March 11, 2015
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, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.
Jeremy Hawkins' debut novel The Last Days of Video is engaging, funny, and often moving.
Booklist wrote of the novel:
"The novel is riddled with film references and easily lambastes the sneering superiority of cinephiles, while still preserving a sense of wonder for the magic of movies. The Last Days of Video is an unapologetic, quirky, and surprisingly moving elegy for the passing of the local rental hangouts."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
When you work in a video store for ten years, like I did, a weird thing happens: The world glazes over, its colors muted, its daily inhabitants boring and flat. Reality's vibrancy begins to pale compared to the movies you constantly watch. Everyone understands this to some degree; when witnessing shocking events like car wrecks or bank robberies, bystanders often say, "It was like being in a movie!" The subtext of which is that "being in a movie" is inherently more fun and exciting than the real world.
Putting aside whether or not this is a good thing, because there's a decent chance it isn't … how do filmmakers accomplish this better-than-real quality? In myriad ways, of course. They cut out all the boring bits. They give us attractive people to look at, with whom we're more likely to connect emotionally. They blow shit up. They raise plot expectations, then subvert those expectations in clever ways, which shoots us through with wonder, no matter how smart we consider ourselves.
And music. Music is one of filmmakers' mainlines into our emotions.
A significant portion of my music library is stuff I first heard in movies. Filmmakers are a weird bunch, and many of them have weird taste in music to which they enjoy subjecting their audience. Fortunately, that music is often something you've never heard before, and very, very moving.
So here is some music I found at the movies …
"Dry the Rain" – The Beta Band – From High Fidelity – I'm going to get this one out of the way. Nick Hornby's High Fidelity has been, for me, both a blessing and a curse. It's by far my novel's best "comp," which for those who don't know means "comparative title," but which could also mean, as far as I'm concerned, "completely appropriate book that has been brought up for six freaking years every freaking time I mention my video store novel." Anyway, you probably remember the scene from the Hollywood adaptation when John Cusack says, "I will now sell five copies of The Three EPs by The Beta Band." This is the song he plays, and for me it started an intense love affair with that truly excellent band.
"Tristan and Isolde: Prelude" – Richard Wagner – From Melancholia – I first heard this in the opening segment of a movie I'm conflicted about, directed by a director I'm conflicted about, composed by a composer that the entire world is conflicted about. The only thing I'm not conflicted about is that this piece is stunningly beautiful, and that everything else you'll ever listen to after this will be slightly more lame because of it.
"Arthur's Theme" ("Best That You Can Do") – Christopher Cross – from Arthur – Oh no he didn't! Oh yes I did! Yeah, I'm dropping in the song we all know best as "Between The Moon and New York City"—which is not its title (see above, it's already got two). This song is remarkable not only for its prototypical 80's-ness, but also because the plot of the movie is actually woven into the lyrics—"Arthur he does as he pleases … Laughing about the way they want him to be." That's important character information, people. Also, Dudley Moore, the world misses you.
Zorba's Dance – Mikis Theodorakis – from Zorba The Greek - Know the story? The film was supposed to end with Anthony Quinn doing a jumping, flailing, ecstatic dance, which makes perfect sense given Zorba's character and the film's plot. But then Anthony Quinn went and broke his foot, and he wasn't able to perform the dance. So he invented a slower, shuffling sort of dance that he referred to as "traditional," which, considering that he was Mexican, not Greek, I'm sure he knew a lot about. The point is—the restrictions placed on Zorba The Greek w/r/t Anthony Quinn's broken foot led to one of cinema's most memorable final scenes—and a kick-ass song that's popped up in a hundred places ever since.
"I Walk The Line" – Johnny Cash – from Walk the Line – I'm mainly including this to correct the revisionist notion that Cash wrote this song for June Carter based on some clever quip of hers during one of his drunken debauches—in truth he wrote it for his first wife. Biopics in general muck with history, so much so that half of any cinephile's job in watching a biopic is also to research what the filmmakers got wrong. This is followed closely by completely giving up on biopics, good riddance. Oh, and this is the original version of the song: you know, the one that Johnny Cash actually sang? Not because Joaquin Phoenix did a bad job, but I mean, come on.
"Cucurrucucu Paloma" – Caetano Veloso – From Talk to Her – My favorite Almodóvar film. A weird, unapologetic melodrama that never misses the mark. And slammed in the middle is this set piece featuring Caetano Veloso—he just sits there and sings this song to the main characters, and to us. It shouldn't work, but it does. There's not much to say except that music doesn't get more beautiful than this.
Yumeji's Theme – Umebayshi Shigeru – from In The Mood For Love – I have written while listening to this soundtrack ever since the movie first came out. That's over fifteen years. Damn. Getting old. I could have picked any song from Wong Kar-Wai's masterpiece, even one of the really weird ones, and you'd be blown away.
"Make 'Em Laugh" – performed by Donald O'Connor - from Singin' In The Rain – My favorite song from that singular musical for people who hate musicals. My novel is a comedy, and I try to be funny with all my might, but I can't say I'd be willing to do half the crazy things O'Connor does in this bit. The guy's probably still bruised from that routine, if he's still alive. He's not, I just checked. Sorry. Anyhoo, I am willing to link to his performance on youtube. Enjoy.
"Willow's Song" – composed by Paul Giovanni – from Wicker Man (1973) – Mainly including this because I'm sick of the Southern United States, from which I hail, having such a rotten reputation in terms of freaky yokel activity, when there are tons of other places where yokels do really freaky crap. Namely Scotland. Sure, the eponymous Willow gets naked in the movie, and she's probably the first gorgeous naked woman many men ever saw, but that doesn't mean you won't be burned alive in a sick ritual if you ever go to Scotland. Because you will.
Deadwood theme – James Parks – from Deadwood – Because Netflix! This is the show you should resurrect, or else what's the point.
Jeremy Hawkins and The Last Days of Video links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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