August 7, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
Andrew Davidson's debut novel The Gargoyle is one of the most fascinatingly complex books I have read all year.
Of the book, the New York Times wrote:
"Pause for a moment to consider what kind of book “The Gargoyle” is shaping up to be. It has been heavily influenced by some of Mr. Davidson’s own favorite authors, who range from Vladimir Nabokov to Patrick Susskind to (go figure) the playful parodist Jasper Fforde. The free-range erudition of books like “Possession” and “The Name of the Rose” also come to mind. And the wearyingly popular literary story-within-a-story format is used here to incorporate a wild, seemingly random array of tricks and tangents. But Mr. Davidson binds them together with vigorous and impressive narrative skill."
There are so many ways to go with this. I could write about the album I listened to most often while writing The Gargoyle, which would be Exile on Coldharbour Lane by Alabama 3 (or A3, as they’re known in North America). Or I could write about the most-listened-to songs, which would be two covers: (1) Johnny Cash lending all the weight of his hard-livin’ voice to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s song “I See a Darkness,” and (2) Poe doing “My Lips Are Sealed”—not only the best version of a Go-Go’s song yet, but the best version of a Go-Gos song possible. Or I could just prattle on about my giant man-crush on Leonard Cohen.
Instead, I’ll write about two artists who have influenced me in completely different ways.
Törnqvist is a Swedish singer-songwriter who sings pop music. Except that it really isn’t pop, it’s jazz. But it really isn’t jazz, it’s storytelling. But then again, it isn’t really storytelling, because there aren’t stories in her songs. Except that, yeah, there are. Actually, her music is poetry. No forget that: it’s catchy pop music, which is really jazz.
Right. So she’s Swedish, but she sings in English, except for the album Vad Jag Vill. Why English? I don’t know. There’s a severe lack of information about her on the internet. She was raised in Africa, apparently, but that’s all I know about her as a person. Her music, however, has been played so deeply into my brain that it will never get out.
If I had to name a favorite Törnqvist album, I’d be hard-pressed: she’s one of those artists whose best album is whichever one is currently playing. It could be Good Thing or Melting into Orange or Travel Like in Songs. But, in the context of this article, I’ll have to go with Tremble My Heart, the title song of which is a direct inspiration for one of the four ghostly love stories in my novel.
In The Gargoyle, there is a tale of a Victorian farmwoman who visits a cliff overlooking the ocean, for an hour each dawn, awaiting the return of her drowned husband. She stands, she waits, she loves. This woman is the only character in the book who has what I consider a theme song: “Tremble My Heart.”
The lyrics go:
The moment I wake up, I know it’s the time
I get up, I get dressed, I get going
But I can’t use ribbons like these anymore
Tearing them out of my hair down the stairs.
I’m on my way down
So tremble my heart.
And down at the seashore, I see from the side
All the women I knew would be there
No one’s got ribbons, and all of them stare
Towards the horizon, and I’m as alone
As I ever was, so tremble, tremble my heart.
Oh, are you coming in,
Say, are you coming in,
Oh, are you coming closer?
Oh dear, are you coming in,
Say, are you coming in,
Dear, are you coming closer?
All the of the ancient and all the brand new
Things that I smell and I hear
It’s slowly approaching, and so is the cause of my fear
So tremble, tremble my heart.
It is an absolutely stunning song; to read the lyrics—as good as they are—is nothing like listening to Törnqvist sing them, which rips my heart apart every time. And because I think everyone should have his or her heart ripped apart, at least occasionally, if I could somehow magically make everyone in North America aware of just one foreign singer, it would be Rebecka Törnqvist.
The story of Angela includes disclosure on my part: she’s one of my dearest friends. I met her while living in Japan, when I was spending my evenings working on my novel and she was playing coffee shops. This information should make you roll your eyes and think, “Dammit, Davidson is using this article to produce a cheap shout-out for a friend who strums a guitar.”
The very last thing that Angela needs is my promotion. Since we met, she has released two albums in Japan: her debut entered the pop charts in the number two position, while her second album entered the charts at number one. Last Christmas, she played Budokan Hall—essentially the Japanese equivalent of Madison Square Garden—with just her piano, the first musician to play this stage without a supporting band.
Though I love and admire Angela’s songs, what inspires me more is her attitude towards music: she knows that creating it has nothing to do with chart position, money, or fame. I’ve gone to karaoke with her a number of times and, even when it’s just the two of us, her face shines with sheer joy as she sings. This is how she performs with an audience of one (I suspect it’s exactly the same when she is alone) and when I see her like this, I’m always reminded that for her, it’s entirely about the music.
This is an essential reminder for anyone struggling with artistic work in anonymity. It’s easy to forget that it is always—always—about the work. So whenever I would find myself frustrated, writing late at night, I would remember how she sings. In doing this, it would become impossible for my frustration to remain. I would be reminded the reason I was sitting there was because I love writing—and trust me, no matter how much you actually love writing, sometimes you need to take a moment to remember that fact.
Yes, Angela Aki is a friend. She’s also the first person who read The Gargoyle, and she will write the introduction to the Japanese translation. These acts of kindness on her part have made my experience with The Gargoyle much better, but they do not compare with the benefit of having her remind me, whenever I need it most, that it is for the love of the work that we do it.
In the first half of this article, I wrote that if I could somehow make everyone in North America aware of just one foreign singer, it would be Rebecka Törnqvist. This is only because, in a selfish little part of my heart, I want to keep Angela to myself.
But I guess I just blew that.
Music and Lyrics to “Tremble My Heart” by Rebecka Törnqvist. © 1998 EMI SVENSKA AB.
Andrew Davidson and The Gargoyle links:
Blogging for a Good Book review
Entertainment Weekly review
Fantasy Book Critic review
Fresh Fiction review
Library Journal review
Medieval Bookworm review
New York Daily News review
New York Times review
Publishers Weekly review
Wall Street Journal review
Washington Post review
Writers Are Readers review
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)