January 24, 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.
Rachel Louise Snyder's debut novel What We've Lost Is Nothing is a crisply written and engaging portrait of a community in crisis.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Veteran journalist Snyder crafts a muscular and fearless debut novel that boldly tackles the heady themes of prejudice, self-preservation, poverty and privilege. Deftly underscored by a steady drumbeat of denial and discontent, Snyder's drama provocatively reveals the escalating tensions of a community about to implode."
I can't listen to anything while I write; I'm completely porous. Every little sound gets under my skin (which is probably unfortunate for my family), so I had the luxury of not having to rely on literalness when I came up with my song list. It's really more about the "beats" of the book, the highs and lows, and the scope of the narrative. And the thing about this list? It could have never ended… even now, I keep adding more and more songs to it. I could write a companion book, three hundred pages of song lists. Don't tempt me.
John Coltrane "The Drum Thing" – it's probably obvious to Oak Parkers, and maybe most Chicagoans, why I would use jazz as a soundtrack for the setting. Oak Park is a groovy place, even though it's a suburb. It's one of those suburbs that likes to pretend it's "city" and it digs the whole Frank Lloyd Wright/Hemingway connection. It's where hipsters go after they have kids and leave the city. People who like the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright also tend to like jazz; but they like the conventional jazz. The Thelonius Monk jazz. Here I've thrown in a little-known cut from Coltrane's "Crescent" album that is really just Elvin Jones riffing on his drums for, like, twelve minutes. It's soft and gentle until you play it in your car and then – bam! – there'll be this paradiddlediddlediddleflamdrumthingy that comes out of nowhere and blows your hair back. Then you realize in that moment that this song ain't quite what it seems. I love this song, by the way. It's my favorite jazz tune. I basically named my daughter after this song. Her name is Jazz (I could hardly get away with calling her Drum, after all…or Elvin).
Cyndi Lauper "Girls Just Want to Have Fun" – When you have a scene with two teenagers blowing off school and dropping ‘E' this song seems so totally obvious. And yet there's simply no better song for the moment when Mary Elizabeth and Sofia lay underneath the dining room table cooing at each other, while Mary's house is being robbed at the same damn time. I mean, if the girls are so oblivious as to not know there's a burglar two rooms away, then this is really the only song that could be on their radar.
Smashing Pumpkins "Bullet with Butterfly Wings" – It's against the laws of literature and lyricism to set a novel in Chicago (or the Chicago area) and not include at least one Smashing Pumpkins song. And, really, any number of them would have been appropriate from a narrative sense, but this one captures something about the rage of having been robbed… Burglary is one of those weird crimes, right, where people are saying things like, "Thank god no one was hurt." And somehow that's supposed to bring you comfort, but holy shit someone's just crashed into your personal place of worship, right? Your home. The holiest of places in terms of our individual lives. The loss of intimacy is both terrifying and very hard to quantify, because no one in the novel gets hurt, per se, but they're all screwed in some way because of what happened. "In spite of my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage." Billy gets it.
"Carmina Burana" – opera might seem like a strange choice here for a story that is contemporary and urban, but right around here in the book, you start to see these dribs and drabs – listservs and blogs – from people in the community commenting on the mass burglaries. You hear all these disparate voices – and some of them are total jerks. People can be terrifically mean-spirited on listservs, right? Total bullies. "My way or the highway" kind of crap. So that begins to happen in the book in this very deliberate "Greek chorus" kind of way, and Carmina Burana is one of those operas in which the chorus is the primary element and the orchestra is there to support the chorus. It's also just filled with anguish and heartache (and humor). I think Hollywood believes Carmina Burana is the only opera ever created in the history of opera, because you hear it in every third movie that's distributed. That doesn't make me love it any less, though.
Linkin Park "Castle of Glass" – this song's surprisingly mellow compared to some of Linkin Park's stuff. And I love their rocking stuff, believe me! I'm a recovering metalhead. It was a toss up between this song and "In the End" except we're not quite at the end of the book, and here's where Susan McPherson, the one whose idealism is perhaps most challenged, begins this jog through the west side of Chicago – which is really not an area you want to be jogging through a lot of the time – but she does it, and there's this dramatic thing that happens to her. But the whole time, she's trying to keep her shit together, and ignore what's happening and just keep running. The song has this undercurrent of drums and bass that is both lovely and somehow relentless, engaging and annoying at the same time. In the end, though, it's a song about survival. That matters.
Nine Inch Nails "Closer" – there is no more rage-filled song than this one, the lyrics as much as the instruments. It's like turbo-charged music. It's so raw and unapologetic, but it also sums up the pivotal scene in the book. Not that I'm going to give that away, of course. What I dig about this song – besides dancing like a maniac to it – is how it's sort of paradoxical. The singer is distraught, almost afraid of this beast that's alive inside him, and yet at the end he's talking about the moment bringing him closer to God, saving him really. I think that's what death does sometimes… you skirt close enough to it and you'll probably never feel more alive, paradoxically. I've read of this phenomenon in war literature and memoir.
Pearl Jam "Alive" – I feel like this will be my ending song for everything that ever happens in my entire life: my writing, my job, driving to the freaking grocery story. Alive, alive, alive. "I'm still alive." I once saw Pearl Jam at First Avenue in Minneapolis back in about 1991; they were just starting to hit the big time. And all of a sudden, the power just went ZOOP. The whole place went black. And instantly silent. The crowd was whispering, like, "What the *&%$%?" Then, from somewhere on stage, we heard this voice, a cappella, in total darkness. It was Eddie Vedder. And he just kept singing, "I'm still alive…" It was a transformative moment. One of the greatest gifts anyone has ever given me in my life and I still think about that moment probably once a week. I thank him silently in my head. That's what my best writing days feel like to me. And I think it's how most of the characters are left in this book… shaken, moved. Alive.
Rachel Louise Snyder and What We've Lost Is Nothing links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
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