August 4, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Gabriel Urza's All That Followed is a stunning debut, a mesmerizing novel.
Kirkus wrote of the book:
"Thoughtful, ambitious...The author's family is from Spain's Basque region, which helps explain why an American writer would venture into this fraught history, and Urza does so convincingly, revealing the human faces behind the masks of terrorism and its collateral damage."
Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.
I hadn’t really thought of All That Followed as being particularly musical, but going back through the book for this playlist I was surprised to realize that there's actually quite a bit of music mentioned by the characters or playing in the background.
The book is told by three different narrators who are united by a common experience: the kidnapping and killing of a young politician in Muriga, a fictional town in the Basque region of Spain (where my family is from and where I’ve spent quite a bit of time). Each of these narrators are quite different from the others: Joni is an American school teacher in his 70's who has been living in Muriga since the 1950's; Mariana is the widow of the murdered politician, a young Basque woman in her 30's; finally, Iker is an idealistic young man in his late teens who gets caught up in the councilman's murder. When music appears in the book, it's because one of these narrators is noticing it. So as a consequence, the music usually reflects the taste or personality of each narrator.
Joni, for example, has been in Muriga the longest, even though he's not a native Basque. In remembering a traumatic event in 1952, Joni recalls being the first person to arrive at a bar in the morning, having a shot of cognac and a coffee and hearing "Hincarse de Rodillas" (begins at 25:53) playing on the radio as the bartender fills the order. In the recording playing in my head, it's a version by Victoria de los Angeles, who was a very popular singer at that time. De los Angeles' version reminds me of the Spanish songs my grandmother used to sing in the kitchen or the garden, songs from another place and time. Her voice is so warm, so full of veneration but at the same time so foreboding; it creates a sense of tension that really reflected what I imagined Joni to be feeling in that moment.
Joni would listen to singers from this era, or from the 1960's and 1970's. Joni's a foreigner, but he's also someone that has adopted the culture of the Basque Country from his early years in Muriga. Even though he doesn't speak Basque, I imagine him sitting in the kitchen smoking a cigarette and listening to records by Basque singer/songwriters that were popular at the time like Mikel Laboa or Benito Lertxundi. Laboa’s "Txoria Txori," is a great example of his work—simple, but deceptively profound. The song is just guitar, flute, and a damned good poet.
Mariana, on the other hand, is from another generation (one just a bit older than me). She grew up during the transition to democracy after the fall of the Franco regime, when Spain was in the midst of a political and cultural revolution. Mariana’s taste in music is reflective of this time, and so it's much more influenced by American and British pop singers from the 1970's and 1980's. There's a scene in the book where Marianna is lingering after a wedding reception a few years after her husband's death. She's drinking wine and maybe just a bit drunk, and she hears the song "Pictures of You" by The Cure, which reminds her not of her husband, but of her first childhood boyfriend. It's a great song, one that most people will recognize, and that triggers a reflexive feeling of longing and nostalgia every time I hear it.
At another point during this same wedding, Mariana also notices that the Jarabe de Palo song "La Flaca" is playing. I felt morally obligated to include this song in the book—for a year or two there in the late 1990's it seemed like it was the only song the Spanish radio ever played. And for good reason, too—that song is the jam. It just makes you want to undo the top button on your shirt and get close to someone on the dance floor.
Later in the book, Mariana asks an American friend to translate the words from a Springsteen song into Basque. I had a Basque cousin who was a couple years older than me—about Mariana's age. He would ask me to translate American songs from the 1980s for him, or to write them out in English. It was strange what music seemed to really resonate with him, despite not necessarily understanding the lyrics. I remember sitting around an apartment as a teenager with him, drinking whiskey and writing out the words to the Toto song "Africa" for him in a notebook, thinking "this song is really fucking terrible."
The last narrator, Iker, is a young radical in his teens in the late 1990's, when most of the novel is set. Not un-coincidentally, I was also about Iker's age and living in the Basque Country in 1997, and likewise imagined myself as somewhat anti-establishment, with lots of half-formed ideas about politics, art, and culture. So in the book, Iker is listening to a lot of the same music I was listening to at that time—mostly American punk rock and hardcore. I imagine Iker sitting in his room listening to CDs of Fugazi's Repeater and Red Medicine on loop, or maybe even more mainstream songs like Rage Against the Machine's "Killing in the Name Of," music that managed to make it across the Atlantic but that still seemed subversive and political. I wanted Iker to be both idealistic and smart, even if he wasn't yet fully formed politically at the time he gets involved with the councilman's kidnapping. Bands like these would have been mainstays for Iker and his crew.
Gabriel Urza and All That Followed links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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