March 18, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Over the past several months I have been especially attracted to dystopian novels. Vanessa Veselka's Zazen and Julia Holmes' Meeks are recent shining examples of the genre, and I was reminded of both when I read Ron Tanner's Kiss Me, Stranger.
Kiss Me, Stranger explores the themes of war, violence, and consumerism with honesty, humor, and rare emotional grace. The topic may be absurdist, but the characters we come to know in this novel are as human as you or me. Tanner's spare yet lively illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to his prose.
The Baltimore City Paper wrote of the book:
"With Kiss Me, Stranger Tanner uses the writing and illustration to make his very real and palpable cast of characters come alive: You develop a genuine concern for their fates. Many dystopian novels fall apart by harping too hard on parables without allowing the humanity of the characters to surface. Despite the fact that Kiss Me, Stranger is, as Tanner admits, an anti-war novel, that agenda never obscures the plot. In fact, they work concurrently—two cogs in a perfect machine."
Kiss Me, Stranger is about a mother of 14 children trying to survive a civil war in a fictional country built on landfill. I wrote the first draft of the book when I was getting a divorce and trying to hold onto my sanity – that's what the book is about, really, holding things together. The music that fills my head as I occupy this little country, with its megalomaniacal president, its quirky consumer culture, and its warring factions, ranges widely. .
Over the Rhine: "When You Say Love"
A punchy, poppy tune about love, with a skeptical edge, which suits Penelope's eldest son: seventeen-year-old Lon who is just discovering love when he meets a pale, tough girl-woman who is a soldier as he is. They happen to be on the same side and, even though she shows little interest in him (who can afford that kind of indulgence?) and must leave with her squad, he hopes to see her again.
David Bowie : "All the Young Dudes"
The perfect tune for seventeen-year-old Lon and his desperately starving and half-crazy squad who, for recreation, drink bottles of old cough syrup they find in an abandoned pharmacy. Then, in drunken bravado, they decide to storm the president's palace, thinking that this will be their final, brave (albeit mindless) act.
Peter Holsapple and Chris Stamey: "Ukulele"
A quirky, whimsical instrumental by the thoroughly talented Holspapple and Stamey. The tune is perfect background for the tour Penelope's and her children take through the city's open-air market, where they see wondrous things for sale, including fake food made of recycled scrap and a wizened pet tortoise named Horace.
John Lennon: "Instant Karma"
A cool tune -- one of Lennon's best – and a good fit for much of what happens in the book, especially as it pertains to Penelope's husband, Marcel, who deserts his post on the frontier and tries to make his way back home. He meets two other deserters and things turn ugly. Marcel does the right thing. One of the other deserters doesn't. Guess who gets out alive?
Kate Bush: "The Red Shoes"
Kate is crazy-good and, let's admit, was well ahead of her peers in so much. Her "The Red Shoes" is in reference to the famous movie but also, in typical Bush fashion, it gestures to private fantasies. This is relevant to Kiss Me, Stranger because the wife of this fictional nation's monomaniacal president is infamous for stealing an amazing pair of red shoes and wearing them defiantly, and triumphantly, on her holiday television special
Talking Heads: "Life During Wartime"
This is such a cool, menacing song. It would fit almost anywhere in the war-torn landscape of Kiss me, Stranger.
Robin Hitchcock: "Penelope's Angels"
Hitchcock's always weird lyrics fit well with the world Penelope finds herself struggling to survive. This quiet tune (listen to the live version) reflects something of her yearning.
Frank Zappa: "Peaches en Regalia"
Zappa captures something of the goofy governmental pomp of the Presidential Militia in my book. Those clarinets keep it off-kilter in just the right way.
David Smooke: "Kiss Me Stranger Suite" and "21 Miles to Coolville"
David Smooke is a young composer who performs on the toy piano and is an official Schoenhut (toy piano) artist. He wrote the score to Kiss Me, Stranger trailer and does some very cool and quirky stuff that really suits the mood of my book. You can hear "21 Miles to Coolville" here. As you listen, imagine picking through a landfill with your 14 children. You're looking for metal scrap. Crows are cawing from all sides. And the air is acrid with the smoke of smoldering tires.
XTC: "The Ballad of Peter Pumpkinhead"
This song kicks and must be played loud. When Marcel meets the "big-headed boy" in the wilderness, this tune should be playing.
Anita O'Day and the Gene Krupa Orchestra: "Watch the Birdie"
This peppy swing tune should be playing as Penelope searches frantically for her now-lost children in the chaotic city streets.
Bach: "Goldberg Variations, #13" performed by Glenn Gould
This is a sentimental favorite and I imagine it playing when Penelope and Marcel are reunited at the book's end. Their many children are sleeping upstairs and they are watching flares bloom like white chrysanthemums over the darkened skyline of the city.
Nada Surf: "Always Love"
I'd write a book just to feature this tune. It's the anthem I imagine playing over the credits at the end of Kiss Me, Stranger the movie.
Ron Tanner and Kiss Me, Stranger links:
Baltimore City Paper review with the author
IndieBookMan interview with the author
JMWW interview with the author
The Nervous Breakdown interview with the author
Publishers Weekly review
Read Street 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 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
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