I have long believed that books should be sold with a recommended playlist attached, and have often wondered why someone hasn't figured out a way to make it happen. Well, since writing West of Independence, I have come to understand why. Each chapter of such a personal story deserves to live with the music that helped to write it, and whittling the playlist down to something reasonable requires the elimination of songs that are not easily let go. I set out to do it, and the task has proven to be my Gordian Knot.
Nevertheless, I have done my best to build a "soundtrack" that I feel comfortable releasing to the world. But rather than list them all at once and be done with it, I am going to pay them each the respect that they deserve and post them a few at a time, along with carefully selected excerpts from the book and links to the best playable versions I could find on the web.
I hope that these songs adds to the experience of reading West of Independence, because it certainly added to the experience of writing it.
1. Willy Porter "Unconditional"
"maybe he was a Muslim, a Christian, or a Jew...I hope that he was laughing when off that bike he flew...maybe he struggled to believe, just like me and you...as the ambulance is too late arriving...now he stares into the sky above, into the face of unconditional love..."
The words of this song inspire me while putting me to shame. I have learned the hard way that selfishness, no matter the driving force behind it, cannot exist in the same heart with unconditional love.
From West of Independence page 25:
"It was hard for me to accept that my older brother was gay, and so I didn’t. While I loved him for so many reasons, I also hated Harrison for causing so much confusion in my life. I was incapable of seeing his lifestyle as anything other than a bad choice, his failure to find love and comfort with girls driving him to decide that he must be gay. It disrupted my parent’s lives, and since I had blindly followed my parents into the black and white fog of unyielding religious beliefs, it disrupted my life as well. I felt committed to my parents and all that they had taught us growing up in the Mormon religion. Harrison had decided to be gay, and therefore was subject to harsh judgments, condemnation, and a life full of misery. He would never be truly happy, and would risk the dangers of a promiscuous and unnatural life, namely AIDS and a horrible death.
And Harrison's earthly life wasn't the only life at risk. My big brother was endangering his eternal soul, and along with it the eternal nature of our family. Without him we could not be an Eternal Family, a blessing promised to the obedient and faithful.
I didn’t want to believe this, and secretly hoped that God would have some small measure of mercy for my brother, if not for his sake, then for mine."
2. David Bowie "Heroes"
Anyone who knew Jared will remember that he loved David Bowie. We spent weeks worth of time in our attic bedroom listening to his Bowie records, and together we went to see Bowie's Glass Spider rock show in the late Eighties. I remember walking all around the stadium with Jared, looking for some part of the fence through which we could enter ahead of the crowd, since our tickets were general admission on the field, and I feared being so far back into the crowd that Jared wouldn't be able to soak up the full David Bowie experience. We found our gap, made a mad dash for the front, and ended up center stage. It was hot and humid that night, and people were passing out all around us as "Ziggy Stardust" wowed us with his voice, his music, and his theatrics. I will never forget the smile on Jared's happy face as he stood oblivious to the chaos around him, captivated by his musical hero.
To do the same again with Jared, "just for one day" would be worth anything you might ask of me.
From West of Independence page 30:
"Weeks passed, and though it was tight quarters, no one complained. Jared slept while we were at work, and woke up to eat dinner and spend some time with us before walking to work. I was employed cleaning carpets at the time, and Jared would abandon sleep a couple of days a week to work with me and make some extra cash. We drove around Seattle together in a big van with a colorful carpet cleaning super hero painted on the sides.
The job sucked. Cleaning dirt, food, sewage, and various bodily fluids from stranger’s carpets was gross, but the time spent working with Jared became something to look forward to each week. We made a habit of raiding the customer’s kitchens for food, turning their stereos up too loud, and riding the carpet buffer across their living rooms. We dreamed aloud of being free and happy, living as we pleased someday, un-tethered by the worries of the average jerk. I hoped to become a published writer, and Jared a successful artist, but we gave little thought to the effort and heartache required to achieve such elusive aspirations.
To dwell on the hows was too depressing anyway. I had little hope or talent with which to materialize my own dream, while Jared was sure to succeed due to the raw creative genius that seemed to course through his veins and flow out his fingertips as he drew or painted."
3. Journey "Don't Stop Believin'"
Has anyone ever taken a road trip without listening to Journey? I am pretty certain there is a federal law that states "when crossing more than two state borders in a car, no fewer than six Journey songs must be played at full volume, without regard for embarrassment during vocals and air guitaring."
Tell me, what good is a road trip without nostalgia, and with that nostalgia, a little self inspection and regret?
From West of Independence page 41:
“Uh-huh,” Connor said, acknowledging my request. He dropped the Ipod back into the dock, and the car was filled with the sounds of keyboards, guitars, and the Eighties. The unmistakable music of our youth threatened to blow the speakers as we cruised down the highway in our tiny black rental car, trying to match the singer's long high notes and jamming out the well-known but never tiresome riffs on our air guitars. I knew it was silly and cliché, but it didn’t feel that way. We kept it up for miles, working our way through a long list of favorites.
When the playlist ended, Connor reclined his seat and settled in for a nap. The ability to sleep anywhere, at any time, was a skill that both my younger brothers had always possessed. On all of our many road trips as kids, outside on our trampoline, and while camping with our friends in high school, I had watched them drop to whatever disagreeable surface was available, falling asleep without too much trouble while I laid awake, uncomfortable and jealous of their deep breathing and unconscious state.
Connor had once slept in the bottom of our canoe for an entire day on a river, not even stirring when we ran some rapids. I was so worried he might be dead that I poked him hard with my paddle. It was like waking a sleeping bear by sticking a lit cherry bomb up his ass. Connor was so pissed off at me for waking him up that he thrashed around and nearly dumped us into the water.
I smiled at the memory, and at the realization that once more I had found myself awake with my little brothers at rest around me. Setting the cruise control at eighty-five, I sat up tall in the driver’s seat and gripped the wheel, my hands at ten and two in order to ensure that I would not relax too much and risk falling asleep. The white center lines whipped past, disappearing into the darkness as the miles stacked up behind us."