How a natural disaster prompted this poet to focus on race in America
In ‘The House of Broken Angels,’ every character has their own song
Our July pick for the PBS NewsHour-New York Times book club Now Read This is “The House of Broken Angels” by Luis Alberto Urrea. Become a member of the book club by joining our Facebook group, or by signing up to our newsletter. Learn more about the book club here.
Luis Alberto Urrea told us that music was key to the writing of “The House of Broken Angels” — the epigraph to the book is a line from singer-songwriter Rick Elias — so we asked him if he could share a mixtape to accompany the book.
He did, choosing a song to match every main character. He calls it: “The Satanic Hispanic Party Mix-Tape.” You can listen to the full playlist on Spotify and read why Urrea chose each song below.
In his words:
1. “Confession of Love,” Rick Elias
EPIGRAPH. I love this song, but more importantly, I love the singer. Rick Elias was my lifetime best friend. I wrote this book long before he was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. This song was ALWAYS the epigraph for the story I was trying to tell.
2. “Cucurrucucu Paloma,” Lila Downs
BIG ANGEL’S SONG. There are many different versions of this song, but Big Angel loves Lila Downs. As stated in the novel, Big Angel (a.k.a. my brother Juan) did not like rock music much. But he loved traditional Mexican music. This song is one of the most traditional and romantic songs from Mexico and it deals with the heartache and loss of a mourning dove. The name of the song recreates the dove’s cry.
3. “Madreselva,” Carlos Gardel
PERLA’S SONG. Perla is even more of a traditionalist than Big Angel. This gorgeous Argentinian song is a sentimental and melancholy remembrance of first love. In Perla’s case, it is a lament.
4. “Strawberry,” Marina City
MINNIE’S SONG. Minnie is inspired by my own niece Milly! My son, Eric, is the drummer in Marina City. This is Millie’s favorite Marina City song, which to my delight exactly fit the fictionalized character in the book.
5. “Tijuana Makes Me Happy,” Nortec Collective
LALO’S SONG. This is Lalo’s jam. Mine, too.
6. “Respect,” Aretha Franklin
LA GLORIOSA’S SONG. You know Aretha isn’t kidding around and neither is La Gloriosa.
7. “Las Mananitas,” Vincente Fernandez
THE BIRTHDAY SONG. This is a lovely version of the old old birthday song by one of the Mexican godfathers of song. There are many lyrical variations, but the sentiment and the melody is the same.
8. “Frijolero,” Molotov
This is the SATANIC HISPANIC! The rudest song on the playlist. (My apologies,but it had to be there!)
9. “La Ingrata,” Cafe Tacuba
PAZ & PATO’s SONG. For those who do not speak Spanish, the title is “The Ingrate.” Each of them has a personal reason for loving this song.
10. “The Beautiful Ones,” Prince
11. “Perfect Stranger,” Andy Prieboy
LITTLE ANGEL’S SONG. Some of you may feel this with your own families and friends. Sometimes you are the perfect stranger and all you seek is a way to connect.
12. “Stripped,” Rick Elias
CODA. Author’s choice. As Rick Elias faced death, it gave me profound joy that my book helped him through what had become inevitable. He did a farewell concert not long before passing in April and I was honored to read this lyric to him on stage. I wish I could have stood at the shore with my big brother Juan to face that empty copper sea. But in a way, I was able to do that with Rick.