March 16, 2022
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Alex Segura melds a talent for writing noir with his definitive knowledge of the comics world in the unforgettable novel Secret Identity.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Segura’s book works on so many levels, it’s almost hard to keep track―as a love letter to comic books, it’s as powerful as anything since Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). And as a thriller, it’s smart, perfectly paced, and wonderfully atmospheric―Segura captures the intense, grimy milieu of 1970s New York with aplomb. You don’t have to be a comics fan to love this novel; it’s a masterful book filled with real heart and soul. A triumph."
I’ve said this before in previous installments of my novel playlists on this wonderful site - but I don’t listen to music while I write. It’s distracting and I can’t focus on my words, instead lulled into thinking about who played bass or wrote a given track. That said, I *think* about my book a lot while listening to music, and often craft playlists that clock in at over a thousand songs. Eventually, as the novel comes into shape, the playlist also gets whittled down to a more manageable number.
Secret Identity isn’t just a love letter to comics of a lost era, it’s a nod to a lot of music I love, which was starting to bubble up in the mid-'70s New York City. The songs on the playlist seem to hover in a somber, regretful space - focusing on lost loves, defiance, and determination: all things that are integral to the story of Carmen Valdez, Secret Identity's driven and sharp protagonist. Hope you enjoy.
“Ain’t Good Enough for You” - Bruce Springsteen.
Few things say mid-'70s New York more than early Springsteen, and this lost classic from his The Promise compilation evokes Springsteen’s early swagger and humor perfectly. It’s actually one of the few songs on the playlist that are actually mentioned in the novel itself, as Carmen hears a cover band perform the tune while she commiserates over her terrible boss to her roommate, Molly.
“Cruel Summer” - Taylor Swift
A central part of Secret Identity is the return of Carmen’s complicated and mysterious ex, Katherine, to her life - a relationship that echoes the yearning and conflict in Swift’s powerhouse song from her Lover album, produced by St. Vincent, who also shows up often on this playlist. The potent mix of dance-pop energy with the loss and angst of a relationship’s waning days is powerful and hard to ignore.
“Right” - David Bowie
This song was used masterfully in an episode of Netflix’s Manhunter and stuck with me since - it’s pure mood, with a weaving sax, funk-laced guitar, soul-infused backing, and low-end Bowie vocals that would make anyone tingle with excitement. It’s a pure, unadulterated MOOD, and one of the big things I was going for with Secret Identity was atmosphere over excessive plot, so this song felt very much in tune with the early scenes of the book.
“Motion Sickness” - Phoebe Bridgers
Bridgers plaintive ode to an affair gone astray basks in the murky, gray areas of romance in a way that really resonated with me. The propulsive beat and haunting vocals make for a raw, sometimes funny, and fragile dose of humanity. It felt very much like Carmen’s state of mind when we meet her at the opening of Secret Identity.
“My Generation” - Patti Smith
The ironic cover has become an overused trope of music, and none come close to Smith’s brutal, unflinching take on the Who’s seminal rant against whatever the elders want. It’s a big '70s energy, and bands like Patti, Talking Heads, Ramones, and Blondie all factor into the book, so this felt like very much something that would be playing at some point during the novel.
“Another Day” - Paul McCartney
Few songs capture the isolated, lonely mood of a young woman living in a large city better than this, McCartney’s first post-Beatles single, featuring a strong, staccato backbeat and his wife Linda’s subdued and resigned backing vocals. I pictured this song playing as Carmen prepared for another day facing off against her obnoxious boss.
“Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters” - Elton John
I don’t think I’m alone in wondering what the hell Bernie Taupin was writing about half the time. But you tend not to care, because Elton John’s delivery of Taupin’s lyrics are so emotional and genuine. This is no exception, and I’d probably argue it’s one of the best “newly moved to New York City” songs ever - and perfectly captures the nostalgic sadness someone like Carmen probably felt in her early days in the Big Apple.
“These Days” - Nico
Like “Mona Lisas,” “Another Day,” “Cruel Summer” and “New York,” this classic Nico ballad gives off a strong sense of resignation and sadness, spotlighting someone accepting of their fate but also not completely giving up hope.
“Street Hassle” - Lou Reed
One of the reasons I really wanted to set Secret Identity in New York City in 1975 was to showcase a NYC that no longer exists - a dangerous, unpredictable place that was on the brink of destruction. Few songs give off that vibe better than Lou’s epic, simmering ode to a lost love. Extra points for the Bruce cameo.
“Vieja Luna” - Johnny Pacheco and Celia Cruz
Celia & Johnny is a stone-cold classic, an essential listen in terms of 1970s Latin music. I won’t spoil how it connects to the plot, but will note that Springsteen’s “Ain’t Good Enough for You” is the first song you see, but this one is the last.
Alex Segura is the SVP - Sales and Marketing at Oni Press and the author of Star Wars Poe Dameron: Free Fall and the acclaimed Pete Fernandez Mystery series. He has also written a number of comic books, most notably the superhero noir The Black Ghost, the YA music series The Archies, and the "Archie Meets" collection of crossovers. A Miami native, he lives in New York City with his wife and children.