September 17, 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.
Eric Lundgren's The Facades unforgettable debut novel, one of the year's most imaginative books.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Lundgren’s debut is a fierce, funny examination of loss, set against one of the most creative worlds in recent memory, and it’s not to be missed."
The Facades is a novel about a man searching through a crumbling and fantastic Midwestern city for his missing wife. Music was crucial to the writing process in two key ways. Making protagonist Sven Norberg's wife Molly a singer helped me to relate to his loss emotionally. I played cello throughout my childhood, and believed I would grow up to be a classical musician. But I had too much stage fright, and not enough diligence. So I drew on that private loss in my portrayal of Norberg's. Also, I wanted the novel to take place in an altered reality, and opera provided a model of an art form that wasn't concerned with realism at all, which helped me push the narrative in that direction. Opera was more of a conceptual inspiration; I'm not that well-versed. But here are some of the songs that echo through The Facades.
Radiohead, "Everything in its Right Place"
The city of Trude is an odd place. From its shuttered libraries to its crumbling churches and labyrinthine mall, I had so much fun creating this off-kilter landscape. Is everything in the wrong place, or is it all right? I still remember the thrill of hearing this song for the first time, on somebody else's stereo.
Fiona Apple, "On the Bound"
My wife introduced me to Fiona Apple's second album. Which is one of the rawest, most sustained expressions of longing and devastation I can think of. It says out loud what my protagonist can only hint at and allude to.
Oliver Messaien, "Oraison"
This melody shows up in the cello and piano movement in Messaien's more famous Quartet for the End of Time, which has its own fascinating story: it was written in a prison camp on paper passed through the bars of the composer's cell by a sympathetic Nazi guard. But I love this predecessor version, written for an early electronic instrument called the Ondes Martenot, similar to the theremin. This is the music I hear playing in the stark hallways of the Traumhaus, the strangely avant-garde assisted-living home in The Facades.
Franz Schubert, "Der Tod und Das Madchen"
Schubert's string quartet Death and the Maiden is a longtime favorite of mine. I have Norberg and Molly go to hear it at an old fairground pavilion in a pivotal section of the novel. It was only recently that I learned about the song that Schubert's quartet is based on. Scored for mezzo-soprano or contralto, it goes really low – check out Christa Ludwig's impressive performance on Youtube – making it a piece that the deep-voiced Molly might have sung herself.
Television, "Marquee Moon"
There's an old T-shirt of Molly's that makes two brief and troubling appearances in the book – worn by a character named Plea who twice has unsuccessful sex with Norberg. The band on the T-shirt is called The Rotten Kisses. I imagine them sounding a lot like Wire, or The Slits. One can only hope that their guitarists have the same kind of rapport that Tom Verlaine and Richard Hell achieve on this record.
The May Day Orchestra, "The Spectacle"
One of the most ambitious pieces of music I've heard recently is this folk-rock opera on the life of Ota Benga, a Pygmy who was kidnapped from the Congo and brought for display at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis. I love it when Tim Rakel sings, "Please enjoy the spectacle / If you can believe it." Experimental, rough-edged, and politically engaged, Rakel and his stable of talented St. Louis musicians plumb the weirdness of Midwestern history.
Washington Phillips, "Lift Him Up That's All"
"Everything you write seems to have religion in it," a fellow writer said to me once, and The Facades is no exception. (My grandfather was a Lutheran minister who listened exclusively to his fellow Lutheran, Bach.) In the middle section of the novel, Norberg's son Kyle starts spending a lot of time in a fundamentalist church called the First Church of the Divine Purpose. The music there is pretty bad on the whole. If I was a church music director, I'd fill it with the zither-infused gospel songs of Washington Phillips. Phillips's music is as mysteriously radiant as anything in an Italian cathedral.
Alban Berg, Wozzeck, Act 3
By contrast, the conclusion of Wozzeck is nihilism at its most exhilarating. When I realized that the novel's climactic scenes would take place in an opera house, this shadowy and anguished work leapt to mind. Violent, uneasy listening, punctuated with moments of great delicacy, this one of the few atonal works that is still widely performed.
Brian Eno, "Three Variations on the Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel"
Playing in youth orchestras growing up, one of my most tedious experiences was playing the bass line to Pachelbel's Canon … nothing but a droning repeated line while other sections of the orchestra got the fun melodic lines. I've never been able to enjoy the piece since. But on side two of Discreet Music, Eno messed it up just enough that I could appreciate it again. I strive for this feeling of fucked-up familiarity in my own work.
Bob Reuter, "Charlie Floyd"
St. Louis lost one of its musical legends when Bob Reuter fell down an empty elevator shaft last month. He knew this city as well as anyone, and his voice was the right instrument for its crumbling beauty. The song takes on an added poignancy because it was written for a young man who died too soon himself. A great songwriter who takes you to an intimate, rueful place.
Billie Holiday, "Gloomy Sunday"
A song that shows how loss can transfigure the whole world. This song gets so dark that its potentially cheesy, it-was-all-a-dream ending actually comes as a big relief, especially when delivered in Holiday's contralto.
Beach House, "Irene"
Ultimate album-closer, as far as I'm concerned. I love music that tries something that should never work – riding a single guitar note for dozens of bars in this case – and manages to pull it off. I could listen to Victoria Legrand sing "it's a strange paradise" forever.
Eric Lundgren and The Facades links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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