March 30, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Noah Hawley's The Good Father is a true literary thriller, as much about a political assassination as a fascinating and insightful exploration of a modern father-son relationship.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"The novel ultimately becomes as much about a father’s quest for meaning and understanding as about a son’s political and social alienation—and Hawley delivers on the complex psychology of father-son relationships."
The Good Father is a novel about Paul Allen, a doctor who's son is accused of assassinating a presidential candidate. It's also the story of Daniel, Paul's twenty year old son, who drops out of college and wanders the great American landscape, only to end up at a crowded presidential rally holding a gun. The book is a thriller and a tragedy, as well as a meditation about what it means to be a good father. And if I had to pick a feeling to go with it, I would say catharsis, which, to me, sounds like this:
"How Can you Live in the Northeast?" - Paul Simon
Because it's a song about America that feels distinctly other. And because of the lines If the answer is infinite light, why do we sleep in the dark? And because of the moment at 2:56 where the drums kick in and the music starts to take off, and you feel like the top of your head is coming away, which is how I image Daniel must have felt in the face of that tornado.
"I'm Getting Ready" - Michael Kiwanuka
Because it feels from the first note like a song about loss, but it's really about faith, and because his voice is so honest and hopeful that you begin to believe that you can survive the unsurvivable, which is what the father in the book will have to do.
"A Sort of Homecoming (Live)" - U2, Wide Awake in America
Because there is innocence to it and beauty, and because it is a landscape painting of a song about the way the natural world can make you feel loved and lost at the same time. And then the drums kick in and the crowd starts chanting and the instruments punch you in the chest, and Bono goes all guttural and the whole thing just gets bigger than you can control. And because it has the words across the fields of morning, but I always hear it as fields of mourning. And because it ends with tonight, at last, I am coming home. Which sounds like a happy ending, but could also be about Heaven.
"Can't Make a Sound" - Elliott Smith
Because the book is a tragedy at heart, and so was Elliott Smith. And because of the thing he does at 2:12, where he sings can't you tell me what's that burning? and the guitars skitter crazily and swell, and he starts to repeat why should you want any other? over and over, which sounds like something a stalker would write on a photograph of his prey.
"Paranoid Android" - Radiohead
I listened to this album once on an airplane, and by the end of it I felt I like I was part of the plane. I can't help but think that if there's anything beautiful about being schizophrenic, it would feel like this song. And because Thom Yorke sings when I am king you will be first against the wall, which is something that being bitter and alienated might make you snarl. And because the whole thing feels like the kind of anti-anthem that a damaged kid on an endless road trip might listen to, an anthem that, at the start of the trip, would feel propulsive and energizing, and in the end would make you pull the car over to the side of the road and wander off into the wilderness. And because, in the end, Tom York wraps it up by singing (out of the blue) God loves his children, in a way that breaks your heart.
"Undiscovered First" - Feist
Because there is a darkness to it, even as you find it beautiful, and because you think it's going to be a quiet song, but then it turns into a car fire of discordance. And then it just gets louder. And because Feist sings Is it the right mountain, for us to climb? Is this the way to live, for you to be mine? Which sounds nothing like romance and everything like what a shark thinks as it swims towards you.
"Generator Second Floor" - The Freelance Whales
I used this song at the end of an episode of My Generation and it was perfect, because it sounds like a song you put on when you're sad to cheer you up, which is what catharsis is - happiness from sadness. But then you realize it's not a happy song at all, when he sings don't fix my smile. Life is long enough. We will put this flesh into the ground again, which is what Daniel tries to tell his father throughout the entire book - forget about me. I'm tired and lost and it's time to let me go. And how can that not break a father's heart?
"This Traveling Around" - Lyle Lovett
Because of that voice and the fact that he sings this traveling around, it's gonna be the death of me. Which in Daniel's case it will.
"The Daily Mail" - Radiohead
I know, two Radiohead songs, but that's just the kind of book it is. I choose this one because he sings You made a pig's ear. You made a mistake. Paid off security and got through the gate. You got away with it but We Lie in Wait, which is creepy enough, but then the song goes into this crazy groove, and it's what letting go of the last piece of your mind must feel like. And because those words sound exactly like what you might say to a politician before you shot him.
"Comfortably Numb" - Roger Waters, featuring Van Morrison (The Departed Soundtrack)
Because before Radiohead, Pink Floyd was the voice of madness, and because, as you know, he sings There is no pain you are receding. And You are only coming through in waves. And when he sings about being a child with a fever it is like he is trying to figure out where along the way he got so lost. Which is what the book tries to do, to figure out where along the path Paul Allen lost track of his son. And I choose this version, because the only thing that could make this song more powerful and heartbreaking is Van Morrison's voice.
"Sigh No More" - Mumford and Sons
Because the song starts as a funeral dirge and an apology, and then becomes the most uplifting, banjo-driven act of hope. And because he sings Love, it will not betray you, dismay or enslave you. It will set you free. Be more like the man you were made to be. Which is what Daniel's father so desperately wants his son to see - that we were put on this earth to love each other. That family is everything, and Paul would do anything, anything, to save his son from the terrible choices he's made, but he can't.
And because somehow Mumford makes you feel in the end, as I hope the book does, that you are stronger for the journey.
Noah Hawley and The Good Father links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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