July 17, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Gary Indiana's The Shanghai Gesture puts Fu Manchu into a comedic, satirical, and ultimately fun novel, yet another amazing book from the folks at Two Dollar Radio. Indiana's prose is always a joy to read, and with The Shanghai Express his sense of the absurd, clever wordplay and humor are all in full force.
The Washington Post wrote of the book:
"Throughout, the novel is slightly hallucinatory and slightly science fictional, half William Burroughs, half William Gibson. "
I had a lot of music running in my head when I was writing The Shanghai Gesture, some of it just in fragmentary snatches. Certain voices can somehow inhabit you when you're writing a novel, aside from the narrative voice and the voices of characters: they seem to be in the mix somehow, even demanding citation in the text. I forget exactly where in the book Dr. Petrie hears a blast of Ethel Merman bellowing "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries," but it's at some juncture when nothing could be further from the truth. There's also a passage from a song someone sings in Daniel Schmid's film La Paloma, the province of which I've forgotten—"You came along/from out of nowhere/You took my heart/and found it free/Wonderful dreams, wonderful schemes from nowhere" etc. La Paloma is a kind of pastiche of von Sternberg's The Shanghai Gesture, opening in a casino where the protagonist imagines a whole movie-length romance with a singer, La Paloma, played by Ingrid Caven; Caven's voice singing "Shanghai" haunted a lot of the hours when I wrote this book.
Here, on the other hand, is a playlist of some other songs I either heard in my head or played a lot:
"Pirate Jenny" (Brecht/Weill) as sung by Marianne Faithfull; because we all dream about rescue from "this dirty shit hotel" of the modern world by avenging pirates, and would love to answer, when asked which of our oppressors should be killed, "All of them."
"The Great Pretender" by The Platters. Everybody in my novel is pretending to be something they're not, especially Weymouth Smith, who represents the "civilization" of the West, and is, io ipso, a homicidal maniac.
"Living With the Animals," by Mother Earth, a seldom-heard anthem about how hard it is to stand up for yourself in a society of venality and soul murder.
"Gasoline" by Sheryl Crow, an apocalyptic song that paints a scenario of populist revolt against the powers that be, a demand for liberation.
"I'll Keep It With Mine" (Dylan). The Nico cover on the CD of Chelsea Girl. A haunted rendition of a fabulous song about offering comfort, reassurance that some people, at least, are clean-hearted and compassionate.
"Diamond Dogs," by David Bowie. The evocation of a greasily carnivalesque future-present.
"Little Miss Queen of Darkness", The Kinks: apropos several female figures in The Shanghai Gesture, especially Mother Gin-Sling.
Gary Indiana and The Shanghai Gesture links:
also at Largehearted Boy: