October 15, 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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Cari Luna's debut novel The Revolution of Every Day marvels on many levels as she skillfully evokes the Lower East Side of the mid-1990s through the lens of its squatters. Her eye for their vulnerable yet visionary lives makes this one of the finest New York novels I have read.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Luna creates an array of complex characters caught up in emotions, relationships and situations far from the ordinary as they examine their commitment to their merged family and explore their own ideals and expectations. Enlightening and marked by inventive subject matter, intense reflection and stark eloquence."
Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes.
I can't write to music—I'm too impressionable—but I rely on it heavily before and between writing sessions. I use it to get myself into the necessary headspace, to get the right feel for a scene or to access an aspect of a character.
My debut novel, The Revolution of Every Day, is set in New York City's Lower East Side in the mid-nineties, in a community of squatted buildings. Some of the songs that inspired me as I wrote it were released by the time of the events of the novel; others are more contemporary. The main thing was that something in each of them resonated with the project, letting me get where I needed to go within the novel's world.
"New York, I Love You But You're Bringing Me Down" by LCD Soundsystem
I write to answer questions for myself. I don't really understand what I think about anything until I've written about it. And so I began this novel wanting to understand what the hell had happened to my hometown of New York. How and why had it changed? It took me six years and 392 pages to answer that question. LCD Soundsystem gets at it a bit more succinctly.
"Hide and Seek" by Ani DiFranco
In high school I was firmly entrenched in the hardcore and Goth scenes. (Yes, they mixed. The late eighties were tolerant times, I suppose.) I didn't hear about Ani DiFranco until I got to college. My freshman year at Bard I met two women who'd been squatters on the Lower East Side, and they both loved her. Thus the link between teenage female squatters and Ani was firmly established in my mind. This song speaks to some of the themes that came out through the characters of Amelia and Cat: a young girl's experience in the world, rape, sexual predation, and awakening to one's own agency.
"Stevie Nix" by The Hold Steady
I began writing the novel during a month-long residency at Ragdale, an artist colony on one of the last remaining bits of prairie in Illinois. The Hold Steady's second album, Separation Sunday, had recently been released, and I would take long walks through the prairie and listen to that album, absolutely wallowing in it. Let this, my favorite THS song, stand in for their entire catalog here, because the band means so much to me. But Separation Sunday, in particular, helped me to find the character Amelia as I began the first draft. A strong narrative thread runs through that album, and I found aspects of her in Craig Finn's lyrics, and other aspects—felt on the gut level where I also needed to understand her—through Tad Kubler's big, insistent guitar.
"Skydiving" (Words by Ishmael Reed, music by Allen Toussaint, vocals by Taj Mahal)
Steve, another main character, is a poet, born and raised on the Lower East Side. Lyrics would matter to him a great deal, and Ishmael Reed's poetry, set here to music, would definitely speak to him. It's one of those songs where you get the urge to share the best lines with someone and end up just quoting the whole thing.
"Oh! Sweet Nuthin'" by The Velvet Underground
My favorite song, if someone were to force me to commit to only one. (But what a terrible thing to do to someone.) I made it Amelia's favorite song, too, just for the hell of it. I want to share her favorite lyrics, but copyright laws would prefer I didn't, so I'll paraphrase and tell you that Amelia is particularly pleased by the idea of the woman who falls in love every day, and falls every night. She identifies with that lyric in a romantic, almost heroic way. (The irony being, of course, that the ways in which it's true of her are not heroic at all, but rather sad.)
I could find each of the characters of The Revolution of Every Day in this song, truth be told. It's an excellent song. You should probably listen to it twice. Go ahead. You deserve it.
"Periodico de ayer" by Hector Lavoe
The song of Steve's marriage. The reader meets him and his wife, Anne, as this song plays, and it plays again later, at a point of crisis in their relationship. The gist of it: "Your love is yesterday's news." Ouch.
"Fairytale of New York" by The Pogues
This song is heard drifting up from the basement community room toward the beginning of the book, two secondary characters taking the parts and singing it together. It's mostly a private joke with myself, something you write in to give yourself a little smile to get you through drafts four and eight and seventeen of revisions, but there's something true and fitting in it being there. Gerrit, who lives with and loves Amelia, surely counts this song among his favorites. You'd never catch him singing it, though—or anything else, for that matter.
"Farewell Reel" by Patti Smith
This song makes me cry every time I hear it. Consistently, since it was first released. And sometimes the only way to get a scene right is to weep your way through it. I kind of picture Amelia riding off into the sunset as this song plays, the closing credits rolling.
Cari Luna and The Revolution of Every Day links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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weekly music & DVD release lists