April 17, 2012
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Jurgen Fauth's debut novel Kino is a masterfully and innovatively told literary thriller, one that weaves the golden age of German cinema into its tale.
Frederick Barthelme wrote of the book:
"A fast, complex, exhilarating roadster ride through history and time.... Kino is an intoxicating Euro-brew, written with enormous skill and dedication."
"Auftakt: Metropolis Thema" - Gottfried Huppertz
My novel Kino is about a silent film director, but "silent film" is a bit of a misnomer. The best of these early movies were full-on audiovisual experiences with a dedicated score that gave the images emotional depth. So we'll start this mix with Gottfried Huppertz's opening theme for Fritz Lang's Metropolis. Huppertz, who also scored Die Nibelungen, often showed up on Lang's sets during shooting -- the score was created along with the film rather than being added as an afterthought. If you ever have a chance to catch a live performance, do not hesitate.
"Mack the Knife" - Louis Armstrong
I often kept silent films playing in the background while I worked on Kino, but I'll admit that I didn't listen to a lot of period music -- it's far too distracting to write to. So I hope you'll excuse it if I go a little light on the Marlene Dietrich/Lotte Lenya/Sally Bowles angle for this playlist, especially because I've been posting a lot of it at the Tulpendiebe tumblr dedicated to Kino's influences. As a nod to all the Weimar cabaret tunes I'm not including, here's my favorite cover of Kurt Weill's most famous tune.
"Playing in the Band" - Grateful Dead (London, 5/24/1972)
Improvised psychedelic rock isn't for everybody, but to me, it offers the perfect combination of familiarity and surprise to write to: a tune I've heard a million times before can pleasantly recede into the background when I'm focused, but there's always something fresh in it, and unexpected turns can jump out at you at any time. Of all the Dead's songs, "Playing in the Band" became something of a theme for Kino for a number of reasons: the idea of collaborative give and take, the sudden step into complete improvisational void that follows the verses, and the fearless confidence that's usually on display, like in this standout version from May 1972. This is what writing Kino felt like.
"Anthem" - Leonard Cohen
After the Nazis come to power in 1933 and take control of the film industry, my protagonist Kino Koblitz gets into an argument with Reichspropagandaminister Joseph Goebbels about perfection in art. Kino believes that flaws are crucial because "watching a perfect movie would be like climbing a smooth wall – there's nowhere for your fingers to grab hold." I later realized how closely the thought mirrors Leonard Cohen's chorus: "Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That's how the light gets in."
"Diminuendo" and "Crescendo in Blue" - Duke Ellington
There's a mention in the book of Duke Ellington, who visited Europe in 1933, and I imagine my characters were hip to his music. This landmark recording is from the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, but the tune was written in the thirties. Paul Gonsalves's breathtaking solo hasn't lost any of its power -- this is superlative improvisation, and the way the crowd's excitement builds along with the music gives me chills.
"Ich weiß es wird einmal ein Wunder geschen" - Zarah Leander
Of course, Duke Ellington was classified as "degenerate art" during the Third Reich, and this is what people listened to instead. Kino works for the Nazis during the war and makes "harmless" operetta movies that distract audiences from the catastrophe unfolding around them. Swedish singer Zarah Leander exemplified this kind of entertainment: as the war turned, "I Know That Someday a Miracle Will Happen," from "Die grosse Liebe" (1942), became an anthem of hope for Germans. You might also like Nina Hagen's 1983 punk cover.
"Also Sprach Zarathustra" - Phish (Brooklyn, 6/17/2004)
This is the kind of groove that kept me writing into the early morning hours. Kino touches on themes of artistic influence, copyright, and remixing, so it's worth noting that this is Phish's cover of Emir Deodato's 1970s disco version, which appears on the soundtrack of Being There and is in turn based on the Richard Strauss piece inspired by Nietzsche's book and made famous by 2001: A Space Odyssey. Layers upon layers. I include this particular version because it's from a show at Coney Island that turned out to be the last of many I attended with my friend Steve. We were up front, Page-side (which is to say, stage right), and dancing the way Phish fans do. Later that summer, Steve died of a Tylenol overdose. The character of Steffen is based on him.
"A Punch Up At A Wedding" - Radiohead
Kino toys with the idea that art has the power to infiltrate reality and create strange coincidences. Early on the book, we learn that Mina and Sam's wedding, which happened to fall on the day after George Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech, was ruined when guests at the reception started talking politics. Punches are thrown and wedding band equipment is ruined. It didn't strike me until much later that Radiohead has a song by this name -- on an album with a title that references George W. Bush.
"Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer" - Frank Sinatra
This early Sinatra recording comes on the radio at a crucial point towards the end of the novel. As a teenager, I went through a serious Sinatra phase, and there's still a major haul of LPs stashed in a German basement somewhere. Kino was the first time I wrote anything resembling a thriller or mystery, and toward the end, I kept working faster and faster, terrified I wouldn't be able to land the story and give it a satisfying ending. Thus, "Wing and a Prayer." A little research reveals that the phrase seems to have its origin in Flying Tigers, a 1942 John Wayne movie, which makes it even more fitting.
"Sweet Jane" - Phish (Las Vegas, 10/31/1998)
We'll go out with another song that's mentioned in the book. I picked "Sweet Jane" for its familiarity, but since we've all heard the Velvet Underground version thousands of times already, let's go with the Phish cover from their "Loaded" Halloween costume instead. It's a fine example of the principles of appropriation, acceptance of occasional flubs and flaws, and a soaring conclusion that both honors and transcends the original.
Jurgen Fauth and Kino links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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