February 19, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jon Fink's novel Further Adventures reminded me of James Morrow's Shambling Towards Hiroshima. Where Morrow brings to life the horror movie industry of the 50's, Fink does the same with Depression-era radio, but goes even further (no pun intended). The stories of Ray Green's days as a young, anonymous star of a superhero radio serial are deftly intertwined with the elderly Green's quixotic adventures.
The Chicago Tribune wrote of the book:
"Fink not only faithfully recreates the old world of radio serials, but also brings his nave main character into the morally ambiguous 1980s and gives him a sad, stubborn dignity"
To depart slightly from the LHB tradition, what follows is a playlist made up of the mood music that accompanied the writing (1987 – 89), and a dozen years later, the rewriting of Further Adventures.
Frank Zappa & The Mothers Of Invention - "Trouble Every Day" from Freak Out!
No way to delay/got trouble comin' every day
If Ray Green has a motto, it must be that refrain. He is a modern day Quixote, a romantic idealist who thinks he's no more than a moral man of action. Frank Zappa may have been writing in 1966 about American society's moral degeneration, but the landscape he describes, the "riots in the streets" and so on, is one that Ray Green sees when he stares out his kitchen window. More than that, Ray's feelings about it are pretty much the same as Frank's, with one difference: where Zappa's mock-and-roll satirizes, scolds, bounces and grinds to a blues beat, Ray Green rolls up his safari suit sleeves and hurls himself into the fray. The fray generally beats him.
This collection of songs sung by actors and others whose talent is not chiefly musical, has been a comedy standby in my library for something like thirty years. Apart from the laugh miles one can ride on the earaching interpretations of pop, rock and country tunes by the likes of Sebastian Cabot ("It Ain't Me Babe", "Like A Rolling Stone"), Jack Webb ("Try a Little Tenderness") and, famously, William Shatner ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds"), a subtler pleasure is on offer here: the poignancy of witnessing human frailty. Yes, vanity in the preponderance of cases, and what probably seemed like shrewd marketing and diversification at the time, but what rushes into the foreground for me when I listen to, for instance, Mel Tormé's rendition of "Sunshine Superman" (Vol. 2, Track 2) or 60s game show host Wink Martindale warbling "Peace in the Valley" (Vol. 3, Track 16), is the utter absence of anything like irony. The square who thinks he's a hepcat, the tinpot dictator who believes he's a god. Ray Green's frailty is a sweeter echo of theirs, a man who doesn't know when he has dogpaddled out of his depth.
I have to credit my dear friend Steve Bartek for bringing the music of J. & D. Edwards into my orbit. The LP that clued us in to their genius was Jonathan and Darlene Edwards in Paris. The first time we gave the disc a spin on our Victrola, Steve and I pushed through tears of laughter and threat of nausea to listen to "The Last Time I Saw Paris" three times in a row. This track is a masterpiece of comic timing, inflection and pitch. "Jonathan Edwards" (band leader Paul Weston) and his wife "Darlene" (jazz singer Jo Stafford) won the first comedy Grammy with this LP in 1961, and they continued to put out records through the 1970s. Their gentle but musically tart comedy comes very close to the comedy of incompetence personified by Ray Green. Listening to the Edwards' music while I worked on the Ray Green book (now, books: The Return of the Green Ray, the sequel to FA, will be published in October 2011) kept me in mind of the character of the comedy that I hoped would be the most natural element in the writing.
T-Model Ford - "To The Left To The Right" from the album You Better Keep Still
Strangely, this hard-bitten, Southern, septuagenarian roadhouse Delta Blues singer evokes for me the American atmosphere of the world Ray Green inhabits. I have lived in the UK since 1978 and have absorbed a good deal of British culture, high and low. Blues (and I favor country blues) by artists past and present keeps a connection alive with home. T-Model Ford is a one of the most vivid and least pretentious of this crew. The relentless emotional beat — guitar and drum — of this track in particular drives home the potent authenticity of the male equation of sex and loyalty.
Jon Fink and Further Adventures links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
52 Books, 52 Weeks (weekly book reviews)
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (highlights of the week's comics & graphic novel releases)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (highlights of the week's book releases)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from this week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists
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