February 25, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published books.
Michael S.A. Graziano's The Love Song of Monkey is a relatively short book at less than 180 pages, but its heart is huge. A man dying of AIDS is at the center of the story, and when he undergoes an experimental operation to quell the disease (and it surprisingly works better than expected, making him immortal), the novel takes off. In other hands the plot could seem horribly implausible or gimmicky, but Graziano's carefully drawn characters and wonderfully complex theme make the book a joy to read, and afterwards, contemplate.
Let's hear it for classical music, first off because I was listening to a Beethoven symphony when I started to write The Love Song of Monkey. And second because I trained as a composer, and still write music, and in my mind writing a novel and writing a symphony are similar organizational challenges. In both cases, you are trying to create a single gesture, for which the parts fit together into one thought-arc.
With Beethoven in mind (do I have a favorite composer?) here is a playlist…
We start with the opening of Beethoven's Ninth. Not the famous joy of the human spirit that comes later in the piece, but the weird, unsettling, watery uncertainty of the opening, as if Beethoven were writing about AIDS. And it grows more dreadful, and turns into the definite, strong d-minor rhythms of the infernal disease-stomping machine as our hero is strapped down to the steel table in Chapter 6.
Now a more intimate, diabolical music takes over, the Grosse Fuga, cutting and slicing and stomping on our hero's cells and nerves with the angular logic of this string quartet movement, squeezing his mind until…
A most unlikely appearance of the moonlight sonata, first movement. A state of mind that is strange, beautiful, twisted, unearthly, floaty, sad and happy, content, filled with death and life.
Beethoven is one of the few composers with a lively sense of the grotesque. One could have resorted to Berlioz' Symphony Fantastique, or a Prokofiev piano concerto, but Beethoven gives us an even better choice. For the weird twisting as the plot moves, the cheerful march of the villains who lack any recognition that what they are doing is villainous, we are best with the second movement of Beethoven's eighth symphony. Dr. Kack's soul translated into music. Cheerful, mechanistic, twisted, unaware.
The ocean calm, the deep silence of the bottom of the sea, the inner world, meditation. Here we can spend hours, here we can listen to piece after piece, representing the long slow ages.
The third movement of the Ninth symphony. This is oceanic peace.
The second movement of the fourth piano concerto. An alternation of troubling thoughts and calm thoughts, dark thoughts and sad thoughts. A fade of light at the end of another day.
The second movement of the fifth piano concerto with its deep contemplation and its strange, hovering pause at the end, a new consideration, a new idea, and the breaking through of a sparkle of light. Very sacrilegious to listen to the second movement of this concerto, the bridge passage to the third movement, and yet break off before we get to the third movement. But sacrilege is exactly right here. A new, a giddy place of mind, a new direction, a wandering trek through the ocean depths, and what do we see?
We see dolphins. And we hear the trio section of the second movement of the ninth symphony. Strange, sinuous, playful, we know we are in a moment of lightness but will eventually get back to darker, driving rhythms. The secret of this trio section is precisely that it is embedded in a darker landscape, and yet it floats up and plays for a few moments. Hence its similarity to dolphins.
The density and darkness of the Appassionata sonata, first movement.
The sheer wonder at the new colors, new sounds, new universe of the third symphony, first movement. Here was a piece that opened up the vistas of the Romantic era, and we use it to show the opening vistas of the ocean floor and the ocean universe.
Only one piece fits the contours of part 3. We revisit the Ninth symphony.
The start of the fourth movement, in a horrible, clashing, bashing cord, an oceanic volcanic explosion as in the story, lava spewing into the ocean, screeching and rumbling.
Then the confusion, the tumbling from theme to theme, the start-and-stop of the cello recitative, as our hero wonders where he is and where the currents are taking him.
Then the slow realization. The slow dawn of light. The arrival. The calm, quiet, entrance of the theme of joy in the cello. Its repetition, and its soaring changes in temperament, from thoughtful, to playful, to joyous, to, finally, triumphant. And at the very start of the triumph, within two measures, we must do something that again is sacrilege and, therefore, exactly correct. We must let the music fade into a warped, watery gargle, disappearing into darkness, into an end with a thousand possibilities, some good and some bad…
Michael S. A. Graziano and The Love Song of Monkey links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Largehearted Boy Favorite Novels of 2008
Largehearted Boy Favorite Graphic Novels of 2008
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2009 Edition)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2008 Edition)
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