Author Playlists

Daniel Magariel’s Playlist for His Novel “Walk the Darkness Down”

“I don’t write while listening to music, but music is essential to my writing process. I find myself returning to the same songs obsessively for years as I work through a novel.”

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 Jesmyn Ward, Lauren Groff, Bret Easton Ellis, Celeste Ng, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Roxane Gay, and many others.

Daniel Magariel’s novel Walk the Darkness Down is as unsettling as it is moving.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

“A bracing story of grieving, coping, and reaching for the terms of recovery.”

In his own words, here is Daniel Magariel’s Book Notes music playlist for his novel Walk the Darkness Down:

I don’t write while listening to music, but music is essential to my writing process. I find myself returning to the same songs obsessively for years as I work through a novel. The tracks become a kind of Pavlovian trigger that provide me instant reentry into the mood of the prose and the emotional and interior world of my characters. In other words, I use music to escape to the creative place within. And, through the conditioned reflex I develop with a song, that journey becomes easier. When I walk the dog or take a shower or drive my kid to school, the music helps my mind naturally wonder back to the novel, and I exist in a state of perpetual meditation even when not writing. That’s the sweet spot. The songs on this playlist enabled the “psychic secretion,” as Pavlov called it, for Walk the Darkness Down.

Casey’s Last Ride – Kris Kristofferson

Just as the novel alternates between a husband and wife’s perspective, this song switches between Casey, a man consumed by society’s underbelly, and a woman who longs for him. Kristofferson’s voice is so cool and confident, gliding over the baseline that drives each verse, but then the chorus grinds the song to a halt, violins come up, and Casey’s lover cries out to him. The interplay of grit and tenderness helped to set the tone of the novel.

Magnolia – J.J. Cale

The truth is that I would never have started writing a story about parental grief had I known that I was going to become a father while working on the book. I remember boarding a plane shortly after learning that my wife was pregnant, and when this song shuffled on in my headphones, my eyes filled with water as I was suddenly overcome with anticipatory love. In this way, Magnolia gave a softness, a sweetness, to the early years of Les and Marlene’s marriage. It imbued it with a gentleness that I still feel when I listen.

I’ll Be Here in the Morning – Townes Van Zandt

Ironically, the title of the novel comes from a different song on Townes Van Zandt’s self-titled album, a tracked called Lungs, in which the folk legend sings: “Fingers walk the darkness down, mind is on the midnight.” But it was I’ll Be Here in the Morning that I listened to continuously for two weeks straight without sight of land on an 80-foot scalloping boat doing research for the novel. This song rocked my lonely heart to sleep at night, and it helped me experience the deep and unspoken longing that these two characters felt for each other.

Atlantic City – Bruce Springsteen

The exact location in which I set the novel is never given. Only the region is specified. But let’s get real: I live on the very southern tip of New Jersey and a major chapter takes place in a rundown casino town. I oscillated on which to include here, The Band’s version or the Boss’. The former exudes the energy of the night on which the chapter takes place, but Springsteen owns NJ, and the original captures the stark ruin of the town best.

Picture Cards Can’t Picture You – Blaze Foley

There are a lot of so called “happy accidents” that occur in the act of writing a book. In this novel, which is focuses on enduring and overcoming such private pain, the easy arrival of a line that I could simply pop into one of my characters’ mouths was serendipitous. I won’t say which lyric I stole from Foley’s ballad, but it fit perfectly into the dramatic context of the scene and harked to the promise of forgiveness and healing.

Marlene – Jackson C. Frank

If there’s a main character in Walk the Darkness Down, it’s Marlene. In many ways, her emotional journey is the arc of the book, and this song, which I discovered only after I’d named her, almost earned the novel’s epigraph. The story behind the song is devastating. Marlene was Jackson C. Frank’s grade school girlfriend who died in the very same school fire that marred his face for life. Only in the last ten years has Frank finally been acknowledged as a great songwriter, and Marlene might be his truest and saddest song.

Angel from Montgomery – Bonnie Raitt

A huge John Prine fan over here, but Bonnie Raitt owns Angel from Montgomery, and her version helped me finish the novel. My wife and I listened to it as we were driving to the hospital for the birth of our son. The connection she and I felt that day was in many ways the light I used to guide Les and Marlene through the inferno of grief and back into each other’s arms.

Josie – Steely Dan

Josie is the easiest pick for this playlist since the song features prominently in one of the novels most climactic moments: A drug-fueled hotel room party that sees a trippy dance scene turn near-deadly. This groovy track, like so many on Aja, makes me want to take a shot and break out into the rooster. It also helps that, like with Marlene, Josie is a central character in the novel.

Daniel Magariel is an author from Kansas City. One of the Boys, his first novel, a New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice and Amazon Best Book of 2017, was translated into eight languages and shortlisted for the Lucien Barrière Prize. He has a BA from Columbia University, as well as an MFA from Syracuse University. He teaches at Columbia University. Magariel lives in Cape May, New Jersey.

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