August 3, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Giano Cromley's The Prince of Infinite Space is a moving and funny novel.
The Prince of Infinite Space traces the journey of wayward teenager Kirby Russo as his carefully constructed life in military school falls apart and he runs away with his long-absent father to track down the love of his life in Chicago. It’s a shambling cross-country road trip and, like all of life’s journeys, it’s more fun with a good soundtrack. Because this story is set in 1990, many of these songs would have been floating around the ether during Kirby’s trip, though I’ve made some exceptions for songs that were too perfect to keep off the list. Here goes:
1. Mama Tried, Merle Haggard
First rule of the Largehearted Boy playlist… If you quote a song in your epigraph, that song must lead-off your playlist. Despite the centering of Kirby’s father in the story, this novel is just as much about his mother, Debbie, who’s always been there, trying to steer Kirby onto a better path. She’s worn down by years of struggle and failure, but she’s the one who always shows up, the one who shoulders the burden. To me, she’s the real hero of the story.
2. 91, Bleachers
When I first heard this song, it felt as if the band had gotten an advanced copy of my novel and surreptitiously written lyrics about it. Like my book, this song pivots on an overlooked moment in our nation’s history – the run-up to, and the aftermath of, the first Gulf War. Throw in the fact that this song features a mother “waltzing with ghosts” and a young narrator with a general sense of being stuck in a place he doesn’t want to be, and, well, you pretty much have the first couple chapters of my book.
3. Pictures of You, The Cure
I couldn’t resist putting this weeper on my playlist because a mysterious picture, discovered by Kirby in a back issue of the Chicago Tribune, sets him on a quest to track down the missing love of his life, Izzy. Sidenote: Izzy would probably find herself right at home at a Cure concert.
4. Dancing in the Dark, Lucy Dacus
One passage made this song a shoo-in for this playlist: “I check my look in the mirror / Wanna change my clothes, my hair, my face / Man, I ain't gettin' nowhere / I'm just livin' in a dump like this / There's somethin' happenin' somewhere / Baby, I just know that there is.” These lines encapsulate a particular strain of angst that’s founded on a sense that the place to be is wherever you’re not. Kirby wrestles with this as he tries to get himself kicked out of military school, and it isn’t until the surprise arrival of his father that he’s able to manufacture his escape.
The choice to go with Lucy Dacus’ version stems from the fact that there is no one in music today whose songs seem more like novels than Lucy Dacus. Plus, her voice is amazing, and this version blows me away every time.
5. Another Dog, Charlie Parr
I’m a sucker for two things: Songs with the word “home” in them, and songs about dogs. There’s an important chapter in The Prince of Infinite Space where Kirby recalls the last days of his schnauzer, Mr. T. It’s not a happy part of the book, but it provides an early glimpse of Kirby’s stuttering steps toward understanding that most mysterious of concepts: adulthood.
6. Miles from Nowhere, Yusuf/Cat Stevens
This song gives voice to the despondency of being lost after struggling to find a place where you belong (either physically or mentally) and failing. This is a feeling that crops up multiple times for Kirby on the road with this father.
7. Here I Go Again, Whitesnake
Second rule of the Largehearted Boy playlist… If one of your characters name-checks a song in your book, you must include it in the playlist. In this case, Kirby’s cousin Kelsey hears it on the radio while dropping him off in Chicago, and she notes how accurately it reflects his current station in life. As a side note, it’s one of the best rock songs from the 80s – and that’s a hill I’m willing to die on!
8. Tonight, Tonight, Smashing Pumpkins
Third rule of the Largehearted Boy playlist… If a band has a cameo in the book, you must include one of their songs on your playlist. Since a significant portion of my novel takes place in fall 1990 in Chicago, I couldn’t resist letting a young, pre-fame Billy Corgan and D’Arcy Wretsky pop in for a quick scene. It doesn’t hurt that this song is a nice distillation of the one night Kirby and Izzy spend together, hoping to rekindle the love they’d lost.
9. None of this Alone, Terry Presume
The Prince of Infinite Space is, at its core, a star-crossed love story. While there are plenty of songs about that version of love, the following passage puts this song squarely onto this playlist: “We can't go through this ourselves / Cause I'm exhausted and you're exhausted and we need help / We can hardly save ourselves / Cause we get nauseous and easily carsick in love as well.” It’s a hopeless, helpless love – the kind that’ll never quite work out, no matter how hard they try.
10. Grendel’s Mother, The Mountain Goats
Full circle. It always comes back to Kirby’s mom, Debbie. He’s screwed things up beyond repair, taken his comfortable, sustainable life and thrown it away in order to pursue someone who never wanted to be pursued. This act of self-sabotage leaves him broken, wandering the streets of Chicago. Debbie, tired and devastated, summons the strength to gather up her lost son and take him home, to try all over again. There are few songs that capture the thankless, tireless love a mother has for her son better than this one.
Giano Cromley is the author of the novels, The Prince of Infinite Space and The Last Good Halloween, in addition to the story collection, What We Build Upon the Ruins. He is the recipient of an Artists Fellowship from the Illinois Arts Council, and is currently a BookEnds Fellow with Stony Brook University. He is an English professor at Kennedy-King College in Chicago, where he is chair of the Communications Department, and sits on the committee for the Center of Equity for Creative Arts.
He lives on the South Side of Chicago with his wife and two dogs.