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April 13, 2012

Book Notes - Seth Grahame-Smith "Unholy Night"

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

Previous contributors include Bret Easton Ellis, Kate Christensen, Kevin Brockmeier, George Pelecanos, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, David Peace, Myla Goldberg, and many others.

Seth Grahame-Smith's new novel Unholy Night is his third literary mashup, this time reimagining the three kings of the Bible's nativity scene as thieves.

Entertainment Weekly wrote of the book:

"The unhinged imagination is fun, but it's Grahame-Smith's depiction of sacred figures as flawed humans that makes the book feel like a secret account of events that have been sanitized by legend."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.

In his own words, here is Seth Grahame-Smith's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, Unholy Night:

Whether I'm writing a book or a screenplay, I usually listen to film scores or "atmospheric" music (there's probably a better name for it) to set the mood and move me along. I find it hard to concentrate when there are lyrics blasting through my brain – it's as if someone's shouting in my ear while I'm trying to think (plus, it wouldn't do to listen to, say, The Smiths or REM while writing about soldiers slaughtering first-born sons). Unholy Night is a biblical story with a dark, swashbuckling vibe, and most of the music on its accompanying playlist represents that. But from time to time, I mixed in some wild cards.

Howard Shore "Caras Galadhon"

One of many tracks from Shore's Lord of the Rings score that I listened to on repeat, but also one of my favorites. Shore's musical interpretation of Middle Earth has a fanciful, legendary quality.

Ministry – "Thieves"

If there's a song better designed to elicit primal, unchecked rage, I don't ever want to hear it. When I needed my hero, Balthazar, to go biblical on Romans with his blade, this was one of my go-to, get-angry-and-get-writing tracks.

Boards of Canada – "Dayvan Cowboy"

In the book, we're privy to some of Balthazar's extended dreams. Boards of Canada's music has an incredible sense of space to it; a sense that you're floating above the earth on a gust of wind. "Corsair" is another of their tracks that inspired these dreamy moments.

Sunny Day Real Estate – "Days Were Golden"

Throughout out the book, we learn about Balthazar's painful, but often magical childhood – which he remembers as days that were "all golden and forever." The mood of those flashbacks (and the phrase itself) were directly inspired by this song.

Jerry Goldsmith – "The Caravan"

A track from The Mummy score, one that – for obvious reasons – evoked the image of traveling by camel across a barren landscape, which (spoiler alert) we do a lot of in this book. I listened to this score just about every day of writing.

Ulrich Schnauss – "Never Be The Same"

Another song that inspires visions of mind flight and dreaming and magic. One of the most beautiful things my ears have ever known. Go listen to this song in the dark with a decent pair headphones. I defy you to remain on earth.

Johnny Cash – "God's Gonna Cut You Down"

In Unholy Night, those who decide to challenge God's power usually end up on the wrong side of a Heavenly smack down. I love the way that idea is expressed in Cash's rendition of this old folk song, which I quote in the opening of the book: "Go tell that long tongue liar, go and tell that midnight rider, tell the rambler, the gambler, the back biter – tell 'em that God's gonna cut 'em down."

Seth Grahame-Smith and Unholy Night links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
excerpt from the book
video trailer for the book

Entertainment Weekly review
USA Today review

Heat Vision interview with the author
Public Spectacle profile of the author
Wall Street Journal profile of the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes playlists (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlists

List of Online "Best Books of 2011" Lists
List of 2011 Year-End Online Music Lists

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)
musician/author interviews
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

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