August 5, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Colin Cotterill's latest book, The Merry Misogynist once again features Dr. Siri Paiboun, the last coroner in Laos. A mystery at its heart, The Merry Misogynist combines memorable, well-drawn characters, a dose of magical realism, and surprising wit with its murder plot.
Different? You want different? Then you've come to the right place. Hows about this to kick off my playlist?
"Ruk Pee Jong Nee Por (If You Love Me You'll Leave Your Father)" by Wyphot Petsawan
Of course Laos had its own singers in 1978 but recording contracts were as hard to come by as cold beer under the new communist regime. Anyone with any talent would have floated across the Mekhong to Thailand long ago. So, the Lao, my protagonist, Dr. Siri Paiboun included, would have been listening to Thai radio stations on their illegally tuned transistors. Either that or they'd be playing bootleg Thai cassette versions of …
Dtao Bandan singing Kon Kee Lang Kwai (The Buffalo Back Rider) or any 'Molum' country music they could find recorded in their own dialect by singers from Thailand's northeast. Siri had a serious penchant for country music. Finding himself incarcerated at one stage he kept himself sane by making up the lyrics to a country song entitled, "My Mother Sold the Buffalo and Bought a Rocket Launcher." Such is the mind of our 74-year-old coroner. But on moody nights he would have been sitting with his best friend Civilai, sipping rice whisky and listening to the dulcet tones of...
Angkanong Koonchai in her recording of "(Esarn Lum Pleung) The Northeastern Boogie"
Meanwhile, on the bottom shelf of the lines of latitude, Dr. Siri's creator, a.k.a me, was teaching primary school in Melbourne. I'd left my home in England and fled to the far side of the planet. It was as far as I could go without falling off. In many ways, Australia was very English, until it came to music. In those days, the Grade 6 Club was getting down to…
"Staying Alive" by the Bee Gees
You couldn't walk down Flinders Street without tripping over a Bee Gee in 1976. They seemed to bring out a record a month. I remember it was a very dance-oriented year. Donna Summer had progressed from faking orgasms on her records and our kids usually ended their discos, predictably, with "Last Dance." My own 'continuous play' single for that year was George Benson's "On Broadway." By December it was just a long strip of vinyl licorice. Australia must have been one of the last Alzheimer-free years in my life 'cause I just Googled the Billboard 100 for 78 and I can still sing the first few lines of every one of them. Perhaps that explains why I can't remember anything today – clogged up with pop songs and TV jingles from the seventies.
In 1991 I went to work in Laos. With regard to Western music and culture it was like stepping into a large lead coffin. I checked Billboard for that year, too. Perched in the top three for 1991 I found "I Wanna Sex You Up" by Color Me Badd and "Gonna Make You Sweat" by C + C Music Factory (In the top three? There is a lot to be said for lead coffins). My favourite album during my four years in Laos was…
Mai Charoenpura's Seea Jai, Dyin Mai? (I'm Sorry. You Hear Me?)
Every time I took the ferry across to Thailand I bought a new cassette: the same one each time. The Lao really liked it, you see? So, whenever I had students and teachers over at my place, I invariably ended up with a cassette case with no Mai Charoenpura inside. Not theft, just a kleptomaniacal love of music.
The entire first month of my stay in Laos was spent in Vientiane Hospital recovering from hepatitis. It was then, and subsequently when I moved into an apartment above the hospital, that I began to hang out with the laid back medical staff and where Dr. Siri was born. Except he was probably dead by then. Or, if he'd survived till 1991, he would have been 88. Fiction can be a bugger, can't it? Born in the literary, rather than literal sense, in 1904, to a Hmong shaman father in the south of Laos, trained as a novice monk, lucking into a scholarship to study in France. Siri arrived in Paris in 1924. There he was met by…
Maurice Chevalier singing "Valentine"
and, when romance came his way in the shape of a sweet Lao nursing student, serenaded by Edith Piaf's "L'étranger." And, after fifteen years, Siri was still a foreigner in Europe, never really accepted by the locals. So he and his wife, Boua, now members of the French Communist Party, returned to Laos to begin a thirty-year jungle-based insurgency against the royalists and colonial bullies.
In book six of the series, The Merry Misogynist, widower Siri is still working as the state coroner. He has become a disenchanted communist which is unfortunate since his revolution was successful and the Reds now run the country. He has found a new love and a new lust for life and, despite his advanced age, Siri goes off in search of a serial killer of virgin brides. You've gotta love the old fella.
I don't know how it materializes but Siri has jazz in him. I love to have my gang: Sonny, Miles, Bill, Thelonious, Milt, John C, Herbie, Kenny, et al at my back while I'm lost in Laos in a different age. I can't single out one album, one performer as having more of an influence than another. It wouldn't be fair. So I'll just tell you what's playing now, it's
Oscar Peterson Trio, We Get Requests
I've got a five CD player, none of that bottomless iPod, royalty-thieving free stuff for me. My gang worked hard for their art and I want their ancestors to get paid for it. And Oscar knows it. He's got a smile on his face on the album cover as wide as his piano keyboard. I wonder if loving music oozes over into loving your characters when you write. Man, I hope so.
Colin Cotterill and The Merry Misogynist links:
also at Largehearted Boy: