In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Belén Gopegui’s novel Stay This Day and Night With Me is a poignant examination of human connection in a time when technology pervades our lives.
Alta wrote of the book:
With the rise of ChatGPT, questions about the human relationship with technology are once again on the minds of many. In this book—which revolves around Olga and Mateo, a retiree and a student who hatch a scheme to earn a Google sponsorship for a technology-training program—Gopegui explores the iterations and nuances. Empathy, corporate capitalism, and Google itself come under the microscope in Olga and Mateo’s conversations.
In her own words, here is Belén Gopegui’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel Stay This Day and Night With Me:
Music makes us. As I wrote in my novel Deseo de ser punk (Wishing to Be Punk) “Music, real music, isn’t heard, it passes through your body, moving from one part to another.” To introduce music into a novel is to introduce a part of our experience: those grooves in the vinyl that are also the traces of our life, that make us feel groovy and think a little groovy too, though at times it may seem that they’re destroying us from within. But that’s only a moment in the arc of the music, which keeps going and puts us back together, recomposes us. The music in this novel speaks of how prose never forgets what can only be said in verse, with melody and rhythm, at times a counter beat to the rhythm of the heart.
Reference: “A line from a song comes into his head: ‘It will kill me if you need me.’”
Artist: Quique Gonzalez y Los Detectives
Song title: “No es lo que habíamos hablado”
Sometimes the lyrics of songs seem to come before the music, or the other way around. But, just as with form and content in a novel, they can’t be separated. Not, at least, for those who choose to listen to the words. Quique González’s music is a subdued form of rock, like someone speaking in a low voice, telling what breaks us, without emphasis, as a shy person would. Mateo remembers the words to that song and how they’re spoken, because he’s proud, not out of arrogance, but out of necessity. Pride as self-defense: the pride of someone who knows they’re vulnerable and recognizes it and nevertheless says: but I’m not going to beg you, who hold the power. That’s why he’s scared of being needy, and yet, at the same time he needs stories, friendship, to be more than that futile attempt to be just oneself.
Reference: “To those who think a shipwreck’s over in four days, I extend my sympathy.” (p. 12)
Artist: La Pegatina y Maribel “La Canija”
Song title: “Alosque” (“Tothosewho”)
It’s Mateo’s brother who has read the lyrics to the song, but he hasn’t heard the music yet, so he doesn’t know that it’s played by a rumba and ska band, a band that gets people dancing, a song you have to listen to on your feet, so your body can move to the rhythm. He doesn’t know that this line is sung with percussion behind it and that it’s full of energy. What he does know is that the phrase “over in four days” injects humor into the tragedy, helps him get back up and experience himself as part of the community of people who are pushing back against drama and self-pity, because they’re alive.
Reference: “Now initiate a search within yourself for ‘Don’t Let It Show’ by The Alan Parsons Project.” (p. 36)
Artist: Alan Parsons Project
Song title: “Don’t Let It Show”
Mateo and Olga always address Google as though it were a person. They don’t just think of that as just a literary license: Google is a legal individual and so, has a will, a motivation, the capacity for action, and responsibility. The plunge begins when they tell Google that it isn’t just responsible for what it does, but also for what it doesn’t do; it’s responsible for its acts of omission, for all the talent it wastes. And so, addressing it as a person, they ask it to search itself for a song, one that speaks of robots, that imagines music made perhaps with, for, or by robots, and that talks about the secret: they want Google to ask itself why need the secret, want Google to understand.
Reference: “Coca Cola is always the same, but not me, I can change.” (p. 44)
Artist: Kiko Veneno
Song title: “Reir y llorar” (“Laughing and Crying”)
This song by Kiko Veneno, sounding something like a flamenco piece gone a bit indie, sums up one of the debates in the novel: Are the rules of the economic system so strong that they prevent companies from pursuing their own ends? Can Google change, not in the sense of evolving to maximize profit, but in the sense of intervening in a sinking world to prevent harm, injustice, and catastrophe? The song continues and says, not without irony: “Coca-Cola is always the same. Sometimes I can’t change either.” Then Mateo and Olga wonder if there’s an algorithm for every human being, a series of steps, instructions, and paths they travel without having been able to choose them, iso that their free will practically vanishes. And they talk about the modesty required of us, for if free will doesn’t exist, or just barely, then we’ll have to carryour own abilities with astonishment and generosity.
Reference: “They begin to hum ‘You Are Not Alone’ as they wash the dishes, their four hands under the water.” (p. 51)
Artist: Michael Jackson
Song title: “You Are Not Alone”
YouTube URL: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jl-LykdDi7I
This is a case where the song is linked to a particular video. Sometimes novels are silent, like people; silent, but something is going on in their heads. Among the things the novel doesn’t say is that video, which Olga watched at Mateo’s request, and which they both talked about. It’s an ellipsis in the narration that only appears now, here in this blog. The video shows Michael Jackson singing the song at a concert, and a girl being plucked from the audience and brought to the stage to share a moment of her life with the star. Perhaps they chose her because of her enthusiasm, perhaps they’d already discussed it with her or told her it might happen. It doesn’t matter: the girl’s emotions are overflowing, she embraces Michael Jackson while he makes sure the microphone stays on his ear, for he must keep singing. Little by little, it looks as if Jackson is surrendering to the embrace, the audience weeps with emotion. But Michael Jackson finds it difficult to sing in the midst of such a profusion of emotions, and in an instant someone from his team rips the girl away him and carries her off the stage. Sometimes songs say the opposite of what they say. The video has been viewed eleven million times, eleven million lonely people dreaming of offering their love, just like that girl does when she hugs the star, trusting that they won’t be sent back to their orchestra seats. Olga and Mateo wash the dishes together, humming the song, the stage recedes, and shared life envelops them.
Reference: “In 2010, Terry Pratchett gave a surprising, entertaining, and moving talk about his own death, ‘Shaking Hands with Death.’” (p. 64)
Author: Terry Pratchett
This isn’t a song but a hymn: a hymn to life, to being present and to that moment in which, by one’s own will, if necessary, when presence is no longer feasible, when life stops being livable, “the eventual dissipation of my stardust back into the stardust of the cosmos,” as Erik Olin Wright said, is set in motion again. Olga is the character in the novel who best understands that hymn.
Reference: “And who will hush the sob from ‘those pale lips that prefer death to hatred and ignorance,’ as Fabrizio De André still sings in you?” (p. 90)
Artist: Fabrizio De André
Song title: “Preghiera in gennaio” (“January Prayer”)
Don’t be afraid, though these last two references speak of those who choose to go. Stay This Day and Night with Me is also about lyrics that become voice, that become music, is about how words inhabit us, is about Fabrizio De André and how a melody can gather popular music just as it can the refined tradition of the singer-songwriter, and how a voice can be calm and fierce at the same time, how can it illuminate because they’re not judging, because they’re hospitable in the farewell as in the celebration, and the good work of those who stay this day and night with you.
Belén Gopegui burst onto the Spanish literary scene in 1993, bowling over critics with her debut, La escala de los mapas [The Scale of Maps, City Lights, 2011], which was hailed as a masterpiece. She has since published six more novels, stories, young people’s fiction, and screenplays, and several of her books have been adapted for cinema. This is her second translation into English. Gopegui was born, and lives in, Madrid, Spain.