Smells Like Heaven Mixtape


Who doesn’t love a good book playlist? The stories in Smells Like Heaven span thirty years. Some of these songs appear in the book; others, well, you’ll see. Slip this cassette into the deck and enjoy the ride. I know I did.

  1. Grateful Dead’s “Ripple” has to come first. I originally called the book Ripple and did title one of the stories “You Fall Alone.” Music can define character, especially one who embraces the Deadhead ethos as Will does. Heck, he even has the song on repeat in his VW van.

2.”Margaritaville” is a kind of signature song for Ron, a man who never passes up an opportunity to dance. It’s boozy and spongey and as light and breezy as Ron wishes life were. It’s one in a long line of cheesy songs in the background as his daughter aims to figure out how to close the gap between them.

3. The Bee Gee’s “More Than a Woman” has the whiff of awkwardness  and awareness that can exist between adult siblings and parents. It’s not surprising that  Devon’s dad asks her to dance to this song at his wedding.

4. Terry Jacks’ “Seasons in The Sun,”  like “One Tin Soldier,” is a song whose lyrics we used to write out in ballpoint pen in grade school and sob over on the school bus. So 1970s. It has a place on the playlist for this book about friendship and the worst kind of loss wrapped in a sugary-poignant pop package.

5. Minnie Riperton’s delicate voice expresses a saturated, out-of-time love for characters  whose relationships take place on the edges of their regular lives. It’s music one might have heard on a K-Tel album on an older sibling’s record player during grade school. Mature, silky, illicit.

6. “Right and wrong don’t matter/when you’re with me my sweet.” The pain and longing and surrender Nina Simone wraps around each word of “Don’t Explain” speak to an intense need for connection and love and how far we’re willing to go to hang onto it.

7. John Cougar Mellencamp, whose songs once played at every country dive along with the likes of ZZ Top, Steve Earle and John Fogerty, has become Dad-Rock for Millenials. Overhearing John Cougar (as we knew him then) on the phone means you’re stepping into Dad-world and should send up alarm bells if you’re a teenage girl talking to your older crush.  The twist is in the lyric.

8. The Boxer” is the sort of beautifully-harmonized acoustic guitar-accompanied song that soulful university students play at afternoon pubs and in residence rooms. Pair with Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” and The Grateful Dead’s “Friend of the Devil” for full effect

9. “Turn the Page” is the jaded outcome for the amateur guitar player now in middle age and less able to outrun life’s complexities. Metallica’s version has more shrill anxiety and dark gritty regret than Bob Seger’s weary original.

10. “Eastbound and Down” because Burt Reynolds.