September 30, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The stories in Bradley Sides' collection Those Fantastic Lives muddle the mundane with the fantastic to haunting results.
Josh Denslow wrote of the book:
"Full of cinematic confections and concoctions. In deceptively buoyant prose that never sinks under the weight it carries, these stories are scary and funny and thrilling, sometimes all at the same time. I don't know if we should take this collection as a series of warnings, but being doomed has never been so enjoyable."
I began working on what would become the first story for Those Fantastic Lives back in 2013. That story, titled “Restored,” is about a young boy who sacrifices his happiness—his life, really—so that his family and community might continue to live in their state of peace. It’s a sad little story, and it has a delicateness to it, a feeling of tenderness. While some of the magical realism stories collected here go hard on humor or go into much darker circumstances, “Restored” certainly set the mood for the stories that would follow it. With this playlist, I offer a song for each story from my debut collection. A song that fits the mood—one that, hopefully, makes you feel what the respective story sets out to make you feel…
“Holocene” by Bon Iver
Those Fantastic Lives opens with the title story, which is about a boy who may or may not be a psychic like his beloved grandmother. At the story’s end, the boy has this feeling that what surrounds him is magnificent. This song captures this same idea beautifully.
“Forgotten Eyes” by Big Thief
If only Gresh, the protagonist from “Losing Light,” which involves magical fireflies, could’ve heard these words about his brother: “Forgotten eyes are the ones which we lose / Forgotten hands are the ones which we choose… The wound has no direction / Everybody needs a home and deserves protection.”
“White Ferrari” by Frank Ocean
Frank Ocean is one of my favorite artists, and “White Ferrari” is among his best songs. I hear it playing softly in the car’s speakers in my story “Back in Crowville.” To me, the song is so much about growing and roaming, and I hope it inspires Dean as he grows up in a world full of ghosts and scarecrows.
“2009” by Mac Miller
“The Mooneaters” is a tragic story. It has to be, really. In ways, though, the ending has a feeling of acceptance to it—maybe even peace. Mac Miller’s “2009”, I think, best fits it.
“All My Friends” by LCD Soundsystem
When I think of graduation songs, this is the one that I think of first. I had to pair it with “Commencement.” There are two lines in this song that make the connection pretty haunting: “I wouldn’t trade one stupid decision / For another five years of life.” In the story’s case, are you sure?
“Hang Me in the Tulsa County Stars” by John Moreland
Patrick’s father in “Dolls for the End of the World” is a terrible man, but I keep imagining Patrick hoping his father would see him, himself, and their world—hoping his father might find goodness. This song by John Moreland is the one I hear playing in young Patrick’s head as he sets out on his journey.
“No One’s Gonna Love You” by Band of Horses
“The Creator” is such a melancholy piece of flash. A man just has to let go of all the loves he’s had. “And no one / Is ever gonna love you more than I do / No one’s gonna love you more than I do.”
“Higher Love” by James Vincent McMorrow
I think this is one of the greatest covers ever, and I’m taking it for a literal connection here with “The Galactic Healers.” The young protagonist needs help, so he prays to God. And to aliens. He needs that higher love to save him. Maybe it will?
“Believe (Nobody Knows)” by My Morning Jacket
In “Restored,” one brother has to believe he’s making the right choice by sacrificing himself and his life. This song might as well be softly playing in the town square as the protagonist takes his seat on his new throne. “Believe, believe, believe, believe / Nobody knows / Believe, believe, believe, believe / Nobody knows.”
“Start a War” by The National
Best friend werewolves have it out in “A Complicated Correspondence.” The National’s song closes with this repeated line: “Walk away now and you’re gonna start a war / Walk away now and you’re gonna start a war.” Throughout the story, we have to wonder if one of the friends will walk away…
“The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow” by Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall
In “From Hiemslandia,” Miki is a tiny boy who lives on an ice cube, and his life has been one full of trauma. There’s a verse in “The Wind’s Just Gonna Blow” that I keep hearing him repeat in his water glass-home as his mother is sleeping: “We both hate to see it end / Skyies are getting dark again / It’s time for me to go / Dust ain’t ever gonna settle / The wind’s just gonna blow.”
“Flightless Bird, American Mouth” by Iron & Wine
This song by Iron & Wine is about the loss of innocence, and my piece of flash “The Comet Seekers” touches on this very same thing as two young boys grapple with the loss of their father. There are two metaphorical flightless birds in my story, which make the story take on a real devastating feeling, too. It’s also easy to notice the quietness of these two works. Lots of complements going on with this one…
“Crowded Table” by The Highwomen
“The Merpod” is about a big family of mermaids trying to escape the harshness that comes from the patriarch. I can hear the mermaids and their little merboy singing this song at night when Herman is away: “I want a house with a crowded table / And a place by the fire for everyone / Let us take on the world while we’re young and able / And bring us back together when the day is done.”
“Nose on the Grindstone” by Tyler Childers
This song by Tyler Childers is one I imagine the young protagonist of “The Trapper” singing as he gets older—one I imagine him singing as a prayer to his father as he searches for him, as he tries and tries to keep hearing his voice.
“Can I Believe You” by Fleet Foxes
“In the Hollow” is a story so much about belief. If the father would’ve believed his son, they wouldn’t be in the place they are at the end. If the father would’ve believed, if the father would’ve believed, if the father would’ve believed. As this song opens and we hear the question “Can I believe you? / Can I believe you?,” I am automatically placed in the world of belief.
“Fast Car” by Tracy Chapman
In “The Hunt,” Zoey searches. On a literal level, she looks for the sasquatch, but, of course, she’s also very much looking to find herself—and her place in her world. She’s unhappy, hoping things will get better. “Fast Car” has to be her anthem—and this story’s.
“All Around You” (from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth) by Sturgill Simpson
“Welcome to Earth” (from Cuttin’ Grass, Volume 2) by Sturgill Simpson
Sturgill’s music speaks directly to my heart, and it has since I found it. These two songs are about pure, real love, and so is my story “What They Left Behind,” which follows a father and a mother who refuse to abandon their “sick” son. As Ash, the son, gradually begins to transform, the parents find their love tested again and again. “All Around You” contains these beautiful lyrics: “’Cause our bond’s eternal / So is love / God is inside you / All around you / And up above / Knowing / Showing you the way.” I just imagine these words as guides for the parents. Finally, “Welcome to Earth” is another song from Sturgill I imagine playing as the story reaches its end and as Ash and his parents go on into the next phase of their lives. There’s just a lot of love here at the end of my playlist. I hope you feel it…
Bradley Sides' writing appears in the Chicago Review of Books, Electric Literature, Los Angeles Review of Books, The Millions, The Rumpus, and dozens of other illustrious publications. He is a literary writer with a speculative bent and a penchant for magic realism. His stories are about young people searching for meaning and understanding in fantastic worlds, often tenderly exploring masculinity, home and belonging. He holds an MA in English from the University of North Alabama and is an MFA student at Queens University of Charlotte. He lives in Florence, Alabama, with his wife.