Brad’s playlist for Aliens
Originally published in Largehearted Boy (March 23, 2010)
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Brad Watson’s new short story collection Aliens in the Prime of Their Lives is filled with shocking plot twists and troubled families. Watson doesn’t merely write stories, he populates unique and mesmerizing worlds in this darkly wonderful collection.
At The Morning News Robert Birnbaum wrote of the book:
“The other 12 stories deal with all manner of family strife which Brad Watson makes palpable and heartfelt with prose so accurate and invisible, when you read his writing it’s as if you are imagining and creating the story. Needless to say, the peripatetic Watson is a great pleasure to read.”
Here are some songs I like, for different reasons. And for different reasons they make me think of different stories in this collection.
T-Model Ford, “She Asked Me So I Told Her”
The flat-out simple no bullshit comic take on getting along somehow fits the mother and father in here.
Phineas Newborn, Jr., “Abbers Song”
This crazy piece I heard on one of The Oxford American’s anthologies, and the frenetic playfulness of it makes me think of what these boys go through in this story.
R. L. Burnside, “Everything Is Broken”
I love Burnside’s cover of this song, the way it rolls along with the heavy rhythm, more decisive and matter-of-fact than Dylan’s. That somehow suggests the way these boys roll with the way everything’s pretty fucked up in their home.
“The Misses Moses”
Jolie Holland, “Old Fashioned Morphine”
I love Holland’s easy, rolling version of this song, and it fits this story about a guy just out of rehab, sad about what his ways have cost him, sadly amused by what he’s left with now.
Tom Waits, “Long Way Home”
My favorite Waits song, and one of Larry Brown’s favorites. The singer’s qualified apology seemed right for this narrator, too.
John Prine, “Ain’t Hurtin’ Nobody”
Gillian Welch, “Barroom Girls”
Welch’s voice is full of loss and longing, what the woman in this story lived with all her life. And she spent a lot of time in bars.
“Are You Mister Lonelee?”
Bob Dylan, “‘Til I Fell in Love with You”
One of my favorite Dylan songs, I love the guitar lick he keeps hitting between verses, and he’s thinking just what the narrator of this one’s thinking, even if without as much black comedy.
David Johansen & The Harry Smiths, “James Alley Blues”
This one just for the lines, “Sometimes I think that you’re too sweet to die. Another time I think you ought to be buried alive.”
“Water Dog God”
Muddy Waters, “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”
An ironic choice. But wincingly so, in that the narrator here cares for his niece but can barely suppress his unspeakable desire for her.
The Blind Boys of Alabama, “Run On for a Long Time”
I love the low-key rumbling along here, but it’s their words about how God is going to strike you down that seems to fit this man’s situation and feeling about it.
Bonnie Prince Billy, “A King at Night”
This strange dislocated dream of a song is my favorite by Oldham, and gets at something for me of this narrator’s isolated strangeness.
Mose Allison, “The Seventh Son”
Always loved this one by Allison, and it’s an ironic choice in that this character is anything but special; and I chose it because of the gypsy woman who reads palms in the story, too.
Bob Dylan, “Everything Is Broken”
Dylan’s original of this fits this story much better than Burnside’s cover would, because it seems darker to me, and that’s fitting here.
Cat Power, “Werewolf”
This surreal piece is my favorite of Cat Power’s so far, and since there are zombies and dead bodies and magical wild pigs in this ensemble, it’s right.
B.B. King and Tracy Chapman, “Thrill Is Gone”
With both these greats trading verses here, and this being a story about falling toward divorce, not able to save it even for the sake of a child–that’s it.
Ted Hawkins, “Biloxi”
Hawkins’ raw vocals and longing memories of this place are perfect for this story set just between Gulfport and Biloxi, on the Mississippi coast back in the ’60s.
Schumann, “Von Fremden Landern und Menschen: Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15”)
This is a beautiful little piano piece, played by Horowitz on the CD I have. It seems to suggest the elegiac element of childhood as well as the lightness. That seems right for this story, to me.
“Aliens in The Prime of Their Lives”
Liz Durrett, “The Mezzanine”
This is a haunting song that talks about the strangeness of the ordinary, perfect.
Alexie Murdoch, “Orange Sky”
This slow beautiful piece suggests the loss in this story, to me. Fits the narrator’s mood at the end, I think.
Schumann: “Traumerei” (“Dreaming”) (“Scenes from Childhood, Op. 15”)
Another nice one from Horowitz, that does imagine a dreaming state, which plays heavily in this title novella.