January 11, 2013
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 Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Interspersed with snippets from a fictitious classic marriage manual, Ben Schrank's novel Love Is a Canoe is a vivid, engaging, and often hilarious portrayal of modern relationships.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Schrank has done something here that may sound impossible: He’s written a funny novel about publishing that is not caustic but optimistic, not biting but bighearted — a story about the delusions with which self-aware, smart people are all too willing to live in order to avoid the painful (yet entertaining) upheaval that comes with truth."
When I wrote Love Is a Canoe, I listened to music I loved, rather than music that I thought might have something to do with the flavor of my novel. I listened to Kris Kristofferson, Built to Spill, Serge Gainsbourg, and a whole lot of Nick Cave, especially the Murder Ballads. I wear headphones and listen to loud music and write until the music blurs and I'm just writing and I can't hear a thing.
It's my hope that my characters, by the time I'm done with them, have allergies and favorite colors and they know what they would want to hear while they work, just like I do. I've excerpted a few scenes from my book where music makes a cameo, and I've added a few songs that my characters listened to in other scenes, that didn't make it into the final draft of my novel:
Emily Babson, the earnest winner of the contest to meet Peter Herman, the author of a marriage advice book that is the crux of my novel, is lulled into an unsuspecting and vulnerable state via Neil Young. When an old Neil Young song is playing, I imagine that most people feel that not too much can go wrong:
Though people kept threatening that the Klezmer band were on their way, they hadn't yet arrived, so Sherry brought a speaker dock down from her apartment and someone plugged their phone into it. An old Neil Young song came on. "Sugar Mountain." Emily strained to listen to it. Outside, it had begun to rain and the sudden summer shower made the people standing by the open windows gasp and laugh and show each other their wet shoulders. Emily liked an overcooked simile and so she felt that her Eli was like a Neil Young song she wanted to hear over and over again. People were still coming in. A short young woman with dark hair yanked the door open and threw herself inside. She had just the sort of long loose ringlets Emily didn't care for. Untamable creature, Emily thought, as the woman shook the water out of her hair.
Emily grew up in Milton, Massachusetts. In college, she loved Townes Van Zandt's "Buckskin Stallion." When I think of her, the song that plays in my head is David Wiffen's "You Need A New Lover Now."
Peter Herman, the man who wrote the book within my book, Marriage is a Canoe, romanticizes himself and his life. I gave him an Ennio Morricone soundtrack:
He whistled the opening sequence to A Fistful of Dollars to himself as he made his way back home. He'd watched the movie the previous evening once he was sure Maddie wasn't planning to come around. He was surprised at how much he still loved the movies he'd watched when he was young. If Maddie didn't come around again tonight, he planned to find Duck, You Sucker on Netflix and watch it on Lisa's computer screen if he had to. Belinda had given him a couple of CDs of Ennio Morricone's film scores when she'd caught him watching The Good the Bad and the Ugly late one night the year before when Lisa was dying and she had stayed over. She'd discovered him huddled on the couch, crying into his shirt sleeve. The only thing he'd found to say in the moment was "I just love this music."
Peter, who spent a lot of the seventies and early eighties in bars, would have loved Bobbie Gentry, especially "Morning Glory," which is the sexiest song I know. He also listened to "To Beat the Devil" by Kris Kristofferson and "Margie's at the Lincoln Park Inn" by Tom T. Hall and maybe "Rainy Day Woman," by Waylon Jennings.
Peter's wife Lisa, who died at the outset of the book, was a tough woman who knew how to make a profit from running an inn. I think a woman like that would have a love for seventies country rock like Creedence Clearwater Revival:
"Don't brood," she liked to say, "You know I don't like it."
And then she'd put away her papers and get up and dance a few steps, there on the back porch, to Creedence Clearwater Revival, singing, "Come on the risin' wind, we're goin' up around the bend..."
"Don't forget I'm a hippy in my heart," she would call out. Though of course this wasn't true. She was playful when she could see that was what he needed to keep going. He would whistle and stomp his feet.
Lisa also listened to "Killing Me Softly With His Song" by Roberta Flack when she was on her way to work. She had it on a cassette she hid under the seat.
The passages from Marriage is a Canoe are mostly about a little boy in the early sixties, spending time with his grandparents. I can only hope that Roger Miller played on upstate New York radio in those days:
It was just eleven in the morning, on a Friday, at the end of our second week together. We hadn't caught anything and it was hot. We could hear Roger Miller singing "You Don't Want My Love" on a workman's tinny radio far across the lake. I had on my Yankees hat. I remember taking it off and using it to wipe the sweat from my brow.
"Want to eat now, Peter? It's early but I can see you're hungry."
That radio station also played songs like Don Gibson's "Sea of Heartbreak" and Ray Charles' "Hit the Road Jack."
Emily's sister Sherry is an actress. She has a life that involves a lot of music. She would know musicians and would have dated a few:
The overhead lights were low and they were listening to a new Interpol record, because Emily had dated the lead singer before he got married so she got their albums early. Most Interpol songs and much of the rest of the music Sherry liked sounded the same to Emily, but she never admitted it. They were drinking red wine. A few minutes earlier they'd finished picking over steak salads they'd had delivered from Oaxaca on Smith Street.
I think Sherry is partial to the Strokes and Feist and a whole lot of contemporary Canadian pop, like The Rural Alberta Advantage.
Eli and Emily would not have found, during the course of their marriage, music that they both loved.
They had Emily's iPod plugged into the car's amazing stereo and they were listening to Exile on Main Street. Emily always wanted to listen to Alison Krauss and Eli would have preferred the new Dinosaur Jr. album, so the Rolling Stones were how they compromised.
Later, Emily would return to Townes Van Zandt and perhaps even The Indigo Girls, which would embarrass her, but she would listen anyway. And Eli would listen to whatever the people around him listened to, and like it, because that's the kind of guy I think he is.
Ben Schrank and Love Is a Canoe links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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