In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jennifer Banash’s novel The Rise and Fall of Ava Arcana is a compelling literary thriller about female friendship, fame, and rock and roll.
Booklist wrote of the book:
“Banash masterfully interweaves guilt, love, remorse, and yearning with a bit of playfulness, creating a tale that is multifaceted in its content and spirit.”
In her own words, here is Jennifer Banash’s Book Notes music playlist for her novel The Rise and Fall of Ava Arcana:
The Rise and Fall of Ava Arcana is a novel about the music industry, about what it takes to make it to the top, the sacrifices one often makes along the way, and the way identity can be lost in the face of sudden fame. But more than that, it’s a story of female friendship, the ways in which, as Gina Frangello wrote in an early blurb of the book, “women ferociously love, impulsively betray, and ultimately redeem each other.” When I write, I am always thinking cinematically in that there must be a soundtrack, music to accompany the visuals in my head and on the page. This is doubly true when writing about the music industry. Like any good pop song, you want the reader to not only be able to imagine the world you’ve created, but to viscerally feel it, too. Many of these tracks, as varied as they are, make up the New York city of my novel, a place which demands individuality, where so many travel from across the globe to begin again, to become who they truly are. Here are nine tracks that inspired the music, the madness, and the pounding beat of the city streets in The Rise and Fall of Ava Arcana.
The world of pop stardom is rife with misogyny, something industry veterans like Courtney Love know all too well. I listened to this track often when writing scenes detailing Lexi and Ava’s dealings with label executives and power players. Lines like, “And they royally rate all the girls like you, sell it out to the girls like you, to incorporate little girls,” really encapsulate the way the corporate machine takes advantage of raw talent, turning a performer into a product, which is exactly what happens to Lexi Mayhem. Courtney Love was a huge influence on me in the 90’s, and Hole’s album “Celebrity Skin,” has all the intensity and feminist focus of Lexi’s early music before she becomes a pop legend.
“Sugar and Spice” — Hatchie
I listened to this track obsessively when writing Lexi and Ava’s friendship breakup. Although the song is ostensibly about the dissolution of a romantic relationship, there is something inarguably intimate about the intensity of female friendships, and the ways in which they can be beautiful in their vulnerability and connection, but also all-consuming and destructive.
“Lust For Life” — Iggy Pop
NYC, baby. The dive bars of downtown, humid summers in the city, walking those legendary streets, the electricity running through you. This track is every jukebox in a shitty bar, the peeling vinyl in the booths, the smell of stale beer and old cigarette smoke. It’s standing under a streetlight, your hands cupped around a lit match. It’s the cracks in your black leather jacket. Downtown cool. It’s the feeling of running too fast, and never quite fast enough.
“Hit Me Where It Hurts” — Caroline Polachek
The line, “I’m feeling like a butterfly trapped inside a plane,” really describes how cornered Ava feels for much of the book, caught between her friendship with Lexi and her feelings for Jamie, their manager, caught between her blossoming talent and her inability to believe in herself. Like that butterfly, by the end of the novel, she knows that once the cabin doors open, she’ll soar. But sadly, she never gets that opportunity.
“Nobody Knows Me” — Madonna
This track is reminiscent of 2019 Lexi Mayhem, after she’s become a well-oiled pop machine. I’ve always been fascinated with Madonna, her capacity to reinvent herself, and the way she has both challenged and subverted the patriarchy throughout her decades-long career. There are so many impressive female musicians/pop stars these days, but Madonna was the OG. There’s a mechanical nature to this track that is icy cold, and Madonna’s voice sounds almost robotic, as if she’s become one with technology itself. The line, “Nobody knows me, like you know me,” which gets repeated throughout the sing, really gets to the crux of the friendship between Ava and Lexi, in that when it implodes, Lexi never allows herself the luxury of having that kind of vulnerability in her relationships ever again.
“Venice Bitch” — Lana Del Rey
“Ice cream, ice queen. I dream in jeans and leather. Live stream, I’m sweet for you.” Sigh. Is there a dreamier track than this? The wistful longing, the way Del Rey plays with language in her lyrics, is so very Ava. It is her talent as a songwriter and lyricist that sets her apart from the pack. It is not only her voice that puts her on the path to stardom, but her facility with language, her ability to pour her soul out onto the page, to open her heart for the world to see.
“After Dark” — Mr. Kitty
When I write, I find it crucial to set the mood for whatever scene I’m working on. This is such an atmospheric track, and when I wrote the romantic scenes between Ava and Jamie, this song was often playing in the background. It’s moody and dark, and even though the singer’s voice borders on monotone, there’s so much feeling in it. It’s the sound of a heart that’s almost breaking.
“Love Abuser” — Royal & the Serpent
Slip dress-clad Ryan Santiago of Royal & the Serpent is heavily indebted to 90’s icons like Courtney Love . . . and I have zero problem with that. As I was writing the performance scenes in the book, I could easily imagine Lexi Mayhem on stage, one foot up on the amp, belting out lines like, “I’m just a bright-eyed bitch, with my heart in a cage, if I scratched out your guts, would it scare you away?”
“Just Like Honey” — The Jesus and Mary Chain
This is every scene I penned of Ava and Lexi walking the Lower East Side, stumbling through the dark night, and basking in the neon glow of the city. It’s a classic for a reason. I grew up walking those same streets, listing to bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, The Sisters of Mercy, The Velvet Underground, and Cocteau Twins. To this day I cannot stroll through downtown Manhattan without hearing those artists in my head, the eternal soundtrack to my youth. And now, that of Ava and Lexi’s.
Jennifer Banash is a former professor of English and creative writing, and author of the novels Silent Alarm, a finalist for the American Library Association’s Best Fiction for Young Adults; White Lines; Simply Irresistible; In Too Deep; and The Elite. Jennifer is also the former cofounder and editor of Impetus Press, a small, independent publishing house that championed works of literary fiction with a pop edge. A native New Yorker, her first apartment was an illegal sublet located next door to the Hells Angels’ former headquarters on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. For more information, visit www.jennifer-banash.com.