September 20, 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.
Laura Krughoff's debut novel My Brother's Name is an unsettling literary psychological thriller that poignantly tackles issues of gender identity and mental illness in our society.
ForeWord Reviews wrote of the book:
"Intriguing premise and deeply involved relationships between characters opens a new perspective on self and gender identity."
Music is at the heart of the lives of the characters in my novel, My Brother's Name, and so it is also at the heart of the book. I knew this to be true as soon as I knew Jane, my protagonist, would assume her brother John's identity, and as soon as I knew John would suffer from schizophrenia. I never felt like I was making a decision to make music important to these characters; it was just a true fact about them.
Unfortunately, I didn't know nearly as much about music as I knew my characters did. This problem was solved by a friend, Zeeshan Shah, who read early drafts of what I was working on and then created a music library for each character. Just the other day I dug out an old CD binder and found sleeve after sleeve of CDs marked in Zeeshan's handwriting with the names of songs/albums/artists and the characters they were for. I had forgotten that he'd also sent along notes with instructions like: First—play all CDs at once on full volume. Second—Scream a bit, cry. Have a stiff drink if necessary. Third—listen to all CDs on random together at a volume just louder than comfortable. Fourth—Get back to work. Throughout the course of writing and revising this novel, Zeeshan continued to provide lessons in music history and appreciation, but also lessons in simply how to listen. Finding his notes reminded me that though I am always writing alone, I am never writing solo. Here is my very favorite set of Zeeshan's instructions for listening:
Turn lights down or off. Fix a nice cup of tea and get comfy—more sexy, not frumpy—and free yourself of the stress of the day. A bath or a yoga/stretch routine may also work. Of course, you can consider taking a drive for at least the duration of the CD. The music must be loud during the drive. And the drive cannot be disrupted by errands, rest stops, or any other bullshit excuse to stop and not listen to everything all the way through at least once. Or, do whatever you want. This is important. So are you.
"Ride the Lightning" by Metallica
John's music library is probably the furthest afield from my own instincts and inclinations. He's also a bit of an outlier from the other characters in the novel. Often CDs would be marked for multiple characters, but when I'd get a Metallica or Pantera or Megadeth album, I knew it was for John. I came to love the thrill and adrenaline of the music, and I think John would have particularly loved the lyrics of "Ride the Lightning."
"Interstellar Overdrive" by Pink Floyd
Anything from Piper at the Gates of Dawn would work here, really. I found driving the best method for listening to this album. I imagine John getting utterly lost in the music. I image that feeling of being lost in the music, rather than in his own head, as both comforting and frightening. Truth be told, I feel that way about getting lost in this album.
"Free for All" by Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers
John and Jane's childhood music teacher, Eugene, introduces them briefly to jazz. Jane loves it, but John doesn't, so Eugene stops playing it for them. I felt like I really knew who Eugene was when I knew he loved The Jazz Messengers. I smile all the way through "Free for All" every time I listen to it, and somehow Blakey always surprises me.
"My Favorite Things" by John Coltrane
Eugene would certainly have Coltrane in heavy rotation. He would also, however, be a huge fan of the version of this song that the Blue Star Cadets Drum and Bugle Corps played in their 1985 and ‘86 program. Perhaps he even wrote a marching band arrangement and the drum charts for "My Favorite Things" for John's high school marching band.
"Nuclear War" by Sun Ra
This song is so strange, moving, funny and disturbing that I kept it on repeat for most of the afternoon after I first heard it. "If they push that button / Your ass got to go." True enough. Jane's manager and eventual band-mate, Sean, plays Sun Ra in the store they both work in. And he plays this track, I imagine, when he feels least like catering to the whims of his customers.
"Up for the Down Stroke" by Parliament-Funkadelic
Sean is also a serious P-Funk fan. Sometimes you just have to dance.
"Blue Sky" by The Allman Brothers Band
Most of the characters in this novel have wide-ranging and eclectic taste in music. Sean and Jane's girlfriend, April, surprise Jane by playing a little bit of "Blue Sky" together one afternoon in the store. The tune has great guitar licks and pretty harmonies and that moment is a reminder that we never know anyone completely, that even our closest companions can surprise us.
"Glory Box" by Portishead
April is a young woman who wants very much to be, simultaneously, a hip sophisticate and way above it all. She probably feels a little world-weary and wise beyond her years at twenty, although anyone who is older than twenty knows she's not. She loves Portishead. The lyrics to "Glory Box" are maybe a bit too on-the-nose for the scene the song is mentioned in, but I love the song as much as April does, and I figure anyone who knows the lyrics are a bit spot on for the scene feels the same way.
"Cure for Pain" by Morphine
I don't think Morphine is ever mentioned in the novel. But Jane and John and April were in high school in the 1990s. They listened to a lot of Morphine.
"I Don't Want to Get Over You" by The Magnetic Fields
For all her tough-girl act, April is a romantic. She's reckless with her heart the way I hope everyone was as a kid. At least, she's reckless with her heart the way I remember being reckless with mine. "I could dress in black and read Camus / Smoke clove cigarettes and drink vermouth / Like I was seventeen / That would be a scream / But I don't want to get over you." Who doesn't want to wallow in a lyric like that? The pleasure of the pain is in knowing—even as you're sure it won't be true this time—that the pain is temporary. Just as everything is.
"Piano Concerto in A Minor" by Edvard Grieg
Jane's mother, Elaine, is the other musical outlier in this novel. As a classically trained pianist, music was what she had to offer her children. Though music becomes central to both Jane and John's lives, they reject their mother's version of it. Jane probably would not have, had she not been so influenced by John. Elaine accepts this, but grieves it. A soundtrack to the novel would be incomplete without Grieg.
"Don't Pass Me By" by The Beatles
Everyone in the novel probably listens to The Beatles, but this particular song makes me think of Jane and John's father, Richard. He is gentle and kind and a little timid, and he holds his wife and children in open hands, knowing loving someone isn't ever enough to keep him or her with you.
Laura Krughoff and My Brother's Name links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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