March 11, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Richard Milward's debut novel Apples simply blew me away a couple of years ago with its twisted tale of young love. His second novel, Ten Storey Love Song, is equally impressive. Telling the tale of several Middlesborough apartment complex's occupants in one frantic, perfect-pitched paragraph, the book is as fast-paced as its characters' lives, and Milward has rightfully earned his constant comparisons to Irvine Welsh.
The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:
"Milward's work, fresh and bouncing with chemical-induced energy, has been described by the London Times as the youthful offspring of J.D. Salinger and Arctic Monkeys -- nice idea! Kerouac is another obvious influence, not to mention Irvine Welsh. There's some suggestion too of Joyce Cary's classic "The Horse's Mouth," especially in the heady and unexpected optimism of the writing."
Like a multicoloured parrot perched on my shoulder, music has been a faithful companion throughout my literary life. Not only does my hi-fi hum away merrily whenever I'm writing (although, to be fair, I can only concentrate if it's at volume 1; barely audible even if I had my ears stapled to the speakers), but the blissful blast of a certain piece of music can be endlessly inspiring.
My latest novel, Ten Storey Love Song (itself named after the Stone Roses' sublime 1995 single) wears its musical influences on its sleeve. In a way, the character Bobby the Artist acts as a jukebox of sorts, channeling my own musical tastes through the records he paints to, trips to, and trips over his waterpots to.
I'm very particular about the records I write to. For starters, they have to be at least fifty minutes long (so they serve as a kind of egg-timer, helping me keep track of how long the wrist's been working) and, if possible, it helps if the music reflects the atmosphere of the section I'm going to write. For instance, it's difficult writing about a massacre in a playground to Kool & the Gang's 'Celebration.' Likewise, it's tricky writing a Mills & Boon romp to Slipknot.
Then again, it's all down to taste. To me, The Fall are great for tongue-in-cheek, Kafkaesque calamity; John Coltrane's Ascension is perfect for stream-of-consciousness, and earache; Lou Reed's Metal Machine Music is amazing for concrete prose, and driving your neighbour's dogs wild.
Each of the following records played their part in the construction of Ten Storey Love Song, whether adding to the actual plot, or just making me tap my foot while I'm pondering where to next press my pencil.
1) 'Peach, Plum, Pear' – Joanna Newsom
Ten Storey Love Song is set round a crossroads in Middlesbrough, UK, where three ten-storey tower blocks stand. While the real-life blocks have bland, nondescript names – Milford, Portland and Dartmouth Houses – I blessed them with the pseudonyms Peach, Plum and Pear Houses, in homage to their bright, fruity paintwork, as well as Joanna's harpsichord-heavy track (itself a nod to Janet and Alan Ahlberg's Each Peach Pear Plum).
2) 'I Am the Walrus' – The Beatles
In the novel, Bobby the Artist cites Lennon's barmy, hallucinogenic masterpiece as the song that introduced him to rock and roll. I find The Beatles awe-inspiring, the way they effortlessly combined experimentalism with singalong accessibility, and constantly reinvented themselves in the space of just a few years. Plus they weren't afraid to dance about in animal costumes.
3) 'Industrial Estate' – The Fall
While this song is actually about Manchester, it always makes me think of Middlesbrough. Middlesbrough was built on steel and chemical industries and, while it regularly gets slated for its murky landscape, the industrial structures have such obscure, mouth-watering beauty. I reckon the flaming factories are as romantic as a flowering forest, or a church full of lit candles. And they even churn out their own special cloud formations.
4) 'I Get a Kick out of You' – Frank Sinatra
With a title that conjures up images of violence as well as romance, this old Sinatra standard sums up the sentiments of the novel perfectly. Much of my writing seems to straddle sickness and sweetness. For instance, the forty year-old container driver in the book, Alan Blunt (himself a huge Sinatra fan) fluctuates from needless racist aggression, to cheery, charming companionship throughout Ten Storey Love Song. My characters definitely get a kick out of champagne and cocaine but, ultimately, they realise the biggest kick of all is love.
5) 'Henry Darger' – Mazarin
While Bobby isn't an 'outsider artist' per se, his paintings have the joyous frivolity of a frenzied child, like a cross between Jean-Michel Basquiat and Henry Darger (two of my own favourites). This lovely Mazarin ditty opened my eyes to Darger's 'twisted innocence' – again, there seems to be a sickly-sweetness (or just plain naivety!) at work in his illustrations. After all, the old fellow seemed to think young girls have cocks!
6) 'Dance Magic' – David Bowie
The 1986 Jim Henson film Labyrinth gets a couple of mentions in Ten Storey Love Song. I remember the film – and Bowie in particular – freaking me out as a young lad. I love how kids' films feed so much hypnotic, hallucinogenic imagery to children, like Bowie walking along the upside-down staircases, or the 'big brown mammoth thing' that eventually crops up in one of Bobby the Artist's bad acid trips.
7) 'Lollipop' – DJ Alligator
At the weekends, the nightclubs of Middlesbrough are home to happy hardcore monstrosities like this. In the book, local tearaway Johnnie dances to this song before experiencing the unfortunate laxative effects of Ecstasy. Sadly, it's an event based on my own experiences – though I swear I've never danced to DJ Alligator in my life.
8) 'Metal Machine Music' – Lou Reed
I get a lot of inspiration from 'experimental' freeform music like this. Strangely, a lot of novelists still seem to adhere to certain staid rules laid out by the Victorians, whereas music seems to be a constantly evolving beast. Again, I think good literature should try and twist the conventions of the medium, as well as straddle beauty and beastliness – something which 'Metal Machine Music' does with aplomb.
9) 'Tantric Porno' – Bardo Pond
Arguably the best song title on this list, 'Tantric Porno' makes a cameo appearance on the first page of Ten Storey Love Song, perhaps subliminally bracing the readers for the lashings of filthy sex to come. Incidentally, Ten Storey Love Song was recently nominated for the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Perhaps if I'd shrouded all the rude bits in Big Muff distortion and reverb, like Bardo Pond do, it might not have been in the running for such a prestigious accolade.
10) 'Ten Storey Love Song' – The Stone Roses
Initially, I juggled with a few different titles for the novel, but I kept coming back to this one. In a sense, the whole novel is a love song to my friends in Middlesbrough – a celebration of the folks who introduced me hallucinogens, heavenly hanky-panky, not to mention the Stone Roses themselves. I wanted the book to be a tribute to my friends, as well as a tribute to one of the finest pop songs of the 20th century.
Richard Milward and Ten Storey Love Song links:
3:AM Magazine review
Bookmunch interview with the author
The China Post review
Los Angeles Times review
Publishers Weekly review
San Diego Union-Tribune review
Allen & Unwin essay by the author on writing
3:AM Magazine interview with the author
BBC Tees interview with the author
The List profile of the author
MiNDFOOD interview with the author
Observer profile of the author
Reuters profile of the author
Scotland on Sunday profile of the author
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 (weekly highlights of comics & graphic novels)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly highlights of new books)
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