May 2, 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.
Anna Stothard's The Pink Hotel is a gritty and moving exploration of personal identity, and one of the finest literary portrayals of seedy Los Angeles life I have read.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"An emotional scavenger hunt…. Stothard’s characterization of a teenage girl is spot on, and she has used her own knowledge of both Los Angeles and England to enrich the complex cultural backdrop against which her saga unfurls."
I'm quite private about music. I don't go to many gigs and the ones I've been to have upset me, like sharing favourite toys. I write to music, though – often the same song on repeat until it's more an umbrella of mood than it is a coherent song. I listen to a song over and over and over (and over) until it dies on me. These are some of the songs I killed while writing The Pink Hotel, or that make me think of scenes from the book.
"Alone in Kyoto" by Air
Air's "Moon Safari" album reminds me of being seventeen: late nights and trying not to act like a child. In the opening scene of The Pink Hotel, the narrator turns up to the dregs of a party at a hotel in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. It's her estranged mother's wake, but she pulls her grubby baseball cap over her eyes and floats around the hotel incognito. The party would be pumping out rave music, but the narrator is on a different rhythm to everyone else. Perhaps she'd be walking around to the anxious, dreamy beat of Alone in Kyoto from Air's album "Talkie Walkie", until the waves crash at the end of it.
"Holocene" Bon Iver
After my protagonist steals a suitcase of clothes and photos from her mother's bedroom during the wake, she legs it to the beach and sits there as the sun comes up. Bon Iver's song Holocene reminds me of that drained feeling after recovering from hysterical tears or laughter: oxygen deprived, a little high and hollow. It describes the end of childhood, or maybe a love affair, but it's also about suddenly vast horizons: "at once I knew, I was not magnificent", "I can see for miles, miles, miles…" The long beat at the end makes me hold my breath.
"Too Hot to Sleep" Eilen Jewell
It's the hottest summer on record for California when my narrator decides to return her mother's love letters to the men who knew Lily. Bemused seagulls crouch on Sunset Boulevard, strip-malls pump out enticingly artic air. "Too Hot to Sleep" by Eilen Jewell is bluesy and too sophisticated for my narrator, but sums up the charged lethargy of a heat wave, where you act out of character. It is a song for sweaty sheets, heading out for cigarettes at three in the morning, sticky insomnia and sex. It's too hot to sleep anyway, so you might as well stay…
"Walking in LA" Missing Persons
I spent two years in Los Angeles without a car. "Nobody walks in LA!" strangers would sing to me from smug car windows. Or friends would giggle in dive bars, when I arrived late and smelling of pollution: "Nobody is walking!" But I liked it. Similar to my character in The Pink Hotel, I enjoyed ambling East Hollywood watching Armenian grandfathers playing checkers while their wives sunbathed on broken deck-chairs, then around the next corner, Thai children peeling oranges for pavement alters. The rhythms make me nostalgic for marching down long, steamy pavements and being the only exposed human in sight.
"Islands" by XX
The Pink Hotel has a love story in its center. The nameless protagonist grows up scraping her elbows on football fields, spitting on boys till they fight her, jumping off walls to feel her knees ache. She's always found pain to be less capricious and complicated than pleasure. Tenderness isn't something she's used to but in the long hot summer after her mother's wake, she falls in love and tries to negotiate this whole new world of pleasure. The XX's debut album was go-to music when finishing The Pink Hotel. Their song Islands has a mood of triumphant yet unsteady love that reminds me of my narrator loving David.
"Hotel California" The Eagles
The fictional Pink Hotel was inspired by a real hotel called The Cadillac on Venice Beach. I arrived there on a whim after a road trip around California and Nevada, the summer after finishing university. It felt mythic when I first saw it, and the place got well and truly tangled in my imagination. The novel isn't a ghost story, but the narrator's mother does haunt. (Her mind is Tiffany-twisted…She got a lot of pretty, pretty boys she calls friends…) This ominous Eagles tune describes something of the entrapment that The Pink Hotel ends on.
Anna Stothard and The Pink Hotel links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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