Much like “Dave,” the protagonist in my new novel She Was Found in a Guitar Case, many people think I have terrible taste in music. And this is probably true. But an outsider (meaning someone without a reasonable grudge who just wants to hurt me by turning off my mixtapes mid-song) might also consider my taste “eclectic.” Coincidentally, this is also the original name of The Cult’s breakthrough album Electric, before Rick Rubin got out the sandpaper and smoothed down all its more interesting edges. Not coincidentally, the big hit from Eclectic, er, Electric is found buried in the list below (and speaking of Rick Rubin and original album titles, you probably should never Google what he wanted to call the Beastie Boys’ debut License to Ill). What I’m saying is that this novel’s music, like the protagonist, is literally all over the place, which I think accurately represents the state of mind, and the state of a car stereo’s speaker wires, on any long and ultimately misguided road trip.
1) “I Love You Goodbye” by Thomas Dolby
Even though “I Live in a Suitcase” (from the same album, Astronauts and Heretics) probably makes more sense thematically, I really enjoy this jaunty little Cajun-flavored road trip fable. The line “I never arrested an English boy” is especially fun. Years ago, I tried to play this song for my girlfriend at the time (who is probably somewhere in this novel), and she laughed at me and said, “Ugh what is this, adult contemporary??” Yes. Yes, it is.
2) “The Man Who Loved Life” by The Jayhawks
Every so often I come across a song that just makes me crazy, like play it over and over and over crazy. This is one of those songs. I think it’s the double-chorus thing it’s got going on. The lines about “our traveling band was not well received … ” directly relates to a set piece in the novel where the hero has his penultimate run-in with a biker bar, which is certainly full of “handlebars wearing five-point stars.”
3) “I Might Need You to Kill” by The Thermals
So don’t let my calls go to voicemail.
4) “Hardcore UFOs” by Guided by Voices
This is essential for any road-trip soundtrack because it already sounds like a distorted mixtape that’s been stretched almost to breaking but is still barely holding it all together.
5) “The House That Guilt Built/Happy” by The Wrens
The Wrens only have one album but it’s got almost as many words as this ridiculous book.
6) “D Original” by Jeru The Damaja
Not only does this album cover have a burning World Trade Center on the cover, he did this post-9/11. This was certainly a bold move at the time. My novel doesn’t have any 9/11 references but there are two “star sixty-nines” and dozens of 7-Elevens.
7) “Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me Is Gone” by The Walkmen
I recently read an article that said that half of the friends you think you have don’t consider you a friend. I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy so instead I like to remember that half of the weirdos I don’t consider friends think I’m their buddy.
8) “Running on Empty” by Jackson Browne
Fun fact: this album cover was on the wall in Mindy’s apartment in Mork & Mindy, which means that she probably dreamed of hitting the road and getting away from the otherworldly lunatic squatter turned National Treasure who terrorized her home.
9) “Hello It’s Me” and “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” by Todd Rundgren
So many lines in these songs speak to the headspace of the novel’s narrator, the first line of “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” in particular (“Keep your head and everything will be cool …”). Also, the vibes Rundgren would conjure up on the double album Something/Anything? and then just abandon (did he invent modern power pop with “Couldn’t I Just Tell You” then never do another song like it again??) are unprecedented and often imitated.
10) “Chemistry” by Semisonic
These guys get a bad rap because of their overplayed megahit “Closing Time” shutting down bars for decades to come, but the opener to their album “All About Chemistry” is pop perfection. The lyrics will either make you smile or cringe, but these are the same muscles you’re using for both.
11) “TV Casualty” by The Misfits
Of all their songs that sound like The Munsters theme song, which is all of their songs, this is the one that sounds the most like The Munsters theme song.
12) “One for the Cutters” by The Hold Steady
My favorite song by these earnest goofballs. I don’t think they have another song like it in their discography. Epic murder ballad … with a harpsichord?! What’s not to love. Right up there with Jack White’s (er, sorry, The Raconteurs’) epic “Carolina Drama” as far as fully-fleshed out story songs that should be movies.
13) “The River Is Wild” by The Killers
This song is so Springsteeny that every time it’s played one of Bruce’s bandanas catches on fire.
14) “Sharks” by Morphine
The novel has an extended sequence involving sharks. Sort of. Sharks with thumbs actually. But they’re figurative sharks with thumbs. Forget it. Watch out though. It’s murder out there, murder out there.
15) “For Real” by Tricky
We all watch too many films. Too many films for real.
16) “Murder Mystery” by Edan
This is barely a song and more like an interlude off of Edan’s incredible but weirdly overlooked Beauty and the Beat, but it’s like this great little cop TV show theme, which a perfect saxophone (?) riff.
17) “Of Dig Ditchers and Drowning Men” by Five Horse Johnson
This is another one of those songs that makes me crazy (see also: “The Man Who Loved Life” above).
18) “Firewall” by Bright Eyes
The conspiracy nut at the beginning (and throughout) was an inspiration for the Hollow Earth Theory conspiracy nut in the novel. The internet is a helluva drug!
19) “Halloweenhead” by Ryan Adams
“Here comes that shit again …”
20) “Tales of Endurance (Parts 4, 5, and 6)” by Supergrass
This opener to Road to Rouen is extremely road-trippy, with a bit of a J. Geils Band Freeze Frame horn bleats at some spots when it gets funky? I put it right up there with The Doves “Kingdom of Rust” for that supreme, feeling sorry for yourself, road-trippiness kind of feeling, and it was on repeat during the most typing for this book and indirectly responsible for some of the things I finally had to cut out of this thinly-disguised rationalization machine I pretend is a novel. Cake’s “The Distance” is also road-trip royalty, and it’s on a driving mix CD around here, too, cringey white-boy talk-rapping be damned.
Okay, how about some Bonus Music!
Some albums that were on repeat during the darkest days of revision include Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete and Bobbie Gentry’s The Delta Sweete Revisited by Mercury Rev, and, of course, Spiderland by Slint, which is about as “Keep Louisville Weird” as you can get if you’re writing a book that takes place in Louisville.
And some more songs that are referred to in the novel itself (usually by the characters), which (crazy, I know), I had no urge to listen to, before, during, or after I wrote it. But I do enjoy most of them: “Stone in Love” and “Only the Young” by Journey; “Galileo” by Indigo Girls; “All I Wanna Do” by Sheryl Crow; “Get Outta My Dreams and Into My Car,” AKA The Most Threatening Song Ever? by Billy Ocean; “Wings Off Flies” by Nick Cave (you know the one, “she loves me [pluck] … she loves me not [pluck]”); “Bump” by Kottonmouth Kings; “High Hopes,” the Tim Scott version from Slam Dance not the Springsteen version (I don’t know why everything is so Springsteen-adjacent with this book); and “Love Removal Machine” is discussed a bit, too (has someone noticed how closely the lyrics in this line up with the Marvel Black Widow character? “Fell to the Red Room,” “a Scarlett woman”? Is this on purpose? Don’t worry, this discussion does not come up in the novel).
Oh, and there was lots and lots o’ Prince, because even though it takes place in Louisville, the character’s heart was in Minnesota. So there was “Nothing Compares 2 U” (Sinead O’Connor’s version is probably superior, even if she interpreted Prince’s “mama” lyric way more maternally), “7,” “Computer Blue” … basically all the Purple Rain long versions. The book spends a lot of time on Prince’s keyboard player “Doctor” Matt Fink, and the Matt Fink in the book may or may not be the Matt Fink in the band (by that I mean in the band in the book), but I can say without hesitation he’s not the Matt Fink in real life. Unless that guy has two penises. But even with all the famously sex-obsessed songs all throughout Prince’s oeuvre, those tunes leave zero clues. The novel they inspired, however, is jammed full of clues, and, despite how it might seem here, contains only a reasonable number of penises, if not a normal human-to-penis ratio. Speaking of ratios, does it take as many books to write a song as it does songs to write a book? Need more funding to continue research.
David James Keaton’s first collection of fiction, FISH BITES COP! Stories to Bash Authorities, was named the 2013 Short Story Collection of the Year by This Is Horror, and his second collection, Stealing Propeller Hats from the Dead, received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly. He’s also the co-editor of Hard Sentences: Crime Fiction Inspired by Alcatraz, Dirty Boulevard: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Lou Reed, and Tales from the Crust: An Anthology of Pizza Horror. He lives and works in California.