September 24, 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.
T. Greenwood's Bodies of Water is an engrossing and heartbreaking literary novel of love, friendship, and tragedy.
With every novel I write, I give myself some sort of challenge. With Bodies of Water, I set out to tell a literary love story, one that hadn't been told before. An important one, one some people might not be ready to hear. In preparation, I read all of the classic contemporary romances – those books and authors I had avoided my whole reading life (The Bridges of Madison County, The Notebook). I studied the genre, the tropes. Then I turned it all upside down.
But though this is a love story that defies most readers' expectations, it is still a romance. And every romance needs a soundtrack, right? How many times have you been sitting in your car when a song comes on the radio and suddenly you are thirteen years old again, making out on a ratty couch in the basement? Or weeping in a bathroom stall over a broken heart? Or listening to that same heart thumping wildly as you sit and wait for him (or her) to hold your sweaty hand? To this day, if I hear Paul Young's "Every Time You Go Away," I am sixteen years old, heart shattered by my first real boyfriend. It is summertime, and I am lying on my bedroom floor, wearing a pink tube skirt, rewinding the tape over and over. Blubbering. Music equals memory.
Bodies of Water is a book about memory and it is also filled with music, most of which was recorded long before I was born. But I used music throughout the novel not only to illuminate the psychological landscape of my characters but also the political and historical landscape in which they reside.
"A Change Is Gonna Come"
When I was fresh out of college, I worked at a fancy schmancy boutique for a year. I remember only three CDs which we played over and over again: the Indigo Girls, the Sundays, and Chet Baker. It was while I was working at this job that I heard this song for the first time. And besides falling in love with Sam Cooke's crooning, I also felt like this song was speaking to me directly. Of course, I know this is an anthem for the civil rights movement, but it was an anthem for me too. I was living with a pretty crappy boyfriend in a crappy apartment and I felt like the whole crappy world was conspiring against me. But somehow this song empowered me. It offered a promise of something better.
For my characters, it inspires that same sort of wild hope: three whole minutes to dream a future beyond the confines of their small lives. If there was a theme song for this book, it would be this.
"Moonlight in Vermont"
My grandfather was a musician. He played the trumpet. He also was a third generation Vermonter. This jazz standard was one I recall hearing him play. It's one that has been covered by hundreds of singers, but the most notable versions that my character, Eva, would know are by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday, Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, and, my favorite, Sam Cooke.
In college I watched "Let's Get Lost," the terrific documentary about Chet Baker, about a hundred times. Junkies were romantic then. (Remember The Doors movie? Val Kilmer's swoon-worthy Jim Morrison?) I was transfixed by the sweetness of Chet's voice. The handsomeness of his face. There is just such a sense of longing in his music, a palpable ache, which is fitting for the doomed affair in Bodies of Water.
Perry Como, Jo Stafford, and Kate Smith
Confession: I listen to the radio. When I am alone in the car (or with my girls), my go-to station is always the Top 40 station. My narrator, Billie Valentine, is also a sucker for the popular music, the sort of domesticated and tame music of her time. This book is many ways about Billie's attempts to conform, and her musical tastes exemplify this attempt at "normalcy."
There are several scenes where my characters, Billie and Eva, dance together. They find a joyful sort of abandon in music. I picture them, mired in their domestic duties, trapped in the suburbs, enslaved by the quotidian, but somehow finding escape in music. I can picture the console hi-fi, the stack of records. Stockinged feet and linoleum floors.
The scene in which this song plays is a pivotal one in the book. I chose this song, because (again), it's one that Chet Baker performed. But I also selected this song because it reflects that same terrific, almost mournful, longing.
"Runaway" by Del Shannon
This song was a number one hit in 1961 when Billie and Eva take their Girl Scout troop camping. Billie brings along a radio and is able to get a fuzzy signal, and they listen to this song (drinking and smoking and skinny dipping after the girls have gone to sleep). And not only was it a popular song during this time period, but it's about running away – escape, again, being a prevailing theme throughout the novel.
Kind of Blue by Miles Davis
Jazz pervades this story. It's dangerous music, dirty music. The sort of sexy, sultry, aching kind of music that, I hope, heightens the drama of this taboo love affair.
"Forbidden Fruit" by Nina Simone
I had never heard of this song before I wrote this novel. I believe I found it via Pandora. (Usually when I'm writing, I like to use Pandora to find music that matches either the time period or mood of what I'm writing.) And this little gem was like a perfect, cheeky little gift.
"My Shining Hour" by John Coltrane
I remember at school dances wishing that the slow songs would last. And last. Music suspended time, if only for a few minutes, allowing the boy who would never speak to me in the halls to press closely , hands resting on my hips, breath in my hair. Music does this; it freezes time, lets us savor the moment:
This moment, this minute
And each second in it
Will leave a glow upon the sky
And as time goes by, it will never die
This will be my shining hour
Calm and happy and bright In my dreams your face will flower
Through the darkness of the night
Like the lights of home before me
Or an angel watching over me
This will be my shining hour
Till I’m with you again
(Plus, true story, had my oldest daughter been a boy, her name would have been Griffin Coltrane.)
T. Greenwood and Bodies of Water links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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)
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