November 1, 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.
B.A. Shapiro's novel The Art Forger skillfully weaves layers of intrigue, moral ambiguity, and a very personal perspective of the modern art world into one of the year's most fascinating and interesting reads.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"An entrancingly visual, historically rich, deliciously witty, sensuous, and smart tale of authenticity versus fakery in which Shapiro artfully turns a clever caper into a provocative meditation on what we value most."
I'm one of those authors who likes to work in silence, so I didn't listen to any music while I was writing The Art Forger. But I have a bit of an imagination – as most novelists do – and have indulged in thoughts of the movie soundtrack for the book.
The Art Forger is the story of Claire Roth, a struggling artist in present-day Boston, MA. She makes the proverbial deal with the devil (aka gallery owner Aiden Markel) to launch her career in exchange for forging a Degas painting stolen during the infamous $500 million robbery of the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum – the largest art heist in history, still unsolved.
The novel is about secrets and deceit, about what we see and what we don't see, about art and how we decide its value, and about what any of us would do to realize our deepest ambitions. What follows are a few of the soundtrack suggestions I would make to the director of "The Art Forger, The Movie." Don't get me started on whom I've cast in the major roles…
Boston – "Peace of Mind"
Whether you are a blue-collar worker in Southie or an MIT engineer, if you have spent any time living in Boston, this song has been playing when you entered a bar, restaurant or your own car. I imagine this track, among plenty of other familiar hits from the city (Aerosmith and the J. Geils Band come to mind) on constant rotation at Jake's, the South End dive bar which Claire and her friends drink in nightly. It's particularly appropriate as I know lead singer, Tom Scholz.
Thievery Corporation – "The Mirror Conspiracy"
My son introduced me to Thievery Corporation's music, which has a wonderful combination of rhythm and atmosphere, with lyrics that feel like instrumentals and vice versa. It's suspenseful and mysterious, combining elements of modern electronic music with more experimental and classic-sounding jazz. The song "The Mirror Conspiracy" is perfect for the themes in The Art Forger. A secret forgery? A forgery of a forgery? It's like pointing two mirrors at each other and trying to separate out the endless reflections. In fact, "The Mirror Conspiracy" could have been a great alternate title for the novel. I hear this playing over the movie's ending credits.
"All my heart, all of your tears
Our whole world is smoke and mirrors"
Joni Mitchell – "A Case of You"
This folk ballad, one of my favorites from Joni Mitchell, tells the story of a young woman stuck in an addictive relationship. She knows it's bad for her, but she can't leave and doesn't want to: "You are in my blood like holy wine, and you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet." Claire was madly in love with Isaac, a somewhat tortured artist who also happened to be her professor. Despite his depression, his marriage to another woman, and his trampling of Claire's care and support, she still loves him.
The song's second verse opens with a perfect description of their relationship:
"Oh I am a lonely painter
I live in a box of paints
I'm frightened by the devil
And I'm drawn to those ones that ain't afraid."
Bach – "Cello Suite #1 in G Major"
In 1903, Isabella Stewart Gardner hosted a concert by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the opening of her museum. Bach and Mozart accompanied the guests as they viewed her collection for the first time. Belle Gardner was a major supporter of all arts, and over the years many concerts were held at her home/museum. This piece, full of wonderful violins, is both thoughtful and provocative, and I can easily imagine Boston's turn-of-the-century elite wandering the gallery rooms, taking in the amazing collection of European art as the orchestra plays. Perhaps this could be the opening scene of the movie.
George Bizet: Carmen Suite #1 – Seguidilla
The late 19th Century composer George Bizet was working in France around the time of Edgar Degas' success as an Impressionist. As we watch Degas painting his masterpiece – a big part of the novel – I imagine this lively and energetic piece playing in the background.
St. Vincent – "Cheerleader"
Annie Clark, better known as singer/songwriter St. Vincent, is just about Claire's age, and is a Berklee College of Music dropout. In addition to her similarities with Claire – she's a rocker who would've run in the same circles of Boston's artistic and disaffected twenty-somethings – her song "Cheerleader" is a perfect anthem for the stand Claire finally takes in support of her own work – and in opposition to Isaac and the art community.
"I've had good times
With some bad guys
I've told whole lies
With a half smile…
But I-I-I-I-I don't wanna be your cheerleader no more"
St. Vincent chose this song to help promote another book: Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. She explains this song choice on the book's website: "It's about taking control of your own life and not kowtowing to the desires of others." The music video, directed by Hiro Murai, furthers the comparison to Claire's plight in The Art Forger. In the video, St. Vincent's performance is set up as an art installation inside a claustrophobic museum; she is unable to escape as the visitors gawk and stare.
The Foo Fighters – "The Pretender"
My son also turned me on to the Foo Fighters and their front man Dave Grohl. Grohl wrote this as a politically charged opener to their 2007 album Echoes, Silence, Patience and Grace. The lyrics spell out the power of secrets, lies and guilt as they weigh on your conscience, a prominent theme in The Art Forger. Both song and novel ask what happens when the one person who knows the truth decides to turn it against you.
If "Cheerleader" is Claire's rallying call, than this is the response. When Claire decides to tell the truth, the media and art world dub her The Great Pretender. The consequences of her honesty destroy her career, her romantic relationship and ultimately a person's life.
"I'm the voice inside your head
You refuse to hear
I'm the face that you have to face
Mirrored in your stare"
Radiohead – "Life in a Glass House"
Amnesiac is Radiohead's masterpiece of alienation and paranoia. To me, this song, with its dramatic build-up and climax, captures the dread you feel when the consequences of past decisions catch up with you, when you realize things have gone too far, but there's no turning back.
The Art Forger is about good people making bad decisions, mostly for the right reasons. The characters aren't hardened criminals, but artists and art lovers who get in way over their heads. "Life in a Glass House" is the sound of your world slowly coming down around you, when you realize that "someone's listening in…" In Claire's case, it happens to be the FBI.
B.A. Shapiro and The Art Forger links:
Boston Globe review
Entertainment Weekly review
Huffington Post review
January Magazine review
Kirkus Reviews review
Naples News review
New York Daily News review
Publishers Weekly review
USA Today review
Washington Post review
CarolineLeavittville interview with the author
Connecticut Post profile of the author
Maine Crime Writers interview with the author
Powells.Books.Blog guest post by the author (on the novel's inspiration)
also at Largehearted Boy:
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