July 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.
Thomas Sweterlitsch's debut novel Tomorrow and Tomorrow is an inventive and entertaining mix of noir and cyberpunk.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Tomorrow and Tomorrow is a delicious dystopian mystery being described as Blade Runner meets Minority Report."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Ten years before Tomorrow and Tomorrow opens, Pittsburgh's destroyed by nuclear terrorism—500,000 lives gone in the blinding white flash. The main character, Dominic, lost his wife and unborn child in the blast, but obsessively relives his lost life and lost loves by visiting "The Archive," a fully-immersive digital reconstruction of the city. Dominic's cycle of grief is shattered when he's asked to track a woman whose digital record in the Archive is being systematically deleted…
While writing Tomorrow and Tomorrow, I knew it was vitally important to describe the virtual Pittsburgh as a very real, very tangible place—so the Archive became a love letter to the city, its crooked streets, its neighborhood enclaves, its graffiti and ephemera. Names of real Pittsburgh bands and musicians whose music I know and love appear on concert posters and t-shirts throughout the book. When I was given the opportunity to write a Book Notes post, I knew right away I wanted to highlight these amazing bands that appear in my novel—I hope you stream the playlist and find some new, great stuff. I've bookended my playlist with two very famous (non-Pittsburgh) songs that emotionally resonate with the novel.
"Tomorrow Tommorow" by Elliott Smith off the album XO
Tomorrow and Tomorrow takes place in a media-saturated near future, where many people have an endless gush of shock advertisements and infotainment streaming directly to their brain through "Adware" implants. After I settled on the title for the book, my wife pulled out her Elliot Smith CDs and played me his song Tomorrow Tomorrow off XO. Not only is the mood of the song a perfect complement to the tone of the novel, but these lyrics seemed to speak directly to the book: "I got static in my head/ the reflected sound of everything" and "The noise is coming out, but if it's not out now/ I know it's just about to drown tomorrow out"
"Shout" by Donora, off the album Donora
Even if you're not a music lover, you've probably heard the joyous pop of Donora—there's a current Nationwide commercial that's graced with their hit "I Think I Like You." I chose "Shout" because it has the upbeat style Donora's known for, but really shows off the versatility of lead singer Casey Hanner. In the novel, Donora's mentioned as headlining a summer concert in a city park, in my mind providing the perfect soundtrack to illustrate everything innocent and happy that was suddenly and irrevocably lost.
"I Know Every Street" by Meeting of Important People, off the album Meeting of Important People
Tomorrow and Tomorrow is in many ways a meditation on maps. The Archive is a digital map of the lost city, but also people's memories serve as a map to the city as it once was. When lead singer Josh Verbanets sings "It's been a long way since I made a bad turn/I'm a soothsayer and I can't be too proud/I know every street in this town"—I'm reminded of Dominic's quest through the Archive as he tracks ghosts of the past. Meeting of Important People are a great band to see live, with a bright pop sound that's a blends British Invasion groups like The Kinks with current Indie rock. Also, check out Verbanets' very worthy second project, The Josh and Gab Show, an "Anti-Bullying Musical Comedy Program for Kids": http://www.joshandgab.com/
"This is the End (For You My Friend)" by Anti-Flag, off the album For Blood and Empire
Punk band Anti-Flag is one of the biggest groups to come out of Pittsburgh, releasing several politically charged records full of articulate rage. I often wish that my writing was the literary equivalent to an Anti-Flag album. "This is The End (For You My Friend)" describes a scenario similar to the nightmare near-future of Tomorrow and Tomorrow: "Seems every station on the TV/is selling something no one can be/If every page was torn from the magazine/would cash still drive the media machine?"
"Song for you" by Broken Fences, off the album Broken Fences
I've heard Broken Fences described as similar to Simon and Garfunkel because of their clean guitar work and the close harmonies of singers Morgan Erina and Guy Russo, and while I think that's apt, Broken Fences have a much more haunted sound. The lyrics of "Song for You" make me think of Dominic's healing from grief: "whispers of pasts undone/how is it that you've caught me so completely/when I've had this wall built around me?"
"Are You Out There" by Lovebettie, off the album The Red Door EP
"Are You Out There" is a heart-wrenching rock ballad belted out by Lovebettie's powerful vocalist Alexandra Naples. "Crumbling down again/ Filled up with empty/ Where's my home again…" This song is almost gothic in its descriptions of sorrow and desolation.
"Knock Knock" by Mac Miller
In the past few years, two Pittsburgh rappers have gained national fame—Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller—highlighting Pittsburgh's vibrant hip-hop scene. Miller's album "Blue Slide Park" was a huge success, and is riddled with references to Pittsburgh's East End. His single "Knock Knock" is a great party song that Miller incredibly recorded before he was even old enough to drive. In the novel, Dominic's cousin Gavril is also his best friend, his enabler, his confidant. Gavril lives a party-all-the-time lifestyle I can easily imagine being set to Mac Miller's music.
"Big Plans" by Kellee Maize, off the album Aligned Archetype
I remember first learning about Kellee Maize when a friend told me there was a Pittsburgh rapper who "looked a little like Gwen Stefani and sounded a little like Eminem." "Big Plans" is another great party song, but in addition to the music, Maize's lyrics are socially conscious and often about her journey as a spiritual seeker. You might not realize that you already know about Maize—she was recently asked by Toyota to be the spokesman for the Prius, and you can currently see her in Prius commercials nationally.
"Forks at Kudatheda" by Centipede Eest, off the album Resonator
If you look them up on the internet, Centipede Eest is often described as "Prog"—and while it's hard to disagree with that as a label to give an idea to their sound, this band is completely unclassifiable. "Forks at Kudatheda" showcases their deep-space psychedelics and hissing vocals, but also check out this video of the band performing at FLUX, an all-night art party that used to pop up around Pittsburgh in unexpected places. I was at this show, so I'm more than likely one of those shadowy audience figures in the background: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qh-GTJDFQCk
"Waves" by Shade, off the album Latonka
Shade is a legendary Pittsburgh band whose fans are apt to describe their music with near rapturous enthusiasm. Their sound is most often described as a rust-belt version of shoegaze, full of lush, fuzzy guitars and plaintive vocals. "Waves" is maybe my favorite of their songs—as the title implies, it has the mesmeric effect of floating alone in the ocean.
"Smile" by Life in Bed, off the album Passed and Presents
Life in Bed was a mainstay in the Pittsburgh scene throughout the 2000's, but came on my radar in 2008 with their album Passed and Presents. I love the guitar work in the instrumental track "Smile"—If this list were a soundtrack to a movie version of the book, I'd imagine this track being the perfect accompaniment for Dominic's great love for his wife, Theresa.
"Inter-America" by Host Skull, off the album Black Mark
Host Skull, easily one of Pittsburgh's most unique, experimental and relentlessly creative bands, is a morphing group anchored by Santa Fe's Will Dyer and Pittsburgh's artistic polymath Dave Bernabo. Equally at home playing as part of an art installation or headlining a concert venue, their sound ranges from avant-garde Jazz one moment to indie-pop melodies the next. Inter-America is a great track, and definitely check out their video for my favorite of their songs, "Totally Fatalist": http://vimeo.com/25583549
"City Lights" by Joy Ike, off the album Good Morning
Joy Ike is Pittsburgh's most beloved singer/songwriter, without a doubt. Her soulful, beautiful voice needs to be heard by more people. I chose "City Lights" off her early album Good Morning because the lyrics echo the love story at the core of my novel: "Maybe dependency brings out the best in me/City Lights are so much brighter when you're next to me." Make sure to check out the video for Ike's "Everything You Have" from her most recent album All or Nothing: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXynlTBPuIs&feature=kp
"A Day in The Life" by The Beatles, off the album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
In one of the earliest drafts of Tomorrow and Tomorrow, I typed the words, "I read the news today, oh boy" and felt like the entire novel bloomed in my head, waiting for me to simply type it out (of course, writing the book proved much more difficult than that…). Lennon's plaintive, bewildered voice confronted by the horror-shock of the news combined with McCartney's almost suburban verse of a man soldiering through his day, all swept up in the melancholy apocalypse of noise is the perfect distillation of what I wanted to achieve with my novel. I'd wanted that phrase to be the epigraph for the book, but royalties to use Beatles' lyrics are prohibitively high—so, as you turn to page one of the novel, play "A Day in the Life" softly on vinyl in the background then read the first sentence, "Her body's down in Nine Mile Run, half buried in river mud…"
Thomas Sweterlitsch and Tomorrow and Tomorrow links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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