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April 8, 2009

Book Notes - S.G. Browne ("Breathers: A Zombie's Lament")

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

Zombie novels are seemingly everywhere these days, but S.G. Browne's Breathers: A Zombie's Lament stands out. This first-person tale of living (and loving) as a member of the undead is a hilarious and surprisingly moving black comedy.

While reading the book I couldn't help but think it would make a blockbuster movie, then I read that Fox Searchlight has bought the film rights. The film adaptation will be directed by Diablo Cody (Juno).

In his own words, here is S. G. Browne's Book Notes essay for his novel, Breathers: A Zombie's Lament:

Although I often imagine a soundtrack to my own life (my personal theme song that plays whenever I enter a room full of strangers is “Bullwinkle Part II” by The Centurions), I can’t really say I imagined a soundtrack when I wrote Breathers. However, music inevitably ended up playing a minor role in the novel – either by making a cameo or by influencing my overall frame of mind.

That said, I can’t write while listening to any music other than classical or surf music. Preferably Mozart or Dick Dale. Beethoven and Tchaikovsky get me too worked up and anything with lyrics just confuses me. But if I were to listen to any bands for inspiration while writing, I would definitely have Green Day, Sublime, Morphine, and The Pixies on my playlist. And just so we’re clear, I’m Beatles as opposed to Stones, though I think The Who should be included in the conversation.

“Jingle Bells” by Sammy Davis, Jr. / “Auld Lang Syne” by Dean Martin

Typically, you don’t tend to find a lot of Christmas music in zombie novels, but the book starts out with Andy Warner, the protagonist zombie, waking up in his parents’ kitchen in a pool of something sticky. Although it’s not initially what you might think, it is the holiday season and having the festive music playing in the background provides a nice juxtaposition to Andy’s eventual discovery. Plus it added an aural quality that I felt made the opening scene more complete.

“Rotting” by Green Day

The opening line to this Green Day tune is “I’m rotting inside, my flesh turns to dust.” How can that not be inspirational? While the song itself never appears in the book, the opening sentiment forms the last five syllables of the first of Andy’s zombie haiku while he’s hiding in a dumpster from a gang of drunk fraternity boys:

shattered life dangles
a severed voice screams in grief
i’m rotting inside

“Magic Bus” by The Who

In Chapter 19, Andy is riding in a car with Ray, Jerry, and Tom to help retrieve Tom’s right arm, which was stolen as part of a fraternity pledge initiation. On the way, “Magic Bus” plays on the radio. The song was chosen for two reasons. One, I always thought the song was a great road trip tune. And two, the title is a bit of foreshadowing of the “magic” that Andy is about to experience. Plus, like the holiday songs in Chapter 1, it gives the scene more sensory input.

“Magic Carpet Ride” by Steppenwolf

As Jerry, Andy, and Tom flee the fraternity in Ray’s Chevy Lumina after the somewhat failed attempt to retrieve Tom’s arm, the interior of the car is filled with the funky sixties beat of Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride.” The tune and lyrics make for a great getaway song, but more than that, it’s relevant because Andy experiences something rather “magical” during their escape. Call it a moment of awakening.

“Basket Case” by Green Day

Another instance where the song doesn’t actually get any screen time but was definitely influential. Not only do the lyrics describe neurosis and paranoia and psychiatric help, all of which any card-carrying zombie can relate to, but the line “Sometimes I give myself the creeps” is the opening for Chapter 21, in which Andy explains how he often wakes up in the middle of the night wondering what that smell is until he remembers that he’s an animated, decomposing corpse.

“All Of Me” by Billie Holiday

Technically, I never mention this song by name as Andy and Rita enjoy a candlelight dinner together while listening to Billie Holiday, but considering what they’re eating, this jazz favorite is the perfect musical complement to their meal.

“Dead Man’s Party” by Oingo Boingo

This is the song that’s blasting from the stereo speakers at the beginning of Chapter 43 when Andy and Rita arrive at Jerry’s for a dinner party. I purposely chose this song for the fact that it is the opposite of discreet, which Jerry is definitely not. I won’t describe exactly what’s on the menu, but let’s just say you probably want to stay away from the finger food.

“Where Is My Mind?” by The Pixies

Nowhere in Breathers is this song mentioned, but the repetitive opening chord and the steady drum beat and Black Francis’s yowling vocals always puts me in the frame of mind to live in Andy’s world. Plus it’s the song that plays over the end credits of Fight Club, which is one of my favorite movies. I even pitched Breathers as “Fight Club meets Shaun of the Dead, only with zombies as the good guys.”

“Re: Your Brains” by Jonathan Coulton

I didn’t discover this song until after Breathers was already on the shelves, so it’s kind of a retroactive addition to the list, but the lyrics are spot-on as far as dark humor is concerned. Yet one more example of zombies being presented as sentient creatures rather than mindless monsters. I have it linked to play on both of my web sites, as well as on my MySpace profile. It’s the perfect zombie song for Breathers.

S. G. Browne and Breathers: A Zombie's Lament links:

the author's website
the book's website
excerpt from the book (chapter 1)
video trailer for the book

Bookmarks review
Dark Scribe review
Edmond Manning review
io9 review
Scott William Foley review
Washington Post review

Facebook group for the author
Fangoria profile of the author
In Bed With Books interview with the author
Niteblade interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Previous Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Online "Best Books of 2008" Lists
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Why Obama (musicians and authors explain their support of the Democratic presidential candidate's campaign)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks (2009 Edition)
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)

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