June 22, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Have you ever wondered what happened to characters in fiction after you finished the book? Eric Rauchway did, and made Tom Buchanan, husband of The Great Gatsby's Daisy, the protagonist of Banana Republican.
Rauchway brings a historian's eye (he has published several well-received history books) to this rollicking comic novel set in mid-1920's Nicaragua, as the country prepares for its first free election and foreign interests are looking to profit.
Library Journal wrote of the book:
"This first fictional work from Rauchway (history, Univ. of California, Davis; Blessed Among Nations) is a comic picaresque novel of the type made popular by George Fraser in his Flashman novels. But in place of mid-19th-century Europe, we have 1924 Nicaragua, and instead of Harry Flashman, we have English poseur Tom Buchanan, formerly of Yale varsity football and 100 percent bluster."
In Banana Republican, Tom Buchanan goes on the lam from his family and police, heading to Nicaragua in the middle 1920s to manufacture a small revolution -- not too much; wouldn't want to be showy, mind you -- just enough to pay off nicely and set himself up as independent from his domineering relations who control the purse strings. Entirely unlike me, Tom is not at all a nice person. So picking music to represent the book poses a challenge -- for which of us should I choose tunes? I decided to try a bit of both.
Lyle Lovett, "Creeps Like Me"
The voice of a villain can make itself easily at home in your ear, especially when he tells you there's nothing so ordinary as evil. In this pleasant little song, Lovett's narrator matter-of-factly relates his crimes and chides us, "you look surprised / you shouldn't be / the world is full of creeps like me." The trick here is to give Satan his say without moralizing either for or against him. Which is why I didn't want the Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" rolling on my iPod while I was writing -- it's too much on one side.
Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians, "Managua, Nicaragua"
There's a version of this song that was performed on Abbott and Costello's radio program with funnier lyrics than the Lombardo version, lyrics more appropriate to Tom Buchanan -- as I recall them they ran, "Managua Nicaragua is a town you'll adore / You buy a big sombrero at the neighborhood store / The girls they'll all follow you like in a parade / Just - because they want to walk in the shade!" Tom attracts beautiful and sometimes good women, though not always or even often for good reasons.
Also, honestly, it's the only song I know of that has anything to do with Nicaragua apart from The Clash's "Washington Bullets," which is too earnest for my purposes. Though indeed there's something to the Clash's point, there, that the kind of thing Tom got up to in Nicaragua in the 1920s was the kind of thing William Walker got up to in the 1850s, US dollar diplomats tried in the 1910s, and in fact North Americans have forever been trying whenever they wanted to make an opportunity south of the border. The interesting thing about Tom's era is, it's on the cusp between an earlier time of somewhat less murderous ventures, when there could be a kind of Gilbert & Sullivan quality to a coup such as the Roosevelt-sponsored takeover of Panama, and the modern age of machine guns and airplanes, when death became far too common and casual.
Bobby Short, "I Happen to Like New York"
The idea for this book came to me and developed itself fully while traversing some midtown bars and restaurants. And I always liked the idea of New York as the perfect afterlife -- "don't want to go to Heaven, I don't want to go to Hell -- I happen to like New York." But also, New York represents the high life Tom would like to get back to, by profiting off his Nicaraguan adventure. Though I don't think he's going to get back anytime soon.
The Housemartins, "We're Not Deep"
Speaking of ideas: there is, as I say, an idea behind this book, and it's a reasonably serious idea, to do with the American Dream and what it takes to get it, and it's wrapped up in some real history about US involvement with Latin America and, by extension, other poor countries. But also, this is by intention a fun book, with bad guys and worse guys (not so many good guys, I'm afraid, though I'm using the gender-neutral version of "guys" here) and intrigue and shooting and other deeds of daring. So, as the Housemartins say, not deep. Also, the Housemartins generally provide good bouncy pop to inspire writing.
Creedence Clearwater Revival, "Run Through the Jungle"
An appropriately atmospheric tune for a story about Americans in places they shouldn't be doing things they oughtn't and trying to avoid being held to account for it. A nearly timeless theme, really.
Tom Lehrer, "Send the Marines"
Tom Buchanan's an entrepreneur overseas, working on his own behalf, but when people like Tom make a sufficiently big enough mess -- and they always eventually do -- well, as Tom Lehrer asks, "What do we do? We send the Marines! / For might makes right, / And till they've seen the light, / They've got to be protected, / All their rights respected, / 'Till somebody we like can be elected."
Eric Rauchway and Banana Republican: From the Buchanan File 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 (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
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 the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists
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