April 5, 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.
Peter Rock's haunting new novel The Shelter Cycle lyrically explores the influence of faith on our lives in this book inspired by The Church Universal and Triumphant cult.
Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:
"A metaphysically haunting, shape-shifting novel that keeps the reader off balance and can’t be fully appreciated until its climax."
The Shelter Cycle is a novel that is inspired by a real church, The Church Universal and Triumphant, in Montana. It's a little ironic to put together a playlist for anything involving the church, because their leader, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, made it clear that contemporary and rock and roll music were evil and dangerous. (In fact, the bass and drums of such music could get your chakras spinning backward!)
If you'd like to hear Mother Clare decree (a kind of high speed chanting the church used) against rock and roll, please do so:
The music that those in the church were supposed to favor were Strauss Waltzes, and also Christmas music, which was thought to have positive applications year around. I'm not going to include any of that, here. Instead, I'll include these:
Califone - "The Orchids" from Roots & Crowns
When all the numbers swim together and all the shadows settle
When doors forced open shut again a flytrap and a petal
My eyes burn and claws rush in to fill them
And in the morning after the night I fall in love with the light
It is so clear I realize and here at last I have my eyes
This song! It not only describes, it demonstrates a bewilderment. I mean, numbers swimming together, then the hauntedness of doors forced open suddenly shutting, and then "a flytrap and a petal"? This is so fine. And amid all this the line, "And in the morning after the night I fall in love with the light."
The Light is a key concept in my book, and in the cosmology of The Church Universal and Triumphant, the religion whose "shelter cycle" (when they built underground shelters in preparation for, potentially, the end of the world) my novel investigates. I am simplifying, here: the Ascended Masters are allied with different rays, different colors, vibrations. For instance, Saint Germain is allied with the Violet Ray, which is the color with the highest wavelength, the highest vibration, which can help transmute bad karma to good karma, darkness to light.
Sound is crucial to such transmutation. The decrees that the communicants chanted together were meant to shift bad karma to good through vibrations; and one could not only maximize one's personal Light, but also that of the whole planet. Saving the planet through shifting vibrations in the air…
Light is to be gathered, protected, encouraged to grow. Recognizing this positive energy, and figuring out how to preserve and multiply it, is why we are here.
Eels - "Blinking Lights (For Me)" from Blinking Lights And Other Revelations
Blinking lights on the airplane wings
Up above the trees
Blinking down a morse code signal
Especially for me
Studying the teachings of the church led me to disbelieve in coincidences, and to wonder at causes and effects. We must beware of compromises, of familiar understandings. We must pay careful attention to the things babies say that don't seem to make sense to us, and not correct them—they are speaking from the higher planes, and have not yet forgotten their earlier embodiments, their earlier lives. There are signs all around us, waiting to be read.
Nina Nastasia & Jim White - "Odd Said The Doe" from You Follow Me
I did a lot of interviews in preparation to write this book, and was so impressed at the rich memories of those who had been children in the church. Those days were so rich for them—their parents were involved in these underground construction projects ("like the coolest forts ever"), the landscape around them was outrageously beautiful, and they believed themselves to be surrounded by invisible nature spirits (Sylphs, Undines, etc) who would protect them.
My novel tells the story of the shelter cycle through its protagonists, Colville and Francine, who were children during that time. It also brings them together about twenty years later. Colville tells Francine, when he tracks her down, that a raccoon had been peeking in the windows of his house, and that he'd come to believe that it was her, Francine, checking on him, trying to reach him…
Odd that the doe, who looks like it wants to speak
Is the same doe I saw in my yard last week
Can I believe that it's you?
I'd like to believe that it's you
Calling on me
Perhaps this excellent song played into my plot turn, and at the very least it's resonant. It was certainly in the air, vibrating the air around me. This album, You Follow Me, is one of my favorites from these years; Jim White's amazing drumming—never quite on the beat, erupting here and there, never quite where you expect it, always right—is a big part of that.
M. Ward - "Silverline" from End Of Amnesia
Clearly, I'm a writer, and words are dear to me, and most of the music I like I like because of the lyrics. That said, I can't listen to music with words when I write—those words get tangled up in my own, or keep my own at bay. Sometimes I do listen to instrumentals. And whenever I make playlists I like to include some instrumentals, too.
Perhaps another way to think of it is that the songs with lyrics, here, are a kind of soundtrack to my life while I was writing and thinking about this book. The music of those years (which is also one way I think of my books—as a testament to a stretch of time). And the songs without lyrics are more like the soundtrack to the book itself?
Bahamas - "Lost In The Light" from Barchords
Pretty self-explanatory and wonderful. I like that this guy from Canada calls his band "Bahamas"; I also like bands that are really just one guy. But man he really does know how to use background singers. Things get really startling and spiritually heightened about halfway through.
Uncle Tupelo - "Sandusky" from March 16-20, 1992
One time I was interviewing a believer who suddenly said, "Listen, you and I are not physical beings; we're spiritual beings, caught here in envelopes of skin, fortunate to meet here on this physical plane and have this conversation."
Lucinda Williams - "Side of the Road" from Lucinda Williams
This is a long-time favorite song of mine. And this album, Lucinda Williams, is from 1998, within the years of the shelter cycle. I almost chose another song, "Abandoned," because of the excellent line "These boots are the same boots I was wearing then" as it spoke to how strange it was for me to return to Montana--
Because one thing that drew me to this story was that I lived in Montana during the shelter cycle. I lived very near to the Church and worked on a cattle and sheep ranch above Paradise Valley (all of this is just north of Yellowstone, beautiful country). So I was well aware that there were folks all around preparing for the end of the world. I was pretty sure it wouldn't end; I was busy injuring myself in various ways, being very cold and lonely, trying to learn to write.
I love these lyrics, which seems so attuned to what writers do:
I walked out in a field, the grass was high, it brushed against my legs
I just stood and looked out at the open space and a farmhouse out a ways
And I wondered about the people who lived in it
And I wondered if they were happy and content
Were there children and a man and a wife?
Did she love him and take her hair down at night?
Bob Dylan - "If Not For You" from New Morning
During the shelter cycle I lived in this old bunkhouse. I lay awake listening to all the mousetraps going off under my bed, the coyotes howling. I didn't have electricity or plumbing, but I had a little gas generator that I'd set up by the outhouse and snake an extension cord back to me (the generator had to be a ways away or I couldn't hear the music) where I had this plastic boombox from high school. What I was listening to were a bunch of Dylan bootlegs, mostly.
And twenty years later I was still listening to Dylan, but was going through this phase of listening to albums of his that I'd never liked, much. While writing this book I got really obsessed with New Morning. And this opening song is so sweet, perhaps as unadulterated a love song as Dylan ever wrote.
Laura Gibson - "Milk-Heavy, Pollen-Eyed" from La Grande
For me, this beauty is a kind of love song between two people who are having or have had the same experience and have reacted in different ways (perhaps this is a description of any and all relationships?). And that is more or less the situation that Colville and Francine are in, in my book. They share a past, but the ways they've brought it into the present are quite different.
One of the other fascinating things I learned through talking to ex-members of the Church was how, for many of them, the beliefs and prayers and decrees would rise up in them, unbidden and unwanted, in moments of stress.
Just as sure as every parting word
Comes stuttering off every parting tongue
I cannot keep myself from stumbling back to you
And here's a sweet video (also a shout out to Portland, where Laura and I both live):
Calexico - "Dub Latina" from Feast Of Wire
The other day my five year old daughter asked me, "If you die while you're having the dream, do you get to keep the dream?" I told her yes.
Sun Kil Moon - "The Light-alt" from April - Bonus Disc
Surprise, Sun Kil Moon songs: this one is kind of sad.
The Avett Brothers - "Ten Thousand Words" from I And Love And You
Ain't it like most people? I'm no different
They love to talk on things they don't know about
I And Love And You is an album that was often playing on repeat as I drove back and forth through landscapes, pursuing this book. And this song speaks to the process in many ways:
Ten thousand words swarm around my head
Ten million more in books written beneath my bed
I wrote or read them all when searchin' in the swarms
Still can't find out how to hold my hands
It also speaks to the sheer selfishness of writing, of being focused on something inside one's head, when there are other real people who could use some assistance. This book was written while my two daughters were very young; enough said:
And I know you need me in the next room over
But I am stuck in here all paralyzed
For months I got myself in ruts
Too much time spent in mirrors framed in yellow walls
Richard Buckner - "Pico" from Since
I really love that Richard Buckner album The Hill, where he sets some of the poems from Edgar Lee Masters' Spoon River Anthology to music.
Cat Stevens - "The Wind" from Gold
As I said before, when I look back at my books I remember the years and what happened during that time. Similarly, I often have a better sense of what the yearnings and anxieties that drove a given book were, much later. For instance, with My Abandonment, I was racing the birth of my first daughter, Ida; now I can see how much my anxiety about fatherhood is all over that book, which is all about a father and daughter.
The big events of the years when I wrote The Shelter Cycle were my daughters' births and their manifestation in this plane. And man, has anyone been more obsessed with Cat Stevens than Ida Rock? I remember watching videos; I remember crying while watching Cat sing "Don't Be Shy" with Ida on my lap.
For a long time Ida believed Cat Stevens and Yusuf Islam to be distinct people ("Why is Yusuf singing Cat's song?").
I probably listened to "Bitterblue" 10,000 times while writing this novel.
Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan - "It's Hard To Kill A Bad Thing" from Ballad Of The Broken Seas
This book is far and away the hardest thing I ever wrote. It turned me inside out. Along the way, I learned so much and met so many excellent people.
Bill Callahan - "One Fine Morning" from Apocalypse
When the earth turns cold
And the earth turns black
Will I feel you riding on my back?
No more drovering, for me, either. And I really love the way Bill Callahan sounds, here.
Peter Rock and The Shelter Cycle links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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