“Motel Matches,” “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected Number 4,” “Radio Sweetheart,” and “Big Sister’s Clothes,” Elvis Costello. In case you can’t tell, I’m a huge Elvis fan. I chose these four songs almost at random (well, not quite), and I could have chosen almost any other four. It’s weird, because Elvis is a punster, and I’m very much not a punster, but what works in a song is often quite different from what works in fiction. I remember hearing Elvis play an amazing rendition of “Radio Sweetheart” at the Greek Theater in Berkeley when I was in my early twenties. “Couldn’t Call it Unexpected Number 4” is not a particularly well-known song of his—it’s the last track on the underrated Mighty Like a Rose album—but it’s a beautiful ballad, and my wife and I danced to it at our wedding. “Big Sister’s Clothes” is mentioned in The World Without You when Noelle muses on how she loved to borrow her sisters’ clothes. I don’t have a big sister and I’m not a sister myself, but I understand the urge: whenever we go to visit my wife’s sister, my wife is always going through her sister’s closets looking for things to wear.
“Daughter,” Loudon Wainwright. This song is played, predictably, at too many Bat Mitzvahs, but I still like it, and it seems appropriate for The World Without You, a novel, in part, about daughters and daughters-in-law. I heard the song not long before I wrote the scene between Thisbe and Noelle when they go skinny-dipping.
“Choice in the Matter,” Aimee Mann. I loved Aimee Mann when she was in ‘Til Tuesday, and I still love her. “Choice in the Matter” is about a woman who goes over to the house of the guy she’s dating and he won’t press the play button on the phone machine, which is blinking, and so she decides to leave. Seventeen years after its release, the song feels dated (who has phone machines anymore?), and I’m reminded of a conversation I often have with my graduate students about the problems cell phones pose for fiction (fiction is in part about the frustration of desires, and cell phones are about the fulfillment of desires—everyone can be reached instantly), but that doesn’t make the song any less dear to me.