August 24, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Evan Mandery's third novel Q is a smart, funny, and philosophically engaging love story.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Mandery manages to turn a fairly implausible premise into a deeply funny, seriously smart novel, at times both romantic and pragmatic. Fans of Mark Kurlansky and Matthew Norman will appreciate Mandery’s eloquently witty authorial voice, which shines in his narration of the professor’s unlikely predicament. A slightly twisted ending only amplifies the intrinsic charm of this noteworthy, genuinely enjoyable novel. Q is a remarkably refreshing work, full of energy and eminently absorbing."
I was fortunate to contribute an essay to Largehearted Boy when my first novel, Dreaming of Gwen Stefani, came out in 2007. The occasion led me to think about the connection between literature and music, and I have returned to the subject, and the blog, many times since. To me, they have the most intimate connection and I must admit to being somewhat dubious of anyone who does not see the issue the same way. I often speak or sing to myself while writing, to hear how what I have written sounds. I am looking for a cadence. The process is similar, I imagine, to how a drummer constructs a solo.
Music also influences the themes I pick. In Dreaming of Gwen Stefani, the connection is obvious. I have not written about this before, but the origin of my second novel, First Contact (Or, It's Later Than You Think) was inextricably linked to Synchronicity II, by the Police. Before I had characters, I had a pacing. I imagined the action building up to a rapid-fire sequence of interconnected vignettes from disparate parts of the universe. Many things flowed from that, including Sting's cameos, and the song titles that begin each chapter. One of the main characters, Jessica, says that she judges people by the music on their iPod. Jessica is not based on me in any conscious way, but I share this sensibility with her. I accept a wide range of tastes as legitimate. I am even learning to tolerate country, thanks in part to this past season of American Idol. But I am genuinely suspicious of any adult does not have an iPod or says that he or she does not have an interest in music.
My new novel, Q (A Love Story), also has its roots in music. The gist of the story is that shortly before his wedding, the main character is visited by his future self who urges him not to get married to the life of his life, Q. The reason is a tragedy that will befall their child. Now that's good comedy! I was married three years ago, and we have a (magnificent) baby, and some people have speculated that the genesis of the book is somehow tied up in my ruminations about my life. This is not true. I had the idea long before meeting my wife. Specifically, I had the idea after reading Neal Peart's Ghost Rider, about his attempt to recover from the loss of his wife and daughter. Peart is the drummer for a Canadian band rock band, Rush. The tragedy haunted me, and when Rush released its comeback album, Vapor Trails, following Peart's recovery, I listened to it a few hundred times. Of course, the question I came up with is whether Peart would have chosen to do it all over again.
Rolling Stone magazine said that Rush fans are the trekkies of the music world. Since I have admitted in prior interviews to being a huge Star Trek and Doctor Who fan, I figure I may as well earn the geek trifecta and publicly confess my adoration for Rush. I listen to all kinds of music – I love classical and jazz and rock. I love old and new. I am a huge fan of Green Day, Arcade Fire, and Mumford & Sons. I just sorted my iTunes – Leonard Cohen, Florence and the Machine, and the Bee Gees all rank high. There is even some cross-over. William Shatner's collaboration with Ben Folds is outstanding, and I run to "Common People" almost every day. But nothing ranks higher than Rush. Given the origins of the book, it seems only appropriate for me to rank my top five Rush songs of all time. Let the debate begin.
5. "Between Sun and Moon" – Even to hardcore Rush fans, this may seem like an unusual choice. "Between Sun and Moon" appears on the 1997 album, Counterparts, and was neither released as a single nor performed in concert until many years later. It is nevertheless a beautiful song, based on a poem by Pye Dubois. Dubois holds immortal status in the Rush pantheon, as the co-author of "Tom Sawyer." His contribution merits mention here, and, besides, "Tom Sawyer" seems like too safe a choice.
4. "Red Barchetta" – I'm pretty sure this is a perfect rock song. What subject could be more appropriate for rock and roll than super-fast automobile? Of course, the matter gets the distinctive Rush treatment here and the action takes place during the reign of the oppressive Motor Law. The song is inspired by a story by Richard S. Foster, "A Nice Morning Drive." I am no expert on music, but to me the music evokes its predicate magnificently. Even if one never heard the lyrics, the middle section would nevertheless call to mind a screaming car chase.
3. "Closer to the Heart" – Something early belongs on the list. I'd like to be creative here, and I have seriously considered "Xanadu" and "Cygnus X-1," but "Closer to the Heart" achieves something any writer would envy. It conveys a simple, positive message and people rejoice in hearing – and singing – the song.
2. "Secret Touch" – I have a hundred other songs I want to include, but the list needs to have integrity in its totality. If I failed to include some of the band's more recent work, I think it would convey a false impression. I loved Vapor Trails, and I loved Snakes and Arrows. To me, this is the best of a good lot. The solos in the middle are outstanding, especially live, and the song deals with the transformative power of love, my favorite theme. For the record, I very much wanted to include "Between the Wheels," which is underrated. I also had five or six songs off of Moving Pictures, which I could have justified. "Subdivisions" surely deserves a mention, but in the end I chose…
1. "The Spirit of Radio" – I could offer a hundred justifications for including this song as number one. Its own spirit embraces the best of artistic expression – the sheer joy of a catchy melody or an idea that lingers – and the worst – the homogenization of form and content. It has subtle flourishes in both its musical tip of the cap to reggae, and its lyrical nod to Simon & Garfunkel. I pick it, though, solely because I have been to more Rush concerts than I care to admit and the moment where Geddy Lee sings "a concert hall," and the lights turn to the crowd, always seems genuinely jubilant for both the band and its fans. To keep that up for thirty years or so, seems quite amazing to me.
Evan Mandery and Q 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