Awarded the 2017 Miami Book Fair/de Groot Prize, Marci Vogel's novella Death and Other Holidays is a lyrical and thoughtful exploration of grief.
NPR Books wrote of the book:
"Death and Other Holidays brilliantly balances humor and anger, sorrow and beauty. Vogel’s subjects may be grief and death, but her writing reflects life as we live it, life with its many intricate, unnoticed balances."
Death and Other Holidays is told through the voice of April, a young woman learning to navigate loss and love in turn-of-the-20th-century Los Angeles.
The story takes place over a year's time, from 1998 to 1999, each season propelling April forward into her own life. And while there might not be a way to stop the changes that time brings, the songs here are ones to play on repeat.
:: Spring ::
"Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most" performed by Rickie Lee Jones
Death and Other Holidays begins in the spring, and it also begins with a death—an upending of usual seasonal expectations: "They say you're supposed to get this miraculous sense of renewal and promise, but it never happens that way either," observes April early in the novella.
Spring might be the narrator's namesake season, but April is also "the cruelest month," as T.S. Eliot writes in the opening lines of "The Waste Land." With lyrics by Fran Landesman, "poet laureate of lovers and losers," the song's title is actually a variation on Eliot's groundbreaking poem of the 20th century.
Rickie Lee Jones recorded this version on her 1991 album Pop Pop, which April would have listened to on CD, either driving around Los Angeles in her Honda Civic or on a boom box in her apartment.
"Your Long Journey" performed by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss
Musical legend has it that Doc Watson heard his wife, Rosa Lee, singing this song one day while she was sweeping their house. He took out his guitar, and they composed it together. The original lyrics say "lone" for "long," but somehow the conflation feels exactly right, as does the lightness of the melody in bidding a heartbreaking goodbye.
Krauss and Plant recorded their duet on Raising Sand in 2007, well after the year Death and Other Holidays takes place, but it's one I listened to on repeat—frequently in tears, frequently while sweeping my own kitchen—and the intimacy of it moves me still.
Several of April's snapshots capture the love between her step-father Wilson and her mother: "After Wilson died, my mother started sleeping on his side of the bed so she wouldn't see the empty space where he used to be. He always took the left, like where your heart is inside your body, farthest from the door."
It's a song I imagine April's mother singing off camera, maybe to Wilson, or maybe to console her desolate grief. Even in imagined scenarios, this song's brilliance is the way it so simply conveys the tremendous courage of sending off those we can't imagine living without.
"The Circle Game" written and performed by Joni Mitchell [with The LA Express]
This is a song April probably sang as a child, maybe in a now fire-devastated Malibu camp; more likely, at Camp Hollywoodland, located between the Golden State and Hollywood Freeways, and a stone's throw from where Joni Mitchell recorded it live at the Universal Ampitheatre in 1974. April might not have known she was singing the lyrics of an icon, but likely she could feel their emotional wisdom.
Years later, stuck in traffic, April might pop Miles of Aisles into the Civic's CD player and listen to Mitchell recount a story about the bewildering difference between painting and singing the same song over and over: No one ever said to van Gogh, "Paint 'A Starry Night' again, man."
I like to imagine April, bumper to bumper, belting out this tune from her childhood at Mitchell's gentle insistence: Let's sing this song together, okay.? This song doesn't sound good with one lonely voice. . . . It was made for out-of-tune singing, this song.
:: Summer ::
"Trouble Me" written and performed by Natalie Merchant [with 10,000 Maniacs]
Recorded on Blind Man's Zoo with vocals by Natalie Merchant, then about the same age as April, "Trouble Me" has always felt a natural response to the earlier—and bravely candid—single, "Like the Weather." Released in the 1980s, both songs speak to depression in a way I'd never heard before, neither romanticizing nor dramatizing, simply offering an honest depiction of the paralyzing fog that steals right in beside sufferers, this four-poster dull torpor, pulling downward.
A survivor of suicide loss, April is mourning not only the untimely cancer death of Wilson—"an accident of cells"—, but of her equally adored father, who took his own life when April was a teenager: "I used to say heart attack, but after I heard about aneurysms, I started using that, it sounded so plausible."
I've written before about my own father's suicide under watch in a VA hospital, but it's worth noting that the Reagan-era repeal of The Mental Health Systems Act continues to resound in ways that abandon our most vulnerable. What I so appreciate about Merchant's "Trouble Me" is that it speaks to the power of simple kindness. A song—or for that matter, a novella—might not be able the solve the systemic breakdown of social safety nets, but a compassionate shoulder can make a quietly powerful difference: "Libby's measure of truth can be exacting, but once she's a friend, it's forever."
"Learning to Fly" written and performed by Tom Petty [with Jeff Lynne] and the Heartbreakers
Death and Other Holidays is a Los Angeles story, and if ever a city had a patron lyricist, it would be Petty, who lived in the San Fernando Valley of April's childhood. The music video for "Learning to Fly" traces another coming-of-age tale and begins with a midcentury Buick taking off in the desert (which Los Angeles would be if not for our stolen water, but that's another story—see Robert Towne's Chinatown).
I love the way the song merges the real and fantastic, quotidian and dramatic, narrative and image. It's a quintessential Los Angeles ballad in a landscape of gutted-out airplanes beached in the middle of nowhere, a little like the LAPD holding yard where April and Victor drive to retrieve Victor's truck after it's been stolen: "Off the new Century Freeway . . . nothing but gas plants and used auto-parts shops, down a narrow pitted driveway to a chain-link fence topped with circles of barbed wire. The place is a dirt lot filled with cars in various stages of disrepair—no tires, hoods missing, engines gone."
It seems an unlikely setting for any kind of flying, but it's where April will see "the lights of the planes blink in the end-of-winter darkness" as they take off and land with equal aplomb at nearby LAX.
As the song goes, rocks might melt and the sea may burn, but the story ends with Petty's whistled chirp flying out over the ruins, and the couple that survives flames.
"The Only One" performed by Roy Orbison
Along with grieving Wilson's death, April endures her share of romantic heartbreak, and the legendary Orbison, whom Bruce Springsteen described as a "true master of the romantic apocalypse" would have been a steady voice tucked into the glove box of any of her cars.
This song, written by Orbison's son Wesley, appears on the posthumously released, Mystery Girl, and in all honesty, it's nearly impossible to choose only one from the preternaturally cool Orbison, who—as Richard Sassoon wrote in the liner notes—"sang about the great mystery, the only one that matters, the mystery of love where there is no solution, there is only eternal hope."
As any heartbreak can tell you, though, it never feels hopeful at the time, and despite the song's title, this particular flavor of pain seems in perfect company with April's tragicomic sensibility: You bite the bullet then you chew it / Tie a knot at the end of your rope / Buy a book to help you cope . . .
I imagine April listening to this track (#8, not that I've listened to it a million times on repeat) on her drive back from Libby and Hugo's Fourth of July party, which she leaves early after being stood up by the ever-unreliable Motorcycle Man. It's only later that she notices the brightness that was there all along, "sitting over the pool—cross-legged atop the diving board—Hugo's cousin, Victor, in a halo of sparklers."
:: Fall ::
"Just the Motion" performed by David Byrne
Earthquakes are part of the physical and emotional landscape of California, and seismic waves play a starring role in the love story between April and Victor. "Around four in the morning, the earth started shaking. I ran naked to the doorway, crouched down, and covered my head with my hands. My organs felt as if they were swishing inside my body." April's best friend, Libby, sends Victor to inspect April's Mar Vista apartment, a midcentury dingbat famous for star-shaped stucco embellishments and a tendency to soft story collapse in an earthquake.
Written by the inimitable Richard Thompson, David Byrne's luminous cover appears on the 1994 tribute album Beat the Retreat. I love how this song's motion becomes lullaby, how the drum finale surrenders to convey a sense of what it is to plunge straight into the eye of a whirlpool and emerge the other side of the hemisphere.
"Salty Dog Blues" performed by Mississippi John Hurt
As the seasons turn, Libby advises April to get a dog as a way of meeting a partner capable of commitment: "She say's it's a reliable means of assessment, walking a dog."
Of course, just as he does with damage assessment and driving, Victor also passes the dog test, having once rescued a young chocolate Lab-mix off the street "[l]ong before me. Long before any woman. Any girl, even. It was boys only for a long time, and they didn't mind, those boys."
A folk song dating from the early 1900s, "Salty Dog Blues" has made its way into just about every American musical vernacular, from Johnny Cash to Cat Power, lyrics shifting to suit. Clara Smith recorded a version in the 20s, but it's rare to hear a woman's voice accompany the music, and the term salty dog can slip quickly from favored-one to sexual come-on with varying degrees of innuendo.
Indeed, Victor and his now-aged dog, Argos, spend much of their time in a none-too-clean woodshop, where "[e]verything was dirty, dangerous, or noisy, and it all smelled of slightly damp brown fur." Naturally, they would have listened to this playfully sly Mississippi John Hurt version. And what creature—human or canine—could resist that?
"Moon River" performed by Audrey Hepburn
Born in Hollywood and written by Henry Mancini and Johnny Mercer, "Moon River" was originally performed by Audrey Hepburn playing the role of Holly Golightly in the film version of Truman Capote's 1957 novella, Breakfast at Tiffany's.
Capote is said to have wanted Marilyn Monroe to play Holly (and the film suffers mightily from an ugly and very dated portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi), but the song won an Academy Award and two Grammys, and the scene where Hepburn strums it out on a lone guitar begins with the clickety-clack of a red typewriter (thought to be a 1960 or 61 Smith-Corona Galaxie) tapping out words to a story called "My Friend": There was once a very lovely, very frightened girl. She lived alone except for a nameless cat.
The camera pans to Hepburn as Holly, framed in an open window, towel-wrapped hair, consoling herself with the sound of her own voice, a luminous solitary.
The depiction might be said to be the start of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope, but Capote's Holly disappears into her own legend, signing only Mille tendresse on a postcard with no forwarding address, and leaving the narrator she called Fred (after her adored brother) to locate the jettisoned cat, who arrives, finally, somewhere he belonged.
Re-reading the end of Capote's novella (which I still have, thanks to a customer who knew I couldn't afford it during the days when I worked at the much-missed Dutton's Books on Laurel Canyon Boulevard), I'm struck by a phrase I must have stolen for Death and Other Holidays. Certainly, I lifted Holly's name for the title. But the two words that capture my attention here are voiced from the back seat of a limousine. The car in Holidays isn't anywhere near as elegant, but in both novellas, the scene is the same: A couple is seated inside a car that has stopped, and one of the pair says, Let's go.
It's the song on the radio that continues: Life's just around the bend, my friend / Moon River and me —
:: Winter ::
"Here Comes the Sun" performed by Nina Simone
As with the first section of Death and Other Holidays, the last ends with an atmospheric inversion—in this case the sun, or at least its warmth. On cold winter nights, April follows the heat of Victor's body in bed "until he's on the edge about to fall off." He likens April to "one of those heliotropic plants, a sunflower or black-eyed Susan. We saw a stand of them last time we went hiking in Solstice Canyon."
April's favorite Beatle, George Harrison, wrote the song, but I'm certain she'd agree with her inventor that this extraordinary cover by the legendary Nina Simone conveys exactly the right note of sunlight—just in time to turn around the darkest day of the year.
"My Funny Valentine" performed by Miles Davis
Originally written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart for the 1937 musical, Babes in Arms, this is a song April and Libby likely heard playing from their parents' stereo turntables, maybe crooned out by Frank Sinatra, or the incomparable classic by Ella Fitzgerald.
April's father would have had the 1964 Miles Davis In Concert album, and I imagine her enveloped by those gorgeous notes wafting up from the window of her studio musician neighbor: "I put the kettle on the fire, sprinkled yeast over lukewarm water. I opened the window to hear my neighbor practicing. The steam whistled, the yeast foamed, the trumpet blew."
Late in the novella, those notes return over a shared box of valentine chocolates: "Even when we still lived in the same house, my father always sent my valentine through the mail. He knew I loved receiving letters, and finding his card in the box was like a secret conspiracy between us, as if we didn't know each other and someone in the outside world was sending me messages from afar."
Maybe this is what music does—maybe any work of art, especially those favorite imperfect ones—send us messages from afar.
"La Mer [Beyond the Sea]" performed by Django Reinhardt
This timeless French chanson was penned during World War II by Charles Trenet, with English lyrics written later by Jack Lawrence. Wildly popular in its era, the song remains alive in the 21st century with over 4,000 recordings in different languages.
Django Reinhardt's guitar version allows for the imagination of the untranslatable. I could listen to it all day—in every season, for years on end. So could April and Victor, I think, "though the air and into the Pacific, where the water washes over us until, finally, we are swimming with the striped fish in the deep blue ocean."
:: Holiday Bonus Tracks ::
And in no particular seasonal order, a year's worth of last-century music for raucous festivities, all manner of friendsgivings, mash-up family celebrations, and miscellaneous other holidays, personal and communal:
1. "Linus and Lucy" by the Vince Guaraldi Trio
2. "1999" by Prince
3. "Auld Lang Syne" performed by The Pogues
4. "This Is Halloween" by Danny Elfman
5. "Celebration" by Kool & the Gang
6. "We Are Family" performed by Sister Sledge; written by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards
7. "The Hanukkah Song" by Adam Sandler
8. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" performed by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole; written by E.Y. Harburg and Harold Arlen; George Douglas, George David Weiss, and Bob Thiele
9. "Manic Monday" performed by the Bangles; written by Prince Rogers Nelson
10. "My Favorite Things" performed by John Coltrane; written by Oscar Hammerstein and Richard Rodgers
11. "You're a Mean One, Mr. Grinch" performed by Thurl Ravenscroft; written by Theodor "Dr. Suess" Geisel and Albert Hague
12. "Waters of March/Águas de Março" by Antonio Carlos Jobim, performed with Elis Regina
For twenty years, If this is paradise why are we still driving knocked on heaven’s door from the other side, demanding to be let back down to earth where it belongs. Tonight may be dark, the hallelujah cold and broken, but the candles are just right, the moon is full, and the snapped air says help is on the way in the form of human supernovas ready to make the rumors true. Obz If this is paradise has its own prosody, but just as the real fun of going to a reading is the hang that follows, this playlist is a pretty sweet after-party. Some songs are called out by the book, but many live in the background, the no-nonsense roadies who set the stage so the poems can stage the upset.
On the Wings of Love / Jeffrey Osborne
In my poem Completely Almost I say: “There was a radio station that played nothing but love songs / that tormented everyone who loved songs but people not so much.” Among the songs on WPIX was “On the Wings of Love,” which later I’d hear as a musical consort to Frank O’Hara’s “Sleeping on the Wing” and which instilled in me a healthy skepticism of love. I mean, if it’s so great why all this musical propaganda? I imagine Osborne reading O’Hara thinking, blast! He’s exposed my naïveté. And O’Hara listening to Osborne with a sarcastic smirk that turns slowly to a thin, wistful smile, as if as if gives way to if only. The structure of the song is a totally insane litany that opens and closes all the lines with the title. A confident hero who says this will work, trust me and it does despite the doubters, haters, and solipsists sipping sorrow from their Solo® cups.
What’s Love Got to Do with It / Tina Turner
My poem “What’s love want to do with it,” like many of the others in the book, gestures towards joy despite the evidence that it will never be yours. And towards pain despite (and as) your sheer delight. Love, like it or not, has everything to do with it.
4’33” / John Cage
I’m an expert in creating the conditions for something to happen and then not letting it. There are blank spaces within almost every line of If this is Paradise why are we still driving where tension builds, where the poem takes a breath and stares back at you unblinking, and is like, your move, dear reader. You become the missing part, facilitating a phrase’s new meaning in the light of the one that follows (which in turn gets recast by the next). Silence is the retort, the cauldron, the fiery carburetor in which regular music/language is held at bay and the mute gives way to transmutation. John Cage’s masterpiece understands this alchemy. It’s an ultimate interrogation of the listener, a composition for any instruments in which those instruments are not played for four minutes and 33 seconds. But silence is never silence, it’s a vacuum into which rushes everything at the edges. The moment-to-moment reels away and the indescribable takes the wheel. From here, it’s neither right nor left that we turn; we turn into something new.
Suzanne / Leonard Cohen
The blank spaces of If this is paradise are also Suzanne’s river as in:
And just when you mean to tell her that you have no love to give her
Then she gets you on her wavelength
And she lets the river answer that you've always been her lover
The river has other answers too. But first, let’s have some tea and oranges that come all the way from China.
After Hours main theme / Howard Shore
Shore’s score for Scorsese’s 80’s SoHo shadow odyssey is made of what penetrates the darkness, which is just more darkness. Late night footsteps around the corner, something dripping, faint piano through the wall, and a ticking clock that reminds you how far we are from daylight or anything else that might dispel the air of spooky, isolated gallows romanticism. The film, shot a few blocks from my childhood home, came out just in time to make my first dead of night adolescent forays at once more enticing and terrifying. If fear and desire were any closer, they’d be behind each other, which they are, upholstered in steam vents and cobblestones. My poem “Protocol and Deviance” is happy to walk alongside and help you locate the weird overlap between Rumi’s longings and those of then-Mayor Ed Koch. It’s a great score for when you’re trapped in someone else’s dreamcatcher or stuck in the kissing booth with the missing tooth.
Dark, Dear Heart / Mary Margaret O’Hara
Why in the darkness do I see so clearly… Out of breath and into the depths, her haunting, halting quaver of a voice reaches halfway to you and you realize nobody else has ever even come that close. The heart’s dive through high notes.
Dancing in the Dark / Bruce Springsteen
It feels so good to live in the moment of most profound grief, confusion, utter defeat and find yourself rising up to dance, to be fired up with that which can not be but is. Every Springsteen song has this total catharsis. But only “Dancing in the Dark” has the throwaway line: “There's a joke here somewhere and it's on me,” which is quickly followed with, and changed by: “I'll shake this world off my shoulders. Come on baby this laugh's on me.” Right now, someone is dancing to this song and when they are done, someone in another time zone gets up to carry the dark flame. The Keats of New Jersey’s negative capability. We are lucky to live on a planet where this happens.
Bound by the Beauty / Jane Siberry
Sometimes being bound is to be tied down. Sometimes it’s all aspirational movement, like a Brooklyn-bound train if Brooklyn were beautiful. Siberry bounds past the utilitarian teleology of art for life’s sake, then past art for art's sake, to a fragrant forest floor we can lie on and take on life for art's sake. In the supine alpine, we are bound by, bound for, and bound to hear the sweetest, constant rearrange.
Don’t Worry Be Happy (minor key cover) / Ryan O’Neil
Major key songs rearranged to minor is a marvelous genre that reveals the secret despair inside joy, and so makes a more fulfilling joy possible, if not immediately attainable. Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella tablespoon of simple syrup from 1988 is a frustrating emblem of that moment’s bright neo-liberal veneer. This diatonic version wakes the diabolic and sets it free. The opposite action, minor key songs stepped up to the majors, is also beautifully tragic. Like being asked to set the table and then setting it on fire.
We Found Love / Rhianna and Love Is All Around / Sonny Curtis
What does “in” mean? Did love emerge from a hopeless place and make it all better, or did we find our love had arrived at a hopeless place? Is this secretly a cover of “Love Is All Around,” Sonny Curtis’s theme to Mary Tyler Moore? No. Nobody would think that. But if there’s a most hopeless place, I’ve always considered Mary Richard’s Minneapolis to be the place furthest from it.
Movie and TV Themes: Little House on the Prairie, Star Trek TOS, Gilligan’s Island, Star Wars
Theme music, the distillation of years into ninety seconds, are more attuned to the forces of the universe than the shows they introduce. These songs have walk-ons throughout the book, especially in “Little house a priori,” “The Galileo 7,” “I am the time traveling mayor of the three hour tour,” and “Townies of Dagobah in the Renaissance.”
Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space / Spritualized
Spiritualized’s junkie-paced overlapping of lyrics is an anti-round. A heartbreakingly broken-keeled Rimbaudian row row row your drunken boat and gently break the keel. Falling to the bottom of the sea and falling in love are the best ways to solve your biggest problems with even bigger ones. My poem “Consolation and reprisal” does a lot of things, and some of them it does as a sort of mission control for Spiritualized’s non-cover of Bowie’s Major Tom.
Everything in Its Right Place / Radiohead
“Consolation and reprisal” also works in conversation with Radiohead’s Hitchcockian opening track to Kid A. Hitchcockian in that the director said you should always say the opposite of what you mean. In the song, Thom Yorke intones: “Yesterday I woke up sucking a lemon… Everything in its right place… There are two colors in my head… What is that you tried to say.” My poem says “What I meant to say was / misunderstanding is what makes / contact possible” That is to say, a wound is not merely where the light comes in, but the shared darkness that makes love likely.
Super-Sonic / The Brian Jonestown Massacre
“This song is about you and my life now without you…” A perfect breakup song, when it’s yourself you’re breaking up with. The internal departure that happens every day in the slow peel of identities to make way for the void, or sometimes for new identities. How many ch-ch-changes before I becomes an other? It’s like existential Jenga. How many parts can you remove from something (a house, a relationship, a self) before it’s not that thing anymore?
Gratulemur Christicole / Italian 15th Century Chanson / Performed by Ensemble Ars Italica
Everything Edith Piaf did, or J. S. Bach for that matter, is definitely a cover of this polyphonic chanson with the deep organ riffs. Maybe not everything, but “La Vie en Rose” rose from the same fifteenth century techniques that also unlocked Johann’s keys. The poems in If this is paradise couldn’t exist without the poems that came before them. The good ones by other people, and the early disasters of my own. I think Piaf would agree that to really regret rien doesn’t mean making no mistakes, it means making enough of them that you can see clearly by their light. Within this six hundred year old incantation is a kind of duty to be derelict.
It Was Just One of Those Things / Ella Fitzgerald
Speaking of Italian treasures, nobody at Verve Records knew Ella Fitzgerald’s 1958 birthday gig in Rome had been recorded until it was discovered in their vaults thirty years later. And now we all get to join her for that trip to the moon on gossamer wings.
Supernova / Liz Phair
Nothing like walking around a new city listening to music that makes you walk a little faster and maybe spin around unselfconsciously. And to further the unselfconsciousness, nothing like mishearing the lyrics. Phair’s Whipsmart was my soundtrack to daily rambles among the homes of Bay Area poets a few years ago. Turns out “And your lips are sweet and slippery like a sheriff’s bare red ass” is not how the song goes. Turns out she was never channeling the angry love-despite-yourself of a clever but morally compromised Jim Thompson character. Turns out her version of pop music is not based on the universe of Thomson’s Pop 1280. But because I regret my mistakes least of all, I still hear the totally wrong line when it comes around. The secret of my success is failure.
Blue Nun / The Beastie Boys
What’s the Beastie Boys’ secret? Naturally, I’ll say it’s the unsung members—the ones they sampled over their many years. Especially CIA-operative turned wine connoisseur Peter Sichel. (Adam Yauch was friends with his daughter and Sichel was happy to let them use his voice.) “The Last Beastie Boy” is an elegy to their accelerant methodology and a peripheral ode to the ill boutique of brass-monkeyed intergalactic joy—submissive, open, and immune to the bell’s toll until they weren’t.
The Planets / Gustav Holst
Peter Sichel was always pairing wines with experiences. My poem “Heliophelia” works well with “The Planets.” My musical chairs of the spheres is populated with the real original cast of Star Wars: persecuted scientists like Copernicus and Ptolemy. And Holst wrote what might be the original soundtrack long before John Williams’s parents ever met. I mean, Williams is brilliant and his works are all his, but the gusto of Gustav’s gravity, wells is pretty undeniable. Not that that’s bad. Knowing we live on a planet shaped by the vacuum all around it, the effect we have on one another is most welcome.
Bruce’s Philosopher’s Song / Monty Python
I was tricked. I thought a degree in philosophy would lead to a life of endless Monty Python sketches. Instead, it lead to a sketchy life in which every day I more and more come to resemble the It’s… man who opens each episode. This song however, and a flask in your boot, is a pretty good (if not entirely accurate) Rosetta stone for any theoretical references in If this is Paradise. The Hegel reference on page 37 however needs its own translation: “It looks like your face has undergone the Hegelian dialectic with a 2x4” Also, while there are a lot of Rationalists referenced in “The new water” on page 49 (Descartes, Spinoza, Leibnitz), do NOT drink the titular water as it is from the Gowanus Canal.
Hallelujah / Jeff Buckley
The original Sin-é on St. Marks Place, where Jeff Buckley used to sing, was only a few feet wide. Exactly the distance of a quiet whisper. You’d feel his breath when he sang and your beer was going to get knocked over when he swung his guitar neck. The intimate infinity in that grain of sand of a room opened up whenever he worked his way to the finale. Through bitter valleys where hallelujah becomes hardly knew ya, then back up to where beauty and the moonlight overthrew you. I hung there every Monday to hear him sing with some other friends of mine like Susan McKeown of Chanting House and Star Drooker of Native Tongue, and we’d all have a drink after and try to figure out what it was, that secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord.
Kathy’s Song / Simon & Garfunkel
I like the double-nostalgia of “Kathy’s Song,” written long ago by a now-defunct band, about a relationship ended still earlier. But “Kathy’s Other Song” is a nostalgic nostrum, an antidote to the oldest of -algias. It’s dedicated to Adam DeGraff and Edmund Berrigan as they were when I first met them years ago in San Francisco while misunderstanding Liz Phair. The unstated third dedication in the poem is to the late sound artist Dale Sherrard, now unfathomably dead, and all the things he taught me inadvertently and on purpose, about the depths of loss.
Don’t Cry for Me Argentina / Andrew Lloyd Weber
In “I will die in exile do not follow me,” I argue it’s simpler to make the entire world love you than any one person in it. In the commercial for Evita on Broadway, a dying Eva Perón sings and is interrupted by Che who angrily hisses the word ask:
“Don’t cry for me Argentina —
You were supposed to have been immortal. That’s all they wanted. Not much to ask for.”
Been Caught Stealing / Jane’s Addiction
Hard to think of stealing without this song. The poem “We are so lucky to live on this planet” despite it all alludes to not being punished for stealing, but for enjoying it.
Time After Time / Cindy Lauper
We never quite get it right, but not getting it right means we have to keep trying, and the attempt, not the result, is perfection. We wind up wounded, unwound by the wind, but if you fall I will catch you, I will be waiting. If you’ve listened this far, we’ll probably get along, which is so unusual. Precious even, to be out of time, not like the clock says it’s over, but to be over the clock, and thus being over the moon is next.
David A. Taylor's Cork Warsis a surprisingly personal examination of the cork industry and espionage before World War II.
Mark Athitakis wrote of the book:
"Cork Wars doesn't just illuminate a critical element of the World War II economy: it reveals the surprising ways that war reshapes lives. Whether he's writing about Baltimore immigrants or globetrotting spies, David Taylor fills his story with emotion and intrigue. It’s richly researched history, delivered with a novelist's heart."
In Cork Wars, I write about the private lives of people caught up in World War II, a period that we often think of in uncomplicated terms. The enemy was unambiguous. But in fact at the time life during the war was very complicated, especially for immigrant families.
Music plays a big role for me while writing, and music provided key memories for people I interviewed for the book. Sometimes the songs that lingered in their stories segued in my mind to other sounds.
This sequence reflects the story’s main characters: a Baltimore-born business mogul named Charles McManus; a Catalan-born factory manager named Melchor Marsa in Portugal; and Frank DiCara, son of Italian immigrants in east Baltimore.
"Stewball" by Peter, Paul and Mary
One thread of the story follows Charles McManus, the son of a hardscrabble construction worker. Charles dropped out of school after a school shooting, took night school classes, and reinvented himself. He ended up a major player in the bottle-cap business. He took a long-shot mentality to business and the race track. “Stewball” is a folk song that tells the story of a similar gamble – one that the song’s narrator doesn’t trust himself to make, and lives to regret it. As a kid I loved this song’s bittersweet loss.
Vida Vivida (“Life Lived”) by Nadia Leiriao
Fado is a Portuguese form made for wistfulness and loss – a mournful, wistful blues. It suits the thread of Melchor Marsa, who spent much of the war in Lisbon. Leiriao has a supreme fado voice and Vida Vivida brings you right into that atmosphere.
Postcard from NY by Marc Ribot
Spying and espionage came into the story in Lisbon, along with listening and silence. Marc Ribot’s haunting Silent Movies is full of atmospheric melodies that belonged in this space.
"Bateau" by Marc Ribot
In “Bateau,” also on Silent Movies, Ribot’s solo guitar steps up the tension with a drone oscillating between two strings, almost like the zither in the opening credits of The Third Man. It rises, falls, circles back, heightening emotion until it spins into a finale.
The song and its title evoked for me Marsa’s daughter Gloria story of standing on the deck of what she believed was the last ship out of a free Europe in early 1941. She looked up and wondered, with a foreign correspondent also fleeing Europe, “When will we be back? What will the continent be like then?”
“Hold On” by Tom Waits
The need to reinvent yourself happened a lot in the war, alongside a relentless desire to stay true to yourself. The tension comes through in Waits’ lyrics and his ragged voice.
"O Leaozinho" by Caetano Veloso
Brazilian Portuguese is very different from the European version, and Brazilian music is perhaps even further from Fado. But something about Veloso’s gentle song captured the undulating lines of an American family’s life in Lisbon, shafts of light as Europe unravels around them.
"I’m Shipping Up to Boston" by Dropkick Murphys
As Americans waded further into the war, they got harder. The lead U.S. spy agency, the OSS, adopted a business model and looked at shipping and other businesses as prime targets for recruiting spies and shipmates with divided loyalties in U.S. ports. And sometimes it used blackmail on the docks in a way the Dropkick Murphys seem to understand.
"Pistol Packin’ Mama" by Bing Crosby
Bing Crosby’s silky, low-key voice stuck in the head of a 13-year-old kid in east Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood at the start of the war. The bar nextdoor to Frank DiCara’s family played this song on the jukebox in the wee hours. He was the one to earn pocket change the next day sweeping up the place, so this segues for me into “The Dirty Jobs,” from Quadrophenia that captures a certain feeling.
“Sentimental Journey” by Glenn Miller
Frank was a teenage draftee in the Army when he climbed onto a ship taking him to the Pacific theater in the war’s last months. The band on the pier played Miller’s hit as he made his way up the gangway.
"I’ve Had Enough" by The Who
The drive of this song echoed what Frank experienced even before he’d left his teens: wartime factory work, death of his father, conscripted and sent to the frontlines in the Pacific. Unlikely to make it to twenty.
“Handle With Care” by Traveling Wilburys
For the ones in this story who survived, even just barely.
edited by Matthew Thompson, art by James B. Hunt / NXOEED
For anyone who knows a gifted flyer artist and is thinking about turning a collection of their work into an awesome zine - this issue of Fluke is a master class. It also helps when the artist is as good an illustrator as NXOEED.
From the creator of the comic the hit TV show The End of the Fxxxking World is based on and the cartoonist behind The Bastard comes this gorgeous, beautiful bittersweet tale of a mom whose need for independence undermines her efforts at building a family, her forsaken daughter and the lonely locksmith who loves them both. As wonderful as Hobo Mom is, it even managed to offend a group of twentysomethings who were in the store thumbing through a copy of the book earlier in the week (I think they may have been shocked to see an R-rated scene in a comic)- and that's a plus.
What up punx!? The comics in this book began back in 2002 as the world's first online punk comic. A few years later it disappeared from the internet, and since then it's become a sort of cult classic for punks. Now you can hold and shelve your own copy in a format far more stable than online. Oh, and it has a bunch of awesome bonus material too. No punk library is complete without Nothing Nice To Say.
For fans of Philip K. Dick - author of Minority Report, Blade Runner, Total Recall, The Man In The High Castle, A Scanner Darkly and so many more great works of fiction, the author's life gets the biographic graphic novel treatment. And unsurprisingly for anyone who's read Dick's work, his life was full of instability, paranoia and hallucinations fueled by drugs.
Sure, most comics readers are familiar with the war comics genre - but what Yoe harvests here is the complete opposite of that. It's a collection of classic anti-war comics (often masked as fantasy or science-fiction stories) from an era when holding such a position could quite possibly get your ass kicked.