January 29, 2013
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.
Ian Hamilton's latest thriller series kicks off with The Disciple of Las Vegas, which features the unforgettable Ava Lee, a forensic accountant with a penchant for Kung Fu.
Sarah Weinman wrote of the book:
"One of my favorite new mystery series, perfect escapism…Ava Lee’s lethal knowledge…torques up her sex appeal to the approximate level of a female lead in a Quentin Tarantino film."
My protagonist Ava Lee – now into her 7th book – is mid-30sh Chinese-Canadian accountant who collects bad debts for a living and believes that people always do the right thing for the wrong reason – a Saul Alinsky maxim that cleverly nuances the notion that the end justifies the means.
Ava and her partner, Uncle, an elderly Hong Konger, have a client base that is mainly Asian and Ava spends a lot of time in Hong Kong, various Chinese cities (some, like Wuhan, not so well known), and surrounding countries.
I spent more than twenty years traveling in and around Asia, South America and Europe on business and obviously draw upon those experiences, including encountering music that I might not have otherwise known existed. Strangely, some of the music I adore came to me in a setting that culturally bore no resemblance to its origin. For example, I was running in Hong Kong's Victoria Park listening to BBC World when I first heard Tori Amos singing "Winter." It was love at first sound. Now I can't think of her without having an image of the Park, and when I'm in the Park, her name always comes to mind and I'm swamped again with bittersweet emotions.
The Ava Lee books are not filled with musical references - her art form tastes run more to Chinese films and soap operas, but Ava does love to salsa, and she is a fan of Cantopop. My playlist includes both.
"Dicen Que Soy" by India
I was in a store in the Caracas airport when I heard her for the first time. There were several young women there as well, and as "Dicen Que Soy" played, they spontaneously began to dance salsa. They were so lithe, so damn sexy. I have never regretted more my inability to carry a tune or master the simplest dance step. I bought the CD, and twenty years later still play it, still think of those young women, and still daydream that I danced with them. One footnote: Maria Gonzalez, Ava's girlfriend, bears a deliberate resemblance to the picture of India on the Dicon Que Soy cover.
"Love You a Bit More Each Day" by Jacky Cheung
In the world of Cantopop there is only one king and it is Jacky. Whether he is singing in Mandarin, Cantonese or English; whether he is singing rock, ballads or some form of opera; he is the man. I listen to him in Cantonese and Mandarin, not understanding a word, but revelling in his voice and his way of putting across a song, an emotion. How good is he? Good enough to fill the 14,000 seats at the Hong Kong Convention for 21 straight days, and then come to Canada and fill 18,000 seats at Air Canada Centre at $150 a seat.
"Cherish When We Meet Again" by Anita Mui
The queen of Cantopop, and a singer who could bring an audience to a hush, and then make them cry with her. This was the last song she sang at the last concert she gave before she died of cancer. It is on YouTube and worth watching.
"Winter" by Tori Amos
This song, and that entire Little Earthquakes CD haunted me for months. I made a complete nuisance of myself by pushing it at friends. As far as I'm concerned, Amos with her raw emotions and uncluttered melodies set the standard for singers like Kate Bush. I don't think she has yet been surpassed. As I said, I heard it first in Hong Kong, and the city and the song are forever joined in my head.
"Handsome Johnny" by Richie Havens
In the late sixties and early seventies, the Yorkville district in downtown Toronto was the home of the Canadian hippie movement, and the coffee houses and folk music clubs that catered to them. Joni Mitchell, Gordon Lightfoot, Ian and Sylvia, and Havens all sang there, most of them at the start of their careers. I was heavily involved in the anti-war movement, and Handsome Johnny was close to being our anthem. Yorkville is now the ritziest, hippest neighbourhood in the city and Ava has her condo there, almost directly above where Havens and the others performed.
"You Were on My Mind" by Sylvia Tyson
She wrote the song, and though it has been covered by probably hundreds of singers, it is her pure voice that I remember. Her then-husband Ian sang with her. Didn't like him much, mainly because I had crush on Sylvia.
"Delta Lady," "Something," "With a Little Help from My Friends" by Joe Cocker
I know these are three songs, but I can't separate them or pick a favourite. They are all from Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen album – also a concert movie of the same name – with Leon Russell leading the band and Rita Coolidge singing backup. What a crew that was, and what a piece of work was Cocker. During that time he was evidently either constantly drunk or drugged. Whatever, he squeezed every ounce of energy and meaning of any song he sang.
"If It Be Your Will" by Antony
I had to have a Leonard Cohen penned song on the list, and the big problem was which one to choose. Could have been any one sung by Jennifer Warnes, or I could have opted for Hallelujah and then debated between the versions sung by Rufus Wainwright and K.D. Laing. I finally chose If It Be Your Will because I think it reflects Cohen's mysticism in its least cynical way, and Antony is absolute brilliant in his halting, doubting, almost agonizing delivery of the song.
"Paradise By the Dashboard Light" by Meat Loaf
In my opinion, Bat out of Hell has to be one of the top five rock and roll albums of all time, and this song was the heart of it. As I got older, the song took on even more relevance because I had more than one friend who paid dearly for years for those minutes of teenage lust that Meat Loaf captured so perfectly.
"Mamma Morta" by Maria Callas
I came late in life to opera, and first heard this song – like many other people I would think – in the movie Philadelphia, and that has remained the context for me rather than the opera from which it came. I have heard it played now hundreds of times, and the thing I noticed was that whenever it starts, people stop talking, and many of them close their eyes. How many songs have that effect?
Ian Hamilton and The Disciple of Las Vegas links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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