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Frank Morelli’s Playlist for his Novel, On the Way to Birdland

As the release date approaches for my new young adult novel, ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, I keep getting asked: what inspired you to write this book?

The truth is, any time you string close to one hundred thousand words together into a cohesive story, the avenues of inspiration must be innumerable. In fact, there were so many streams of experience, knowledge, empathy, and emotion flowing through me as I wrote the first draft of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to be completely conscious of all of them.

I can tell you, however, that my strongest source of passion for the literature I was composing at the time came in a language many of us may consider universal: the sweet, poetic symphony of music.

To do that I have to take you back a few years to 2005. That’s when I moved from New York City to my adopted hometown of High Point, North Carolina and found out, through some sheer act of fate, that this small, random furniture town in the rural South happened to flow with the same air once breathed by jazz legend John Coltrane. I knew right away I wouldn’t be able to rest until I dove headlong into the history and the music of such an essential, American icon, and I wanted to see if I could understand what it was, if anything, about what at first glance appears to be a pretty bland and generic town that may have inspired an artistic genius to move closer to his creations.

Not only did the process help me gain a visceral appreciation for an artist I now see as nothing less than a musical genius and a modern prophet, but his sound also allowed me to see patterns I never would have noticed before in the collective harmony of American music. And I found solace in the realization that it is in our music where we reflect all of the qualities that make us unique, both for better and for worse.

The following playlist is by no means an exhaustive list or an official soundtrack, but it captures the essence of the music I came in contact with time and again during my process, and that continued to play through my head as I wrote the initial draft of ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND. I hope you’ll give it a listen as your eyes peel across the pages of my new novel.

1. Dream a Little Dream of Me – Doris Day

There’s an obvious dreamlike quality to this song that brought me directly into the reeling mind of my protagonist, Cordell Wheaton, a sixteen-year-old boy on a journey to find his estranged brother, Travis, as he struggles to suppress the reverberating memories of a traumatic event.

2. Little Birdie – Vince Guaraldi Trio

As a young boy, I used to roll my eyes every time my father played a song on the radio that was older than two weeks, which included jazz music in any form. Writing ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND forced me to reflect on my own listening experiences with America’s most hallowed music creation, and I realized that the first time I ever recognized a jazz song it was while watching a Peanuts cartoon. Yes, kind of childish, but I was an actual child at the time…and this happened to be the song that welcomed me into the fold of jazz appreciation.

3. Colors – Black Pumas

This is my favorite band to come out in quite a long time, and I think it’s because I love how the Pumas are able to connect through the ages with their music. They provide listeners with a sound that is uniquely suited for the present, while reaching right back into the soulfulness of a Marvin Gaye or an Al Green.

4. My Favorite Things – John Coltrane

This old standard comes to life through the mouth of Coltrane’s saxophone in a way that no other song remake ever can. Compared to some of Coltrane’s later, more experimental music, which takes a bit of a trained ear to truly appreciate, this song grants the casual music-goer with an all-access pass to Coltrane’s musical genius. It also happens to be a song that represents the tight bond between my protagonist in On the Way to Birdland and his missing brother.

5. One More Night – Michael Kiwanuka

Another one of those recent musical artists who seems to be able to reach back into the ages of sound and filter back harmonies that fit the resounding rhythms of the moment.

6. Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag – James Brown

The Godfather of Soul has always spoken to me just as much as he seems to speak to one of my favorite characters in ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND, a kind-hearted truck driver who goes by the road handle ‘Cowbird’ and helps Cordy Wheaton find a new direction in his life.

7. Crazy – Patsy Cline

Not only did this song help me to empathetically develop the fragile mental state of my protagonist, but it also served as inspiration for the creation of a struggling country music artist named Lula McBride, who’s just one of the many important mentors Cordy Wheaton meets on his journey.

8. Chasin’ the Bird – Charlie Parker

This playlist would be incomplete without a proper tribute to Charlie “Birdman” Parker, one of the greatest jazz artists of all time, a mentor to John Coltrane, and the impetus behind the famous Birdland Jazz Club in New York City.

9. Coat of Many Colors – Dolly Parton

I love how well this song captures an underlying theme in ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND about the hidden trials and tribulations we all have hidden just under the surface and how our differences actually make us stronger.

10. Bye Bye Blackbird – Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Even if you claim to not be a fan of jazz, I dare you not to like this legendary jazz standard played side-by-side by John Coltrane and one of his most important mentors, the illustrious Miles Davis.

11. On the Road Again – Willie Nelson

This song is Cordy Wheaton’s general anthem as he completes his Odyssey-like journey up and down the East Coast of the United States.

12. Take Me Home, Country Roads – John Denver

Like most of us, Cordy Wheaton wishes he were anywhere on Earth besides his hometown. But, as Cordy learns on his journey, sometimes it takes a few outside experiences to help us appreciate the treasures we have sitting right in our own backyards. It’s a lesson that just sounds better when John Denver sings it.

13. That Was Yesterday – Leon Bridges

Another present-day musical genius, this Leon Bridges song–both lyrically and harmonically–captures Cordy Wheaton’s ultimate realization as he approaches the end of his journey. To Birdland.

14. A Love Supreme, Pt. 1 – John Coltrane

This is the first part of Coltrane’s most widely celebrated and possibly most enigmatic jazz suite of the same name. It is a piece of music so far-reaching that it once inspired the creation of a church dedicated to its worship, and it remains to be one of the most revered pieces of music of all time as consistently cited by leading scholars on jazz. To me, it signifies the importance of spirituality in John Coltrane’s life, and it provides us with a window into the man’s devotion to studying and appreciating the common threads that bind together most of the world’s religions. It’s a piece of music that cements John Coltrane’s legacy as one of history’s great uniters.

15. Carolina in my Mind – James Taylor

This is the song that kept popping into my mind when I envisioned the closing credits beginning to roll if I’m ever lucky enough to see ON THE WAY TO BIRDLAND up on the big screen. It’s a song that brings Cordy Wheaton right back to where he started, but with a new way of looking at the world around him, and a new way of valuing himself.

Meet the author

Frank Morelli is the author of the young adult novels On the Way to Birdland (2021) and No Sad Songs (2018), a YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers nominee and winner of an American Fiction Award for best coming of age story. His fiction and essays have appeared in various publications including The Saturday Evening PostCobalt ReviewPhiladelphia Stories, and Highlights Magazine. A Philadelphia native, Morelli now lives in High Point, North Carolina with his best friend and their four rescued fur babies.

Social Links:

@frankmoewriter on Twitter
@frankmorelliauthor on Instagram
frank.morelli.96343 on Facebook

Frank Morelli’s YouTube Channel

frankmorelliwrites.com – author website

Frank Morelli on Goodreads

fowbooks.com – publisher website

About On the Way to Birdland

Self-proclaimed teenage philosopher Cordell Wheaton lives in a sleepy, southern town where nothing ever happens; not since his hero, jazz musician John Coltrane, left some seventy years earlier to “follow the sound.” Cordy’s life has been unraveling since the night his father and his brother, Travis, exploded on each other. The night Travis’s addiction transformed him from budding musician into something entirely different. The night Travis took his saxophone and disappeared. When Cordy’s father falls ill, the sixteen-year-old vows to reunite the Wheaton family. He embarks on a modern-day odyssey with forty bucks in his pocket and a dream to find his brother and convince him to be Travis again—by taking him to a show at Birdland Jazz Club in New York City, and reminding him of the common bonds they share with their legendary hero. Cordy’s journey is soon haunted by ghostly visions, traumatic dreams, and disembodied voices that echo through his mind. He starts to wonder if the voices are those of the fates, guiding him toward his destiny—or if he’s losing his grip on reality.

ISBN-13: 9781947886056
Publisher: Fish Out of Water Books
Publication date: 06/08/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

We Call Upon the Author: A Literary Playlist

As a lifelong reader and writer, I’ve always had a special interest in songs that talk about reading, writing, writers, or books. I’ve compiled 20 of my favorite songs about these topics for your listening enjoyment. I’m also linking to other blogs and articles that compile their own lists. There are A LOT of songs out there about these subjects. My musical taste leans heavily toward all things punk, alt, and indie (as you probably know by now), and my list here reflects that. Do you have favorite songs about writing and reading? Share them with us in the comments or tag us on Twitter (I’m @CiteSomething). 

 

We Call Upon the Author: A Literary Playlist

 

“When I Write my Master’s Thesis” by John K. Samson

 

“Who Wrote Holden Caulfield?” by Green Day

 

“High School Poetry” by 764-HERO

 

“I Typed for Miles” by Jets to Brazil

 

“Impossible Things” by Looper

 

“Wrapped up in Books” by Belle and Sebastian

 

“Read it in Books” by Echo and the Bunnymen

 

“Open Book” by Cake

 

“We Call Upon the Author” by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

 

“I Should Be Allowed to Think” by They Might Be Giants

 

“Everyday I Write the Book” by Elvis Costello

 

“Oxford Comma” by Vampire Weekend

 

“The Engine Driver” by The Decemberists

 

“Party for the Fight to Write” by Atmosphere

 

“Romeo and Juliet” by the Indigo Girls

 

“Cemetery Gates” by The Smiths

 

“You Speak My Language” by Morphine

 

“Words” by Low

 

“All My Little Words” by The Magnetic Fields

 

“The Book of Love” by The Magnetic Fields

 

 

 Other literary playlists:

“25 Songs That Reference Books” at ShortList.com 

“Songs Inspired by Books” at Songfacts

 “11 Songs Inspired by Literature” at Mental Floss

 “25 Very Literary Songs” at Entropy Mag

“The 11 Best Metal Songs About Literature” at Electric Lit 

“10 of Music’s Most Literature-Obsessed Songwriters” at Flavorwire 

“22 Rock Songs Inspired by Batman, Spidey, and Other Comics Heroes” at Blastr 

Teenage Anthems: The Soundtrack to TLT’s Teen Years

We’ve got a music theme going on this week at TLT, so we decided to collaborate on a playlist to share with you. We each chose five songs that were important to us as teenagers. I won’t tell you how long I agonized over this. Only five?! Though I would have agonized even if I were sharing 50 songs that were important to me as a teenager. Enjoy our picks and share your teenage anthems with us, too! Tag us on Twitter (@TLT16), use the hashtag #teenageanthems, or leave a comment on this post!

 

The TLT Teenage Anthems Playlist

Karen’s picks:

People are People by Depeche Mode

This album and Songs from the Big Chair by Tears for Fears were the first albums I ever bought. I saved up my babysitting money, went to the mall and pulled them both off the shelf without hesitation because I was waiting hardcore to buy them. By the way, they’re still great albums.

 

Add it Up by the Violent Femmes

The Violent Femmes were totally cool, all my friends loved them an adults hated them. What more can you ask for in life. Plus, it’s fun to sing along really loud to with all your friends. See also, Kiss Off and Blister in the Sun.

 

Every Rose Has Its Thorn by Poison

My best friend and I were united by our love of Duran Duran, but she was also very much into hair metal bands. She loved this song hardcore. She died our junior year in a car accident and I can’t even listen to this song without thinking of her.

 

I Don’t Want Your Love by Duran Duran

Duran Duran had way bigger hits, but it was while they were touring for the Notorious album during my Sophomore year that I finally got to see them in concern at Six Flags Over Texas. And on a school night. I may or may not have hyperventilated after it was over causing my best friend to slap me in the face. And we may or may not have gotten in trouble for not meeting our parents out front at the reasonable hour we were supposed to. But man, what an amazing moment in my life.

 

Wuthering Heights by Kate Bush

Kate Bush is an amazing artist that not enough people seem to know about. They played her song Running Up That Hill a lot on MtV when I was in Jr. High, when MtV still played a lot of videos and you could find tons of cool music. The day I graduated high school I took the money I got as gifts, it wasn’t much, and bought the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe and The Sensual World album by Kate Bush. Fantastic album.

 

Heather’s picks:

 

Fall On Me by REM

The first album I bought was Out of Time and I very quickly tried to acquire all of the REM I could. This one is my favorite ever. I think it’s REM at their best: each part both stands out and blends perfectly with the others.

 

Suzanne by Leonard Cohen

I discovered Leonard Cohen in the library, after first hearing his name in Nirvana’s Pennyroyal Tea. I loved how quiet and beautiful and dark this album was, and the pacing in Suzanne was almost hypnotic. And what geeky, quiet girl wouldn’t get sucked up by a line like “she’s touched your perfect body with her mind”?

http://youtu.be/otJY2HvW3Bw

 

To Bring You My Love by PJ Harvey

My friend Dan never drank, but he got a fake ID in high school so he could get into shows. I was never that daring, so he just brought me CDs to listen to. PJ Harvey was scary and alluring and had a voice and power like no other woman I’d heard.

 

Sometimes by James

It’s such a vivid picture and I loved the refrain. I remember trying to write down all of the lyrics, because they weren’t in the liner notes and this was pre-home internet for me. Play- scribble – pause – scribble – play – scribble, etc. My friends and I were so excited about the release of this album (Laid), we’d tease each other “I got laid this weekend – did you get laid yet?” It was all so mature.

 

Say it Ain’t So by Weezer

This was our driving around aimlessly album. We’d play air guitar to this one and scream the lyrics out the window.

 

Amanda’s picks:

 

The First Part by Superchunk

Superchunk albums were in constant rotation throughout my teen years. I always loved the line “one good minute could last me a whole year.” It spoke to the melodramatic (and secretly hopeful, under all my cynicism) part of me.

 

Punk Rock Girl by The Dead Milkmen

When I was 17, my not-quite-yet boyfriend showed up at my house late one night, set up his band in my driveway, and proceeded to play “Punk Rock Girl.” I’d been in my room listening to Beautiful Music for Ugly Children and working on a zine (I actually specifically remember this moment in time, but it’s safe to say that at any given point on a late night in my teen years I was listening to music and making a zine). I sat out by my front door, both amazed and kind of mortified this was happening (late night appearance of a band playing in my quiet neighborhood drew attention). That relationship, like so many high school relationships, eventually imploded in a pretty spectacular way, but 20 years removed from that night, I still think it was pretty fantastic.

 

Chesterfield King by Jawbreaker

“We stood in your room and laughed out loud.
Suddenly the laughter died
and we were caught in an eye to eye.
We sat on the floor and did we sit close.
I could smell your thoughts and thought.
Do you want to touch a lot like me?”

Still some of my very favorite lyrics ever. Conjures up memories of rainy Minneapolis nights, hooded sweatshirts with patches, and the thrill of not really knowing what would happen next.

 

Going to Pasalacqua by Green Day

Green Day was the first band I saw at First Ave in Minneapolis (October 10, 1993. I still have the ticket stub).  Their first two albums are seared into my brain, and this song, all about infatuation, made it onto nearly every mix tape I ever made.

 

Showdown by Propagandhi

It’s possible I’ve seen Propagandhi live more than any other band. Maybe they’re tied with Built to Spill, or Ani Difranco, or Low. At any rate, I saw them a lot. This band was my everything. I loved to scream along to their angry, political, swear word-laden songs. They were good to dance to, to jump around to, to be angry to, to blast out the car windows coming back from shows late at night. I still know every single word of their How To Clean Everything album.  When I need to get the cobwebs out of my brain, I still put this album on. Teenage Me would be happy with that.

 

Robin’s picks:

Music from my teen years is kind of a weird topic. I grew up in Lynchburg, VA (home of Jerry Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church and Liberty University.) There were very few radio stations that didn’t play Christian, Country, or Christian Country music. We had 1 top 40 station. It played a lot of Madonna and Duran Duran. That said, at some point MTV came on the air, and I was exposed to a slightly more varied set of artists. So here are 5 songs that will always remind me of my teen years:

 

Take on Me by a-ha

 

Bust a Move by Young MC

 

Pulling Mussels (from the Shell) by Squeeze

 

Don’t You (Forget About Me) by Simple Minds

 

Tainted Love by Soft Cell