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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Alyson Hagy’s novel Boleto offers a crisp and stirring portrait of the New West, both its landscape and denizens.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“With a keen understanding of the New West and in prose so beautiful that it reads like poetry . . . Hagy exquisitely delineates the magnificence of horses and the western landscape even as she pointedly critiques class warfare in the New West.”
It’s impossible to live in Wyoming and not spend serious time on the road, whether you’re pulling a horse trailer or just getting to the county court house. I’m an indiscriminant music listener. I dial up all kinds of tunes—jazz, blues, alt-country, classic rock. Sometimes, I like melodies that work with the huge landscapes out here, and sometimes, I prefer harmonies that work against those landscapes. When I think of a playlist for Boleto, I think of Will Testerman, the protagonist, and what he’d like to hear coming from the speakers of his extended cab Dodge Ram pickup. Will is a modest, young horse trainer. He’s a product of his isolated, rural, Wyoming upbringing. So is his taste in music. There’s a predictable kind of focus to the songs listed below. But they mean a lot to him.
What do I think of when I think of this novel and how I wrote it? I think of Ry Cooder. Songs like “Busride” and “Feelin’ Bad Blues.” As usual, Will and I agree on some things, and not on others.
“Wayfaring Stranger,” Trace Adkins
A song Will might allow into his head as he drives north from the family ranch to take a look at the young filly he’s heard about on the telephone. He’d think of it as a good song for a journey, and he’d like how its mood reflects the glowering spring skies over the Absaroka Mountains. He wouldn’t sense the potential foreboding in the song. He’s not that kind of guy.
“Honky Tonk Heroes,” Waylon Jennings
One of his father’s songs, the kind of thing that would play on a cassette in the print shop in Lost Cabin, Wyoming. Will’s not getting along so well with his father, but this song would come to mind as he flees Texas after the beating from Mr. Passante. Will “feels something slide off him” when he leaves Texas. Great music helps that.
“Essence,” Lucinda Williams
This is the kind of song Will’s older neighbor Annie Atwood would introduce him to in an attempt to broaden his horizons. Will’s a little in love with Annie before she disappears, but he doesn’t like this song.
“When You Say Nothing at All,” Alison Krauss & Union Station
Will’s not crazy about this song, either, but it’s exactly the sort of tune his high school girlfriend, Lacey, loves. It would be in their minds, like the chorus of a last dance, the final time they see each other before Will leaves town.
“Feeling Good,” Nina Simone
Will’s mother’s song, one of several I imagine she plays over and over again (at low volume) on an old hi-fi while resting in her bedroom after a chemo treatment. She’s dying. She’s all right with that. She knows the dark angel will let her pass through. Will is likely to remember this song as he leaves Wyoming for California at the wheel of the 1986 Cadillac he’s gotten from Kenny Braithwaite, hoping his mother’s cancer is in remission.
“Horse Power,” Chris LeDoux
LeDoux was a Wyoming boy. Will knows all of his songs, and he’s imagined living quite a few of them. “Amarillo by Morning.” “Hooked on an 8 Second Ride. ” It’s all gospel for Will. If he needs to stay awake while he drives from Lost Cabin, Wyoming, to Anaheim, California, where he hopes to learn how to train polo ponies, he’ll sprinkle in some David Allan Coe.
“Oh Girl,” La Mafia
The grooms at Estancia Flora will have Spanish-language radio playing in the barns when the manager, Thomas Edwards, allows it. And Will hears some good tejano music coming from the houses that border the estancia, including Estella’s, when he sleeps outside at night. But the grooms—especially Gustavo—will think a song like “Oh Girl” is mawkish and hilarious, and they’ll lip-synch it with pop star flair just to see if they can make Will laugh.
“The Man Comes Around,” Johnny Cash
When it all unravels at Estancia Flora in Anaheim, Will is going to feel the deep judgment of this song, even if its Christian vibe is not his own. The Man in Black. Prophesying. The ending for all endings.
Alyson Hagy and Boleto links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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