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December 14, 2007

Book Notes - Janet Fitch ("Paint It Black")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.

Don't expect another White Oleander from Janet Fitch's second novel, Paint It Black. Much darker than her debut, Paint It Black follows Josie Tyrell as she puts her life back together after the suicide of her boyfriend. Josie's twisted relationship with her boyfriend's mother is the emotional core of the book, and Fitch's wonderful and cutting prose is perfect for the tale.

In her own words, here is Janet Fitch's Book Notes essay for her novel, Paint It Black:

In Paint It Black, a lot of the emotion and characterizations of the book are reflected in the music I've used throughout. It's a three character psychodrama, set in LA during the week following the suicide of Germs' lead singer Darby Crash and John Lennon's assassination in New York.

The protagonist, Josie Tyrell, is a little rocker, an art model and part of the LA punk scene as it existed in '79 and '80. In the first chapter, her great love, art student Michael Faraday, turns up dead at the LA county morgue--a suicide by gunshot. His mother, the elegant, cultured Meredith Loewy, a concert pianist, has always hated her son's ragamuffin girlfriend, and now blames her for the son's death. Yet, wildly disparate in culture and personality as the two women are, they are nevertheless drawn to one another, as they were the only ones who really knew him.

Music is the air of this novel, its earth and water, so it wasn't hard to find music to express the texture and moods of the book--there's a soundtrack embedded in its pages.

Three genres begin to overlap as the novel progresses and the worlds intertwine: the 1980 punk rock that is Josie's world; the 1920's dirty blues and other period music favored by Michael--call it the love theme of the book; and the classical piano repertoire which represents Meredith's art and world of high culture, which belongs not only to her, but to her son--often representing his struggle and contradictions.

So here's the playlist of the book.

I wish I could hyperlink the book itself, so you could simply read it and 'listen along.'

(NOTE: Sometimes I've mentioned bands with no songs. Sometimes I've made up bands, in which case I've suggested cognates. A few times I haven't used any music, but know exactly what songs would be right, in a playlist, if not for period, at least for mood and texture. I marked these with a **)

Chapter I--Echo

Double Fantasy, John Lennon/Yoko Ono (aftermath of John's Death)
Germs, X and Cramps--some of the band stickers on Josie's car
Sandinsta!, Clash
Dirty '20s blues (Lucille Bogan, Big Bill Broonzy, Louis Armstrong and the hot Fives, Ida Cox)
"Cakewalking Babies from Home"

Chapter 2--Pool

"I Wanna Be Your Dog," Iggy Pop
"Tricks Aint Walkin'," Lucille Bogan
"Frederick," Patti Smith
"Going Going Gone," Richard Hell and the Voidoids
Piano Quintet in Fm, Johannes Brahms

There's a lot of piano music in Paint It Black, as Meredith is a concert pianist--but Brahms is an important theme in Paint It Black. Michael plays Brahms for Josie and points out how he'd like to be Bach, like to have that certainty of spiritual belief, but he's too stormy, too full of doubts. So the upbeat silly/dirty '20s music/le jazz hot is Michael when he's up, Brahms is Michael when he's down, and the link to his mother.

Chapter 3--Funeral

"Just a Gigolo," Bing Crosby
String Quartet in Cm, Johannes Brahms
"Sarabande Double violin Concerto," J.S. Bach

Chapter 4--Cal

Josie goes to talk to Michael's father after the funeral

"Going Down," The Germs
From the jukebox of the dive bar, Sammy's Lotus Room:
"Bali Hai," South Pacific (Oscar/Hammerstein)
"Blue Moon," Julie London

Chapter 5--These Days

"Big Butter and Egg Man," Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five
Django Reinhardt
Edith Piaf
"Lonesome Blues," Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five

Josie's friends come over to cheer her up, but one starts playing Birdland--about the death of Wilhelm Reich, and his son's yearning for his dead father:

"Suffragette City," David Bowie
"Spiders from Mars," Bowie
"Birdland," Patti Smith
"Satellite of Love," Lou Reed

Chapter 6--Otis

"Are We Not Men?," Devo
Coltrane, Miles Davis--what the art teacher would be playing if she were modeling at his studio

Chapter 7--Club Rat

I made up bands and music for this club scene, so play

The Screamers or the Weirdos for The Weak Nellies
Nina Hagen Nunsexmonkrock or Lena Lovich Stateless for Lola Lola

Chapter 8--Christmas (not the best Christmas in the world)

"We Must Bleed," The Germs
Black Flag
"No God," The Germs
Intermezzo 118 E-flat minor, Johannes Brahms
La Boheme, Giacomo Puccini
"Harlem Strut," James P. Johnson

Chapter 9--Meredith

Black Flag meets Brahms
Liszt, Chopin, Schoenberg

Chapter 10--After

Intermezzos, Brahms

Chapter 11--Cemetery

"Planet Claire," B-52s
Etudes, Debussy
**Something Las Vegas-ey--Fat Elvis, Sinatra, Dino

Chapter 12--Jeremy

This scene takes place at the Atomic Café, w/its legendary jukebox.

"See No Evil," Tom Verlaine
"Going Going Gone," Richard Hell and the Voidoids
"Cosmic Shiva" Nina Hagen standing in for Lola Lola "Lost Boys Love Dead Girls."

Chapter 13--Helms

Getting into the coke era. A photo shoot at the old bakery.

"Heart of Glass," Blondie
Plus Aerosmith (it's what you listen to when you're smoking sherms with your dangerous psycho brother in Bakersfield, where Josie's from and has been trying to escape ever since).

Chapter 14--Dining Car

**Some kind of restaurant music, classical, elegant and dull. 101 Strings Plays the King and I.

Chapter 15--Tour

Pierrot Lunaire, Arthur Schoenberg
Strand of ranchero music
Strand of Bakersfield sound--Buck Owens
**Nirvana, "Rape Me"

Chapter 16--Stripped

"Sweet Georgia Brown," Ethel Waters
Velvet Underground, Lou Reed, Nico
To Sir With Love, Soundtrack

Chapter 17--Meredith's Room

Songs of Schumann played by Vladimir Horowitz

Chapter 18--Goodwill

**Something cheesy and '50s for Jayne Mansfield to be beheaded to.
**something very Bondian, like "Goldfinger."
**Isaac Hayes--"Shaft"
**Brahms 2nd Piano Concerto. The mother's debut piece at Carnegie Hall. A monster.

Chapter 19--Topanga Shoot

**Nico singing "Chelsea Girls"
"La Bamba," Richie Valens

Chapter 20--Sweden

**Hole, "Pound of Flesh"
"Big Butter and Egg Man," Louis Armstrong and the Hot Five
"Just a Gigolo," Bing Crosby
**Hole, "Teenage Whore"
**Placebo "Meds."
"Number One," Blondie
Intermezzo, 118 Brahms

Chapter 21--Sunset Plaza

**A student film shoot, in the 'perfect sixties' house. Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass.
AC/DC (Bakersfield)

Chapter 22--Nick

La Boheme, Puccini
"Holiday in Cambodia," Dead Kennedys
"No God," Germs
Elegy for Tchaikovsky, Rimsky-Korsakov
Something like "Watching the Detectives" Elvis Costello

Chapter 23--Stalked

Back at the Lotus Room

**Something 1963 and cheeseball like "Where the Boys Are" Connie Francis.
**Something Mozart.
"All Shook Up," Elvis Presley

Chapter 24--Lotus Room

**More cheeseball Lotus Room music
2nd Piano Concerto, Johannes Brahms, Philadelphia orchestra, Rudolph Serkin, piano

Chapter 25--Los Feliz

**Something like "La Mer" played on a music box

Chapter 26--Pen

The Children's Album, Debussy

Chapter 27--Phone

Symphony Nr. 8 B Minor "Unfinished," Schubert
Piano Quintet in F#m, Brahms

Chapter 28--Photo

**Something Viennese Waltz-ey--"Tales of Vienna Woods"
**Something French and sixties like Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourough.

Chapter 29--Paris

Something from the French piano repertoire--Ravel, Messian, Saint-Saens.

Chapter 30--Drown

Piano Concerto in G Minor, Dvorak
Chamber Concerto, Berg
Je T'aime, Edith Piaf
**Fiona Apple "Criminal."

Chapter 31--Sofia

**Nico "Fairest of the Seasons."

Chapter 32--Soul

**Schoenberg's Pierrot Lunaire

Chapter 33--Drive

"I Fall to Pieces," Patsy Cline
"Mack the Knife," Frank Sinatra
"Walk on the Wild Side," Lou Reed
"Folsom Prison Blues," Johnny Cash

Chapter 34--Paradise

**Nico "The End"

Chapter 35--Room 12

Reprise "Just a Gigolo"
**Nirvana, "Heart Shaped Box."

Chapter 36--Rock

"Tricks Ain't Walking," Lucille Bogan
**Nico "These Days" 'These Days' was one of the early titles of the book.

Janet Fitch and Paint It Black links:

the author's website
the author's Amazon blog
the author's MySpace age
the author's Wikipedia entry
the author's page at her publisher

an excerpt from the book

Bookreporter review
Los Angeles Times review
Mostly Fiction review
Radar review
San Diego Union-Tribune review
SF Station review
Washington Post review

BookPage interview with the author
LAist interview with the author
Page 99 test for Paint It Black

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
directors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)


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