February 23, 2022
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 Richard Thomas's Spontaneous Human Combustion shock and compel in equal measure.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Equally devastating and refreshing, this is a collection to be savored by horror fans and literary readers alike."
1. Repent: “Falling” by Harry Styles
When I think of the first story in my collection, it’s a sad story, about a bad man, and the mistakes he has made, and that regret. At the end of this story I hope to break your heart. This song by Harry Styles just touches something in me, really has the same emotions, and it’s quite powerful, IMO. “What am I now? What if I’m someone I don’t want to be around?”
2. Clown Face: “Creep” by Radiohead
So, clowns, yeah, they can be pretty creepy, and this story tries to dig under that white, pasty skin to get to the real monster underneath it all. I immediately thought of this song by Radiohead. “But I’m a creep, I’m a weirdo, What the hell am I doing here, I don’t belong here.”
3. Requital: “Invisible Sun” by The Police
This is really about the mood, the slow dirge and repetition, which ties into the looping elements of this story. It also has elements of regret and remorse, which are echoed in the story. “I don’t want to spend my time in hell, looking at the walls of a prison cell.”
4. Battle Not with Monsters
“Black Skinhead” by Kanye West. There is something really aggressive about this song, and of course the Marilyn Manson sampling adds to that—as he’s turning out to be quite a monster as well. You know the Nietzsche quote, and I’ll paraphrase here, “Battle not with monster, lest ye become a monster. For when you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back into you.” That all unfolds in this story—the paranoia, the emotion, and the horrific ending. “They say I’m possessed, it’s an omen.”
5. Saudade: “It Might Be Time” by Tame Impala
This song is both upbeat and moody, but looping back, similar riffs that tap into repeating elements. It speaks to moving on, to facing the truth, the end of something, and the beginning of something else. That all plays out in the story, getting older, getting tired. But there is also hope at the end. “It might be time to face it, nobody knows what you come here for.”
6. Hiraeth: “Mad World” by Tears for Fears
This song is just so sad, and melancholy, and it really gets to me emotionally. When I think of this story, it has the same vibe, mostly at the end, when you see the truth, and turn back the fantasy to show the harsh reality. Of course, a mad world ties into the idea of uncertainty, insanity, and perception. “And I find it kind of funny, I find it kind of sad, the dreams in which I’m dying, are the best I’ve ever had.” And there is of course the Donnie Darko connection, and that ending, too.
7. Nodus Tollens: “King Kunta” by Kendrick Lamar
This is such an infectious song, but it’s speaking to some really heavy subjects—racism, entitlement, expectations, the choices and deals we make, cause and effect, and so much more. This story has some similar themes, and not every decision turns out the way the protagonist wanted, but it layers in hope and anger, fear and action. I think these two go together well. “Straight from the bottom, this the belly of the beast, from a peasant to a prince to a motherfuckin' king.” Not all that glitters is gold.
8. How Not to Come Undone: “Kyoto” by Phoebe Bridgers
There is a nice balance in here between the positive and the negative. The story is about twins, and how they both echo each other, but also offset each other. When one is strong, the other is weak. This song starts out poppy and upbeat, but by the end it is talking about lying and deceiving. It’s not a contradiction, it’s just showing how complex we are. It speaks to choice and regret as well. But it’s not without hope. “I’m going to kill you, if you don’t beat me to it.”
9. From Within: “How Soon is Now?” by The Smiths
This story about a father and son just really ties into the way that Morrissey is so moody and emotional—anger, and vulnerability, and nihilism. Which really works well with this tale about aliens taking over, and the horrors of being a slave. “I am the son, and the heir…of nothing in particular.”
10. The Caged Bird Sings in a Darkness of Its Own Creation
“Sweet / I Thought You Wanted to Dance” by Tyler the Creator. I love this new album from Tyler and this is such a long, meandering, weird, loving, fractured song. It’s almost 3-4 different songs. Which made me think about this story and my four act structure, and the abrupt shift to an entirely different POV in the second scene. Such a mix of emotions in both, and I think that really aligns here with this pairing. The story and song both speak to love—love that is unrequited, and also fulfilled. “The plan was to stick my toe in and, check the temperature, but next thing I know, I'm drownin' / The should call you sugar, you’re so sweet.”
11. In His House: “A Night Like This” by The Cure
The guitar—both lead and bass—in this song really taps into something is a bit more brooding here, and of course Robert Smith is always full of darkness, and loss, and melancholy. Which ties into this weird Lovecraftian epistolary story. “I’m coming to find you if it takes me all night.” Indeed. As well as the line about “I want to change it all.”
12. Open Waters: “Attics of My Life” by the Grateful Dead
This song is one that I listened to over and over again when I was going through a major depression. It reminds me of this story, and the virtual reality that the protagonist is looped into, and then how it all turns out. So emotional, and harmonious, but also just right on the edge of darkness. The story probably seems like a sad ending, but is it? “In the book of love's own dreams, where all the print is blood, where all the pages are my days, and all my lights grow old, when I had no wings to fly, you flew to me, you flew to me.”
13. Undone: “Politicians In My Eyes” by Death
The proto-punk band of all Black musicians is a favorite of mind, and this song just doesn’t let up from the start. Which made me think of this story, which is basically 1,500 words—all in one sentence. It never lets up. It’s happening fast, and it’s relentless. Like this song. I immediately thought about punk and so many fast, really short songs. This fit the bill, and I wanted to turn more people onto this bad. If you take “politicians” and substitute them with “monsters” it really speaks to the story as well. “They could care less about you, they could care less about me.”
14. Ring of Fire: “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash
I mean, it had to be this song, right? When I wrote this novelette, I definitely named it after the Johnny Cash song, and even included a few lines in the epigraph. It speaks to the downward spiral that is this story, and the many layers that are stacked one on top of the other. Not to mention this is a horror story in an anthology about the seven deadly sins. My sin was lust. “Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring, bound by wild desire, I fell into a ring of fire.”
Richard Thomas is the owner and managing editor of The Whiskey Reviewer, a leading web magazine for whiskey reviews and mixology and drinks news. Thomas's opinions and advice on whiskey have appeared on ABC News, Discovery Channel programming, Style magazine and elsewhere. He was a longtime travel contributor to Yahoo!, and he has written for outlets as diverse as Dremel.com, USA Today, Chilled, Inside Hook, and Paste.