Mary Camarillo’s Playlist for Her Novel “The Lockhart Women”

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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.

Mary Camarillo’s novel The Lockhart Women is a compelling debut that examines the intersection of family and popular culture.

Eduardo Santiago wrote of the book:

“With control, compassion, and surprising humor, Camarillo dissects how a modern family comes apart. . . . Unputdownable.’

In her words, here is Mary Camarillo’s Book Notes music playlist for her debut novel The Lockhart Women:

Brenda Lockhart’s family is already falling apart at its seams when her husband Frank announces he’s leaving her for an older and (in Brenda’s always overly judgmental opinion) much less attractive woman. Frank drops this bombshell on the night of O. J. Simpson’s slow speed chase through Southern California. Brenda is devastated when Frank leaves. She’s never worked outside the home and now she’s going to have to find a job. Instead, she sits down on the couch, turns on the TV, and gets hooked on the media coverage surrounding the trial. She’s convinced Simpson is innocent. Her two teenage daughters, Peggy and Allison, are busy making their own bad decisions about lovers and crime.

The novel tracks the Simpson trials which marked the birth of reality television and the rise of Kardashian fame. I wanted to tell a story about ordinary people who work at the post office and shop at Target and are still influenced by celebrity and social media. Not much has changed since the 1990s. We elected a reality TV star as president and Keeping Up with the Kardashians is on its twentieth season. The trial is the soundtrack to the novel, but there’s music playing throughout on car radios, CD players and MTV.

Here’s The Lockhart Women playlist:

“You Don’t Know How It Feels,” Tom Petty

In this song from the 1994 Wildflowers album, Tom Petty urges us to roll another joint and get to the point. His point is that “You don’t know how it feels to be me.” My novel explores relationships between the Lockhart family members who don’t even understand each other’s tastes in music.

Brenda Lockhart prefers smooth jazz but she’s too busy watching the O. J. trial to listen to anything else. Frank Lockhart loves classic rock so the always eager to please Peggy does too. Although Allison is a big fan of cannabis, Tom Petty’s nasal voice makes her skin crawl. When she and Peggy visit Frank at his girlfriend Linda’s condo, Linda has a stereo system that plays six CDs at a time. Tonight, it’s all Tom Petty, and Linda and Frank keep singing along and smiling at each other. They know the lyrics to every song.

“Surf City,” Jan and Dean

“Surf City” was written about Huntington Beach, California where the Lockhart family lives. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote the first stanza and gifted the song to Jan and Dean, who recorded it in 1963. The Huntington Beach city council trademarked the name “Surf City” in 1991.

Peggy Lockhart generally feels like an outsider in Surf City. On the Fourth of July, she and Allison ride their bikes behind the last float of the Huntington Beach parade. Peggy wishes she’d worn a pair of shorts that fit better and didn’t stick in her crotch. It’s too hot for the plaid flannel shirt she’s wearing over her bathing suit, but it hides the roll of fat above her waist. She keeps her head down, steering her bike around the steaming piles of horse shit left by the Budweiser Clydesdales ahead of them. The Huntington Beach parade is the biggest west of the Mississippi, their dad has told them every Fourth of July since she can remember. He always staked out a square on the Main Street sidewalk before midnight on July 3, writing their name in chalk in block letters, as if they were celebrities. Today, they can’t find any place to park their bikes and sit down.

“All Apologies,” Nirvana

“All Apologies” was Nirvana’s last single release in December of 1993 before Kurt Cobain committed suicide. It’s supposedly a love song to his wife, Courtney Love, but I find the lyrics haunting, puzzling, and devastatingly lonely. And maybe someone in love with Courtney would frequently feel haunted, puzzled, and devastated by loneliness.

Allison spends most of her nights with Kevin at his parent’s house. They have a routine. First, Kevin locks his bedroom door, then he puts a Nirvana CD in the player and lights a bong. Allison loves his crooked smile, the sound of his laughter, his strong arms, his smooth hairless chest, the way he makes love to her. There is something incredibly thrilling about being locked in a room together.

“Changed the Locks,” Lucinda Williams

Another Tom Petty song, recorded by Lucinda Williams, her voice full of bitterness and rejection. The lyrics tell a story of a scorned woman who changes the locks, her phone number, the kind of clothes she wears, the kind of car she drives, the tracks underneath the train and the name of the town where she lives so her lover can’t “touch her like before.” Brenda would like to do all of this when Frank leaves, but she lacks this kind of agency.

Brenda slipped ten dollars into the hand of a young woman sitting cross-legged on the sidewalk outside the post office door, hoping to generate some better karma, imagining one of these days it will be her sitting there since Frank obviously doesn’t give a rat’s ass if she has a roof over her head or sunscreen on her face or tampons in her purse. She knows she wouldn’t make it five minutes on the street no matter how big of a shopping cart she managed to fill. The woman thanked her, but when she came home, all Frank’s clothes were gone from the closet, his half of the bureau drawers emptied, his golf clubs missing from the garage. So much for karma.

“Down by the River,” Neil Young

“Down by the River,” recorded in 1969, is about a jealous man who shoots his lover. The guitar work is vintage Neil Young, pleading, angry and menacing.

Peggy Lockhart has dreams of university and a dorm room when the novel begins but when the family’s finances fall apart, her father talks her into taking classes at the local community college and working full time at the post office, where she meets Glenn. Everyone warns her Glenn is trouble, but he and Peggy become friends. They drive to Del Taco for lunch and Peggy turns on the car radio.

Neil Young is in the middle of singing about shooting his baby down by the river. Glenn nods his head to the music and lights a joint as casually as if he were lighting a Marlboro cigarette. He even looks a little like the Marlboro man, and Peggy can imagine him on a horse in a ten-gallon hat, a bandanna around his neck.

“All I Wanna Do,” Sheryl Crow

The lyrics from Sheryl Crow’s hit from her 1993 debut album are based on the poem “Fun” by Wyn Cooper which Crow’s producer found in a used bookstore in Pasadena. The first line of the poem is “All I want to do is have a little fun before I die.” Brenda can certainly relate.

Back in the day, before Frank started finagling his way through the maze of post office politics, they’d caravanned with friends out to the Colorado River for long weekends. They both had more stamina then, fueled by youth, alcohol, and occasional lines of cocaine. Frank had the biggest boat, and Brenda was the only woman who could drink as much as the men did. She was fun.

“Lay Lady Lay,” Bob Dylan

Dylan recorded this song, begging a lover to spend the night, on his Nashville Skyline album in 1969. Peggy’s in her car, driving home early one morning on the Riverside Freeway listening to classic rock on the radio.

She takes in the panorama of mountains: The San Gabriels to the north, Saddleback to the east, and way out in the distance, San Jacinto. She thinks of early settlers following a dusty trail through this pass in their covered wagons, the optimism they must have felt, yearning for a glimpse of the Pacific Ocean. Bob Dylan croons on the car speakers, telling some lady to lay with him.

“Better Man,” Pearl Jam

Pearl Jam recorded this song in 1994. Lead singer Eddie Vedder said the lyrics were about his stepfather, “the bastard” who married his mother. Whether the man in the song is abusive, unfaithful, or addicted to something, the woman in question obviously feels stuck with him. Allison is convinced she’ll never felt that way about her boyfriend, Kevin.

Pearl Jam is on the radio, droning about some girl who can’t find a better man. Kevin usually sings along to the chorus, but today he is silent. Allison has no idea where they are. The street names are unfamiliar, but every intersection looks the same. Gas stations and strip malls with nail salons, dentists’ offices, minimarts, fast food. Hopefully when she learns to drive, she’ll have a better sense of direction.

“The Neighborhood,” Los Lobos

Los Lobos recorded the album “The Neighborhood” in 1990, after the huge commercial success of “La Bamba.” The title track paints a portrait of a neighborhood of people “struggling hard to make ends meet, echoes of hope lie beneath their feet.”

Brenda moves to a more diverse neighborhood in Anaheim later in the novel and watches the family across the street through her living room window. She’s been invited to come over for a plate of food, but when she sees all the cars, the aluminum foiled pans stacked on the folding tables in the front yard, the piñata strung in the tree, and hears the accordion music blaring from inside Laura’s house, she realizes she doesn’t want to go alone. There are so many of them, and even though they barely have enough room to sit down in the tiny front yard, they all seem to be having such a good time together.

“Rock and Roll,” Led Zeppelin

Recorded in 1971, “Rock and Roll” is fittingly based on one of the genre’s most popular structures, the three-chord song. In my opinion, Led Zeppelin is perfect driving music especially if you’re having a difficult conversation with your mother. Crank this one up.

Peggy starts the engine and turns on the radio. Led Zeppelin’s singer howls about it being a long time and pleads that he is lonely, lonely, lonely, followed by crashing drums.

“Yellow Moon,” The Neville Brothers

Throughout “The Lockhart Women,” New Orleans is the city of Brenda’s dreams and one of her favorite movies is The Big Easy. When the Cajun fiddle starts, Brenda turns up the sound. The movie’s even better than she remembered. The mouthwatering food, the romantic moss dripping from old oaks next to a dark bayou, a Cajun band, and most especially the infectious dancing. She’d love to be able to dance like that, especially with someone as charming as Dennis Quaid. His sex scenes with Ellen Barkin are delicious.

Although not a Cajun song, “Yellow Moon” captures the beat, heartbreak, and flavor of New Orleans perfectly. “Oh, yellow moon, yellow moon, yellow moon, have you seen that creole woman?” Part of me hopes the singer finds that creole woman and part of me hopes the moon keeps the woman’s secrets. We shouldn’t always get what we think we want.

“Mother Blues,” Ray Wylie Hubbard

The epigraph to my novel is the last line from “Mother Blues” by Texas singer/songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard. And the days that I keep my gratitude higher than my expectations well, I have really good days. The relationship between gratitude, and expectations is a lesson the Lockhart Women struggle to learn.

Mary grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her father worked in aerospace and was transferred to Southern California when she was fourteen. After high school, she went to work for the post office. It might be genetic–both her grandfathers were railway mail clerks. She sorted mail, sold stamps, worked in the accounting office, went to night school, and earned a degree in business administration. She spent nights and weekends sitting at her kitchen table, studying, and passing exams to become a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Public Accountant. When she began writing fiction, Mary took classes at local colleges, joined writing groups, and worked on her own at the same kitchen table, writing fiction, poetry, and essays. She lives in Huntington Beach, California with her husband who plays ukulele and their terrorist cat, Riley who has his own Instagram page.

Mary grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. Her father worked in aerospace and was transferred to Southern California when she was fourteen. After high school, she went to work for the post office. It might be genetic–both her grandfathers were railway mail clerks. She sorted mail, sold stamps, worked in the accounting office, went to night school, and earned a degree in business administration. She spent nights and weekends sitting at her kitchen table, studying, and passing exams to become a Certified Internal Auditor and Certified Public Accountant. When she began writing fiction, Mary took classes at local colleges, joined writing groups, and worked on her own at the same kitchen table, writing fiction, poetry, and essays. She lives in Huntington Beach, California with her husband who plays ukulele and their terrorist cat, Riley who has his own Instagram page.

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