed with Chicago rappers like Twista, Do or Die, and Crucial Conflict, and with the way the late Johnny P’s voice seemed to drift and float like weed smoke above the city.
In the time right before I moved to Colorado, before my legal troubles began eclipsing everything else in my life, I rode around in a beat-up 1985 Chevy Chevette, smoking Marlboro Lights, listening to all the hip hop I could get my hands on. I had bought the car for cheap from my stepfather, and it had only an AM radio, so I installed a Kenwood receiver and a pair of Pioneer speakers, and I remember endless loops of Tupac mixed in with The Fugees (The Score), 8 Ball and MJG (Space Age Pimpin’), and a little-known Long Beach duo called The Mexakinz.
When I think back on that time, which I admit I often do, these are the songs I think of most, and the ones that make up the soundtrack to the book.
1. “For What It’s Worth”: Buffalo Springfield
Every skate show we put on opened with this song. It was a way for us to warm up, to get loose, to lean into the energy of the crowd. Even today—and it’s been close to twenty-five years—I can’t hear this song without thinking of skating, and without feeling a little tinge of loss, of absence, of longing for the days when the only obstacle that really mattered was gravity.
2. “Come Out and Play”: The Offspring
Though I can’t be absolutely certain, “Come Out and Play” was the second song on our skate-show soundtrack, and it usually crackled out of a portable sound system filled with distortion. By the time the song came on, we were through our set of smaller tricks and working our way up to the crowd-pleasers: launching over a car while pulling a stalled-out one-eighty and landing backwards; front flipping over a group of people smiling while looking skyward; pulling long, laid-out backflips that always made it feel like time had stopped.
3. “Hay”: Crucial Conflict
You couldn’t live anywhere near Chicago in the late 90s without hearing this song. It was a Chicago anthem, and during the time it was popular, my friends and I threw a series of gigantic parties at an old barn in the far south suburbs. The parties often brought more than a hundred people—from all different high schools and all different neighborhoods—and when this song came on it was always pandemonium: because we were in an actual barn, because we were young and drunk and high, because we were smoking blunts and bowls and bongs until a thick cloud of smoke hung like atmosphere near the hayloft.
4. “Po Pimp”: Do or Die
When I left Chicago to move to Colorado, I brought a bunch of CDs with me, including Do or Die’s Picture This, which is still one of my all-time favorite albums. Whenever I played the song “Po Pimp” in Colorado, no matter what was happening, no matter how crazy it was, it was like listening to a little bit of home.
5. “I Ain’t Mad At Cha”: 2Pac
When I first heard this track, I was immediately obsessed with it, and I think it may have been the song I played most in the late-90s. There was something about the way Tupac’s voice laid on top of the piano, something about the way the beat hit right before he went in for that first verse that activated something inside me that’s never really turned off. I still listen to it regularly at the gym, or while hitting the heavy bag in the garage, and Tupac’s voice never fails to make me feel like it always has: alive.
6. “Hail Mary” 2Pac
As a nineteen-year old kid who was angry and wandering, and often scared even though I would never admit it, there was no song that made me feel tougher and wilder than this one. As a white kid from a suburb of Chicago, it’s not lost on me (now, at least) that I have almost nothing in common with Tupac and the struggle this song was born from. But I suppose that’s the magic of music: that Tupac could write this song, and then I could hear it, and it could galvanize a part of me in a way that nothing else could.
7. “Only You”: 112 featuring The Notorious B.I.G. and Mase
This song came out either right before or right after I moved to Colorado, and it always reminds me of the drives April and I took from Summit County to Denver, traveling east on I-70 with mountains on both sides of us, impossibly fresh air rushing in the window, Maddie strapped in her car seat in the back. 112’s sound on the track is pure silk, which I know can be said for a lot of their songs, but when their voices mix in with the beat it has a way of lulling me into a place where everything that’s going on in my life feels a little less urgent. Biggie’s opening verse is also one my favorites. And who doesn’t love Mase’s bars on this track?
8. “In My Lifetime”: Jay Z
In the book, this is the song that’s playing when I’m at a party with April, feeling insecure and angry, acting ignorantly, getting ready to throw hands for the first time. My adrenaline is flowing, and the song is background noise that everyone is absentmindedly nodding their heads to, but it’s also a sort of fuel, a mainlined swagger that everyone can feel, whether they know it or not. The song is a classic, of course, with Jay Z’s trademark cool and timeless style, but none of us knew that back then, that it would be timeless, and none of us knew that the songs we heard in those days would stay with us for a lifetime, and that we’d carry the music with us like mannerisms, and that the songs would stay with us forever.
Timothy J. Hillegonds and The Distance Between 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
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weekly music release lists