September 9, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Ana Menendez's Adios, Happy Homeland is a Borgesian exploration of the power of storytelling. This anthology of fictional Cuban writers brilliantly conjures the country's history and people.
The Rumpus wrote of the collection:
"The most wonderful thing about this collection is that each story seems to tie directly into those which precede or follow. There is no intentional obfuscation or confusion; Menendez's writing is crystal clear. She has both the courage and the vitality to evoke many diverse voices in such a convincing way. It's a joy to read such uncluttered, unabashed, and vivid prose, and to penetrate more deeply into contemporary Cuba's still unrevealed heart."
"Dirty Old Town" The Pogues
Because the anachronistic Herberto Quain, who wrote the preface to Adios, is a life-long Pogues fan. When he gets nostalgic for Ireland sitting up there at the Cuban National Library, he breaks out the whiskey and cranks up the turntable with Rum, Sodomy & The Lash.
"Leaving on a Jet Plane," Peter, Paul and Mary
I had to resist an entire playlist of "flying songs", but this is a song that would pop into my head, unbidden, while I was writing. The earnest pathos ("When I come back I'll bring your wedding ring") somehow morphs into ironic giddiness by the end. At least for me.
"Lamento Cubano", Toña la Negra
Because no matter what I'm writing, Toña La Negra is playing in the background. The Mexican-born singer was beloved in Cuba and this rendition of Guillermo Portabales' lament for a lost homeland is heart breaking.
"Bicycle Race", Queen
I wrote most of Adios in Amsterdam, where this song became a kind of anthem for us. I imagined filming a video featuring the Dutch on their bikes, holding hands, texting, carrying sofas...I also admire the stylistic innovation of the song, which includes a solo of bicycle bells, a weird chord progression and an abrupt change of meter. Inspiration for anyone looking to try something new in art.
"Back to Black", Amy Winehouse
Because she left us too soon. Because my partner and I played this album constantly after we met in Cairo. And because the way she rolls her voice in "And.I'm.a.tiny.penny. rolling.up.the.walls.inside" is a sublime example of form following function.
"Maria Teresa y Danilo" by Hansel y Raul
"El siempre viste de traje; ella se viste de hilo" A clever, funny song about a class of Cubans that Beatrice would find herself right at home in.
"Elf Leila wa Leila" Oum Kalthoum
In the live version I own, Oum Kalthoum doesn't even start singing until 8:17 – proof that a slow, measured opening allows a story teller to build atmosphere. When she finally utters her first "ya habeebi", the crowd goes wild. Oum Kalthoum was Egyptian, but the entire Arab world claims her. I listen in honor of my Lebanese-Cuban grandmother who died last year, far from her homelands.
"Soy del Monte." Beny Moré
Every playlist in the world should include at least one song by El Beny. This one is for the parachute maker, who must have been playing it on his iPod when he lifted off from the mountains of Aquilo for the last time.
"Sobre Una Tumba Una Rumba" Maria Teresa Vera
Like the poet Gertrudis Gomez de Avellaneda, Maria Teresa is one of the great and largely forgotten artists of Cuba. This funny and unsentimental song about death is one that most of the characters in Adios would approve. I understand Ana Menendez has requested it be played at her funeral.
"Tani" Conjunto Guaguanco Matancero
Guaguanco is Cuban music at its most authentically exuberant. And like a good criollo, guaguanco has no problem assimilating other influences. This rendition is a version of "Tani Mi Tani" by Los Churumbeles De España. I listen to it for the same reason I listen to "Back to Black" while I'm writing: The beauty sends chills up my spine and makes me want to be better. Listen for the quebrado at :52 and 2:00.
Poor José Martí: the Cuban national poet is now an airport. But his verse lives on, most famously in this most famous of Cuban songs. Track down a recording by the incomparable Celia Cruz, captured here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Js0rKmv-0Iw.
Ana Menendez and Adios, Happy Homeland 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