May 27, 2008
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that is in some way relevant to their recently published books.
In The Safety of Secrets, DeLauné Michel deftly explores the bonds of both friendship and love as two childhood friends' professional and personal lives take different directions, as well as the effects of the secrets we choose to keep. Of all the books I have read this year, The Safety of Secrets manages to give true
insight into what friendship really is.
Of the book, Booklist wrote:
"Michel is deeply attuned to the subtleties in women’s friendships, the little nuances that indicate a slight or an attempt at making up for one, and she pays tribute to them with this layered, fluid novel."
The Safety of Secrets takes place in Los Angeles of 2004, with flashbacks to Lake Charles, Louisiana, in the late ‘70’s when the main characters, Fiona and Patricia, were growing up. It was almost impossible for me to be young in the ‘70’s and not want to end up in Hollywood. Everything coming out of there then was innocent, yet brutal, like some perfect inner mirror of childhood. On the radio was Burt Bacharach and in the air were conversations about key parties. I still remember the names of the marriages that broke up from a spate of those in Baton Rouge, and I was only 6 when I heard my parents talking about it. It was a weird, disturbing time. But some of the music still had a connection to the 50’s, like the songs had manners, but underneath was a lot of sex. And if that doesn’t describe the South, I don’t know what does.
Why Can’t I Be You? - The Cure or Fascination – Human League
Either of those songs blaring works perfectly for my opening scene at Fred 62 on Vermont Avenue in Los Feliz in LA. My main character, Fiona, pops in to take a pregnancy test in their bathroom, feeling much more illicit than if she were going in there to shoot up. It is 3 in the afternoon, and the place is dead except for one guy who clearly just woke up. I was never into eighties music that much. Okay, yes, I danced to it when I started going to bars in Baton Rouge when I was fifteen, and never got carded because everyone always thought I was twenty-eight, which really is rather odd for them to all, but separately, pick that particular age to think I was. Unless I really looked thirty and they were all just trying to be nice.
I’ll Never Fall in Love Again – Burt Bacharach
Fiona’s best friend Patricia lives in a 1970’s house off of Mulholland. A 1940’s Rudolf Schindler house had been knocked down to build it for a sit-com star. A coffee table art book of Schindler’s work came with the house, as if the best thing that could happen to a house was to be demolished and only live on as a pristine photograph from the past, like an actress in that town over forty. Whenever Fiona walks into the house, she imagines a Burt Bacharach soundtrack playing which isn’t such a bad thing.
Alive – Pearl Jam
Okay, so if you haven’t already figured it out, Fiona and Patricia are – surprise! – actresses. Though Patricia has “changed course” and is the hostess/judge on America’s top reality show, “Sports Giant” where ordinary people compete in extreme sports. How is a show like that not on TV yet? Anyway, Patricia is dating Zane, a snowboarder-turned-film star. As total background for myself, I modeled Zane’s snowboarding days after Mike Ranquet. I was friends with his sister, and used to see him at her apartment when he was in town. One night, he told us about a time that as he said goodbye to his friend Eddie Vedder, he surreptitiously wrote “I LOVE PEARL JAM!” with his finger in the dirt on the back of Eddie’s black SUV. Eddie Vedder drove around Seattle getting dirty looks from people for days until he finally figured out what was on his car. Okay, a totally moronic story, but it still makes me laugh. And I actually do love Pearl Jam, by the way.
A Taste of Honey from Whipped Cream & Other Delights by Herb Albert & the Tijuana Brass
Yes, another ‘70’s song. Okay, not really ‘70’s, this was recorded in 1965. But have you ever been to South Louisiana? I’m from there and love it, but all cultural references are a good 10-15 years off. At least they were before the internet allowed everyone to catch up. This is exactly what Fiona’s parents would have on the hi-fi. And the album cover with Dolores whoever covered in whipped cream is beyond fascinating to any child, any age, any gender.
Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head – Burt Bacharach, sung by B J Thomas
Burt again. I love Burt. Though I think I am legally bound to use the word “babe” in that sentence. When I was around 8 years old, my cousin and I rode our bikes to the beauty parlor for me to get a haircut. I loved going to the beauty parlor. Loved getting the cokes out of the machine for ten cents and how the fizz would always go right up my nose with the first sip, and it was harsh like I imagined a cigarette would be, but also sweet when the coke went down. So, this one time, a new girl cut my hair, then she combed it out so it was all fluffy – hello, I have curly hair – and then sprayed it to death with Adorn. My cousin was on the floor laughing. I was not. As we were riding home, a downpour suddenly opened up, so we went under the porch of some strangers’ house, and were watching all that water, and I thought, why wait until I get home? I had shampoo I’d had to get for Momma, so I washed my hair on the porch. Then the old lady - of course, it was an old lady – who lived there came out and brought me a towel, and totally acted like it was the most normal thing, God bless her. So that was the inspiration for a scene in the book that ended up being a huge turning point because Fiona gets her long hair chopped off, then has to endure the bizarre punishment her mother thinks up, and the whole thing sets up Fiona for what eventually happens.
Much Ado About Nothing – Film Score
This one was pretty easy because it’s the processional song for Patricia’s pseudo-wedding celebration that she and Zane have at the Bel Air hotel to “re-officiafy what they already made official in Vegas – the Big M,” as Zane’s friend who conducts the non-ceremony says. And who else but the star of the hottest reality show would have the balls (or the….) to use this as their nuptial song? The inspiration for this came from a real source, and sometimes you just don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
Call Me the Breeze – Lynyrd Skynyrd
So after my friends and I would close the bars in Baton Rouge at 2 AM when I was 15, we’d drive outside the parish lines to a bar on River Road called The Country Place, and it was pretty much as bad as it sounds. There was a guy always there that we called Devil Man because he only wore full black leather – hello, this was South Louisiana – and he was constantly going into the girls’ bathroom to get flavored condoms out of the machine in there. He got so many, and never left with anyone, that we figured he had to be doing voodoo with them. Somewhere, some poor man was in a helluva lot of pain. Lynyrd Skynyrd was usually on the juke box, and periodically the pool tables wouldn’t have any cues because they had all been used in a fight. A lovely place all in all. Anyway, there is a character from Fiona’s past who reappears, and while he is not Devil Man, he definitely would have been comfortable drinking with him at The Country Place.
f*ck the Pain Away – Peaches
I could not set this book in LA without Fiona getting stuck on the freeway. More specifically, having a panic attack while being stuck on the 10 freeway just east of the 405. When that used to happen to me - the getting stuck part, not the panic attacks, though God knows, I had a few of those but usually on Pico for some odd reason that I never understood – I would try to get through it by finding something on the radio. Why I wouldn’t immediately just throw in a cd, I have no idea. I think I figured if I found something good, then there must be some all-is-right-in-the-world, flowing-through-the-airwaves thing going on, and everything would be okay, and the goddamn cars ahead of me actually would move. But that rarely happened. This song would have been on the radio. And it would have been on KROC.
Swing Low, Sweet Chariot
Chekhov said that in theater if you show a gun in the first act, you have to fire it in the third, so I figure showing a pregnancy test in the first chapter means (for this novel, at least) that a baby will appear in the last. And being Southern, that means that Swing Low, Sweet Chariot will be sung. My Momma sang this to me every night when I was a child, and now I sing it to my sons. Of course, back then, I thought that the line: “I looked over Jordan, and what did I see…” was “I looked over Georgia and what did I see…” which made sense to me. I just didn’t understand why it wasn’t about Louisiana. Wasn’t everything? For me, back then, it was.
The I-10 Freeway goes through South Louisiana, and if you jump on it and head west, it’ll take you all the way to LA. That freeway, and this music, are a line that will always connect these places and times for me. Sometimes, I wish I could get back on.
DeLauné Michel and The Safety of Secrets links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
directors and actors discuss their film's soundtracks
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2007 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2006 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2005 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2004 Edition)