January 18, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Finding interesting books has been a pleasant and unexpected personal side effect of the Largehearted WORD feature on this blog. In the series, the staff of Brooklyn's WORD bookstore points out several new books every week from a variety of genres, and I always discover something new. Back in September, the staff recommended Barry Lyga's middle grade novel Archvillain, which I devoured and couldn't stop recommending to friends and family.
Barry Lyga's Goth Girl Rising, out in paperback this week, is the sequel to his young adult novel The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl. This is a gritty and sad, yet often funny, honest perspective of teen life, filled with believable characters and a moving coming of age story.
You don't need to have read the first book to enjoy the sequel, both books stand independently (though I would recommend reading The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl first, to get Fanboy's backstory).
Although published fourth in the rotation, Goth Girl Rising (the sequel to my first novel, The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy & Goth Girl) had been on my mind since I'd finished the first book. I was never quite certain if I would write the sequel or not, but around the end of 2007, I made the decision, and most of 2008 was spent writing it.
Unlike my other books, Goth Girl Rising would be told from the point of view of a girl — 16-year-old Kyra Sellers, the tougher-than-you quasi-antagonist who had walked away with many of the first book's best lines and most memorable moments. The focus of the book would not be the teen angst of horny boys, but rather the dark fears and dreams of a girl in a lot of pain.
I typically blast a lot of Springsteen and Zevon while I write (with forays into Public Enemy and Ice-T); these guys are true (and amazing) storytellers, and if my musical talents had ever developed, I might very well have gone that route instead.
In any event, as I worked on Goth Girl Rising, something happened — almost unbidden, almost without conscious thought, I found myself listening more and more to music by female musicians, not my steady standbys of the Boss and Warren. I can't say for sure if or how much this change in listening habits impacted the book (because it's just as likely that the book changed my listening habits, not the other way around!), but here's the playlist that ended up in rotation in iTunes and on my iPhone as I wended my way through Kyra's troubling mind and world:
"Going Going Gone" - Stars (Nightsongs)
With a simple melody and soft, haunting vocals, this song didn't just live in my iPhone — it lived in my brain for months and months on end. To this day, I still find myself humming it. I think the juxtaposition of gentle music and voice with disturbing lyrics really clicked for me, a sort of allegory for teen girls almost. "I knew it wasn't right/I watched in fear and doubt/It's gotten to be that way/(Going going gone)" — I just kept imagining a woman who feels like a ghost already, even though she's not yet dead. A perfect metaphor for Kyra's isolation and inability to connect.
"Kiss Me 'Til It Bleeds" - Nina Gordon (Bleeding Heart Graffiti)
If Stars was gentle yet disturbing, Nina Gordon turned up the dial. This song specifically targets a bad relationship that the singer can't forsake, even though she knows it's bad for her: "Destructive, exciting and I can't let go" and, later, "If bitter is sweet then he's just what I need/So kiss me till it bleeds." Has there been a more potent and direct cry for help? Like Kyra, Gordon's narrator is helpless to resist impulses that could end up hurting or killing her.
I don't believe in fate, but I do believe in serendipity, and boy oh boy, were the serendipity gods looking over me on the day I stumbled upon Linda Strawberry's music on MySpace (remember MySpace?). I was already fairly deep into the book, but Strawberry's raw, powerful, and plaintive vocals just captivated me with an anger and sense of longing that were both distinctly feminine and universally human at the same time. How can you not love a song titled "Fuck Him, I'm Beautiful," in which she croons:
and I'm lost
and I'm hollow
I loved you.
I loved you.
I loved you.
It just resonated with me, as Strawberry's almost desperate tone clashed with the strength inherent in the words. She's in pain, but trying to be strong about it. There's a similar, delightful aggression in "Reckless Heart," as she sings, "You wanted/to run from/a love you could not kill." Haven't we all felt at times as though we just couldn't conquer our own passions, even when they were bad for us?
In one song, Natasha sings, "Oh, you found the piece of me/It was missing; it was broken/You put soul into it," acknowledging that healing comes from without as well as within. In the other, she pleads, "Drop me in the middle so I can make a ripple effect/Upon the ocean I'll be the moon that turns the tide," accompanied by the rap, "I'm trying to live my dreams/instead of letting them float," admitting that we have to strive to make our dreams come true. And whether they are as big as the moon or as small as a ripple in the ocean, they matter because they're ours.
Love Song - Sara Bareilles (Little Voice)
I'm a sucker for killer piano, so it's no surprise that I fell in love with Bareilles' paean to tough love: "I'm not gonna write you a love song/Cause you ask for it/Cause you need one." Like Kyra, she's not about to make it easy on Fanboy. He's gonna have to work for her understanding and forgiveness.
What I Am - Edie Brickell & New Bohemians (Shooting Rubber Bands at the Stars)
A classic from my youth! The lyrics — on further examination — are a little more facile than I remember as a kid, but they have powerful poetry to them. "I'm not aware of too many things/I know what I know, if you know what I mean" sums up Kyra's own self-knowledge, while the follow-up lines — "Philosophy is the talk on a cereal box/Religion is the smile on a dog" — betrays her distrust of outside sources of wisdom.
Breakaway - Kelly Clarkson (Breakaway)
I've never watched an episode of American Idol in my life, so I stumbled onto Clarkson the old-fashioned way — on the radio. "Walk Away" has a bouncy rhythm that belies its hard truths, and when I listened to it, I couldn't help thinking that I was listening to Kyra herself, fighting for understanding, fearing it never would come:
Trying hard to reach out
But when I tried to speak out
Felt like no one could hear me
Wanted to belong here
But something felt so wrong here
So I pray
I could breakaway
Barry Lyga and Goth Girl Rising 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)
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)
weekly music & DVD release lists