June 9, 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.
Randi Davenport's debut novel The End of Always impresses with the courage and resilience of its early twentieth century protagonist Marie Reehs.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Based upon her own ancestry, Davenport’s deeply affecting historical novel of a courageous young woman’s struggle to survive in an overtly sexist time is both a sobering and stirring tribute to determination."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
My novel, The End of Always, begins in the last heat of a brutally hot summer, the kind of weather that parches the grass until the grass is little different from the dirt and turns the green leaves brown. But the first image I had of a scene that would appear in the story was of a girl in a dark coat. She was standing on a road packed down by wagon wheels while the snow began to fall, and the landscape was white, as if there had already been days of snow, and the sky had that luminous gray-whiteness of clouds just as a storm comes up, only this was not really a storm. It was just more of the same.
Still she was standing in the road and she'd turned her face up to the sky and her face—the way I saw her face anyway—was filled with elation, as if the very act of looking up had caused her heart to lift. Had let her feel for just one moment that she had set her burden down. We're all in need of such moments because we all carry weight that can feel like it has become too much to bear. We need to feel hope. I could see, in my mind's eye, that this seventeen year-old-girl standing in the beginning of a snow fall in 1907 Waukesha, Wisconsin—a place I have visited only in pictures I gathered from the Wisconsin State Historical Society—perhaps needed hope more than any of the rest of us, at least at the very moment she stood with her upturned face, the sky opening wide above her.
And I had to find out why. So I began to write and the things I unearthed about her—each a discovery on a long journey to the fully realized story—became the novel. While I wrote, I listed to songs that helped me think of her and of the conflicts in her heart, which ended up being the conflicts we all share.
Otis Taylor - "Ten Million Slaves"
This song, almost more than any other, provided the core sound-track to the novel when the novel was still in my head. It's powerful, urgent, and has a driving force that demands recognition. It's also, to me, extremely hopeful: the captive can recognize the agonies of the past and speak out against them. And I'm a very visual writer. I like to see things in my mind before I write them. Often, when I could not think of another moment for my heroine, I lay on the floor with my eyes closed while Otis sang into the air over my head. Every time, if I lay there long enough, another detail would come. The shape of shoe. The bow on a hat. Something whose essential nature—its very condition of being—would drive me into the next scene.
Sweet Honey in the Rock - "Sylvie"
This is a Ledbelly song but in my mind, it belongs to Sweet Honey in the Rock. Although the song is called "Sylvie," I always think of it as "Bring Me A Little Water, Sylvie…every little once in a while" because that first phrase starts me singing. The song speaks to nurturance and care-giving and the easing of pain. These things are local and particular but they are also spiritual and life-affirming.
Johnny Cash - "The Man Comes Around"
I don't hold the religious convictions that Cash had, especially in the last years of his life, but I like the sentiment of this song—the idea that those who have done damage will be held accountable. Who doesn't harbor some wish for revenge for a wrong done to her or him? Well. This was a helpful idea when I was developing the plot, even though nothing like a final accounting actually takes place in the novel. Still, it helps to think big when you're thinking about a story line.
Wagner - Prelude to Das Rheingold
Terrence Malick uses this piece in his film The New World and I found myself listening to it again and again. Its gradual build evokes the sense of mystery and wonder that my German immigrant family must have felt—a fear tinged with hope—as they set off for America. Plus, there is nothing more German that Das Rheingold or Wagner and I needed to feel deeply the German culture that gave rise to this family, as well as to the fairy tales that punctuate my heroine's story.
Adele - "Rolling in the Deep"
Who doesn't want to listen to Adele, whether you're writing or not? And the bonus of this song is its raw heart-break coupled with fierce righteousness. We've all felt that—and so did my heroine. But we all bounce back, and my heroine does too—and so did Adele. But I have to include her. I love her almighty wild and raging voice.
The Cranberries - "Zombie"
At one point during my writing time, my son came home for a visit and must have played this song two thousand times in two days. It got so my whole body twitched as soon as I heard the opening. But after I'd had had opportunity to hear the lyrics and understand the song, I knew that he was perfectly right to drive this into my skull. I was writing a book about endless violence, after all. The song was pointedly useful to the enterprise.
Bruce Springsteen - "Working on a Dream"
I have to come clean. Yes, I love "Working on a Dream" and I'm sure I listened to it while I was writing, or while I was thinking about writing, or when I needed to kick-start my writing. And I can't even say if the song spoke to the dream I was working on—Get this novel written!—or to the dream that my main character has—Live my life as I choose! But I love Bruce. I love everything he has ever done. His music is the absolute soundtrack to my life and I would be wrong to narrow my choice to just one song. I'm doing it for the sake of the Book Notes format! But if you get into my car, you're going to hear Bruce. If you come over for drinks, you're going to hear Bruce. That's just the way it is. And if you really want to know everything I was listening to when I was writing The End of Always, start with Greetings From Asbury Park and go straight through to High Hopes but mix up the decades and the tracks and play some of them over and over again, just as if you're hearing their magic for the first time. Be rabid in your choices and be recklessly willing to go for the ride. That's how I listen.
Temple of the Dog - "Hunger Strike"
If you read The End of Always, this will be entirely self-explanatory.
Randi Davenport and The End of Always 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)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists