Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Guest Post: Ryan Gattis

Last year the novel All Involved was released to great acclaim. I, however, missed that bandwagon and am excited about this month's paperback release. The book's author, Ryan Gattis, is here today with a special guest post.

Gattis is rather extraordinary. He's a member of UGLARworks, which is a street art crew. They paint murals for the city of Los Angeles. He's also a board member of 1888 in Orange, County. This organization works for the "preservation, presentation, and promotion of cultural heritage and literary arts." He taught writing courses at Chapman University and started a course on writing for video games. He's lived all over the world and performed some impressive hands-on research for All Involved.

To learn a little more about this talented young man, you can listen to his TED talk.

In the mean time, today he's sharing a soundtrack for All Involved, his fictional recreation of the 1992 L.A. Race Riots as told through 17 interconnected first-person narratives. Hope you enjoy...

The All Involved Soundtrack: A List of the Music in the Novel 

1. “Run, Run, Run” by The Supremes
The fact that Motown has such a hold on South Central Los Angeles is due in large part to Art Laboe and KRLA opening it up for a new generation. This track appears unexpectedly in Ernesto’s section to announce a very specific tone and pace change. I just love the rhythm of it, and the command it gives the character in the title.

2. “I Wish It Would Rain” by The Temptations
Motown makes another appearance, but this time for a more emotional push. Payasa has just lost her brother, and in a gang life where crying and sadness can be equated with weakness, it seems important to hide it, and this was the perfect song to strike that conflicted note in her.

3. “Mi Vida Loca” by Kid Frost
This anthem of gang life was a lock for evoking the time, and fit best with the loosest cannon of the crew, Lil Mosco (which means mosquito). It was very easy to imagine Mosco popping this brand new tape in—the album only came out a few days before the riots—and heading out to Riverside on an errand for Big Fate.

4. “More Than A Feeling” by Boston
I searched high and low for a song to capture the first giddy moments of the riots for those who wished to go out and do bad. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of it in the gang context, but this just felt right when I heard it; I could see the scene roll out before me: Big Fate not quite sure what he’s listening to, but then getting into it as the crew speed around Lynwood.

5. “We're Gonna Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley
For Lil Creeper’s wild, destructive ride through Day 2 of the riots, I needed something pacey, unexpected, and a little off-kilter. This Bill Haley hit ticked all those boxes, and added a beat beneath the action that felt just right.

6. “To Be With You” by Mr. Big
Ah, the love song, it had to be done. I had to find the right one for Anthony and Gloria, but it didn’t take much looking. Released in late 1991, this was an eventual #1 hit in 1992, so it seemed most timely. There’s also a whitebread sweetness to this that stands in genuine contrast to much of the rest of the book, and I felt it to be a useful counterpoint.

7. “54-46 (Was My Number)” (Live) by Toots & The Maytals
One of the most chilling bits of background that I got during my research on Los Angeles in 1992 was the knowledge that a Jamaican gang ran Harbor City and had the m.o. of dumping lye down the throats of those who opposed them and chucking the bodies on railroad tracks. It’s a song about lived consequences and wanting to stay free, and it felt right for scoring the gun deal between Rohan and Momo, especially with Trouble being present.

8. “Hand on the Pump” by Cypress Hill
This plays in the casino house on low volume before the big shootout on Day 4. It’s amp-up music, a stakes-raiser. Released in August of 1991 on Cypress Hill’s debut album, everything about this track captures 1992 Los Angeles: the diversity and difficulty, the casual violence, and a soul sample (from Gene Chandler’s “Duke of Earl,” which isn’t quite Motown, but is almost certainly Motown-adjacent).

9. “The Bomb” by Ice Cube
I can’t recall if this song is specifically mentioned in the book, but I do know it applies to Irene, Clever’s girlfriend, who has a poster of Ice Cube on her wall. This track is the ‘what goes around, comes around’ track of the bunch, and it actually begins with a news clip of the 1965 L.A. Riots. This was neck-and-neck with the controversial “Black Korea” (1991) for inclusion, but this felt a bit more like it described what happened during the 1992 riots, as opposed to what led up to them.

10. “Crime Pays” by Hall & Oates
Personally, I loved appropriating the metaphor in a love song about stealing hearts, and making it apply to the literal crime of stealing. In this case, Sinatra steals a city work truck during the riots, and it is eventually used to provide tactical support for the planning and cleanup of the shootout on Day 4. It’s playing as Apache and Sinatra take a ride to get rid of it. I think I love this track because it actually functions as a believable plot point: the reason Sinatra could steal the truck in the first place is because the city worker was listening to this instead of the radio, and as such, he didn’t know the riots had broken out.

XX. “Of Wolf & Man” by Metallica
This didn’t actually make the final edit, but it was originally in the Anonymous section and played immediately after the Goon Squad completed their mission. I still love how it complements that tone of dark victory.

11. “America” by The Original West Side Story Cast
Technically, it’s Gloria’s track because it was in her car, but it’s FREER who hears it and immediately dismisses it. It’s a shame too, because the guy loves soundtracks, and if he listened to the lyrics, he’d probably understand why Gloria wanted him to hear it. In a city that has suffered through multiple riots, it seemed important to evoke that idea of cycles of violence, and this did so sonically in an interesting way, so I kept it in.

12. “A Message to You Rudy” by The Specials
I needed a setup track for Mikey, a mod Chicano wannabe writer, growing up on the periphery of gangland L.A., and this just felt right for his journey, because ultimately what he sees will be a message.

13. “Dedicated to the One I Love” by The Shirelles
In a novel with 17 different first person narrators, the most consistent character is actually the city of Los Angeles and this track sums up how I feel about the book: it really is dedicated to the city, to how it was in 1992, and what it became. I love this city, flaws and all, and I think Mikey does too. This song plays on the last few pages of the book as Mikey is being driven away. This is the last song, the show-stopper, the haunter, the one meant to stick with you, and if the soundtrack is on repeat, it folds nicely right back into the Motown that started it all.

(Listen to the All Involved soundtrack on the Spotify playlist)


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