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October 28, 2022
Gary Lippman’s Playlist for His Story Collection “We Loved the World But Could Not Stay”
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Previous contributors include Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.
Gary Lippman’s collection We Loved the World But Could Not Stay is made up of compelling and surprising one-sentence stories.
Laurie Anderson wrote of the book:
““I love short stories and these are the shortest ones I’ve ever read. And yet they have all the elements of my favorite shorts—amazing characters, compelling situations and beautiful cliffhangers.”
In his own words, here is Gary Lippman’s Book Notes music playlist for his story collection We Loved the World But Could Not Stay:
What do you write after publishing your first novel, a four-hundred-page behemoth? In my case, I shifted to stories, very short stories—each story only one sentence long. The resulting collection, entitled We Loved the World But Could Not Stay, appeared this summer and features more than three hundred of these micro-tales. As I like to say, “If you don’t like one story, the next story is only half a sentence away.”
Here are the best things I listened to while writing my new book.
“I DON’T WANNA DIE” by JEFF ROSENSTOCK (2012)
This loud crusher, the cover of a Japanese punk anthem by Ging Nang Boyz, served as the unofficial theme song for my two years of work on We Loved The World. Those years happened to be coincide with the Covid lockdown of 2020-2021, a period in which I was forced, like so many others, to live alone, separated from friends and family. Needless to say, the title “I Don’t Wanna Die” by itself evokes our collective Covid panic. Just as meaningful to me as the title, however, were the song’s incredible forward thrust, the savage yet pretty melody, and the lovably shouted Japanese lyrics. The only word in English besides the title, an insanely repeated “yes,” made the raw emotion of Rosenstock, a homegrown and indefatigable ska-punk, sound encouragingly positive.
Many were the days when I would take a break from writing my book, cue up “I Don’t Wanna Die,” and dance as if no one was watching. Because no one was.
“DUPPY OR GUNMAN” by ERNIE SMITH (1974)
Speaking of ska: Trombones were mainstays of the original horn-drenched ska music, of course, but they rarely got deployed in later reggae songs. Leave it to the Jamaican singer Smith to base this high-stepper on a splendidly honking ’bone. While working at my laptop, I’d listen to Smith’s loping saga of a dangerously interrupted assignation and smile throughout, especially when the singer tells us, “I and I did so frighten / All me daughters’ names I forget.”
Two other reggae charmers that brightened my working hours were Phyllis Dillon’s “sock-it-to-me-baby” take on the chestnut “Perfidia” and “The Guns of Navarone” by Toots and the Maytals, which Toots Hibbert released shortly before his death. My listening to “Guns” one night prompted a deeply emotional (and possibly supernatural) incident which I’m still trying to fathom.
“A LOVER’S CONCERTO” by AYA NAKADA (2015)
Based on a Bach melody, the sixties girl group Toys’ “Concerto” has long been a favorite of mine. I particularly cherish the song’s ecstatic lyrics—and the Toys’ ecstatic singing of the last verse. Romantic yearning in excelsis! Al Hirt does an irresistible baroque-jazz cover of it, too. But Aya Nakada’s slow piano version of “Concerto,” with all the song’s joy erased by heartache, pretty much tops all other comers, including the original. (Doesn’t each new rendition of an old number secretly aspire to be superior, even when the prototype is a stone classic?)
Often after long hours spent writing, I would draw a hot bath, turn out the lights, cue up Nakada’s song, and soak my body to the accompaniment of Nakada’s sorrowful sounds. Still, I wasn’t feeling completely bummed—I was reasonably confident about the quality of the work I was doing and hopeful that I would be reunited with my loved ones again.
Another late-night-post-writing-bath-in-the-dark piano-based cover song was “Pile ou Face” by Rosa Latour, which was a stone joy. A joy because of the fun Gallic tune itself and also because it recalled a happy memory for me, the night in Paris during the summer of 1987 when I first heard the Corrine Clery original of “Pile ou Face” and it sounded too pure for words, French words or otherwise.
“THE GIRL I CAN’T FORGET” by FOUNTAINS OF WAYNE (2005)
One of the all-time finest pop songs by one of this nation’s finest all-time pop groups, whose principal songwriter, Adam Schlesinger, died of Covid early during the pandemic. The lyrics tell a comedic love story with a surprisingly stirring climax, but what really sells this rocker is the thrilling melody. (In his just-published memoir, the titanic music producer Chris Blackwell says that music is mainly about rhythm for him. Me, I’m a sucker for melody first and foremost.)
Two other recently departed artists appeared a lot on my writing playlist: John Prine and Hal Willner. Although I didn’t know Prine (the one time I met him, I felt too timid to say anything to him except for “Good luck”), Hal was as fantastic a friend to me as he was a music and concert producer.
“HE AIN’T GOT RHYTHM” by MARIA MULDAUR (2021)
Speaking of friends: A recurring musical pleasure for me while I worked on my book was when I’d blast at full volume the latest songs made by people whom I personally know and care about: Willner’s T. Rex tribute album; the buoyant country duet “What’s Our Love Coming To” by Bob Neuwirth and Rosie Flores; another country duet, “Golden Ring” by Jenni Muldaur and Teddy Thompson; and Michael Des Barres’ killer live album “Hot’ N’ Sticky” (choice cut: “You’re My Pain Killer”).
Also on regular rotation were “Red Sky” by Michael Imperioli and his electrifying new band Zopa and “Saboteur Blues” by Eugene Hutz and his legendary band Gogol Bordello. Gogol, I should mention, are the best live act I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen the Clash and Led Zeppelin in their respective heydays.
Then there was Maria Muldaur’s ditty about a guy whose lack of rhythm does not prevent one special woman from digging him. Having been a fan of Maria’s since “Midnight at the Oasis” in the mid-seventies and a friend of hers during the past decade, I pounce on each of her new albums. Let’s Get Happy Together is the latest. Not only is La Muldaur (the mother of Jenni) a superb singer, but she’s a top musicologist, curating albums which feature countless old-timey pleasures like “He Ain’t Got Rhythm,” which she delivers with her trademark winsomeness.
“FAMILY TREE” by JAKE THACKRAY (1969)
How did I live more than half a century without discovering the work of this superb sixties-era English singer-songwriter? While his albums aren’t readily available Stateside and his mannered vocals may turn some listeners off (but let no one quibble about his expertise with the guitar), I regularly listened to Thackray’s stuff during the lockdown. This isn’t my preferred cut by the man, but “Family Tree,” which presents his gusto and melodicism and humor in equal measure, is an ideal place to start enjoying him.
“THE REAL WORLD” by BEN LEE, TOM ROBBINS, AND MICHAEL B. WELLS (2018)
If my story collection had a single overarching artistic influence, it was American treasure Tom Robbins and his many novels. This track is the final song in the musical that singer-songwriter Ben Lee made of Robbins’s book-for-young-people B Is For Beer. (You read that correctly—it’s a young person’s book about drinking beer. Typically rascally Robbins.) Listen to how gloriously, and how comprehensively, “The Real World”’s words and music evoke the warm spirit of Robbins World.
“VOICI LES CLES” by GERARD LENORMAN (1976)
Talk about a guilty pleasure! Despite how indefensively corny it is, this old-school French ballad, complete with cornet trills and a marching rhythm, so moved me when I first heard it that I felt instantly compelled to salute the song by writing a story in the same emotional key. An even more bathetic Hungarian song, Delta’s “Csillog A Feny,” worked the same creative magic on me three months later. In both instances, I borrowed the song titles for my respective homages.
“I’M A MOODY GUY” by SHANE FENTON (1961)
While taking daily walks around the nature preserve that’s located close to my home, I would dream up new stories and hasten to jot them down on scrap paper I’d brought along. I would also use my phone to play this psych- and rockabilly-flavored groover (“I’ve got no friends, and if I had / Well, if I had, I know I’d treat them bad”) to the nearby deer and geese and hedgehogs and eagles and autumn leaves which all wound up appearing in those tales.
Paired well with the Shane song during my writing sessions was something much more recent and even moodier: “Deep Sea Diver” by Jon Langford’s outfit Skull Orchard. What a stomping beat this one has! And I never failed to chuckle when a drunken male chorus suddenly supplants the lone singer to chant for themselves, “Stumblin’ ’round Cardiff / Just lookin’ for sex…”
“OBEAH WEDDING” by THE MIGHTY SPARROW (1966)
Come for the amusing (albeit politically incorrect) story told by the lyrics here, stay for the congenial tune, vocals, rhythm, singing…Simply everything works in this one-song monument to vintage calypso music. The only song that made me want to boogie more than this one did during the darkest days of the lockdown was “Del Monton,” Sr. Chinnaro’s impossible-not-to-love acoustic Spanish-language slice of goodness.
“LOVE ISN’T ANYBODY’S FAULT” by B.C. CAMPLIGHT (2015)
Many was the time that I would listen to this ballad and look up from my laptop to think, I wish I could write a story one-fiftieth as perfect as this pop song. I envy everyone their first time hearing it. Like Half-Handed Cloud and My Little Airport, two of my other perennial go-to bands, B.C. Camplight never disappoints. Neither do the Nines, whose “Gran Jukle’s Field” is damn-near as perfect as “Love Isn’t Anybody’s Fault.” All of the above artists might be too twee for some tastes and too weird for others, but they’re just right for mine.
“SIX DAYS ON THE ROAD” by DAVE DUDLEY (1963)
Only during the lockdown did I finally come around to fully embrace Dudley’s overfamiliar country standard, but once I did, relatively-isolated-little-me began to dream big truck-driving dreams. Road trip dreams, too. And my bubble of isolation also finally got me to do something else for the first time: I became disciplined enough to start to learn to play the guitar, with this song being one of the early numbers I tried on for size. A much newer (but likewise numerically titled) country hit that I rocked out to along with “Six Days” was Tracy Byrd’s “Ten Rounds with Jose Cuervo,” in which drinking and dancing repair at a roadhouse repair a damaged heart. Sound familiar?
“SAYING GOODBYE” by THE MUFFS (1993)
What a blow to rock’n’roll it was for us to lose Kim Shattuck to a young death in 2019. No one, and I mean no one, rocked more tunefully than did Kim’s powerpop/punk band The Muffs. And the afternoon when the news broke that our fascist would-be dictator had definitely lost the 2020 Presidential election, I summoned Shattuck back to life by playing this ultimate kiss-off number and dancing my ass off to it. In public. Again and again.
“BIKE” by PINK FLOYD (1967)
Forced by circumstances to live apart for much of the lockdown, my wife Vera and I maintained our relationship through the usual means—regular phone calls, texts, emails, Zooms—but also through discussions about the stories I was writing. I would send my first drafts to her when they were hot off the proverbial griddle, she would read them, and then she would weigh in with her opinions and suggestions. So the cliché in this case is true: if it weren’t for my wife’s thoughtful and insightful and loving (often “tough-loving”) editorial assistance, my book of one-sentence stories would not exist.
Another means by which Vera and I stayed close during our forced separation was music. Over the phone each night we would sing our favorite songs to each other, and by the time we were at last reunited, we must have gone through hundreds of tunes. Number one on our hit parade was “Bike,” the surreal oldie composed by Syd Barrett during his Floyd tenure. Whenever I think back about writing my book, here is my most treasured memory: sitting in my kitchen while my wife sits in a different kitchen thousands of miles away and we’re crooning “Bike” together, and after we finish each solemn bridge (“I’ll give you anything, everything if you want thing”), we launch into the song’s joyous “boom-boom-booms,” lucky to be partners in life, and in the making of one-sentence stories, and in the making of music, too.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Gary Lippman received a law degree from Northwestern University and has worked with New York’s Innocence Project. Lippman’s play Paradox Lost ran off Broadway for a month in 2001 and his writing has been published in The New York Times, The Paris Review, VICE, Fodors, and more. Having lived in Illinois, Florida, California, and France, Lippman can now be found in what used to be called “Fun City” with his imaginary French bulldog, his very real Hungarian wife, and a whenever-he’s-inclined-to-visit adult son.
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