November 2, 2018
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Anita Felicelli's Love Songs for a Lost Continent is one of the year's strongest story collections, exceptionally nuanced and powerful.
Foreword Reviews wrote of the book:
"Across the collection, love and pain, displacement and connection, personal identity and culture are reconfigured until even the most prosaic home becomes lethally wistful."
For better or worse, I'm strongly affected by sound. I often wish I'd been called to songwriting rather than fiction writing. Songs are like drugs, directly transporting a listener into emotions and moods so much faster than fiction does. When I'm first drafting fiction, I listen to specific music almost as a form of method acting, to get into a character's spirit, but I'm extremely careful about what sounds I allow into my space. I get irritable if my spouse elsewhere in the house turns on other sounds, whether it's music that doesn't fit or television to entertain our children. I never listen to music while revising because I need to hear the sound of the specific words, but sometimes when I'm trying to get back into a character's head space, I'll listen to certain songs to carry me back. At its heart, Love Songs for a Lost Continent is an anti-authoritarian story collection, and the music from which I borrowed certain effects or played while drafting reflect that spirit.
Deception - Public Enemy, "911 is a Joke"
Deception, the story that kicks off the collection, is also the story that's most explicitly against power structures. Although it might seem like an odd choice for a story set in an imaginary South Indian village, Public Enemy's "911 is a Joke" perfectly captures the anger and disenfranchisement of a young woman who can't trust society or the authorities to protect her, who is being told to doubt her perceptions of traumatic events, whose own memories are being casually replaced by medical technology that the powerful have not properly tested.
Elephants in the Pink City - The Clash, "Rudie Can't Fail"
When you need a jolt of caffeine, but you can't actually drink any, The Clash is the band to turn to. "Rudie Can't Fail" is a reggae-influenced, anti-establishment song about Jamaica's rude boys. It's full of the kind of confident, rebellious energy that propels Kai, the gay teenage protagonist of Elephants in the Pink City to leave his traditional parents and little sister behind in the palace hotel and take off down the streets of Jaipur. I think, too, it's the kind of song Kai would have covered had he been able to start a band.
Love Songs for a Lost Continent - David Bowie, "Life on Mars"
A good friend made me a tape of David Bowie's Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars when I was twelve-years-old and I've never quite recovered from the love affair I had his with his music after that. I might go so far as to say every piece of fiction I've ever written has been affected by Bowie. The tender yearning of Bowie's "Life on Mars" gets at the relationship between the unnamed protagonist of Love Songs for a Lost Continent and his misfit, imaginative, lower-caste Tamil nationalist girlfriend Komakal. The surreal cut-up lyrics describe a girl a bit like Komakal with her "sunken dream," and the sorrow of the piano and Bowie's voice does, too.
Hema and Kathy - Arcade Fire, "The Suburbs"
The desperation of Arcade Fire's mournful "The Suburbs" has a grandeur that meshes with how my protagonist Hema feels about her adolescence in Los Altos Hills in Hema and Kathy. She's up against the ordinary conditions of suburbs — suffocating social expectations, micromanaging parents — conditions to which many teenagers, including her best friend Kathy reconcile themselves. But Hema wants nothing more than to shed the shackles of bourgeois conformity, to have a grand, passionate life. And yet, both she and Kathy feel as the Arcade Fire lyrics go, I think, about their friendship: "If I could have it back/All the time that we wasted/I'd only waste it again."
Snow - Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel, "White Lines"
Snow is a short story about Devi, a Tamil immigrant who was once an overachiever, but who's become bulimic and a cocaine addict in the course of adapting to her life as a model in New York City. The lyrics are a little on the nose, but I listened to a lot of groovy old-school hip hop like Grandmaster Flash and Melle Mel's "White Lines" while writing Snow. There's a sound in the song that I can only describe as sparkles, and it influenced the ice, reflective glass, and fairytale Snow Queen imagery of the story.
Once Upon the Great Red Island - Talking Heads, "Road to Nowhere"
Like Bowie, the weird energy of the Talking Heads songs has probably seeped into a lot of my fiction, and none of their songs fits my mood more frequently than "Road to Nowhere." Once Upon the Great Red Island is a story about a couple that leaves San Francisco for Madagascar, motivated by very different things. Tarini wants to escape an atmosphere she finds oppressive and expensive: as a result of tech bros taking over the Bay Area, she's unable to afford living there. When her boyfriend Leon, a hedge fund financier, wants to move to Madagascar to start a vanilla farm and reconnect with his French ancestor's colonial past, she agrees, mostly because he's financing it, not out of love. At least they start out with high hopes.
The Logic of Someday - The Roots, "You Got Me"
I first heard "You Got Me" by The Roots featuring Erykah Badu in the early aughts during a five-year-long troubled romantic relationship. Whenever this grief-filled song comes on, I remember the worst time of my life, the most devastating experience of my life. It's a peculiar aspect of my psychology, perhaps, that I'm nostalgic for intense pain, that I still love that particular pain, and that I would be willing to relive the worst time of my life by listening to this song repeatedly during the writing of The Logic of Someday. The story is about a push-pull, ruin-your-life relationship. The song speeds up significantly at the end, with Erykah Badu's words repeating faster and faster. This is the way a relationship speeds up as it circles down a drain, and I tried to build this rhythmic shift in to the story.
Everywhere, Signs - Soundgarden, "The Day I Tried To Live"
While The Day I Tried to Live starts out slow, there's something ominous in the opening guitar. The addition of a driving beat allows the rage to build. And Chris Cornell's voice! I don't know if this song would be anywhere near as powerful without the anguish in Cornell's voice. The effect of suppressed rage, how anguish and injustice can be transmuted and come out as something else, is what I was trying to generate in the angriest, saddest story in the collection, "Everywhere, Signs" about a severely bullied Tamil Christian girl in Pittsburgh after 9/11 who, without warning, tells a lie that transforms her life and the lives of those around her.
Wild Things - Pharcyde, "Passing Me By"
I wrote the first draft of Wild Things in 1998, before I'd ever heard Pharcyde's "Passing Me By." Although the clever lyrics are from the point of view of a man talking about the women who have passed him by, I feel like the song gets at the feelings of both my main characters, Jenny, a white online pornography writer, and Malik, a black queer elementary school teacher and jazz buff. The occasional saxophone, multi-vocality, and the confessional quality of Passing Me By fits their left-of-left Berkeley romance. Malik is more vulnerable and open, both about who he is and what he wants while Jenny keeps mum about herself.
The Art of Losing - Liz Phair, "Whip-Smart"
If there's a more moving song about a mother raising a boy than Liz Phair's "Whip-Smart," I don't know it. The Art of Losing is a story about an elderly mother who gets a late-night phone while on a second honeymoon with her husband, a call she's been expecting all of her son's life. Most mothers, I think, begin motherhood by having high hopes about the kind of son she's going to raise, how he's going to be different. Liz Phair's voice is a little affectless in this song, but I think somehow her voice set off by a backdrop of outdoor chirping and the fairy tale and childhood imagery of the lyrics is what gives the song its inexplicable beauty and power. I kept remembering how sad "Whip-Smart" makes me feel, while writing The Art of Losing.
Rampion - Cocteau Twins, "Heaven Or Las Vegas"
Rampion is an otherworldly and surreal reworking of the fairy tale Rapunzel. I don't know what the lyrics of the Cocteau Twins' dream pop "Heaven or Las Vegas" are (beyond the strange, but resonant binary of the title words repeated), but the shimmery, ecstatic quality of their song was an effect I was aiming towards with the story. There are some moments when singer Elizabeth Fraser sounds like an animal, others when she sounds like she's talking to a baby. I like to think that if the narrator sang her story, she would have a voice a little like this.
Swans and Other Lies - Siouxsie Sioux, "The Passenger"
Iggy Pop wrote the original song "The Passenger" (apparently inspired by driving around with David Bowie). But as a fan of Siouxsie & the Banshees, it's her 1987 version, her velvety vocals I hear when I think of my short story Swans and Other Lies. It's a road trip story about a hitchhiker who joins forces with a con artist. There's a reversal in this story that echoes the reversal of Siouxsie singing it instead of Iggy Pop. I listened to "The Passenger" repeatedly during the drafting of this story, and I hope its fun, almost danceable energy found a way in.
The Lookout - Lou Reed, "Perfect Day"
Lou Reed's "Perfect Day" is a song that makes its meaning through an atmosphere of foreboding and the dissonance between Lou Reed's dry sad voice and his seemingly hopeful words. There's a genius to the lyrics, which shift from deep yearning about a perfect day drinking sangria in the park, to quietly, seriously admonishing the listener, "You're going to reap just what you sow." This mixture of longing, nostalgia, dread, sorrow, and admonishment is built into the DNA of The Lookout, which is climate change flash fiction about a young mother who raises her baby in a tower looking out for rain during a severe drought.
Anita Felicelli and Love Songs for a Lost Continent links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists