July 18, 2017
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Christopher Bollen's novel The Destroyers is a smart and readable literary thriller that has earned him comparisons to Patricia Highsmith.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Beautiful people visiting glamorous places, being wicked enough to bring Patricia Highsmith to mind. It just isn't summer without this kind of globe-trotting glamour to read about, especially when most of it is set in the Aegean. Bollen is stylish enough to know what sells.... Escapism, as calculating as it gets."
I often treat music like uppers or downers. Songs get me into moods faster than anything else I know. I don’t listen to music when I write, but I do before and after. I set my new novel, The Destroyers, a literary thriller, on the Greek island of Patmos. I wrote it entirely from desk in New York, so I often relied on music and sounds to conjure memories of my Greek research trips to get me in the mood for certain scenes—whether they be on beaches, on boats, under the sun, or even in very dark scenarios (that were still occasionally under the sun). I’m not the type of traveller who reaches for his earphones and replays to his own overly familiar music during a trip. I like to use vacations as an opportunity to listen to what is going on around me—and often that is strange or unfamiliar songs. The songs below, however, are quite familiar. They constitute a spree of emotions, tempers, and attitudes—the sonic rollercoaster—of The Destroyers.
“Grape Juice Plus” by Cupid Car Club
Yes, I know this song also appeared on my playlist for my first novel, 2011’s Lightning People. But it’s the perfect song to open The Destroyers. After all, my novel is set on Patmos, famous for serving as the far-flung Greek island where, in A.D. 95, St. John wrote The Book of Revelation (and where you can still visit his purported writing room, the Cave of the Apocalypse). “Grape Juice Plus” repeatedly lifts the key image of the Apocalypse from Revelation—the Four Horsemen—for this frenzied ode to annihilation, almost treating the end of the world like a child’s game. In my novel, I have a creepy cult of end-of-the-world worshipers camping out on the beaches of Patmos who have similarly consumed the grape-juice Kool-Aid.
“Prostitutes in Town,” by Holiday
When I first moved to New York in 1996, I discovered this wondrously upbeat-yet-melancholic song by the short-lived cult indie band. For some reason, this song has always stayed in my head. Its sea theme—a boat captain who won’t retire, with the suggestion that he’s docked in port so his shipmates can have a wild night with local prostitutes—points toward the strange relationship between boats and ports, between those who live on the sea and those fixed on dry land.
“My Kingdom” by Echo and the Bunnymen
You can’t spend time in Greece—and especially not on a remote Greek Island in the Aegean Sea—without feeling that you are communing with ancient civilizations and the beginnings and ends of time. “My Kingdom” is one of those rare songs that seem to contain the loudness and largeness and anthem-like roar of a civilization, whether modern or ancient. There’s a frantic excitement—almost a panic—to its build-up that really feels like a conquering army.
“Althea” by the Grateful Dead
I couldn’t resist giving one of my main characters the middle name Althea. I did that not only because I am a lifelong listener of the Grateful Dead, but because, for a lot of us, the Dead might be the closest secular notion we have to a homegrown cult. But the song also works as shorthand for the plot of my novel: it’s about a bumbling protagonist who can’t seem to get out of his own way and slowly realizes that he’s the cause of much of his own trouble.
Anything Franz Schubert (but start with Piano Sonata No. 21, D.960)
Lately, I can’t stop buying Schubert albums on vinyl or listening to Schubert as music to start the day or close down the night. I’m Schubert obsessed—especially with his piano works, and especially his last sonatas. It’s all there, the hope, the loneliness, the pain, the bursts and flows. It’s epic in the way the sea itself is epic.
“Paper Planes” by M.I.A.
Money, that’s what so much comes down to. This is a great song about hustling. I always try to figure out the motives of my characters—what exactly do they want? For The Destroyers, that question was relatively easy to answer for the majority of them. It was money. And lots of it. And there is something so refreshingly perverse about a singer chanting, “All I want to do is take your money.” It’s the song of an era. Our era.
Algerian Berber music (The Sad Exiles)
The summer before I first visited the island of Patmos, I went to the Greek island of Hydra. Hydra is known for being Leonard Cohen’s island. But when I stayed at a friend’s house high up in the mountains and discovered a CD of traditional Algerian Berber music, it instantly became my soundtrack for Greek island sunsets. There’s a sense of desert wandering and plaintive calling that’s ideal for the region.
“Do I Ever Cross Your Mind” by Dolly Parton
This sweet, little tune is all about complicated longing: about wondering if those people who once meant so much still ever think of you. When my narrator is down-and-out and looking for help, he heads right for those old friends who knew him best. But those old friends always turn out to have changed drastically from when you last saw them.
“Song to the Siren” by This Mortal Coil
I often tell people that I want this Tim Buckley cover played at my funeral (it feels good getting down in writing). For my Greek island novel, I need a siren song—the beautiful sirens luring sailors to ruin on their rocks.
“Panama” by Van Halen
I can’t say this is my favorite Van Halen song (I can’t say that I have a favorite Van Halen song). But there is one chapter in my book set in the country of Panama, and Van Halen’s loud, crowded, berserk hit captures the energy and confusion of that section—a counter to Greece’s far more minimalist beauty.
“New Morning” by Nick Cave
I hope it isn’t all doom and darkness for my protagonist, Ian Bledsoe. There are a few sunbursts of hope and possibility in the pages. This song by Nick Cave sums up that rocky road to redemption (with a few nods to Book of Revelation imagery in his lyrics). It does end with a new morning, which is the most any of us can ask for.
Christopher Bollen and The Destroyers links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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