September 25, 2020
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
The stories in Andriana Minou's collection The Fabulous Dead haunt and surprise in equal measure.
The Heavy Feather Review wrote of the book:
"It is through her composition and arrangement of the short stories that Minou keeps us hooked. A trained musician, Minou creates each short story to work as a smaller musical composition in a larger concert of the short story collection. Each is a separate story from the other, but they all have the goal of bringing those that are considered the fabulous dead back into the narrative and give them a new purpose, that of interacting with the narrator and deconstructing what we know about them and even ourselves in the process."
The Fabulous Dead is a short story collection about identity, individuality, uniqueness, life-purposes and lives wasted or enjoyed. I like to describe it as "un-historical fiction", a type of literature that deals with the undoing of history and its reweaving into poetic images resembling surreal fables. Because I see myself as a musician as much as a writer, the stories in The Fabulous Dead are also full of music. Writing is a synaesthetic experience for me therefore I usually associate every story, sometimes every paragraph, sentence (or even word) with specific pieces of music. So I compiled a playlist with one piece of music for every story in this collection. My favourite shape is the labyrinth and my favourite activity is dreaming. My dreams are always labyrinth-shaped. My book could be described as a labyrinth of dreamscapes featuring famous dead people. In The Fabulous Dead, famous (and fabulous) dead characters find themselves in dream-like situations or influence the living in unexpected ways. Brahms is a sauerkraut addict having telephone troubles, Marlene Dietrich lives in an ice-cream freezer, Claude Francois becomes the reason for a revolution, Wittgenstein is boiling in a pot of soup, Scott of the Antarctic wants to learn the piano, princess Alexandra of Bavaria decides to take a job as a pianist on a cruise-ship, Julius Caesar is humiliated by a bowl of gutted fish and a mysterious seagull, Virginia Woolf, Sarah Kane and Sylvia Plath drink bloody Marys in the living room, Gus Grissom has a secret affair with Dante's Beatrice. The music pieces in this playlist can certainly work as an accompaniment or highlight the mood of each story, some are even mentioned in the stories but I also think many of them could work as a key to some enigmatic aspects of the stories.
1. Skyscraper Queen in Rumours Motel / Satie – Gnossienne no 3
The entrance to this labyrinth of identities and disguises is accompanied by one of Erik Satie’s Gnossiennes, that is, piano pieces inspired from the ancient ruins of Knossos in Crete, famous for the mythological Labyrinth. King Minos had this maze built in order to hide the Minotaur, a half-man half-beast prince, the illegitimate son of the Queen of Crete and a bull; an entire maze built only to hide someone’s identity.
2. Three Breaths / The Mills Brothers - Smoke rings
Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath and Sarah Kane, three women-authors who committed suicide at different times in the 20th century are drinking Bloody Marys, trying to learn how to be carefree. And they’re listening to this song by The Mills Brothers, which to me is also about trying to learn how to be carefree.
3. Beauty killed the Brahms / Brahms & Lakatos - Hungarian dance
I really don’t like Brahms. This story developed out of the hypothesis that the reason why his music bores me so much is because he kept writing absentmindedly while chatting on the phone. Somehow it ended up turning into a surreal love scene, hence the kitsch gypsy violin version of – perhaps – his most well-known piece.
4. Gaium Garum Larum / Klaus Nomi - Dido’s Lament
This is a story about the stereotypically “feminine” side of men – in this case Julius Caesar, a symbol of (very) old-school masculinity. Klaus Nomi is one of my favourite singers/performers and also – to me – an incarnation of a perfect balance between the feminine and the masculine. His powerfully fragile interpretation of this aria from Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas makes me imagine that this song is playing on the radio while Caesar is scaling fish in the kitchen.
5. Agapornis / Carmen Miranda – Tico Tico
This story, featuring philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein and an “exotic”-looking lady is inspired from Wittgenstein’s actual admiration for the legendary exotic-looking singer, Carmen Miranda.
6. Escaping Titian / Bach & Glenn Gould - Goldberg Variations
This story is inspired from three different elements; Titian’s painting “Venus and Cupid with an Organist” (where it actually takes place), the escape scene from Hitchcock’s “Notorious” and Glenn Gould’s sublime final recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations, which could be a musical accompaniment to the story.
7. Underwater / Wagner – Rheingold
This is a story about a drunken conversation with Wagner and this is as much Wagner as I can listen too (drunk or not).
8. January Night at Mount Athos / Δανάη - Aπό μέσα πεθαμένος
“Από μέσα πεθαμένος” is a Greek art-song from the 20s. Its title means “dead inside”, and its final sentence is “aren’t there many people like me? dead inside, alive on the outside”. I chose a Greek song for this story as it takes place at Mount Athos, a region of Greece that belongs to the Church and is exclusively occupied by Monasteries. Women are not allowed to set foot on this region – not even female animals (apart from cats!). I picked this specific song because, in spite of it being Greek, the music is oddly Western European, romantic, virtuosic, a sort of over-sentimental imitation of popular classical music. The story is about famously atheist German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche watching a kind of zombie-like, bunch of monks perform a strange ritual involving cats in the moonlight.
9. The Baker’s Daughter / Monteverdi – Si dolce e’l tormento
“Si dolce e’l tormento” is perhaps my favourite piece by Claudio Monteverdi. It is about the “sweet torture of love”. This story was inspired from the rumour that painter Raphael died from a peculiar fever caused by an endless night of sex with his insatiable lover, also known as La Fornarina (the baker’s daughter).
10. The theory of Beatrice Portinari on the other side / Patsy Cline – Sweet Dreams
Gus Grissom, America’s favourite astronaut died in an accident during a test-launch at NASA. In this story, he is listening to this Patsy Cline song in his moon-garden, waiting for his lover, Dante’s Beatrice, to come back from the supermarket.
11. The Baroque Toilet / Berio - Azerbaijan love song
Theodor Adorno – the protagonist of this story – is one of the few people I am not sure whether I like or dislike. Maybe that’s healthy. When I was in University, all my classmates found Adorno’s language extremely hard to understand, one of them used to call it gibberish. I always thought it was a kind of gibberish I could magically understand. This Azerbaijan folk song, orchestrated by Luciano Berio, was discovered on an old, half-destroyed record by his wife Cathy Berberian, who never managed to hear properly or somehow find out what the lyrics actually were or meant. So she just wrote down what she heard phonetically and the lyrics are simply gibberish; however, whenever I listen to it I find the way she sings it so convincing I feel like I am constantly on the brink of understanding exactly what she is talking about.
12. An anniversary / Philip Glass - Dracula
“For our anniversary, you gave me an electric nosferatu”; this is the opening line of this story. The atmosphere brings to mind the stylised suspense of silent horror films, such as Dracula, for which Philip Glass composed a new soundtrack.
13. Jack and the Potato Stalk or The Lernaean Dietrich / Marlene Dietrich - boys in the backroom
Sung in the 1939 film “Destry rides again”, this song is seen by many as a self-parody of Marlene Dietrich’s classic vamp persona. Dietrich is a main character in this story, set in a tiny flat in Exarchia, Athens and inspired from Dietrich’s quote “I was raised exclusively on turnips and potatoes”.
14. Passacaglia / Lully - Passacaille
Listening to this piece by Jean-Baptiste Lully certainly teleports me to the Garden of Versailles in the Baroque era. I can almost see his feet in satin shoes trying some dance steps in front of the mirror. I always found the way Lully died fascinating (he accidentally stabbed himself on the leg with his conductor’s baton and consequently died of gangrene after refusing to have his leg amputated) so I couldn’t help including it in this book.
15. Agnus Dei / Αρλέτα - Ο Λύκος
“It’s midnight, the hour of the mad. I’ll meet you somewhere, I’ll find you somewhere. [...] When darkness falls, the wolf goes to the square of the lost city and seeks food [...] My dear little wolf, are you here? I come out of my nest and chase you”. A story about a very special sheep and a song about a very special wolf. “The sheep are locked up and the key is sugar-coated” is one of my favourite lines from this song (“the wolf”, which I’ve loved since I was a child) by the amazing Greek singer Arleta.
16. Just Add Water / Λένα Πλάτωνος - Βράδυ
A song by my favourite Greek songwriter, Lena Platonos on a poem by Kostas Karyotakis (another author who committed suicide). I find the way the melancholy creeps inside my brain when listening to this song absolutely hair-raising. And the lyrics are just about the sounds the poet listens to from his empty room while the evening (also the title of the song) slowly falls on the city, such as children playing on the streets, the wind, “a train coming from an unknown land” or “the open windows breathing time”. I feel it complements the darkly child-like atmosphere of this story about a tea-party with Lewis Carroll.
17. La Dolce Vita and the multiplication of the stale loaves / Nino Rota – La Dolce Vita in Via Veneto
This story is – among other things – a tribute to the beauty of Rome. When I visited it I couldn’t believe how precise Fellini’s depiction of the city’s atmosphere was in his film La Dolce Vita. I almost felt as if I was looking at it through his eyes.
18. Coprolalia / Boris Vian - Mozart avec nous
Mozart, my favourite musician, could only be paired with my favourite writer, Boris Vian, who has written and performed this outrageous song based on Mozart’s music. This is a story about a rather unknown, more humane aspect of the notoriously genius musician; his extremely silly, scatological sense of humour. I like to imagine that above all Mozart just wanted to have fun and I am certain he would have laughed his heart out if he could listen to this song.
19. Impromptu with statue / Jojo rabbit soundtrack
This story is dedicated to one of Hitler’s food-tasters, Margot Wölk. I was devastated to read one of her recent interviews and the horror she went through so I decided to write something about the way history can lift neurotic idiots on pedestals and how human experience and memory is perhaps the only way characters such as Hitler can be kept within a realistic perspective. I started writing the story after discovering a school photo of Hitler and his classmates when he was about 10 and realising how strangely easy it was to spot him. This piece comes from the movie Jojo Rabbit, featuring Hitler as a child’s imaginary friend (and it’s really worth the watch, by the way).
20. The revenge of Cloclo / Claude Francois - comme d’habitude
I find Claude Francois wonderfully kitsch. I can’t really stand listening to more than one song of his at a time. That’s how I came up with this story of a city where everything is perfect but there are loudspeakers in all public and private spaces constantly playing Claude Francois’ (aka Cloclo) songs.
21. Confucius’ fake news / Gyorgy Ligeti - Kyrie
The idea about this story came from the story of Galileo’s middle finger; Galileo’s corpse was stolen and moved several times and, after lots of adventures, his middle finger ended up in a museum with a somewhat corny inscription, claiming it is pointing at the heavens. Well, it just doesn’t quite look like it’s pointing to me, especially considering the hard times Galileo went through because of the Catholic Church. Ligeti’s Kyrie (from Requiem) is one of the pieces that opened up a whole new sound world to me when I first listened to it. I find it terrifying and at the same time rather cheeky; a bit like the character of God in this story.
22. At the goldfish funeral / Schubert – The trout
I’m sure trout love Schubert for dedicating his most famous song to them. It is about a trout happily roaming the river until it gets caught by a sly fisherman with a trick. Many have seen this song as a metaphor for the way we are all caught by death in the end. Schubert himself died when he was only 30. And this is one of the jolliest tunes ever written.
23. The melting of the ice / Chopin – Nocturne in C sharp minor
Scott of the Antarctic is taking piano lessons in this story. Warmth and frost blend together. And that’s also the feeling I get from this Nocturne by Chopin, also featuring in the story.
24. From the lost diary of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria / Mauricio Kagel – Ragtime waltz
Princess Alexandra of Bavaria actually believed she had a glass piano in her tummy. This is what inspired this story and this deliciously obsessive piece could be something this glass piano played.
25. The dead & the fabulous LTD / Llorando
The atmosphere of this story is a bit Lynch-like so it couldn’t help but bring to mind this beautiful Roy Orbisson cover from my favourite Mulholland Drive scene. To me it radiates with a type of empowering loneliness, which is also the feeling I would hope for this final story of the book to create.
Andriana Minou is a writer/musician based in London, UK. She holds a PhD in Piano Performance. Her book of short stories ‘The Fabulous Dead’ was published in March 2020 by Kernpunkt Press. Her work has been published in several journals including Sand, rattle journal, tiny spoon, typehouse, the paper nautilus, FIVE:2:ONE. She has published three books in Greek with Strange Days Books, one of which will soon be released in Spanish. www.andrianaminou.com