October 21, 2009
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jason Quinn Malott's novel The Evolution of Shadows is an elegantly spare exploration of love, loss, and war.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"While the novel does include its share of wrenching battle scenes, its emotional center comes from more nuanced themes: the friendship between Gray, Jack and Emil; Gray and Jack's addiction to war journalism; the hopelessness of Lian's loveless marriage; Jack's nihilistic attitude after being surrounded by death for so long. This could easily have been a clichéd war diary, but Malott avoids the pitfalls of sentimentality, providing a refreshingly clear-eyed evocation of friendship, love and loss."
In July of 1995, photographer Gray Banick disappeared into the Bosnian war zone, breaking the hearts of three people who loved him. Now, those people, Emil Todorović, Jack MacKenzie, and Lian Zhao, have gathered in Sarajevo to find out what happened to Gray.
The Evolution of Shadows began in 2000 as a two-part short story called "Curse Softly To Me" that I wrote while obsessively listening to The Afghan Whigs song "My Curse" and trying to shed a crush I had on a Korean American girl named Callie. The first part of the story was Gray's version of the break-up with Lian and the second part was Lian's version. After finishing the story and running it through a workshop, I had this feeling there was something more to do. It's almost a writer's cliché, but the characters wouldn't shut up. Something momentous had happened in their lives, and I had to explore that event and its aftermath. It also meant I'd need more songs because I couldn't continue to loop "My Curse" for twelve months and have it be meaningful.
So, I purposefully set out to create a writing soundtrack. My first requirement was that each song had to evoke the right mood – dark, bittersweet, sad, despairing, yearning. Lyrics were secondary. My other requirement was that all the songs be ones that the characters could have listened to between 1991 and 1997. The only exception I made was Placebo's version of the Kate Bush song "Running Up That Hill" because their instrumentation was much more moody than Kate's original (which the characters could have listened to).
Over the years the list changed, and I added the last song to the list just a few months before Unbridled Books decided to publish the novel.
This is the final version and it's available on iTunes.
The Play List (in order, with notes):
"Brother Woodrow/Closing Prayer," The Afghan Whigs
This became the theme song once the story expanded and incorporated the Bosnia storyline. Instrumentals are great writing songs for me because I can slip into the right mood and the images that play out in my mind aren't cluttered by the images evoked by a singer's lyrics.
"See the sunrise over her skin, don't change it.
See the sunrise over her skin, dawn changes everything"
I love those lyrics. The song's images then slip into ominous things like burning spears, poisoned rain, floods of fear, and then the eerie phrase "Death Valley waters." And, suddenly, what should have been a moment of peace and tenderness is deadly and dangerous.
"The Song of Solomon," Kate Bush
"Don't want your bullshit, just want your sexuality. Don't want excuses, write me your poetry in motion. Write it just for me and sign it with a kiss. And I'll do it for you. I'll be the rose of Sharon for you."
A lover's lament; an invitation. There is a long, personal story tied up with this song that both prompted its inclusion in the play list and inspired me to name a character after the real life subject of that long story. A lesson in the lyrics that both Gray and Lian should have followed but didn't.
"Pictures of You," The Cure
With two of the characters in this novel being photographers, photographs play a huge part in the story. So this one seemed obvious, but the lyrics in it that get closest to the characters are these:
"If only I'd thought of the right words
I could have held on to your heart
If only I'd thought of the right words
I wouldn't be breaking apart"
"Ballad In Urgency / Wiser Time," The Black Crowes
On the album Amorica, these songs slide right into each other without a break and, until I went to put my soundtrack together, I hadn't realized they were separate songs. So, I continue to listen to them as one song. These songs were picked almost entirely for their crescendos.
"Let's start this misery, if that's where you want to be." – Ballad in Urgency
"On a good day, well I know it ain't every day, we can part the sea
On a bad day, I know it ain't every day, glory beyond out reach," – Wiser Time
"All I Want Is You," U2
Bono's voice is, I think, buried deep in the subconscious of every member of Gen X who ever listened to rock and roll. A song about how complicated we can make things when, if we are paying attention, there's really only one thing we truly want.
"You say you want your love to work out right,
to last with me through the night
You say you want diamonds and a ring of gold,
your story to remain untold,
your love not to grow cold,
all the promises we break from the cradle to the grave.
When all I want is you."
"Just Like Heaven," The Cure
I've always loved this song but, of course, a number of people can say that. When I first played this writing soundtrack for someone, they smiled and said "I was wondering when you'd put this song on there." Can't hide from the inevitable, I guess.
"Why are you so far away?" she said
"Why won't you ever know that I'm in love with you?
That I'm in love with you?"
"Atmosphere," Joy Division
This is one of the most gorgeous Joy Division songs ever. When you're staring into some dark abyss, wondering why things have collapsed and whether you will survive, as a number of these characters do, who better than Ian Curtis and Joy Division to provide the background music?
"Debonair," The Afghan Whigs
There is something about Greg Dulli's music and lyrics that has me thinking we filter the world through similar lenses of desire and guilt. I'm working on a complete Greg Dulli music library.
"Tonight I go to hell for what I've done to you
This ain't about regret It's when I tell the truth"
"Speeding Up To Slow Down,"Better Than Ezra
Another album I listened to obsessively while writing the book was Friction, Baby by Better than Ezra, but this was the only song that made the official play list.
"My Curse," The Afghan Whigs
"Hurt me, baby, I flinch so when you do."
The song that started it all. Marcy Mays' voice owns this song. I've heard other versions the Whigs performed lived with other women, but none better than this original (and if you can find the live version at the Reading Festival, it'll knock you down like a prize fighter's best punch).
"All ugly thoughts are gone, I'm sure we'll all be friends. I'll try to break your back, you'll try to make amends. Curse softly to me, baby, and smother me in your love. Temptation comes not from hell, but from above."
"Descending," The Black Crowes
"Have mercy, baby, I'm descending again."
Another off Amorica. That opening plea made it a lock for the play list.
"Running Up That Hill," Placebo
A Kate Bush song. The original is excellent, but this version, with its darker, deeper sound and slightly slower tempo fits the mood of the soundtrack and the book so much better. There is also so much to unpack from the lyrics: sex, damage, desire, pain, intimacy.
"You don't want to hurt me, but see how deep the bullet lies. Unaware that I'm tearing you asunder and there's a thunder in our hearts. So much hate for the ones we love, tell me we both matter, don't we?"
Jason Quinn Malott and The Evolution of Shadows links:
A Curious Reader review
Library Journal review
Lit and Life review
Publishers Weekly review
Starting Fresh review
Waging Peace review
Wichita Eagle review
The World of Romance review
also at Largehearted Boy: