Songs about our place

10 March 2014

'He wrote songs about our place on earth: the everywhere fields of corn, the third-growth forests, the humpbacked hills and grooved-out draws. The knife-sharp cold, the too-short days, the snow, the snow, the snow. His songs were our anthems—they were our bullhorns and microphones and jukebox poems. We adored him; our wives adored him. We knew all the words to the songs and sometimes we were in the songs.'

Music is at the heart of Shotgun Lovesongs: it's in the voices, the place and the language. Here are some of the songs that are mentioned in the novel or that I was reminded of, and the passages that made me think of them. I'd love to know if there are any that you thought of while reading.

1. I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You – Elvis Presley

'I gripped Beth’s hand on one side and Ronny’s hand on the other. We looked up the aisle at our friend as he began singing. We sang with him. We all knew the words.

Wise men say only fools rush in,
but I can’t help falling in love with you.

We were a town then, all together, a band of friends and strangers all clad in our Sunday best, and we were touching, holding hands, and singing, our voices shooting straight up into the rafters and moving the flames of the candles, our voices enough to reverberate off the rusted tin roof and echoing out into the fields where the horses must have been lifting their heavy heads and pricking up their tall ears to wonder what that new strange sound was. I felt Ronny’s hand in mine, his well-calloused skin, and I squeezed it and I felt sad for him, and at the same time happy to be beside him, happy that he was there.'

2. Autumn Leaves – Cannonball Adderley

'We watched him eat, wolfing down the food; it made us happy to feed him. We drank wine and listened to jazz and outside the windows the autumn leaves were loud and dry on their branches. Snow was not inconceivable.'

3. Night Moves – Bob Seger

'Outside, night had fallen and I could just hear the sound of the jukebox at the VFW spilling out into the street. Someone was playing Bob Seger.'

4. American Pie – Don McLean

'Lee now stood on a stool near the back of the bar and in his deep baritone, called out, “Hey! Hey! Listen up, my friends! Anyone care to sing along with me? Anyone? ’Cause if this ain’t the best goddamned song ever, and I would like to sing this song right here, right now.”

A group of perhaps four or five women, all in their fifties and sixties, gathered around him as those first piano notes started to be bucked up with the drums and the electric bass, as that classic piece of Americana slid underway…

And all the while, the jukebox choir sang along:

I was a lonely, teenage broncin’ buck
With a pink carnation and a pickup truck
But I knew I was out of luck

The day the music died'

 

5. The Weight – The Band

6. Skinny Love – Bon Iver

'A slow song came over the jukebox, and there was a moment then when time congealed, when the fabric of things was as it had always been and continued to be for those others in attendance, but between us, a kind of fault separated itself noiselessly like a small mass of land breaking away and going into the ocean.'

7. I See A Darkness – Bonny ‘Prince’ Billy

8. Girl From the North Country – Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash

9. Levon Helm (1940-2012) is mentioned in the book's dedication. Here's Bon Iver performing a tribute to him on the day he died

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