March 1, 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.
Joe David Bellamy's Green Freedom is a clever and inventive novel that doesn't only evoke the 1960s, it immerses the reader in the era.
Green Freedom is a love story--if you don't count the crime, deceit, and betrayal--and it's a love story that takes place at a certain American hour of the world in the late 1960s. So most of the songs in my head while I was writing it were songs of that time and place and were love songs.
I spent every cent of the modest advance from my first novel Suzi Sinzinnati on permissions to use song lyrics as epigraphs for each chapter of Suzi. This is because under Fair Use you can use up to 300 words of F. Scott Fitzgerald in a book without permission so long as you cite the source, but if you use one line of "Rama Lama Ding Dong," most likely you have to pay somebody. I wasn't willing to do that again for Green Freedom. Though the songs were always on my mind, I hate to think what it might have cost to use them.
Permission and payment came up again, in a different way, when I wanted to launch my book trailer for Green Freedom. The guy who compiled the trailer for me had used "America" from Simon and Garfunkel for the soundtrack, and when I tried to post the trailer on-line, Facebook red-flagged it because I hadn't contacted Mr. Simon or Mr. Garfunkel yet. Oh yeah, I thought, minor detail. But not so minor.
Fortunately, one of my friends, Peyton Tochterman, had just released a new CD with a song on it called "Sure Thing" and he was willing to let me use it on the trailer. Actually it worked better than the Simon and Garfunkel because "Sure Thing" is a brand new song, and Peyton's gravelly voice captured something essential about the novel. "America" spoke to me, but I felt strongly that I needed to skirt any and all of the cliches and nostalgic baggage of the 60s if I wanted to write a good book about a difficult time. Here's the way it sounds now. Can he sing or what?
Here goes with the soundtrack for my novel:
"We went straight back to my apartment and drank wine and listened to Carmina Burana, and at some point during the rising, swelling momentum and mastery of that exotic music, we kissed and I gathered her up without hesitation or awkwardness off the carpet where we were lying, lifted her up into my arms as if she were a mere sylph, and carried her into my bedroom." --from Green Freedom.
Barry McGuire, "Eve of Destruction"
I remember hearing this song while I was walking down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley in 1965, and the same song was coming out of every store front and we all believed it was true. We wanted to believe the Beach Boys, but this is what we really believed: We all had maybe five minutes more to live. This was the essential feeling of the 60s, but nobody ever mentions it. Turned out the Beach Boys were right--there was still time to think about actually living our lives-- but it felt like a narrow escape at the time.
Beach Boys, Smiley Smile, Pet Sounds, "God Only Knows," and The Byrds "Turn, Turn, Turn"
There was a period during the 60s when the Beach Boys went a little weird on us, but so did everything else at the time. They weren't quite so innocent anymore, but neither were we. Whether celebrating surfing, young love, girls, and automobiles or something more philosophical, the Beach Boys were among the presiding American voices of the era. So of course I listened to them.
I had not paid much attention to her earlier, but I discovered Rita Coolidge in the late nineties because no one else gave me the feeling I needed while writing this book like Rita Coolidge. Her ripe, dark, sensuous voice was at the soul of what I was looking for--though most of her important songs came out in the seventies. She has such perfect timing and such a lovely calmness and dignity. The ones that spoke to me the most were "Bird on the Wire," "Tempted," and "I Believe in You." Rita seems less appreciated now, but she shouldn't be. Rita is a miracle.
The Pretenders, "I'll Stand By You"
This is not the Ben E. King song but was written by Chrissie Hynde, Tom Kelly, and Billy Steinberg. I don't know why I love everything Chrissie Hynde sings but I do. I don't think it's because we're both from Ohio. Let's face it--she does not have a great voice or big lungs. She's edgy and hypnotic. This song is not even from the 60s, but the line "Nothing You Confess Could Make Me Love You Less" said something important to me about the relationship between Luke and Annie in my novel.
Celine Dion, "Love Never Asks Why"
I know. I know. Celine is not considered cool. But I don't care. In this song, it was what she said that struck me, but I've always been susceptible to women with lungs to die for. Celine has 'em, and I love the way her voice soars. Go ahead and laugh. I would throw myself in front of a moving bus for Celine, and I don't care who knows it.
Joan Baez, Farewell Angelina but really everything
One of my favorite of several thousand lines from Donald Barthelme (to paraphrase) is: "He had a strange power over people and events called ten million dollars a year gross." Joan Baez had a strange power over me for a couple of decades called singing. I bought every LP she made as soon as it was available. She made Child's ballads alive and real for me, and I would rather hear her singing Bob Dylan songs than the master himself. Joanie was a moral force as well as a musical one and her ethereal voice seemed to come from the oracle itself. In this way, she mediated the world--for a lot of us.
The Troggs, "Wild Thing"
This one is on Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time" because it celebrates feminine beauty, lust, and abandon in a more direct and crude way than we had ever heard it before. Beauty, lust, and abandon were all around us in the 60s.
A Group Called Smith
Gayle McCormick was one of the greats of the era, I think. I never understood why she and Smith didn't make more music. Her indelible voice getting cranked up still does it for me.
Donovan, "Wear Your Love Like Heaven"
Donovan seems kind of dippy now, but he was big in the 60s. He was a part of the scene, and his music still evokes that place and time.
Eddie Arnold, "Bouquet of Roses"
This is a forties song. But the maudlin, self-pitying tone was perfect for Wain's character and situation in the novel.
Simon & Garfunkel
Their gentle, intelligent, heartbreaking songs were unlike anything we had ever heard in the 60s and they became the air we breathed. They are quintessentially American, and time has not ruined them.
"On the way out along the winding road, I turn on the radio, and we're listening to Simon and Garfunkel, who seem at that moment like close personal friends of mine, two sweet-voiced Jewish boys singing heartbreaking love songs inside our German automobile on a Japanese radio--what does any of it mean?" --from Green Freedom.
Beatles, "If I Fell"
Rolling Stones, "Let's Spend the Night Together"
Of course, the Beatles and the Stones. The Beatles were sweeping across America, and there was no escaping them or their influence. The Beatles were the nice boys and the Stones were the bad boys, and thus it always was and is and ever shall be.
Joe David Bellamy and Green Freedom links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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