January 14, 2014
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.
Andrea Portes's Bury This is a smart and compelling literary mystery set in the cold upper Midwest.
Publishers Weekly wrote of the book:
"Portes’s short chapters and staccato narration make for a quick and compulsive read…as a study in human nature, it’s a triumph."
Ridiculous! How easy it is to put a song, a verse, a melody, into a novel. A Godsend. A miracle. This is, of course, in comparison to putting a song in a film. That, my friends, is a nightmare.
Don’t get me wrong. We got a few things I wanted in Hick, the film adapted from my debut novel. We got Joan Jett’s "Crimson & Clover" in the opening sequence with Chloe Grace Moretz and Juliette Lewis. We even got a lot of Bob Dylan songs because, thankfully, he liked our movie and our director, Derick Martini. Fun fact: The original violent bathroom sequence with Eddie Redmayne and Chloe Grace Moretz was set to "Like a Rolling Stone." It wasn’t until Bob Dylan suggested "Sooner or Later (One of Us Will Know)" that the director plugged that in and it worked. Because Bob Dylan.
But, trust me, there were a lot of things we didn’t get. A lot.
So, when diving into my second novel, Bury This, I felt positively liberated being able to just plug in KISS here, Led Zeppelin there, The Carpenters over here.
I had wanted to write a snowy novel... a Bergman-esque dirge in contrast to Hick, which is set in Indian summer when even the Coke bottles are sweating. But I hadn’t wanted it to sound Bergman-esque. I had wanted it to sound like Foreigner and Rush and Pink Floyd and all the other bands my older sisters used to play when I was just a snot-nosed kid and they were cool.
I had wanted this so bad, actually, that I even named my main character Beth Krause. So, in the scene where everyone is drinking their faces off and jumping off the levy in late summer, the character named Jeff Cody plays "Beth" by KISS:
"Blasting out of the Plymouth, turn that dial up. Crank it up!
"Beth, I hear you crying
But I won't be home right now
Me and the boys..."
What a hoot! They're all gonna sing now. Everybody loves Beth (the song) and now everybody loves Beth (the girl). Go Beth, go! Jump off the levy! You can do it! They're playing your song!"
I had wanted that feeling, that goofy, slightly-high, summer feeling, best described by Jeff Tweedy in "Heavy Metal Drummer," off of Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot:
"I sincerely miss those heavy metal bands
I used to go see on the landing in the summer."
Then, later in the novel, when things turn dark and start warbling in on themselves... the scene in a bar called DREAMERS, set to Led Zeppelin:
"You can't hurt me now, nothing can hurt me now. I am invincible. Led Zeppelin means I'm invincible. That steel crescendo, crushing time. Building up to me hurting you, I will get you back."
Of course, the song I’m referring to is "Kashmir." I wanted to give that feeling of impending doom, excitement, something-coming from that infamous crescendo off of Mothership.
Later in the novel, when the horrible-thing-which-shall-remain-nameless is happening, I had originally wanted to go back to the song "Beth." But, upon further introspection, I decided that was just too on the nose. It came to me, out with friends at the LITTLE JOY in Echo Park, that the song necessary, the song that was most contrapuntal in the way I find most interesting, was Karen Carpenter’s "Superstar."
Originally, I had written the lyrics into the text in interstitial breaks. So, you would be forced to go from the horrible thing to:
"Long ago... and oh so far way...
I fell in love with you...before the second show..."
But in the edits it seemed a little forced and, also, Dan Smetanka, my editor, informed me we would NEVER get permission to use that song, considering. So, instead there is just the introduction of the song:
"That black circle drop down and the needle pointing. The Carpenters now, up through the rafters. Karen Carpenter, with a voice like glass."
So, now it’s on the reader to sort of piece together this moment between the horrible thing and the angelic voice of Karen Carpenter.
Fun fact #2: I had wanted, in the film Hick, to use a contrapuntal song when Eddie Redmyne’s character was pacing outside of the bathroom in the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. A kind of song that would be SO infuriating to someone who was going bat-shit inside. I had chosen Christopher Cross’s "Sailing." It was even in the script. Then, when Eddie can’t take it anymore, he explodes: "I’m gonna write a song about a fucking boat!" Of course, I thought this was very amusing.
But the director informed me, kindly, that given the circumstances of the scene, there was no way on God’s green earth we would ever get that song.
So, once again, it fell on me to come up with a back-up. I cobbled together this "Whistle While We Work" sequence which Eddie really seemed to take to. So we went with it and I’m actually really fond of it now. Having said that, it’s clear to me that my proclivity towards contrapuntal music in horrifying scenes is problematic, and will always be problematic, logistically. Simply put, no one wants their song playing when unspeakable/dark/traumatic things are happening. And if the artist doesn’t care, the label does. Trust me, whoever the suits are that control the catalog... they are not interested in my creative vision.
I suppose I can find solace in the fact that often the replacement ideas are just as good, if not better, than the original.
Speaking of original, I have noticed, recently, that certain directors seem to be changing the rules when it comes to using contemporary music in period pieces. (Quentin Tarantino and Sophia Coppola come to mind.) In that spirit, I can’t help but think of Interpol’s "NYC," in the moment when Jeff Cody is gazing upon Beth Krause... as he sees her white icy angelic beauty in that crystal winter wonderland:
"I had seven faces
Thought I new which one to wear
But I'm sick of spending these lonely nights
Training myself not to care"
I just see that moment as a push in on Jeff Cody as he realizes that Beth Krause was put on this earth to save him. I hope the reader will, too.
On that note, if the reader were to have any kind of backdrop going through the novel, in those moments when the characters are trudging along the ice pack snow, trying to pick themselves up off of barstools, etc... the song, the refrain, the score, if you will... that comes to mind is The National’s "Afraid of Everyone." I just hear that as the kind of drumbeat to these characters in this snowy, sinking place.
"Lay the young blue bodies, with the old red violets,
I’m afraid of everyone, I’m afraid of everyone..."
And finally, the song I hear in my head, nearing the end of the book, without giving too much away... is that gorgeous symphonic song by Devotchka ... "How It Ends."
"Hold your grandmother's bible to your breast
Gonna put it to the test
You wanted it to be blessed...
And you already know
Yes, you already know
How this will...
There is just such elegant grace to that song, and such inevitability... I hear those strings just sort of sweeping us past, into the closing of the book, and carrying us beyond, ushering us back into our lucky, lucky lives.
Andrea Portes and Bury This links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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