July 29, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Peter Murphy's debut novel John the Revelator is filled with lyrical prose, dark humor, and a remarkable degree of humanity. This coming of age story is the most engaging and adventurous debut novel I have read all year.
The Guardian wrote of the book:
"An Irish music writer, Peter Murphy casts his debut novel like a blues noir, steeped in the music that has clearly inspired him. From the title, Blind Willie Johnson's 1930 gospel call and response, he follows the path of Nick Cave's 1985 Delta descent The Firstborn is Dead, with its shades of William Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor and Harry Crews. But this spook-filled Irish landscape, rendered with gouts of blood-red humour, is entirely his own."
'John the Revelator' – Blind Willie Johnson
Obvious choice but an extraordinary piece of music. His voice. Her voice. Those words. It sounds prehistoric. Many people have recorded this gospel tune (Son House, White Stripes, Frank Black), but I'd really love to hear Neil & Crazy Horse take a crack at it. Speaking of…
Dead Man Soundtrack – Neil Young
Mythic, epic, haunting and strange. Whenever I thought the book's parameters were closing in, I'd play this to try and expand the frontiers once more.
Passio – Arvo Part
For the same reason. Turns your kitchen into a cathedral.
'Holes' – Mercury Rev
More than any other album, Deserter's Songs evokes the landscape of where I grew up in the southeast of Ireland, which provides the book's psycho-geographical setting. I suppose it's a record about memory and healing and returning to the spawning grounds. The ache in this song is beyond description.
'The Dead Flag Blues' – Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Obsessive pre-millennial listening to Godspeed directly inspired the earliest surviving scene in J the R, the apocalypse vision on page 142.
'A Thing Called Love' – Johnny Cash
For Gunter Prunty, a beast of a man laid low by a slip of a girl: "He's the kind of guy who would gamble on luck/Look you in the eye and never back up/But I saw him cryin' like a little whipped pup/Because of love…"
'Neighbourhood 3 (Power Out)' – Arcade Fire
Feral children run amok in a snowbound world without parents. This was somewhere in the back of my mind when I was writing the scene in which a panicked John searches for Lily in the frozen topography of the bog.
'Lake Of Fire' – Meat Puppets
Like most people, I first heard this tune on Nirvana's Unplugged set, but the original is even more tormented. Partially inspired Guard Canavan's scare-the-children speech on page 11.
'Tunic (Song For Karen)' – Sonic Youth
I played this a lot to conjure a muggy, claustrophobic, intoxicated atmosphere for the section where John and Jamey get bombed on whiskey before breaking into the church. Something about the white heat of those detuned and distorted guitars.
'Gloria' – Patti Smith/'Welcome To My Nightmare' – Alice Cooper
Early drafts of the book began with the desecration scene. The first line of that section, "Jesus don't show me your nightmare, I'll show you mine," was a brazen amalgamation Patti and Alice, with a wee bit of Beckett thrown in for good measure.
'Jumpin' Jack Flash' – The Rolling Stones
I'm obsessed with first lines. The opening of J the R ("I was a born in a storm") was an unconscious (I swear) swab from the above, crossed with Nick & the Bad Seeds' 'Tupelo.'
The Sounds of John the Revelator – The Revelator Orchestra
Shortly before J the R was published in the UK and Ireland, I began recording sections from the book with an old friend, who then set them to music culled from his library of pieces by local musicians. The result was an album-length adaptation, 18 tracks, 45 minutes. One of the folks at Faber described it as a cross between Trail of Dead and Peter & the Wolf. Check it out: www.myspace.com/therevelatororchestra
Peter Murphy and John the Revelator links:
Dovegreyreader Scribbles review
Irish Independent review
Irish Tribune review
The List review
Publishers Weekly review
RN Book Show review
Wynne's World of Books review
3:AM interview with the author
Atomic Umbrella interview with the author
Culture Northern Ireland profile of the author
Irish Independent profile of the author
The Irish Times profile of the author
Verbal interview with the author
also at Largehearted Boy: