August 26, 2010
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Brian DeLeeuw's novel In This Way I Was Saved is a chilling and startlingly original literary debut. DeLeeuw's strong talent for writing dialogue is evident throughout this unnerving and smartly told tale of mental illness and familial bonds.
The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:
"DeLeeuw ably pulls off what seems at first to be a questionable conceit, with echoes of the destructive, delusional protagonists of Chuck Palahniuk's "Fight Club," and that book's attendant questions about masculinity and self-deception. He draws us into a world where psychological warfare is a way of life, and his characters' understandings of who they are develop into a gripping mystery. Suspense and anxiety drive the narrative -- DeLeeuw is clearly fascinated by the workings of the human mind, using his characters to explore how perceptions can provoke us, and to wonder about the extent to which we're truly responsible for our own actions."
Music is important to me in a way that it isn't to the characters in my novel. I'm an obsessive, always have been. From heavy metal as an adolescent to hip-hop as a teenager to dubstep, Berlin techno, and countless other permutations of electronic music now, I tend to spend imprudent amounts of money and energy tracking down new sounds. Luke and Daniel and Claire and Cassie and Richard—the main characters of In In This Way I Was Saved—aren't like that. But since the novel is something I wrote, music snuck in there anyway. Below is a list of some of the songs that appear in the book, and an attempt to explain what they might have been doing there.
Steve Reich – Music for 18 Musicians
Claire introduces the work of Minimalist composers like Steve Reich, Terry Riley, and Philip Glass to her son Luke during one of her manic phases, telling him that "This was composed for people like us, for people who would understand what is being said." Luke doesn't really know what she's talking about, but he falls for the music anyway. Yet Daniel—the book's narrator and Luke's, for want of a better word, shadow—doesn't like it all; he finds the music "impossibly dense, colossal and like a Möbius strip in its circularity: no entry, no exit." I have to side with Luke and Claire on this one: I was blown away when I first heard this stuff. As someone who'd never been able to enjoy Classical music, I came at Minimalism via contemporary electronic music, which shares some of its DNA: the interlocking loops, the cyclical addition and subtraction of rhythmic lines, the steady pulse underpinning it all. This Steve Reich piece and Terry Riley's "In C" were the works I was thinking of most when I wrote that section, and they're both hypnotic, inspiring works of art, music you can truly get lost in.
Philip Glass – Music in Twelve Parts
This is the box set Daniel convinces Luke to shoplift from the 86th St. and Lexington Avenue HMV music store (R.I.P.—it's now a Best Buy). Actually, it's not exactly shoplifting: he tells Luke to affix the sticker from a bargain bin CD over the exorbitant import price of the Glass box set. Sad to say it, but this strategy is lifted from personal adolescent experience, complete with Daniel's ridiculous justification that "They're basically taxing you for liking difficult music." The one and only time I actually attempted to do this, some kid tried to mug me right as I was in the middle of the sticker switch, just like in the book; the difference is that I was trying to "discount" the Japanese import of Tygers of Pan Tang's Wild Cat instead of Philip Glass.
Björk – "Crabcraft"
When Luke visits his older step-sister, Cassie, at Brown University, they hang out in her off-campus house listening to "something warm and electronic, full of sleepy clicks and clacks." I was thinking of Björk's Vespertine album, although I fudged things a bit: I say in the book that Björk is singing in Icelandic, which she does on some other albums, but not, if I remember correctly, on this one. Anyway, I went through a colossal Björk phase in college; Post, Homogenic, and Vespertine would still make my all-time top twenty-five. This is probably my favorite song off Vespertine, along with "Hidden Place"; listening to the whole album is like balancing on that narrow rail between sleep and wakefulness for a full hour. I haven't been as excited about her recent albums, but older songs like "Jóga" and "Hyper-Ballad" are still heavy emotional gut-punches every time I play them.
Sleeparchive – "Elephant Island"
Later in the book, Luke is enrolled in college himself, which is where he meets Richard, a coke-head with a serious lack of empathy, and another terrible influence. In one scene, they've met up with a few girls in Luke's dorm room to do some lines before driving out into the wilds of New Jersey to explore an abandoned mental institution. Luke puts on some techno, of which Daniel approves: "It banished the human voice and its sloppy warmth, replacing it with precision, repetition, unsentimental intelligence. Such lovely rigor." Not all techno is like this, in my opinion; much of it can be quite warm (and also quite sentimental). But when I wrote this scene I was thinking of a certain kind of minimal reductionism, a particular bleepy, ice-cold sound embraced by producers like Sleeparchive, , and the Robert Hood of Internal Empire, which doesn't have all that much to do with the dance scene's current usage of the term "minimal." "Elephant Island" is a great example of this sound: sparse, but relentless; disciplined, yet designed for hedonism.
Joy Division – "Day of the Lords"
On the drive to the institution, Richard pops in "a mix tape of gloomy New Wave. … Through the tinny car speakers, a singer defined grace and betrayal." Gloomy New Wave… It has to be Joy Division, right? I admit—sacrilege!—to being a much bigger New Order fan, but some of the sludgy songs off Unknown Pleasures seemed perfect for this moment in the book: Halloween night, a gloomy back road, cocaine paranoia setting in. While "Day of the Lords" may not fit the exact lyrical bill cited in the quote, the song gives me a sense of something terrible about to happen, the build-up to a tragedy, which is basically the function of the whole final third of the novel.
Hennes & Cold – "Get Down"
Near the end of the book, Luke, Daniel, Cassie, and Richard attend a rave thrown inside a tent pitched on a campus lawn: "It was pitch black inside except for a thread of UV lights strung above our heads and a handful of strobes places randomly around the space, all blinking out of sequence. A gigantic disco ball studded with what looked like broken glass hung from the highest point of the tent, down at the far end of the long, twisting tunnel." They all take ecstasy; insanity ensues, at least for Luke and Daniel. I envisioned the music at the rave to be a certain kind of over-the-top European hard trance: "Something buzzing and nasty whipped out of the speakers, followed sixteen bars later by a ferocious kick drum. Then everything dropped out except a simple piano chord, which grew and grew until it became something enormous, and people lifted lighters over their heads, and then the sound surged and exploded in another direction, the kick drum like artillery, a Klaxon wailing three hundred sixty degrees around my brain, absolute chaos inside and out." I was heavily into this kind of steroidal, hyped-up trance when I was in college, although I find it impossible to listen to very much of it now. At the time (1999-2002), the best producers of this sort of thing were people like DJ Scot Project, Hennes & Cold, and Derb, releasing tracks on labels like Headline, Tracid Traxxx, Overdose, Stik, and Dance Pollution. Hennes & Cold's "Get Down" is maybe the ur-example of the form: it's ten minutes long; the bass-line sounds like a chainsaw; it's organized around a high-drama breakdown; it's well above 140bpm; and it's ridiculously over-the-top in every possible way. A perfect soundtrack for Luke to lose his mind in the strobes.
Brian DeLeeuw and In This Way I Was Saved links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
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Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
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Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
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)
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