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March 29, 2011

Book Notes - Michael Crummey ("Galore")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Michael Crummey's Galore is the rare historical novel that combines exhaustive research, magical realism, and a true sense of place that envelops the reader. Set in Newfoundland over two centuries, this story of two families is wildly imaginative, expertly told, and genuinely moving.

The Walrus wrote of the book:

"Galore is an absolute pleasure. In Crummey’s capable hands, the setting breeds magic... A complex narrative that feels effortless, yet is woven so tightly that the magnificent artistry of its creator cannot be ignored."

In his own words, here is Michael Crummey's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Galore:

Galore is a multi-generational family epic that incorporates elements of magic-realism, mythology and folklore, historical fiction, social commentary, bawdy humour. It's a good time, honest. The book was my attempt to retell the entire story of Newfoundland (and, what the hell, of human history in general) in the tiny fictional fishing community of Paradise Deep. This is a mash of songs and artists I was listening to during the period I was working on Galore, with an attempt to draw some completely artificial/arbitrary connections between them.

"In My Secret Life," Leonard Cohen/"Tangled Up in Blue," Bob Dylan

Saw Cohen in May 2009 at Holy Heart of Mary in St. John's, Newfoundland, a high school auditorium that seats a thousand people. Best performance I've ever witnessed. Have always loved how the darkness in those songs is leavened with a deadpan sense of humour. How they can travel the bleakest territory and still lift you up.

And I wouldn't blame you for doubting this, but as we sat there Bob Dylan was playing just down the road at Mile One Centre. The two best songwriters of the second half of the 20th century performing in St. John's, Newfoundland on the same night. It made a man coming out of the belly of a whale seem a lot less unlikely.

"Black is the Colour of my True Love's Hair," Nina Simone

Nina Simone is genius. She has an astonishing range of interests as a vocalist and almost always makes something compelling out of whatever she tackles. From the jazzy pop of "My Baby Just Cares for Me" through Beatles covers, protest songs and the ballsiest, sexiest blues ("Do I Move You?," "I Want Some Sugar in My Bowl"), she turns it all to gold.

I'm particularly partial to this track because, as it turns out in Galore, black is indeed the colour of the true love's hair.

"This Heart's On Fire," Wolf Parade

This heart's on fire, this heart's on fire, this heart's on fire. Could have been the novel's mantra.

"Willow Tree," Chad VanGaalen

Lo-fi geek folk with vocals by Tiny Tim's bastard child. On paper you'd think this wouldn't have a prayer (much like a novel that tries to incorporate magic realism, mythology, folklore, historical fiction, social commentary, etc), but it manages to be eerily gorgeous and moving. Who knows how. Us mere mortals can only hope for the same kind of alchemy to take hold of our crazy projects. Sit back and let the banjo and clarinet do their job.

"Never Ending Math Equation," Sun Kil Moon

I collected (i.e. stole) stories and anecdotes from people and communities all over Newfoundland to modify and use in Galore. Trying to make something new of them. Sun Kil Moon's take on the Modest Mouse song is so unlike the original it seems another creature altogether.

"Red Heart," Hey Rosetta!

Newfoundland's most recent export to the musical world. Try not to feel glad to be alive when you hear this. I dare you. Then have a listen to "New Goodbye." Or "A Thousand Suns." And be grateful.

"Born Under a Bad Sign," Albert King

If it wasn't for bad luck, wouldn't have no luck at all. Could have been the theme song for Newfoundlanders involved in the cod fishery (which was just about everyone here up until a generation ago). The blues were a little late arriving on the island, so we ended up with a folk tune called Hard, Hard Times instead: “The best thing to do is work with a will/For when it's all over you're hauled on the hill/You're hauled up on the hill and put down in the cold/And when it's all over you're still in the hole/And it's hard, hard times.”

Same ocean, different boat.

"Ever Fallen In Love With Someone (You Shouldn't Have Fallen in Love With)," The Buzzcocks

All the love matches in Galore are a bad idea on some level. Most of them are unrequited to one degree or another.

Newfoundlanders are famous for our love of the island (affectionately known as the Rock) but it's always seemed to me the attachment is a one-sided affair, that the place doesn't return our affections in equal measure (see "Hard, Hard Times," above). And ultimately, I suppose, our love for the world is spurned as well. A person could argue all the relationships in Galore are just metaphors for these larger issues. But that's probably not a person you'd be interested in talking to.

"Hejira," Joni Mitchell

The blonde, chain-smoking egomaniac with the five octave vocal range at her introspective best. I've gone on long listening jags with this album a handful of times over the last twenty-five years, and expect I'll be coming back to it all my life. Hard to believe she was only 30 when she wrote the world-weary title track. Ennui never sounded so good.

I wasn't thinking of Joni Mitchell when I was writing Esther, the single-mindedly driven, alcoholic, commitment-phobic opera singer once known as the Nightingale of Paradise, but I guess I could have been.

"Woke Up Laughing," Robert Palmer

I have a folklorist friend who claims Newfoundlanders have always been modernists. As isolated and “traditional” as the place has always been, whatever washed up on the beaches—tools, music, recipes, folk beliefs—was incorporated into the daily life of a community. And there's something in this song that feels a bit like that.

I've always loved the hypnotic and intricate repetition of the underlying track, the oddly compelling fractured narrative of the lyrics, the mix of Afro-Caribbean rhythms with something close to electro-pop. It's a rich stew of unlikely influences and flavours. Like the best books.

"Bonny Light Horseman," Matthew Byrne

Richard Thompson's best songs sound like tunes written two hundred years ago. And this Matthew Byrne take on the traditional ballad, "Bonny Light Horseman," sounds like something written by Richard Thompson last month. I wanted Galore to travel the same circle. (Whatever the hell that means.)

Michael Crummey and Galore links:

the author's Wikipedia entry

Buried in Print review
Compulsive Overreader review
ExUrbanis review
ForeWord Reviews review
Globe and Mail review
Historical Tapestry review
Kirkus Reviews review
Library Journal review
The Literary Type review
National Post review
Pickle Me This review
Publishers Weekly review
Quill & Quire review
Toronto Star review
The Walrus review

AbeBooks interview with the author
The Book Mine Set interview with the author
CBC News profile of the author
Downhome Magazine interview with the author
The Millions essays by the author
Planta: On the Line interview with the author
Publishers Weekly interview with 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 comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
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

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