May 8, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Matt Bell wrote of the book:
"Charlie Martens is my favorite kind of narrator, an obsessive yearner whose commitment to his worldview is so overwhelming that the distance between his words and the reader's usual thinking gets clouded fast. World Gone Water will draw you in, make you complicit, and finally leave you both discomfited and thrilled."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
World Gone Water is the second volume of a planned trilogy about Charlie Martens, the protagonist of my previous novel, Vernon Downs. The novels stand alone, however, and World Gone Water takes place seven years before the events in Vernon Downs. World Gone Water finds Charlie living in Phoenix, recently released from a voluntary stay at a behavioral clinic in the Sonoran desert, the result of an incident with a woman he met while tending bar in Florida where Charlie had fled to forget his high school sweetheart, whose sudden marriage to someone else devastates him. But Charlie's homecoming launches him into a chain of events with a cast of characters that assault his fragile state and further undermine his general impressions about life and how to live.
The most autobiographical element of World Gone Water is the setting—I grew up in Phoenix during the time period explored in the novel—and to create the proper mood, I put together a playlist of the music of that time when alternative music exploded onto the Arizona airwaves courtesy of an AM radio station called 1060 KUKQ. Previously, I'd been a Top 40 kind of listener, so the tunes KUKQ spun were truly a shock, something akin to revolution. These stand out in my mind from those hallowed times, and helped jog my memory of living in Phoenix when it was just a medium-sized city with metropolis ambitions, not unlike me.
Psychedelic Furs – "Heartbreak Beat"
There's a slightly autobiographical scene in World Gone Water where Charlie and his friend hook up with two girls on a trip to Las Vegas that's really taken from a trip I made with my high school friend to California to visit a mutual friend who had moved there from Phoenix. On the trip to California, we listened to Depeche Mode and The Psychedelic Furs almost exclusively and whenever I think of that time, I think of us sitting at a red light in the early morning hours, the streets empty, a fog rolling in from the ocean blowing a chill through the open windows. That moment haunts me as my being on the precipice of something, though I couldn't say what, and still can't. Perhaps just the metamorphosis from adolescence to adulthood. But part of me is forever sitting at that red light, in no hurry for it to change.
Mary's Danish – "Don't Crash the Car Tonight"
My first novel, We're So Famous, featured characters obsessed with Bananarama. They could just have easily been infatuated with Mary's Danish, though Mary's Danish had that rock element Bananarama lacked. "Your name/comes up more times than I'd like" is echoed in Charlie's soul-searching about his past in World Gone Water.
The Sidewinders – "Witch Doctor"
The first band from this era poised for national success was shortly eclipsed by another band, The Gin Blossoms, but this song was in heavy rotation in the early days of alt rock radio and it calls to mind late night drives with friends on the empty streets of West Phoenix, where I went to high school. Our travels were well-worn loops of familiar places: friends' houses, the malls, drive-thrus, which lent the notion of stability to those otherwise anxious time in our lives.
Camper Van Beethoven – "Take the Skinheads Bowling"
If Kurt Vonnegut had been in a band, it would've been Camper Van Beethoven. "There's not a line here that rhymes with anything" is both funny and a wry reminder that sometimes things that seem like they're going somewhere, don't, which is artistically okay, and important to this novel.
Jesus Jones – "Right Here Right Now"
This song reminds me exclusively of the time I borrowed a Mercedes from the fleet of cars owned by my boss, Charles H Keating, Jr., the savings and loan baron, to give a girl visiting my college roommates from Chicago a tour of Phoenix, mostly the rich part of town, trying to make an impression. After I dropped her back at the apartment, I returned the Mercedes and took the bus home as I didn't have a car of my own. The kind of stunt Charlie would pull without realizing either the irony or the futility.
Matthew Sweet – "Girlfriend"
Extols the exact philosophy that drives Charlie and his pining for his high school girlfriend, Jenny.
The Cure – "Just Like Heaven"
The first few beats of this song call to mind a slew of underage night clubs my friends and I frequented with names like Out of Water and Six Feet Under, drinking in our cars until the clubs made that magical switch from 21 and over to all ages. A secondary memory is the parking lots of some of the more exclusive resorts on Scottsdale Road, where we'd sneak on to the property and swim in the pools meant only for paying guests. Both memories recall a time of limitless freedom and limitness anxiety about how fleeting everything appeared to be.
Shriekback – "Nemesis"
For me the bulk of the lyrics of this song are silly and meaningless, but We are not monsters/We're moral people/And yet we have the strength to do this/This is the splendor of our achievement seemed to explain a lot about human nature, or my take on it. Plus my friends and I would spin ourselves dizzy on the dance floor when this song came on, flailing our arms as if seeking flight.
Material Issue – "Valerie Loves Me"
Another song about obsession with a capital O.
Social Distortion – "Story of My Life"
The alternative station played this at least once an hour. The band name is more evocative to me than any of their music, but this song easily recalls a time when my friends and I endlessly parsed our interactions with the opposite sex.
The Jesus and Mary Chain – "Just Like Honey"
Another song that reminds me of the early hours in the desert. (My friends and I worked the 4-11 shift at a local fish and chips, so our nights began later than our other friends'.) The west side of Phoenix was mostly farmland back then and after a night spent cruising Mill Avenue in the college town of Tempe, or warehouse parties in Downtown Phoenix, we'd make our way through the darkened fields to our homes, weary travelers returning from yet another epic quest for experience.
Dramarama – "Anything Anything"
The kind of desperation this song evokes drove a lot of the writing for this novel.
Peter Murphy – "Cuts You Up"
Then and now this song elicits soaring emotions, the plunging melody against the steadiness of the drumbeat calling to mind a zoetrope of memories useful in transporting me to the period of my life when I was obsessed with the same ideas that concern Charlie Martens in World Gone Water.
Echo and the Bunnymen – "Lips Like Sugar"
One of those songs that is like a time machine in its ability to immediately call up the past as if it happened yesterday. For me, a jumble of images and memories: painted cinderblock walls, the strong scent of orange blossoms, moonless nights spent darting from Phoenix to Scottsdale to Tempe and back, the friend who lived on my street who looked like Anthony Michael Hall and who ultimately committed suicide, empty freeways in the early morning, swimming in lukewarm pool water, steering wheels too hot to touch in the summertime, hunting up brand name clothes from the used clothing stores around Arizona State University, outdoor concerts at venues like Compton Terrace, owned by Steve Nicks's father, or the Mesa Pavilion, the friend whose sister you dated and who would give you and your friend who looked like Anthony Michael Hall rides home from school and who was murdered years later in the parking lot of a nightclub in Scottsdale, then the father of a young child. The last time I'd seen him he was picking up some forgotten item at the grocery store. I spotted him before he did me and something about the gulf of time between us made me avoid him; but he surprised me in the bread aisle and we stood catching up, awkwardly, until we each went on our way and off to our separate fates.
Jaime Clarke and World Gone Water links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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