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September 18, 2013

Book Notes - Colin McAdam "A Beautiful Truth"

A Beautiful Truth

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.

Colin McAdam's A Beautiful Truth is a profound and thought provoking novel that informs while unfolding its engaging story.

The Times Literary Supplement wrote of the book:

"If the book were simply the story of the Ribkes and Looee, A Beautiful Truth would still be a remarkable achievement. But the narrative’s radical other half, which unfolds in loosely alternate chapters and focuses on a group of chimpanzees in a Florida research institute, invoking their perspective, lends the novel a rare depth… McAdam’s acknowledgements attest to serious secondary reading—Frans de Waal and Sue Savage-Rumbaugh are both cited—but his depiction of simian life’s limitations turns research into rhapsodic lamentation."

Stream a Spotify playlist of these tunes. If you don't have Spotify yet, sign up for the free service.


In his own words, here is Colin McAdam's Book Notes music playlist for his novel, A Beautiful Truth:


“On Melancholy Hill" by the Gorillaz

A Beautiful Truth is about chimpanzees. There were two Gorillaz songs I listened to often when I wrote the novel. “On Melancholy Hill" is a lovely one, and there’s an especially sweet live version of it from BBC1 with Damon Alburn, a guy on a Celeste, and a guy in a red hat on a vibraphone. I watched it often on YouTube towards the end of the first draft. I like seeing people like that guy with the red hat. It was probably a good enough gig for him, but I have a sense that he was doing it because he really liked those noises – more than he needed the money. I love the line: “You are my medicine when you’re close to me." It’s a good ape line, and true when I think of my partner.

“Empire Ants" by the Gorillaz

We lived in Berlin for a couple of months when I wrote that novel, in a tiny hotel room that we shared with our 4-month old daughter. I remember she and I listened to Empire Ants, the other Gorillaz song. It was her first obvious appreciation of music. There’s a change in that song when Little Dragon comes in. It caught my daughter in her hips and made her want to move. I remember holding her hands above her head while she kick-jumped on the bed, and my partner came into the room and caught me happily bawling my eyes out.

I drink too much.

In Berlin I was focused on reading the medical files of some chimpanzees I had met. One of them, Pepper, had been in a cage for most of her first thirty years. I read the history of those decades, and it was the most miserable research I’ve ever done.

“Introduction" to Tinderstick’s The Hungry Saw

Writing the novel coincided with a biological reckoning, a slowing down in me that I would prefer to call a ripening. I think I was attracted to artists who were describing their own ripenings. Tindersticks had just come out with their The Hungry Saw album, and there was an accompanying video intro that to me looked like acknowledging realities and getting to your desk - tentatively trying something new while realizing who you are.

"Old Dreams" by Hayden

In terms of realizing what one wants as an artist and a father, and singing about life in early autumn, I’m really liking Hayden these days. His new album Us Alone is great. I came across it reading a bitchy, sophomoric review of it in Pitchfork. The song “Old Dreams" is, for me, about the purpose beyond the music. I don’t need my old dreams, now my dreams are your dreams, all I want is you, to be, happy. “I don’t want the bright lights, I don’t need more invites, all I want is you, to be, happy." It’s a beautiful song.

“Roast Fish and Cornbread" by Lee Scratch Perry
“On the Esplanade" by Julian Plenti

When things were going smoothly with the writing I listened to Lee Scratch Perry’s “Roast Fish and Cornbread": “Clip clop, clopitty clopitty clopitty cloppity high." And also Paul Banks’s Julian Plenti album (Julian Plenti is … Skyscraper). I especially liked “On the Esplanade." I listened to that Julian Plenti album when I was finding my groove with the story. I was a Joy Division and New Order kid, and I love Paul Banks and Interpol, not for evoking those other bands but for making their own noises in that tradition.

I see more clearly now that I was looking for melancholy, faint hope, and quiet menace as I was writing a lot of that story.

“Lotus Flower" by Radiohead

Radiohead’s “Lotus Flower" played a big role towards the end of the novel, when one of the main characters, Looee, was being moved from a medical research lab to a colony of study chimpanzees. That was the ‘faint hope’ moment, and I was preoccupied with ideas of identity, will, and how we as apes find ways to adapt to new circumstances. I listened to the version of that song from Live at the Basement – it has a chewier, grittier bass like the engine that moves us through difficult things. I loved the line “All I want is the moon upon a stem", and I nicked it for an image, a moment of hope when Looee looks at moonflowers from his new bedroom.

“Holding On" by David Gray

I think as far as that novel goes, those were the sounds that were most influential. I was getting a divorce, having kids, watching a lovely man die, and generally absorbing the shitty judgments of small-minded people while acknowledging a big love and finding a place within this ape world of in-groups and out-groups and artists who sing beautiful physical facts that words keep trying to chase. I loved David Gray’s “Holding On". We are just passing ghosts, honey, vapors of joy and hurt.


Colin McAdam and A Beautiful Truth links:

the author's Wikipedia entry
video trailer for the book

Cleveland Plain Dealer review
Globe and Mail review
Grantland review
National Post review
Publishers Weekly review
Toronto Star review

National Post profile of the author
Salon essay by the author
Scotsman profile of the author


also at Largehearted Boy:

Book Notes (2012 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays

100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Largehearted Word (weekly new book highlights)
musician/author interviews
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
Try It Before You Buy It (mp3s and full album streams from the week's CD releases)
weekly music & DVD release lists


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