February 15, 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, Aimee Bender, Myla Goldberg, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Razor-sharp prose, dark humor, and a clever, complex plot make Jamie Mason's Three Graves Full one of the year's most impressive fiction debuts.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"Mason’s quirky debut novel deftly weaves dark humor into a plot that’s as complicated as a jigsaw puzzle but more fun to put together."
Now this is a difficult assignment for me. I listen to music in what seems to be an atypical way. For one thing I absolutely cannot write with music playing. In fact, I can't do much of anything with music playing. I'm either listening to the music or doing the other thing, but if I try to combine them, some sort of fuse blows in my head and my attention to and enjoyment of both things is diminished. And music playing while I'm on hold on the telephone really prods the inner psychopath in me. I am a saint for all the customer service representatives I haven't shredded after a stint on hold. Really, if you can marque numero tres to make your day easier, they should have an opt-out-of-the-noise button for people like me.
The three exceptions to this aversion to musical accompaniment are: cleaning stuff, painting the house, and driving - and driving only sometimes. I am one of those freaks who drives in silence a good bit of the time.
So I did not write any of Three Graves Full with songs in mind. For this article, all of the soundtracking has been reversed-engineered and it's been both challenging and a lot of fun. I'm now thinking that maybe I'll try harder in the future to let music in during the process. If I can. If it doesn't make me go crazy.
"Ventura Highway" by America
Okay, this song has absolutely nothing to do with Three Graves Full, but this was the song that was playing on the radio the very first time it occurred to me to write a story. That very day (as soon as I got into the house, as a matter of fact, about five minutes after ‘Ventura Highway' was over) I wrote the intro to the first book I ever attempted. Now whenever I hear that song, I'm instantly whisked back to the thrill of "Maybe, just maybe, I could do this…"
"Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye (as covered by Walk Off The Earth)
I had to put this one in for my daughters. This song became popular enough for even a silent cave-dweller like me to have heard of it. It became ubiquitous very shortly after the book was retitled from The Liar's Margin to Three Graves Full. I don't know how long it would have taken me to put it together, but right away, my girls tagged the plucking guitar intro as Bah Bah Black Sheep, and accordingly, the first time we heard it in the car, they substituted three graves full where three bags full would have gone.
Of course, now the song is ruined for me. I can't not hear it. But it does make me smile every time.
"The Policy of Truth" by Depeche Mode (as covered by Trapt)
This song fits for me in both the lyrics and the funky, haunting tone. Trapt did a great job honoring and updating the original song, which is my yardstick for a good cover. So many of the characters from TGF could be poked by the song's advice to skip the lies or, conversely, be much better at it – the lies to the authorities, the lies to the people in their lives, and probably first and foremost, the lies to themselves. Of course, if they'd done that, it would have been a much shorter book. And probably pretty dull.
Then there are a few songs that stand out to me for pulling particular characters from Three Graves Full to mind:
"Norwegian Wood" by The Beatles
This is one of those songs that many people I know have never paid attention to – not all the way down to lyrics, anyway. Anyone who has really listened to it could never say, "That's a nice song." It's not. It's not nice at all. It's about a guy who, when he plays along with the most basic pleasantries and doesn't get the sex he thinks his patience entitles him to, sets fire to the girl's apartment. The only upside is that he at least waits until she's gone to work before he lights the place up.
This is a great musical representation of Boyd Montgomery's moral Achilles' heel. He tries to fly by the rules (although the rules in his head would not necessarily match up just so with the prevailing social contracts of our time.) When Boyd perceives he's been crossed, well, he just doesn't hold with that kind of disrespect. And it ain't like he didn't give everyone plenty of space to get right with him.
"Norwegian Wood" was a particularly fun discovery for me, for Boyd, because while I imagine he'd really like Lee Greenwood's God Bless The USA, his tastes are broader than that. I picture him listening to all kinds of music, bringing bits of the world to him, for he certainly knows he doesn't get along well when he puts himself out into the world. As it happened, he even named all his dogs after The Beatles.
"Speak The Word" by Tracy Chapman
First, this is just a terrific song by a tremendous artist. Beyond that, it also struck me as the tone of Leah Tamblin's inner monologue in Three Graves Full. The song is at once sentimental and pragmatic, anti-idealistic, yet not unmoved by romance. To me, it sounds like how it would feel to be in Leah's limbo, the state we find her in at the start of TGF.
"Bleed" by Anna Nalick
And this is how she sounds to me by the end of the book.
"Welcome Home" by Coheed and Cambria
This song is about a different kind of betrayal than what led to the first predicament of Three Graves Full (and holy hell, speaking of sinister lyrics, Norwegian Wood has got nothing on "You could have been all I wanted/But you weren't honest/Now get in the ground") but the instrumental intro just puts me in mind of the final confrontation between Jason and Harris. It sounds to me like violence mixed with some delusion of righteousness. Maybe it just sounds like inevitability.
Their fight wouldn't have lasted very long from that first shove to the clobbering end – probably no longer than the minute and two seconds it takes for Claudio Sanchez to start singing on the track, and it would have ended up in just about the same messy place.
"Paradise City" by Guns N' Roses
This song is super cool on the surface, one of those songs that even people who "don't like that sort of thing" find irresistible. But it's definitely at odds with itself on closer inspection – invoking pretty girls and carpets of green grass, by thrashing and wailing and detailing a hard luck story. I think Gary Harris would quite like it without getting any further than air guitar in his analysis. Probably as it should be. Navel-gazing would probably just give him a migraine.
By any measure, Jason Getty is very hard for me to pin down with a song. He goes through an awful lot in Three Graves Full. A couple of things come to mind to score him:
"The Best I Ever Had" by Vertical Horizon
The mopiness of this song is very Jason. I thought of his dejected slump after his wife lowered the boom on their marriage and it sounded something like this.
"The Peanuts Theme (Linus and Lucy)" by Vince Guaraldi
Between the time that Jason moves to Stillwater and meets Harris, things were looking pretty good. Sort of. In the good-fine-how's-the-weather-Charlie-Brown kind of way that Jason can manage.
"Joy to the World" by Three Dog Night
Only in the most ironic sense does this work for me for Jason's exit. I think it would be the anthem he'd have to loop in his head to pull off the paradigm shift he manages. When I hear it that way, I can't help but laugh. Maybe this song needs a moody, minor-chord cover for "special" occasions. That would be awesome.
Now what I really want is someone with a more encyclopedic (and nuanced) knowledge of music to do this for my book. What a fascinating thing it would be to hear what songs other people think would fit. Item #447 on my wishlist for Three Graves Full. Thanks, Largehearted Boy.
Jamie Mason and Three Graves Full links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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