December 9, 2011
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Sabina Murray's short fiction collection Tales of the New World brings a marked degree of humanity to the lives of historic explorers and pioneers. The included novella "Fish" is one of the year's finest works of short fiction.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the collection:
"Murray's spirited writing is rooted in humanity and creates a fine sense of the real behind the lore."
Tales of the New World is a collection of short stories about explorers and because of that is sort of like a fictional concept album, so what I thought would be fun is to match certain stories to specific songs that showcase my eccentric taste in music. So, being that person who keeps her CDs under a couch in the hallway, safely away from musician friends who are only treated to the Django Reinhart and Brazilian house music that I dare leave out, realize how exposed I am and, when coughing your gum onto the computer screen, remember what you sing when in the shower or alone in the car. This play list is for you.
1. "Wuthering Heights" Kate Bush
I owned this on a much worn 45 purchased in Perth, Western Australia in 1976. I remember leaping around to Bush's passionate warbling and thundering piano in the sunken living room of our suburban Nedlands house. This song is actually about Wuthering Heights, and the romance of it is relevant to my character, Mary Kingsley, who holds forth through the seventy or so pages of "Fish," the first and longest story in my collection. Mary Kingsley needed some romance in her life, being a Victorian spinster who spent most of her time caring for ill and lazy relatives. She solved this problem by taking off for the Congo and becoming an explorer. If she'd had a record player, she would have been a huge Kate Bush fan and had "Wuthering Heights" in frequent rotation. And no, the fact that I was purchasing records in 1976 does not make me a Victorian, and no, I did not know Mary Kingsley personally.
2. "Grenade" Bruno Mars
Bruno Mars is on my play list accompanying "Translation," a story about the unrequited love of nobleman translator Antonio Pigafetta for the explorer Ferdinand Magellan, an obvious choice. After listening to "Grenade" most waking hours for the past six months, you too would feel sure—as I do—that Bruno Mars was reading my story when he wrote his song. There can be no other reason that "Grenade" so captures the passion and intensity of my Pigafetta and his unequaled love for Magellan. That Bruno Mars is such a huge fan of mine is actually starting to become embarrassing. He needs to stop writing songs for me, move on, find a different muse. Bruno, I know we have that Filipino thing going, but if you haven't noticed, Filipinos are everywhere. I know it's hard to believe, but you will get over me.
3. "Ballad of Jim Jones" The Brian Jonestown Massacre
The third story in my collection is called "Paradise" and revolves around Jim Jones, Peoples Temple, Idi Amin, and Pol Pot. I listened to "Ballad…" over and over while writing this story and became completely in thrall to The Brian Jonestown Massacre. One minute I was working on my story, and the next I was walking around Berkeley in bare feet with my pockets full of tofu. Crazy. At any rate, this behavior certainly made me identify with Rainbow Family and helped me finish the story, which also features a monkey pulling pages out of the Bible. For future reference, if you've had tofu in your pockets, make sure to turn them inside out before doing your laundry. Cold water.
4. "Caribou," The Pixies
"Caribou" has this wild loneliness about it that I thought made sense to have in this play list: something in "Caribou" understands frontiers. (Gabe, my nine-year-old, wants to know which Pixies song I'm using, and when I tell him no, not the one about the monkey that goes to heaven, and no, not the one about Umass —Gabe has been subjected to the Pixies since in utero—he loses interest. Nick, who's older by four years, asks, "Why 'Caribou'?" I explain to him that "Solace of Monsters" is about a man encountering fear—the fear of the unknown that presents itself as monsters: a great white whale that he hears tales of, and Frankenstein's monster, the subject of his reading material. "What does that have to do with 'Caribou?'" asks Nick. I blink a couple of times. "Use 'Feed My Frankenstein,'" he says.)
Alternate song: "Feed My Frankenstein" Alice Cooper.
5. "Gnossiennes-1.Lent" Eric Satie
When I'm not listening to "Grenade," I'm listening to the Thibaudet recording of Gnossiennes. I can't imagine why this piece of music, which makes me feel completely desolate, has created such a need in me: this is my go to recording when I'm blocked and don't feel like writing. Most of the accompanying story, "His Actual Mark," follows John Edward Eyre and his aboriginal companion Wylie as they walk the length of the Great Australian Bight. While writing this, I found myself wondering whether or not they'd make it, although—Eyre being a historical figure—I knew the answer. You can forget the obvious while wandering around the Nullabor Plain and Gnossiennes enhances the brain wipe: not good driving music or great driving music if there's no destination and you're goal is to just keep going until you run out of gas.
6. "I'm on A Boat," The Lonely Island
"Full Circle Thrice" is about William Dampier, a navigator and pirate, who was quite the ocean-going force. Dampier actually coined the phrase, "take a good hard look at the mother f***ing boat," and much as he inspired figures such as Swift and Cooleridge, he now puts wind in the sails of The Lonely Island. Also, Misters Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone, since you haven't noticed that the cover of my book is a tribute to you, and are no doubt wondering, "Why didn't Sabina say?" I am saying. I am saying so now.
7. "Anima Nostra," Arianna Savall
"Periplus" is a story about a young Jesuit scholastic trying to write a paper, and is inspired by my father. A periplus is literally a "wandering around" and in this story, I meander through literature, various artworks and historical events. The narrative is interested in making leaps in time – in knitting together elements that might not come together otherwise, in much the same way that, in this play list, "I'm on A Boat" is melded to Arianna Savall, a harp-playing sweet-voiced Catelan, whose music—if I accidentally leave it on in my study and return in a slightly dazed state—has the ability to make me wonder if I'm dead.
8. "The Man Who Sold the World" David Bowie
The eighth story in my collection is "Balboa" and it's about Balboa. As for Bowie's "The Man Who Sold the World," it could well be about Balboa, had Balboa indeed sold the world. For this one, I went back and listened to the song and was surprised that I had forgotten nearly all of it, except for some zingy percussion, there being a man who—apparently—sold the world, and the lyric "I gazed a gazely stare." I am counting on the fact that you are no more familiar with the song than I, so trust me when I tell you that the song is definitely about Vasco Nunez de Balboa, the Spanish conquistador and governor, who was the first European to gaze upon the Pacific. If some of you have wondered where the infamous Bowie "gazely stare" comes from, now you know, and I'm glad I could help you out.
9. "Something Is Not Right with Me," Cold War Kids
"Last Days" is from the point of view of Nezahualpilli, Motecuhzoma's soothsayer. It's about a great empire soon to be wiped from the face of the earth, and don't know we all know how that feels? Motecuhzoma, or Montezuma, is losing his mind, hiding out in his palace, convincing himself that he's a god. As in the Cold War Kids song, something is not right with him. Also, this song has the amazing ability to derange me. I can be cooking dinner in a state of cold, clear sanity, and when "Something…" pops up on shuffle, suddenly I'm hearing voices and beheading all my neighbor's tulips with a pair of nail scissors.
10. "Variations for The Healing of Arinushka" Arvo Part
Okay, so I'm back into the classical, but this last story, "On Sakhalin," is about a penal colony and ends with the death of Chekhov. This piece of music is both depressing and cheerful, which is how I think of Chekhov and how I wanted this particular story to be. And "Arinushka…" is just interesting because it's a very simple piece of music, but one you—happily—can get lost in. Which is sort of what I think of explorers—people who are lost by design.
Sabina Murray and Tales of the New World links:
All Things Considered review
Boston Globe review
Daily Beast review
Frogen Yozurt review
New York Times review
Popcorn Reads review
Publishers Weekly review
The Washington Independent Review of Books review
Washington Post review
also at Largehearted Boy:
other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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