August 9, 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.
Kelly Braffet's novel Save Yourself is a compelling and crisply drawn portrait of small town life touched by tragedy.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"A sharp portrait of five people damaged by their childhood elevates Braffet's captivating, realistically creepy third novel, set in Ratchetsburg, Pa."
When I was a teenager, the first question anyone asked when meeting someone new was, "What kind of music do you listen to?" It was as weighted a question as "Do you go to church?" or "Who'd you vote for?" The right answer made you a freak, which was good; the wrong answer made you a poseur, which was the worst thing you could possibly be. I lost patience with this bullshit by the time I hit college, but I remember how keenly important it was. Because it was more than music: it was community, for those of us who had no real community. Sharing headphones with the Freak Queen on the bus while Morrissey played in my discman gave me more of a sense of belonging than I found anywhere else in high school, fleeting though it was. When I looked at strangers in the mall, I knew automatically that they listened to the same music I did, and took comfort from knowing I wasn't alone. And while that was eventually part of what drove me away from the whole subculture thing – I didn't want to be so easily classified, accepted or dismissed – for a while there, it was the linchpin around which my entire identity spun. (It even raised its head again while I was making this list: were the songs I picked cool enough, interesting enough, obscure enough? Probably not. I always was kind of a poseur.)
I was thinking a lot of musical identities when I wrote Patrick Cusimano, the quasi-hero of Save Yourself. He listens to classic metal, Megadeth and Metallica and Led Zeppelin; he even admits that this is his father's generation's music, not his. But it sets him apart in a way he can control. It makes him feel special, just like my music did for me, once upon a time. (Patrick's musical tastes, by the way, are based pretty much completely on the t-shirt wardrobe of this guy Larry that I went to high school with. He was what we called a head, for metalhead, but smart and good-looking. I always wanted to be his friend, but I was a freak and he was a head and my social skills were not exactly expansive, so there went that. Anyway, if I could picture Larry wearing the t-shirt, Patrick was allowed to listen to the band.)
Megadeth – "Peace Sells"
I listened to a lot of metal when I was working on Save Yourself: when I was going to the grocery store, playing video games, thinking my thoughts. This song might as well have been written for Patrick Cusimano. The bitterness, the defensiveness, the enduring sense of fuck-you-very-much – What do you mean I hurt your feelings? I didn't know you had any feelings – this is the image Patrick tries to project to the world. If I were making the movie version of Save Yourself, I'd put this song over the opening credits. Maybe over some speeded-up footage of Patrick's shift at the convenience store: blurry, jittery images of him standing around doing absolutely nothing, and hating every minute of it. (Also, for the record: I know, Dave Mustaine. I know. All I can say is, this song is really, really old.)
Metallica – "Turn the Page"
Patrick would have conflicted feelings about this song. On one hand, it's a song about how terribly lonely and hard it is to be a rock star, and Patrick, working his minimum-wage convenience store job, probably wouldn't have an overwhelming amount of patience with that. He's probably also heard the original several thousand times on the canned radio at the store, which might be enough for him to dismiss it, right there. On the other hand, it's Metallica. And I think even he would have to admit that it rocks fairly hard. So he'd listen to it during one of those long dark walks to work of his, but he wouldn't tell anyone about it. I have no such qualms; I think it's awesome. The rock-star bit might not be totally germane to the world of Save Yourself, but the world-weariness fits right in.
Mark Lanegan – "Ugly Sunday"
More world-weariness. And also drunkenness, and loneliness, all three of which figure profoundly into my characters' lives. At one point in the book, Patrick characterizes his brother's girlfriend, Caro, as being "into sensitive indie rock," which I think isn't quite fair; in turn, she characterizes his musical tastes as being "dreadful," which isn't any more accurate. This is a song they would both like. I think if it came on when they were talking, their conversation would gradually taper off, and they'd grow quiet, and listen. (Also, Mark Lanegan has the saddest voice in the world. There's actually a scene in the book where Patrick is in his teenage stalker Layla's car, and he describes the song playing as being "deep and cool." I was originally hearing Morphine in my head, but this song might fit better.)
O + S – "Lonely Ghosts"
In the same way that the Megadeth is Patrick's song, this one is Caro's. The devil that you know is better than the one you don't . . . we stay because we don't know where else to go. That's her life. From her years with her mother to her relationship with Patrick's brother Mike, that's her entire life.
My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult – "Sex on Wheelz"
In high school, I used to go this under-21 dance club that, if I remember correctly, played nothing but the Red Hot Chili Pepper's "Suck My Kiss," Alphaville's "Forever Young," and this. At the time it seemed terribly sexy and transgressive. Now, I think it's kind of sweet, like Petyon Place. (And isn't that film-noir trumpet sample sassy?) Emo, shmeemo: when I picture Layla and her friends cruising around town in that hearse of a car of hers, smoking clove cigarettes and having movie-montage moments, this is the song that's coming through her speakers. So what if it's twenty years old? Her parents would hate it and it would make her sister Verna blush all the way to the roots of her hair. Layla would probably find that reason enough.
Placebo – "Running Up That Hill"
This song is for the Elshere sisters; particularly for Verna, who would so quickly swap places with just about anyone in the universe, but Layla gets a share too (So much hate for the ones we love). For the record, I'm really into cover songs. In this case, I'm a big fan of Kate Bush's original version, but the plaintiveness and worry in this one is beautiful. You'd be hard-pressed to find a single character in Save Yourself who wouldn't like to make a deal with God, of one kind or another.
Corrine Bailey Rae – "Low Red Moon"
Another cover, this time of a song from my misguided youth. (I played the shit out of the Belly album with the original on it, back in the day.) Again, I'm going with the slightly more plaintive version. Corrine Bailey Rae sounds so very lost here. It makes me picture Verna in the woods, that first night with Layla's friends: I think you are beautiful, I think you are strange.
Kelly Braffet and Save Yourself links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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