September 20, 2021
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Kavita Bedford's novel Friends and Dark Shapes is a poetic and moving debut.
The New York Times wrote of the book:
"Bedford is a talented writer with a wonderful eye for detail, and her crisp, measured sentences are genuinely impressive. After grief, alienation and loneliness suffuse the novel, the story earns its way toward a sense of hope."
My novel is about a young woman who moves into a share house in a gentrifying suburb of Sydney a year after her father has died. The city is split into two, and follows the past when he was alive, and the present. The characters in the sharehouse are mostly growing up without the traditional markers of adulthood and instead face insecurity of housing and employment, online dating, overseas opportunities, social alienation. They are mostly second-generation migrants and impermanency is built into their lives. Music played a pivotal role, in trying to recapture moods and an era of living in share houses for a person in her late twenties. I have always loved coming of age novels and finding the music that captures that particular transition. The soundtrack, like the novel, is both a universal soundtrack that captures love, and grief and loss, whilst also including Australian artists to give a sense of the local landmarks of what it is like coming of age both globally and in Sydney.
1. All My Friends, LCD Sound system
Friendship is a pivotal theme of the novel, and this was one of the defining songs of a generation. It captures the power of youth and friendship and how when we are young we feel we are shaping the city. There is a sense of a generation wanting everything all at once, yet paralysed by forces. This track has a high, playful note but the melody hints towards something more nostalgic and lost in youth. This paradoxical quality of the song means sometimes it feels uplifting and other times blue.
These notes were the same kind of atmosphere I wanted to create in my novel. A staccato, here-and-now mode, but underneath a hint of something darkly poetic. And how sometimes in youth, it is hard to separate whether you and your friends shape a city, or the city shapes you.
2. Good God Damn, Arcade Fire
In the narrator’s flashbacks there is nostalgia for her own youth, for the city that she was in with her father, in contrast to a city that is now constantly changing. The novel meanders through scenes from parties and looks at the way memories bleed into the grooves of a city and create meaning in a landscape. This song by Arcade Fire captures that particular need of losing oneself in the darkness, especially during one’s twenties.
You want to get messed up?
When the times get rough
Put your favorite record on, baby
3. Is This How You Feel?, The Preatures
The Preatures are an indie-rock band based in Sydney, where this story is set. Growing up, like so many, I had been shaped by coming-of-age stories set in the great cities of the world: New York, London, Dublin, Paris. The cities their characters inhabited always felt more real and more formative in my own coming of age than any place in Australia. The same went for music. The novel explores universal experiences of loss and love and grief, but set against the backdrop of local streets and landmarks that formed growing up in Sydney. Scenes take place in warehouse parties and traverse local streets, and The Preatures belong to that era and landscape of the novel.
4. Disparate Youth, Santigold
The melody of Santigold’s semi-dub reggae song and the title, “Disparate Youth,” captured me. It has a real ‘soundtrack’ quality and evokes feeling of searching and hoping in youth that I was trying to capture in the novel. In the video, she cruises the beautiful lush scenery along coastal roads. The clip is set in Jamaica, but some of its tropical elements reminded me of our coastlines, and that sense of breeziness and how you would never know of other darker pasts lurked in its beauty.
5. Anemone , Brian Jonestown Massacre
Anemone is from their fourth album, Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request, which was out in 1996, well before the novel was set, but they were a band I didn’t have the pleasure of meeting in Sydney’s suburbia, until my own twenties. Their Neo-psychedelic tunes, the singer’s shimmering vocals that make you feel the dark undertow. According to Greek mythology, the anemone sprang from Aphrodite’s tears as she mourned the death of Adonis. And for me this song, and its final repeated refrain, captures so many notes of mourning and grief, which the book examines. The narrator questions how do we lose, and how do we continue on in a place, when every lamppost and street corner is a signifier of a shared time and place? How to continue:
Now that you’re not around
Now that you’re not around
Now that you’re not around
Now that you’re not around
6. Easy to Love, The Jezabels
I first heard this group perform at my local venue, The Annandale. So many musicians were supported here before the city’s lockout laws made it difficult for live music. Now, The Annandale has shut down. In so many ways, the story of this venue, is one of the major themes the book explores around urban gentrification. Like so many major cities around the world, the rate of change to the landscape, is so quick. And the political and economic decisions around class and who gets to stay and who has to leave, along with watching institutions that formed your own youth be forced to close down, is its own kind of heartbreak. This song, with its anthem-like bridge, feels like a personal ode to some of these defining places.
7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs, MAPS
Karen O was like Goddess-speak in our twenties. She was Abandonment. Festivals. Sweat. The Feminine. The wild woman. Yet, in so many ways, this song feels like her moment of stillness in that turbulent forcefield. I remember when I first saw that film clip. Her stricken face in the opening shots as the band sets up for a rehearsal and then the close-up in the second half with tears streaming down her face. I remember reading later in an interview how those tears were real. That moment, always made me feel embarrassed, compelled, and connected to something so vulnerable. When I was writing this novel, there were many moments when I felt like this; exposed and raw. I often thought about that rehearsal audience who are also in the film clip, bearing witness to her moment of vulnerability and how performance and reality are so closely linked in art. But that moment, when she is able to turn her personal loss into something bigger and more universal, that moment of learning and trying to transcend loss into art, is something that Karen O taught me.
8. Solange, Cranes in the sky
One night the characters have a conversation. “Have you noticed how everyone our age says they are so busy, Niki says, but like a hashtag humblebrag, like it's something to be proud of?”
I was really interested to explore the compulsion of the constant doing of my generation and the sadness it masks. Cranes in the Sky captures something of that way we constantly distract from deeper pain.
I tried to keep myself busy
I ran around in circles
Think I made myself dizzy
I slept it away, I sexed it away
I read it away
Away, away, away, away, away
Solange has said this song is analogy of her country's reluctance to confront “all of these ugly things that are staring us in the face.” And whether it is our inability as a country, or individuals, or collective society, there is a reluctance still to speak of the deeper things like grief and the dark shapes that lurk beneath us.
9. Sampa The Great, Energy
The Zambian-born, Botswana-raised, Melbourne-based singer blends hip-hop, neo-soul, and her own flow of feminism. As an artist, she has a strong focus on bringing as many women and people of colour to the spotlight as possible and the video for this explores issues of identity, while owning her own space. The novel looks at issues of race, what it means to be from land, borrowing land, and the grapples of first and second-generation migrants and those who do not feel they belong anywhere. This song captures an ‘energy’ of ways to explore issues of identity with honour while resisting categorisation.
10. I lovemakonnen ft. Drake, Going up on a Tuesday
During the time I set this story, Drake’s remix of Makonnen's song was ubiquitous. The song was summer. The book is divided into seasons. And for each season I would listen to certain tracks to give me a feeling of both the time and memory. This song was playing in my mind during the late-night drinking sessions at Bat Hill, ocean pools, house parties, and the feeling of the collective share house hangs during summer.
11. The Avalanches Since I Left You
The Avalanches are an Australian electro group. This particular song has over about 900 samples, ranging from old R&B to instruction manuals and at the time, they created a really unique soundscape. I love the idea of sampling in art. One of the characters is called Bowerbird, and he is a sort of an ode to that idea; that in so much of art and life we are constantly borrowing from others. Writing this story borrowed so much overheard language and conversations with friends and memories and shards and snippets to build a world, and I am fascinated by the idea that no matter how much we draw from these inspirations, it will always come out sounding like something uniquely flavoured.
12. Dream Baby Dream, Suicide
Dreamy, lyrical, ephemeral, and hopeful is the feel of this song and the mood of the novel. I was interested in the different ways dreaming have informed this particular city. Where I live is traditionally on Gadigal land. This country was colonised, and then much later migrants, like my mother’s family, came to this country. And with each group, a different historic set of pain and dreams have bled into this landscape. In the book, I was interested in how these dreams become part of a city’s rhythm; how we become its blood cells rushing towards the pulsing heart of the city centre. It made me think about the idea of mapping memory on to the city, and the ways in which the city in turn leaves its mark and dreams on you.
13. Massive Attack, Teardrop
The solitary riff, sombre chords on the piano, this song from the trip hop group along with the entire Mezzanine album was kind of like an anthem for stage-y melancholy. This song infiltrated so much of the novel’s early youth with its grunginess and sense of heightened drama, and I often played it when trying to recapture a certain emotion of teen angst and the foreshadowing of loss.
14. Atoll, Nai Palm
Nai Palm, is the front-woman of the Australian Neo-Soul band Hiatus Kaiyote. An atoll is a ring-shaped coral reef or island, surrounded by a body of water. So much of this novel comes from living on an island, and how the ocean and water run throughout the novels fragmentary shape. In this novel, I was interested in how a place can hold us. I wrote about waves of silt, and shale, and laughter and how a city can create heartbreak but also offer refuge. For me so much of this was in Sydney’s share houses, ocean pools, jacaranda-flooded streets, sandstone walls, rickety railways and secret suburbs. These lyrics and melody capture that feeling how in the end, ‘when the damn thing breaks’, connection to the land can take you home, whatever and wherever that may be.
Kavita Bedford is an Australian-Indian writer with a background in journalism, anthropology and literature. Her writing has appeared in Guernica, The Guardian and she was a recent Churchill Fellow exploring migrant narratives. She works and teaches in Sydney in media and global studies. Friends and Dark Shapes is her first novel.