May 3, 2012
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, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Lisa Brackmann's Getaway is a fast-paced, literary thriller set among the American expatriate community of Puerto Vallarta.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Puerto Vallarta provides a lush backdrop for Brackmann’s richly drawn ex-pat world, which is as eccentric as it is dangerous."
Getaway is my second novel. I'm here to tell you that everything people say about writing second novels is true. I thought I was going to write a fun little noir thriller. It ended up being one of the hardest things I've ever done. Creatively, it was tough, my first experience trying to produce something new as a published author. The feeling of having something to live up to, of having people who depended on me to do a good job, of not really knowing if I could write another book, all of that felt at times like a physical weight. Plus, I had a lot of other things going on that I hadn't expected to deal with. For one, my job evaporated, along with my so-called career. I was looking at an economic future that didn't seem terribly promising. The book, with its main character that lost everything during the economic crash through an act of very intimate betrayal, took on personal resonances that I was more comfortable pushing away than confronting. A major theme of the book is systemic corruption and how societies determine who is valuable and who is disposable, and I was starting to feel like I was more on the "disposable" end of things.*
Finally, like my protagonist, I decided I'd better suck it up and solve my problems, at least the problems involved in writing this book.
This song list is a bit of a hybrid. Some of the songs are referenced in Getaway. Others are part of the life soundtrack that I listened to at the time. I tried to choose songs that in some way relate to the book rather than, say, expound on my love of Ethiopian jazz/rock, Javanese gamelan, and Chinese pipa music (all of which is awesome stuff. Trust me!).
*Disclaimer: I am not however being menaced by drug runners, spooks or corrupt financiers, at least not to my knowledge
"Rikki Don't Lose That Number" — Steely Dan
When protagonist Michelle walks into an expat beach bar, Steely Dan is playing. Steely Dan is always playing in a Vallarta expat bar, somewhere. I can't think of a better band to illustrate the older burned-out expat crowd, the beach bars, the druggy cynicism and depiction of losers and hard cases and people on the shady side of the law. I considered "Do it Again" for its self-destructive, malign and secretive cross-border vibe, and "Kid Charlemagne" for the drug dealing hero turned outcast, but "Rikki" won for its doomed relationship and missed connections, and also, because it's a warning not to lose that phone number, even if the relationship is maybe not so good for you, which in light of Michelle's predicament at the beginning of the book, is too damn funny to pass up.
"Pretty Fly" — the Offspring
This is one of several songs referenced in Getaway – it's a ringtone on "is he a good guy or is he a bad guy?" Daniel's phone. We never find out if it's a ringtone to identify the annoying hanger-on Ned or if it's Danny's deprecating reference to himself, but it fits with his deliberate "I'm a fun guy—really!" persona.
"Ring of Fire" — Johnny Cash
Another ring tone, this one used by the manipulative and unsettling Gary. Gary also thinks of himself as one funny guy. This song, with its festive mariachi horns meets sinister lyrics of obsessive love gone very wrong, is just the kind of thing he likes.
"Backdrifts" — Radiohead
For various reasons I made a lot of long drives while I was writing Getaway. I often used those road trips to problem-solve. I seemed to get a lot of inspiration driving on dark roads at night, listening to Radiohead. During one particular long road-trip, taking Highway 1 from San Francisco to Venice, I didn't have a lot of music with me and listened to Radiohead's Hail to the Thief enough times that I will always associate it with a particular dark stretch of Highway 1, just south of Big Sur.
"Backdrifts (Honeymoon is over)" fits the emotional mood of the book perfectly. A love song? Maybe? Maybe not? People who are "damaged goods," who fall into "our arms" because they've got "nothing left to lose."
"All the evidence has been buried. All the tapes have been erased."
"They" — Jem
Catchy tune about conformity, ignorance, surveillance and regrets. In heavy car rotation when I wrote Getaway, for some odd reason…
"Why do we live like this?" Good question.
"Milonga del Angel" — Astor Piazzolla
I used to play in a band, oh so many years ago, and I rarely listen to music as background when writing. It's just too distracting. If I do, I almost always choose music that is either instrumental or doesn't have English lyrics.
One of my favorites is Argentinean Astor Piazzolla, who pioneered a modern form of tango. His album, Tango: Zero Hour, is the perfect surrealist soundtrack for late night drives, the songs by turns creepy, romantic and unsettling. "Milonga del Angel" is on the romantic end of the spectrum, in a melancholy, longing kind of way, infused with the sense that love can't last, and maybe it's an illusion, but whatever is there, is enough for the moment. Or will have to do, anyway.
"Three-Five-Zero-Zero" – Hair soundtrack
Another bad thing that happened while I was writing this book — my father passed away.
There's a character in Getaway who is an older man, ex-military, who did some bad things and has regrets about them. I wasn't exactly thinking of my dad when I created this character. But though he'd served in the military, had worked in aerospace and "paramilitary electronics" and had become quite conservative politically, one of my father's favorite albums when I was a kid was the soundtrack to Hair — the Broadway musical about a bunch of hippies dropping acid, making love and protesting Vietnam.
After he died, I made my own "Dad" song-list of some of his favorites – Blood Sweat and Tears, Brazil 66, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Johnny Cash, and yeah, I bought the soundtrack to Hair and listened to it in my car while on some of those nighttime road-trips. Probably a bad idea, because the album made me cry, every time, and driving while teary is not wise. "Three-Five-Zero-Zero" was the song I kept coming back to, about bullets ripping into flesh, about body counts, about "dirty little wars."
"Kiko and the Lavendar Moon" — Los Lobos
Los Lobos, I love them! A band from East Los Angeles that combines working class rock and roll, traditional Mexican folk and at times psychedelic grooves. Los Lobos is another band that was in constant rotation during those long car trips I took while writing Getaway, and their cross-border character made them a perfect soundtrack. I almost went traditional with a selection from Acoustic En Vivo but decided on the title track from the ambitious and experimental Kiko, with its creepy "Three Blind Mice" motif—an appropriately eerie choice for Michelle's misadventures.
"Close Behind" — Calexico
Continuing with the cross-border theme, Calexico's Feast of Wire was another album I listened to over and over in my car while I was writing this book (pre-mp3 player in car, the CDs I had with me got a workout). I'm going to go with the mariachi-meets-Ennio-Morricone-vibe instrumental "Close Behind" because it turned into the most persistent earworm from an album that bred many.
"La Llorona" — Lila Downs and Mariachi Juvenil de Tecalitlan
I'm not generally a big fan of soundtracks (Hair aside), but someone gave me the soundtrack for Frida, a film I never saw, and it's got a lot of songs I like, including this interpretation of the classic Mexican folksong, "La Llorena," "the Crying Woman," by Lila Downs. I'm a sucker for cheerful-sounding tunes about tragedy, and this one, about a woman who either drowned her children or was out of the house when someone else did, certainly fits the bill.
"Maria Lando" — Susana Baca
I've always been a huge Talking Heads fan, and I also give David Byrne a lot of credit for his compilations of South American music, including "The Soul of Black Peru," which is where I came across this song and artist. The lyrics are about a servant girl for whom there is no time, "no moon," only work—"Solo trabaja." When I went and visited the old Puerto Vallarta dump and saw the gleaners there, sorting through piles of garbage by hand in the heat and the humidity, for what barely qualified as poverty wages, it was a reminder of the reality that supports the beautiful resorts and the mansions of the wealthy, and I don't just mean in Mexico.
"All Apologies" — Nirvana
The struggle to figure out who you really are. Of having too many regrets. Trying to at least take comfort in the warmth and light of the sun, in the knowledge that we're all connected beneath it. But if you've done bad things, or even if you haven't done enough good things, if you believe "all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," then how comforting is that connection?
None of us gets a free pass.
Lisa Brackmann and Getaway links:
Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World review
Indelible Inc review
International Noir review
Kirkus Reviews review
Night Owl Suspense review
Publishers Weekly review
Sia Mckye's Over Coffee review
Tzer Island review
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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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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