November 7, 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.
In The Lighthouse Road, Peter Geye adeptly draws the hardship of northern Minnesota life of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries through a complex cast of characters. In his second novel Geye once again proves himself one of the most gifted literary portrayers of sense of place as well as time.
The Minneapolis Star Tribune wrote of the book:
""The Lighthouse Road" emphasizes the importance of place in human destiny. Geye layers stories of two generations over one locale, drawing parallels while revealing gaps. Are people actors on the land, or does the land act through people? Thanks to Geye's skilled use of perspective, we understand that the answers aren't easy."
You know that moment when you hear a song for the first time? Late at night or early in the morning, motoring down the interstate, on your way home or on your way to someplace new? That faraway feeling? Maybe you're sad. Maybe you're lonely or happy or hopeful. When you hear those notes and the world seems bigger or more possible or even more meaningful because of them, that's a feeling worth having.
Or maybe you're sitting in a pub, waiting for your wife to join you for a drink. A song comes on and you're immediately reminded of why you love this woman so much. Why this life is such a goddamn beautiful thing sometimes.
Maybe you're having a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning. Sitting next to the fireplace on a snowy winter day. Your kids are playing peacefully, you've got the newspaper spread across your lap, and you hear the moan of a steel guitar from the radio. Your heart swells. You look at your kids just to be sure they actually exist.
How many ways are there to hear a song?
I love music for how it opens a chamber of your heart like nothing else can. There's no inhibition. No intellect. Just a gush of emotions.
I try—every time I sit down to write—to channel and evoke similar feelings. And I just about always do so while I'm listening to the songs that make me feel most alive with the feeling of the story I'm writing.
Here's the soundtrack-in-my-mind to The Lighthouse Road, my second novel with Unbridled Books. If you listen to these songs, you'll get a pretty good feeling of the book's emotional timbre. I think of the new book as quintessentially Minnesotan. At least I hope it is. And because of this I've included only Minnesota artists on this playlist. Enjoy.
"Duluth" Trampled by Turtles
I'm late to the TBT party, but thank god I found it. The first words I ever heard from this band—I can't love you, baby, like you need me to…—came to me on a Sunday morning much like the one I describe above. I was listening to my favorite radio program, casting about for reasons one lover might leave another. I was thinking too hard, and this song taught me that sometimes it's simply a matter of not having the right kind of love in you. This is true for one of the characters in The Lighthouse Road. That the song is also about Duluth, where much of the book takes place, is just gravy.
"Girl from the North Country" Bob Dylan & Johnny Cash
Dylan and Cash, singing about the North Country, about a long lost lover, about snow and memory and frozen rivers. The kind of song that can bring tears to your eyes without your knowing why. Enough said.
"In the Morning" Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank
This song is like a novel itself. Amazing—and humbling—to hear what can be compressed into four and a half minutes of music. This one evokes the kind of complicated emotional response that I aim for in the book. And it sounds so good. Those strumming guitars and that perfect voice.
"Disaster" Dead Man Winter
Dead Man Winter is the side project of Trampled By Turtles front man Dave Simonett. The sweet harmonies are as much evident in the one band as the other, as are the impossibly lovelorn lyrics. Simonett falls right in line with another northern Minnesota troubadour, the one that used to go by the name Bobby Zimmerman.
"Fear of Falling" Golden Smog
I don't know if I've ever heard so much lovely harmonica in a single song. And I've been listening to Bob Dylan records since I was twelve years old. Harmonica aside, this song actually inspired an entire chapter in the novel. In the book, two of the protagonists, lovers, pregnant out of wedlock in 1921, grapple with how to stay in love against the stacked odds. This song seems to be about something similar.
"Sadly Beautiful" The Replacements
I've been listening to The Replacements for as long as I can remember, and if you hold a gun to my head and ask me my favorite bands, this one surely makes the cut. But I'd actually forgotten about this sweet, sad song, so out of tune is it with most of their repertoire.
The Lighthouse Road spans four generations, and much of the book is about having children. The children are all misbegotten, they add a layer of difficulty to already difficult lives that might be better avoided, but they're also the most beautiful part of the book. This song, which is all about having children, contains a line that might have been the book's epigraph, and coming as it does from of Paul Westerberg's raspy voice is just about perfect: Well, you've got your father's hair, and you've got your father's nose, but you've got my soul. Come on, how beautiful is that?
"God Walks on the Water" Romantica
I discovered this band just as I was starting to write The Lighthouse Road, and for many of those first days I listened to them over and over again. There's a line in this song that goes, Life is a book that nobody read, and I applied that sentiment to the characters in the book I was writing. It's a notion I find fascinating, this idea that we're none of us prepared for the life we lead. But in a strange way, these songs can help us through. Much like religion or stories can.
How to describe this gorgeous duet? It's full of nautical imagery, haunting sounds, and a pair of voices equally sad and sure. The persistent and understated beat is like a pulse. Despite the implied barrenness, the song ends with the refrain, Have you ever seen something this beautiful? I love the idea that something we are trained to see as cold or hard or sad can also be the most beautiful thing there is. I'd go so far as to say that it's the reason I write: to turn the sad and tragic into something beautiful.
"Alone" Trampled by Turtles
If books had anthems, "Alone" would be this book's song. The lyrics tell a similar story to the one I've written, but more importantly, the sound and mood mirror The Lighthouse Road to uncanny effect. The way the song rises and falls, the sublime layers of strings working together, the sadness full and inevitable coming from every note, sweet lord, could a song do more?
Peter Geye and The Lighthouse Road links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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