September 15, 2015
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Marvelously dark and lyrical, Robert Kloss's novel The Revelator is a stunning example of Western noir that loosely imagines the life of Joseph Smith.
Matt Bell wrote of the book:
"I'd be hard pressed to think of a young novelist I admire more than Robert Kloss. An heir of Melville, Faulkner, and McCarthy, Kloss stands unflinching before conventional history, rich with ambition and aesthetic daring. To read one of his books is to be thrilled anew with the possibilities of contemporary fiction.""
At first glance a playlist devoted entirely to Prince songs might not seem a suitable accompaniment to a neo-biblical western horror novel based loosely on the life of Joseph Smith. There are no seething demon-angels dripping black ooze in "Delirious," no forests filled with the hanging bodies of suicides in "Sexy M.F." And I didn't listen to Prince while writing the novel, either, preferring then classical music, opera, Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, lush, ornate, bombastic, grand.
But the truth is I've always been listening to Prince, or at least I've been listening to Prince since I first snuck the Batman soundtrack into my Walkman. Surely the conflict and conflation between the love of God and animal lust, the earthly and the sublime, not to mention the wavering line between the empowerment and objectification of women, must lodge somewhere and dream and mutate and brood in the mind of anyone who has listened to Purple Rain a thousand times.
I like to think I would never submit to a man like the Revelator in my novel, never follow him from burning city to ruined landscape, just because he told me, "Those you love will never die." But maybe it was just the mustiness of the Sunday school instruction that locked me shut to religious devotion—Prince's version of preaching so moves me that I must admit I have some instinct for the ecstatic gospel of strange people.
In creating the following list I tried to match some of the themes and moods of the novel. I also limited myself to Prince songs that were commercially released and are not now out of print (and sadly many Prince albums are no longer readily available). I also limited myself to songs that are not obviously "greatest hits."
It's been many years since I last watched Graffiti Bridge, so I can't remember if The Question of U plays over a scene of passion or prayer, and I have no idea if "u" is a lover or God—the guitar solo indicates sex, but with Prince that does not necessarily decide the matter. Temptation from Around the World in a Day more obviously articulates the conflict between the lustful libertine and the man of God. I love this unhinged song—here were have a conversation with God, wild free jazz, Prince screams, moans, heavy breathing, and lyrics like, "Workin' my body with a hot flash of animal lust."
Prince ultimately submits to God's will in Temptation, but Sexuality (from Controversy) refuses submission to any law. The falsetto here is sick, indecent, and the lyric's call to total sexual freedom is also the call to revolution. The old boundaries do not matter to young Prince. I suppose it takes a young person to conceive a new music or a new religion.
Prince's falsetto (and, well, the background moaning—or is it weeping?) on Scandalous rates an advisory sticker by itself. And it was that falsetto that made this the one song on the Batman soundtrack I understood my uptight parents must never know about.
Several songs on this list would pair well with an attempt at seduction, but the tone of my novel is probably closer to the fevered, disturbed Pheromone, from Come. Here a voyeur observes a dangerous sex game, not knowing if he should play hero or watch while the man "just makes her point the pistol to his nose/ While he masturbates and now I see a tear/ Heading down towards her smile." The voyeur, of course, cannot turn away.
There is also a frequent yearning in Prince's music to find a home and a meaningful love beyond empty sex. In Forever In My Life from Sign O' The Times what seems like a proposal of marriage verges again on the religious, even calling his intended his "savior." Prince doesn't believe in half-measures or mild moves, so of course marriage must amount to total salvation. This attitude is evident in his greatness, and also in his obsessions: seeking out and destroying any snippet of his music on the internet, his massive vault of unreleased music, his control over every aspect of his protégés' appearance, sound, band names. This puts a weird glow on the occasionally feminist message of his new band, the otherwise all female trio 3rdEyeGirl. I rather like their bouncy Stopthistrain from Plectrumelectrum; a song Prince apparently does not much sing or play on, although I assume no note was conceived without his consent.
Rock and Roll Love Affair is again about the total devotion to a meaningful relationship, "the yellow sun rising on their bodies in bed," but it is also about the mutual devotion to ambition and art, in this case, rock and roll. It is fairly remarkable that a song Prince recorded in his mid-50s captures the spirit so well the adventure and fearlessness of young people setting out into the world.
I often think of the famous story told about Prince mocking Michael Jackson after humiliating him in a Ping-Pong match. There are so many great cocky, boastful Prince songs. My Name is Prince probably goes the furthest, crediting his birth as the culmination of creation: "In the beginning God made the sea/ But on the 7th day he made me." Some arrogance is probably healthy in great artists and cult leaders, until, of course, it leads to paranoia, vengefulness, cruelty.
Old Friends 4 Sale from The Vault ... Old Friends 4 Sale is a gorgeous rush of despair. Here Prince is forced to wonder, "If there's someone up there who really cares," after he has been betrayed. There is a moment late in The Revelator where the prophet Joseph's murdered body has been abandoned by every follower except his first wife, who returns to bury her husband beyond the reach of grave robbers and wolves. For whatever reason, Sometimes It Snows in April from Parade reminds me of that moment. It is a sad, lovely song, and it would perfectly conclude any album or playlist, so I place it at the close of mine.
Robert Kloss and The Revelator links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
Book Notes (2015 - ) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2012 - 2014) (authors create music playlists for their book)
Book Notes (2005 - 2011) (authors create music playlists for their book)
my 11 favorite Book Notes playlist essays
100 Online Sources for Free and Legal Music Downloads
Antiheroines (interviews with up and coming female comics artists)
Atomic Books Comics Preview (weekly comics highlights)
Daily Downloads (free and legal daily mp3 downloads)
guest book reviews
Librairie Drawn & Quarterly Books of the Week (recommended new books, magazines, and comics)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
Short Cuts (writers pair a song with their short story or essay)
Shorties (daily music, literature, and pop culture links)
Soundtracked (composers and directors discuss their film's soundtracks)
weekly music release lists
Word Bookstores Books of the Week (weekly new book highlights)