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.
Valeria Luiselli's Faces in the Crowd is one of the year's most striking and cleverly written novels, a debut that heralds the arrival of a promising literary voice.
The Los Angeles Times wrote of the book:
"Throughout Faces in the Crowd, Luiselli crafts beautiful sentences, while gleefully thumbing her nose at novelistic conventions. All that makes her an exciting and essential voice on the Latin American literary landscape."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
Music for a Year of Weightlessness
I write slowly, hesitantly, always a few words at a time. Between sentences, I often read bits and pieces of other books, make cups of coffee, walk around my house and listen to music. I wrote Faces in the Crowd in about one year, after many years of taking notes and reading for it. I heard a lot of music while writing it –I think because I'd just given birth to my daughter and music seemed to make her sleepy.
Some of the songs in this list appear mentioned in the novel, others were just songs I heard a lot in that period, and others were crucial for putting together certain scenes. The novel has two narrators: a woman writing in an undisclosed "present" about her 20s, when she lived in NY and worked as a translator; and a man, Gilberto Owen, who writes from the 1950s in Philadelphia about the late 1920s in NY. The songs here also go back and forth between those periods.
1. Peregrino, by Guty Cárdenas
I discovered Guty Cárdenas on a late night radio program while driving through Mexico City one night. It was September, so it was probably raining. I remember I stopped the car by the side of the road to write down his name on my hand with a pen, so I could find his recordings later. I took me a few years to find something of his. The only thing they'd said about him in the program was that he was born in Yucatan, in 1905, and killed in a bar in Mexico City, the Salon Bach, in 1932. Then, while I was writing the novel I discovered that he had lived in New York in 1929. Part of the novel is set in NY exactly in that period, so Guty made his way into the story: his song Peregrino appears on a radio on Black Tuesday, in 1929, while the male narrator, Owen, is getting dressed in a hotel in the Bowery after sleeping with a prostitute.
2. Lover Come Back to Me, Tamar Korn
Tamar's voice was one of the things that got me writing this novel. She inspired one of the characters and her spirit definitely lingers in its pages. When I met her, she sang in a band called The Cangelosi Cards. They're no longer together, but she still sings in various places around NYC. She has one of the most intriguing, beautiful voices I have heard.
3. Maruzella, Roberto Murollo
I heard this song in Spain, many lives ago. I had it on tape for a long time. One day I travelled to Milano to visit family and I learned that it was one of my grandfather's favorite songs. I bought the CD; then lost it. I just found it on Spotify, after many years on not hearing it. The song "Maruzella" is mentioned in the novel, by the female narrator's neighbor, an old Italian man who shows her his record collection and sometimes cooks for her and lets her sleep on his couch.
4. Le Tourbillon de la vie, Jean Moreau
The first time I heard this song was in my early twenties, watching Truffaut's Jules et Jim. I was sick with Nouvelle Vague fever and watched all those films as if they were oracles or keys to my own life. I'm not sure if I could take in another Truffaut film, but I still like the lighthearted chagrin with which Moreau sings this song –about leaving and being left; about losing people, then reencountering them, and them losing them all over again. It's very much the spirit with which the female narrator in the novel sees her past.
5. No tengo tiempo, Rockdrigo
Rockdrigo was Mexico City's Bob Dylan, in a way. But he died young, in the big earthquake in 1985. I don't think of the earthquake when I hear his voice but I hear the blunt sound of things falling, things finishing, oneself changing. I don't think this song is mentioned in the novel but its ghost is definitely there.
6. Cemetry Gates, The Smiths
The female narrator in the novel –and perhaps me too– likes going to cemeteries. This is the only cemetery song I know, and I heard it hundreds of times while I was writing Faces in the Crowd. I like its élan and the feeling that life will start happening as soon as you step out of your house and walk somewhere, especially if you head toward a cemetery –which, on the best days, is the same feeling I have when I sit down to write.
7. Take this Waltz, Leonard Cohen
I can now say without sadness that I am a failed dancer. But I was once a serious dancer, and studied Limon technique for ten years. When I was about nineteen, a member of the Limon company came to Mexico City to train us for a summer. She put together a choreograph to this song. It was the first time that my group and I performed something. Many years later, I realized that the song's lyrics were Cohen's very free translation of Federico García Lorca's poem "Pequeño vals vienés." There is a –fictional but absolutely possible– scene in the novel where Owen and Lorca meet the dancer Jose Limon at a party in Harlem. It is hinted that, later on, after meeting Limón and watching him dance, Lorca writes that poem. I read the poem in Spanish many times while simultaneously hearing Cohen's version, trying to recall the steps of the choreograph I'd danced years earlier. I wanted the scene to reflect the basic cadence of the Limon technique. In a way the scene is a translation of that choreograph that bridges Limon and Lorca through Cohen.
8. Toma este vals, Morente & Lagartija Nick
But the back-and-forth of translation gets more complicated. Morente –a classic flamenco singer– and Lagartija Nick –a punk rock band– got together in 1996 and recorded an album called Omega, and used some of Lorca's poems as lyrics for their songs. For "Toma este vals", they used the music that Cohen had written for "Take this waltz," but used the original poem in Spanish for the lyrics. I don't know if I like this song, but I heard it over and over again while writing the Lorca-Limon scene. It came right after the Cohen song in my iTunes lists. I like how these two versions tell a short translation story about Lorca's haunting "Pequeño vals vienés" –there's the original poem, then its translation both into English and into music, then that music is translated into its flamenco-rock version and the original poem recovered and inserted into the music for Cohen's English translation of it. If, moreover, the song is played while watching footage of Limon dancing "The Moore's Pavane," it seems like his steps and cadence miraculously fit the music.
9. When You Finally Return, Six Organs of Admittance
I'm rarely awake at dawn, so the few early mornings in which I've risen to a cup of coffee and a manuscript in progress have been some of the happiest. I would hear this song, from the album "To Octavio Paz," while preparing coffee in those last mornings when I was deeply invested in finishing the novel and writing many hours a day. I like the way it takes its time, the way it circles around the same feeling without needing to get anywhere in particular –it reminds me why I like writing.
Valeria Luiselli and Tomorrow and Tomorrow links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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