June 17, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Katherine Hill's novel A Short Move is an unforgettable football and family epic that skillfully examines the price of fame.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Hill’s elision of details about Mitch’s divorces and retirement increase the emotional effect of the changes in his life on the reader, and a surprising coda generates painful hindsight for Mitch about his life choices. Fans of sweeping family epics will enjoy this dissection of fame, sports, and the drive for connection."
I have to preface this by saying that while pop music is important to me, I don’t have original taste, and neither do my characters. We all listen to the stuff we’re supposed to listen to, by culture, region, and demographic. None of us escapes our place and time, though we like to flatter ourselves that we do.
My novel, A Short Move, is the life narrative of Mitch Wilkins, a Central Virginia boy born in 1971 who ultimately makes it to the NFL. Interwoven with his story are the stories of the people who made him—his mother and coaches, his wives and children, his teammates and bosses. It’s a family novel, a feminist novel, and a football novel at all once, with gaps in time as a central feature of the book’s structure. Some of these songs are for the characters, some are for the form or subject, and some, like so many of the decisions that go into a novel, are really just for me.
“All of the Lights (Interlude),” Kanye West
“All of the Lights,” Kanye West, featuring Rihanna and Kid Cudi
I listened to so much Kanye in the years I was writing this novel, this sequence probably more than any other. Stadium lights aren’t mentioned in Ye’s litany, but they might as well be.
“Family Man,” Fleetwood Mac
I thought Fleetwood Mac was a personal quirk, until the Internet told me I was just another Millennial. Regardless, Mitch thinks of himself as a family man, and I think of him every time I play this song.
“Two Step,” Dave Matthews Band
This is one of the few songs that’s actually “in” the novel. Mitch, his first wife Caryn, and Dave Matthews Band all came out of Central Virginia in the early '90s, so it felt right that Mitch and Caryn would share a moment to “Two Step.” Writing the scene also helped me accept my own embarrassing relationship with the band. My first concert was a solo Dave show at Sweet Briar College when I was in the eighth grade. I loved Under the Table and Dreaming and I felt really grown up in my crop top with my friends on the Dell. Even so, I assumed Dave was just a local musician in a rural town I really wanted to escape. So when I got my wish the next year, and we moved to suburban Maryland, I was surprised to discover that DMB was all the rage, even more than it had been in Virginia. I vacillated between loving the music and the boys who loved the music and finding the subculture sort of lame—the Dancing Nancy car decals, the fetishization of weed, the way everyone referred to “Dave,” like he was just another lax bro hanging out in the parking lot. By the end of college, I’d stopped listening to the band altogether. But Mitch and Caryn gave me a reason to go back, and now that I’m nowhere near the subculture or the subcultures that hate the subculture, I can actually hear the music. Turns out “Two Step” is still a great, driving anthem to fleeting life. No apologies.
“Seven Nation Army,” The White Stripes
By the time I was in the thick of writing this novel, “Seven Nation Army” was the international stadium anthem, from European soccer to American college football. It’s an aggressive march with the flavor of a lament, and anyone can chant the hypnotic “chorus,” Jack White’s syncopated guitar riff converted into “ohs.”
“Fuck tha Police,” NWA
Music is important to so many athletes—the walk-up music, the work-out music. It’s both distracting and motivating, and with headphones, it’s one of the few private things that professional athletes get to have on the job. It’s a small detail in A Short Move that one Mitch’s teammates listens to “Fuck tha Police” before every game.
“’74-’75,” The Connells
I once heard former Washington tight end Chris Cooley talk about his favorite songs. This was one of them, a moody ’90s ballad from North Carolina that was only a hit in Europe. It quickly became an earworm I couldn’t help associating with football and was often in my head when I was writing.
“Chain Gang,” Sam Cooke
An infectious, upbeat tune about exploited teams of workers. Feels like football to me.
“Elastic Heart,” Sia
The Friday before Halloween 2017, my agent called to tell me that my first publisher was not going to sign A Short Move. I was devastated—the first of many devastations this book experienced on the road to publication. That weekend, my husband and I went to a party dressed as Maddie Ziegler and Shia LaBoeuf from the “Elastic Heart” video (you didn’t?). I felt none of the resilience described in the song, but all of the trapped pain Ziegler and LaBoeuf communicate in the video. The novel was mostly written by then, but the song has become part of its backstory. It’s only as I write this now that I realize it makes sense for Mitch, too.
“Ambulance Blues,” Neil Young
It’s easy to get buried in the past when you try to make a good thing last.
“Free Bird,” Lynyrd Skynyrd
If Neil Young is for me, I have to give Mitch his “Free Bird.” He’s a Southern man anyhow.
“Dis Generation,” A Tribe Called Quest, featuring Busta Rhymes
I didn’t grow up with Tribe, but I listened to this album a lot in the home stretch on this novel. Hip hop is full of sports references, usually to make some point about greatness, but I like this track’s attention to the long-running mediocrity of the Jets.
“Portions for Foxes,” Rilo Kiley
I can find a way to make this exuberant tune relevant to anything. Most of what we relish in life is bad news. Football and novel writing are no exception.
“Ceremony,” New Order
The first song by the band born out of the ashes of Joy Division—a perfect blend of ecstasy and regret. Like so many of the songs on this list, it keeps me dancing even when it’s sad.
Katherine Hill is the author of the novels The Violet Hour (Scribner 2013) and A Short Move (Ig Publishing 2020).
With Sarah Chihaya, Merve Emre, and Jill Richards, she is also co-author of The Ferrante Letters: An Experiment in Collective Criticism (Columbia University Press 2020).
Her fiction, essays, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, including AGNI, The Believer, Bookforum, Colorado Review, The Common, The Guardian, The Literary Review, n+1, The Nation, The New Republic, The Paris Review Daily, Philadelphia Inquirer, Post45, Post Road, San Francisco Chronicle, and Tin House.
Katherine is an assistant professor of English at Adelphi University, where she teaches creative writing and literature to undergraduate and MFA students. Her writing has been awarded fellowships from the New York Public Library, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and the Corporation of Yaddo. Born in Washington D.C., she now lives with her husband and daughter in Brooklyn.
Find her on Twitter @KHill0.
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2018 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2015 - 2017) (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
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Flash Dancers (authors pair original flash fiction with a song
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists