December 6, 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.
Victoria Patterson's novel The Peerless Four is an impressive retelling of the loves of four women who participated in the 1928 Olympics, the first open to women.
Jonathan Evison wrote of the book:
"The grittiest, booziest, toughest sports novel I've read in recent years is written by a woman—about women! In The Peerless Four, Patterson compels and entertains with prose perfectly fitted to this lean, surprising, unsentimental tale of female Olympiads in the late 1920s."
I am not one of those people who can listen to music while writing. However, while writing The Peerless Four I did everything to avoid the music that I automatically associated with the Olympics and sports events in general. Yes, at times during the writing I was reminded of that torturous (to watch, for me) scene during The Chariots of Fire with that saccharine theme song reverberating in the background. In addition, of course, there is The National Anthem. It's not a bad song, the lyrics are nice, but again, it is associated with too much that I was trying to criticize, however obliquely, in my novel. Thus, I will begin with "The National Anthem" by Radiohead.
Radiohead – "The National Anthem"
I love the irony of the title, the crazy, frenetic saxophone crescendo. It reminded me that I was attempting to do something different with the sports novel. It also helped remind me of the writing process itself: sometimes monotonous, sometimes histrionic. We spend most of our days alone, staring at a blank screen. It's no wonder more of us don't go crazy.
Cat Power – "Babydoll"
I first heard this song at the end of a documentary on drug addiction and it has always stayed with me. Chan Marshall's calm but desperate vocals, "Don't you want to be free?" reinforces the feeling of hopelessness and yearning many addicts (and compelling characters in novels) feel.
PJ Harvey – "The Whores Hustle and the Hustlers Whore"
Love the title, love the attitude PJ Harvey projects into her songs. Her voice at times is not pleasant and is off key, and that's precisely why I like it. She is not afraid to bare herself, not afraid to be vulnerable and angry, yet she is defiant and indomitable. She's also hot.
Ane Brun – "To Let Myself Go"
I love all of this Norwegian's music. She's a mix of folk and pop, and her slightly accented voice fits perfectly her honest lyrics. "To let myself go, To let myself flow, Is the only way of being." Easier said than done, but it's something I try, and it's something I think my characters try, though we often fail.
Mary Gauthier – "I Drink"
And I drank. A lot. As does my narrator in The Peerless Four, though she lands just to the side of alcoholism, heavy-drinker territory. I do love the brazen attitude only the alcoholic can have, who compares her need to obliterate herself with alcohol as a fish swimming. "I know what I am, but I don't give a damn." I know what I am now, and I do give a damn, more or less, but it's nice knowing who I am without the interference of alcohol.
Beach House – "Troublemaker"
Love this band, and nearly all their songs. Dreamy soundscapes that release me from the tension of the day and catapult me into that liminal space where I need to be to write. If only I could forever live in that space; however, there are kids to raise, bills to pay, and pedicures to get.
Tracy Chapman - "America"
Tracy Chapman is the only singer/songwriter I know of who can sing such challenging and ideological songs without coming across as doctrinaire (as opposed to Ani DiFranco). Maybe it's her soft croon? I thought of this song while I was researching this novel. Women are so left out of virtually any discussion of sports. Also, my characters are Canadian, and they're main rivals at the Olympics are the Americans, whom they really don't like.
Florence + the Machine – "Seven Devils"
I love almost any song by Florence. Her soulful voice and lush compositions remind me of gothic gospel music. This song, in particular, is an eerier Florence. Don't we all have devils inside us? Maybe seven is a bit much, but I related to the sense of fatalism in this song:
"Seven devils all around you!
Seven devils in my house!
See they were there when I woke up this morning
And I'll be dead before the day is done."
I hope I didn't depress you all; I swear, I'm cheery and robust most days, but the act of fiction writing is nothing like it's imagined by most readers, and certainly nothing like it's portrayed in Hollywood movies. It's often a lonely, frustrating experience, one lonely page at a time. I think Robert Stone said it best:
It's goddamn hard. Nobody really cares whether you do it or not. You have to make yourself do it. I'm very lazy and I suffer as a result. Of course, when it's going well there's nothing in the world like it. But it's also very lonely. If you do something you're really pleased with, you're in the crazy position of being exhilarated all by yourself. I remember finishing one section of Dog Soldiers—the end of Hicks's walk—in the basement of a college library, working at night, while the rest of the place was closed down, and I staggered out in tears, talking to myself, and ran into a security guard. It's hard to come down from a high in your work—it's one of the reasons writers drink. The exhilaration of your work turns into the daily depression of the aftermath. But if you heal that with a lot of Scotch you're not fit for duty the next day. When I was younger I was able to use hangovers, but now I have to go to bed early.
Victoria Patterson and The Peerless Four 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