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November 16, 2012

Book Notes - Mark SaFranko "No Strings"

No Strings

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.

Mark SaFranko's No Strings is modern noir at its best, an impeccably written novel that is gritty, sleazy, and more relatable than you will probably admit.

Tony O'Neill wrote of the book:

"SaFranko s prose is precise, flawless and the work of a man who truly loves and understands great writing."

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 Mark SaFranko's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, No Strings:

From the very beginning of my writing career I had to become used to working under any condition at any time of night or day. This facility was born of necessity and the lack of resources -- financial, primarily -- to procure for myself a peaceful writing environment. In other words, I realized early on that I'd better learn to work under the worst circumstances because they might not get much better. They haven't. I've written, or tried to, while living above an out-of-work trumpeter (it was easy to understand why he was out of work) practicing in the apartment beneath me, while living with a certifiably psychotic woman who veered between the end zones of the bipolar spectrum, and while feeling my tenth-floor unit shake from the pile drivers on the Hoboken waterfront. But, curiously, I've always had a difficult time listening to any kind of singing while at the typewriter because my ear is drawn straight to the lyric. I'm only able to write with instrumental music playing in the same room, and over the years I've become more and more enamored of music for films. The darker and moodier and more unsettling the music, the better. Because No Strings, a noir novel, is largely devoid of musical references -- unlike Hating Olivia, my 2010 novel from Harper Perennial -– the list below is comprised of the mostly instrumental music I listened to while writing it and pieces I believe would fit its soundtrack.

"Private Investigations"

A largely forgotten number by the 80s group Dire Straits which is more of a private dick's monologue against a backdrop of interesting tones than a song. The classical guitar is an unexpected touch that makes the piece. Despite the detective's arrogance in my novel, I can imagine another side to him that Mark Knofler gives voice to:

"And what have you got at the end of the day?
What have you got to take away?"
A bottle of whiskey and a new set of lies
Blinds on the window and pain behind the eyes"


This noir score by Marcelo Zarvos is one of the best ever. It's utterly devoid of bombast but instead characterized by a subtle sense of paranoia that gently keeps my attention without ruining it. I never get tired of this record. Much better than the film, by the way.


From the opening sweep of that mysterious Asian chime, Jerry Goldsmith's masterpiece never loses an ounce of its melancholy power. A perfect soundtrack for murder, incest and all the rest. Very easy to write against, even if there is a vocal track thrown in.

Angel Heart

Soundtrack mostly composed by Trevor Jones. There are some light moments here, especially "The Right Key, But The Wrong Keyhole," an old Clarence Williams vaudeville tune, but the original music is a skin-crawling nightmare, highlighted by the saxophone of Courtney Pine and Mickey Rourke's Harry Angel/Johnny Favourite dialogue ripped from the movie. Incredibly creepy, but I love it.

Recordings Of Music For Films

Bits and pieces that are in many cases poorly recorded, primitive, atmospheric, baffling and at times just plain lovely, this Vincent Gallo collection is one of my all-time favorite records and a great one to write to. It leaves you alone and demands your attention in equal measure. This record played often in the background as I worked on the revisions of No Strings.

"Rain In My Heart"

The first song on Frank Sinatra's much maligned 1968 album Cycles. One of his great and strangely underrated performances, it features a brilliant drum performance by -- and I'm just guessing here -- Buddy Rich. I can imagine this tune echoing sadly in Richard Marzten's mind after the collapse of his illicit affair.

Crime And Dissonance

A double-disc compendium on Ipecac Recordings of incidental music by the great Ennio Morricone. Culled mostly from obscure film soundtracks from the sixties and seventies, this is an insane collection of sounds, rhythms, passages, squeals and moans that practically defies description. Nevertheless, it has an otherworldly beauty all its own.

"Empty Afternoon (Prologue)" and "When Shadows Meet Other Shadows"

This pair of songs from John SaFranko's 2000 album Music For An Empty Afternoon on August Moon Records have an Edward Hermann-like feel that lend a touch of elegance to otherwise sleazy proceedings. They'd be great for any noir film, but I'll take them for No Strings.

Body Heat

John Barry's classic film score seethes with sex and murder. Perfect for writing noir. I still listen to it often.

"Music From An Unmade Movie" - Mark SaFranko, River Jack Records

I wrote and produced the music on this album for several of my screenplays that had been optioned for film. While No Strings was not one of them, much of the music on the album would fit it, especially the gruesome murder scenes and their aftermaths. I played all of the instruments on the record, from the sitar to African drum. While all of the compositions had a predetermined and definite structure, I felt free to improvise within that structure, which resulted, at least to my ear, in many fortuitous musical accidents. The album also allowed me to use many of the vintage guitars in my extensive collection, including a rare 1964 Guild Polara to a 1973 Brazilian rosewood LoPrinzi dreadnought. The record remains perhaps my favorite of all my musical projects and is, I think, one of the best things I've ever done, musically or otherwise. Much to my amazement, I find that I can always listen to it, especially while writing.

Mark SaFranko and No Strings links:

the author's website
the author's Wikipedia entry

Butt Shark University! interview with the author
Largehearted Boy Book Notes essay by the author for Hating Olivia
Seize the Day interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

The list of online "best of 2012" book 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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