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November 3, 2015

Book Notes - Bruce Bauman "Broken Sleep"

Broken Sleep

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, T.C. Boyle, Dana Spiotta, Amy Bloom, Aimee Bender, Jesmyn Ward, Heidi Julavits, Hari Kunzru, and many others.

Bruce Bauman's novel Broken Sleep is an innovative epic remarkably told from four distinct perspectives.

Library Journal wrote of the book:

"[Broken Sleep] is a plangent tour de force of epic proportions…The amalgam of distinct perspectives creates an incoherent coherence that challenges and rewards in turn. Both a nightmare and a dream, this work successfully engages with eternal questions of truth and evil to form a solid and captivating literary experience. Highly recommended for…fiction readers who are concerned with questions of the modern predicament."

Stream a playlist of these songs at Spotify.

In his own words, here is Bruce Bauman's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Broken Sleep:

Broken Sleep is a family saga that covers more than 80 years. The narrative is propelled by the unconventional relationships between Salome Savant and her two sons, Moses Teumer and Alchemy Savant. There are multiple narrative points of view, all of which introduce many characters. The multiple plot lines and characters intersect and merge as the story progresses and reaches its denouement. The worlds are: art (Salome), academia (Moses), music (Alchemy/The Insatiables), and politics (Alchemy and Moses).

William Gass, in his brilliant essay The Music of Prose, posed the following:

"…prose cannot make any actual music."
"Yet no prose can pretend to greatness if its music is not also great;…"
"The shape of the sentence, the song of its syllables, the rhythm of its movement is the movement of the imagination too;"

All of my favorite writers make word songs that fill your imagination. And that too was my goal.

I listened to literally thousands of songs during the writing of Broken Sleep and I wanted each of my characters, the novel itself to have certain sounds, moods, rhythms. So, as difficult as it was, I picked eleven songs that I hope create a sense of the sound of the novel.

"Do You Believe in Magic" by The Lovin' Spoonful

This song captures all that is hopeful and joyful in music and art too. It goes to the innocent, optimistic heart that embraces the indefinable and irrational belief in magic and miracles. John Sebastian's voice is never more beatific than when he sings "It's like tryin' to tell a stranger ‘bout rock ‘n roll." Although there is much pain and loss in the book, I also wanted it to be balanced with energy and drive, because without those emotions and hope and joy, I might find life unbearable.

One of those high energy moments occurs when Moses first meets Alchemy and he remembers seeing the Insatiables years before, when they played a harder-edged version of "Do You Believe in Magic." He recalls how everyone in the audience seemed to be wishing they could be blessed by Alchemy's magic dust. And suddenly, Moses finds hope that, in offering his bone marrow for a transplant, Alchemy could save his life.

"Memphis Egypt" by The Mekons

If The Spoonful represent rock's songs of innocence then the Mekons are rock's songs of experience. Years into their recording career, they released their first album on a mainstream label. It failed commercially. Big Time. Why did such a great band never make it? Maybe, it's that Rock ‘n Roll, with its unceasing blasts of what may best be described as raw-post-punk-power-pop fueled by the voice of the formidable Sally Timms, lyrically drives a stake through the heart of rock ‘n roll's naïve belief in magic. Or almost, because the last line of Memphis Egypt reveals that, no matter how jaded and cynical you become, after the destruction of "your safe and happy lives" well, you have to believe in something -- and what do they believe in? "…that secret place where we all want to go, it's rock n' roll."

Moses and Jay's safe and happy life is destroyed first by illness and then Moses' entanglement with Alchemy and Salome. But Moses and Jay struggle on, as they must -- more guarded, more wounded, more desperately in search of their secret place where, once again they can be safe and happy.

"Illusions" by Marlene Dietrich

Dietrich‘s deep throated yet frail voice seethes with sexiness. She sings to the romantic in us all that falls in love again and again -- and just can't help it.

The lyrics read by themselves may come off self-pitying and the violins a bit maudlin, but when you listen to (and watch) Dietrich, despite the hurt, she is still command. She is still the enchantress, who may sell her illusions for a penny but she can and will create more. Because, like the movie mythology that gave Dietrich life, without illusions, there is nothing.

This is a song of Salome, the enchantress and illusionist.

"Blue Monk" by Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane

I prefer this version to the original. Here, Monk and Coltrane trade solos, and riff down the great American Musical Highway. Listening to Monk's opening piano, you can feel yourself be-bopping down Route 66 in a Thunderbird convertible -- and then Coltrane's sax takes off, lifting their jet propelled Thunderbird into the stratosphere, and Monk has no problem following and taking flight.

I hear Monk and Coltrane when Alchemy and Moses meet and they begin to converse a bit gingerly, then Alchemy starts verbally jetstreaming like Coltrane. You're not always sure where his seemingly free-flowing thoughts are coming from or where they're headed, but somehow it all makes sense. He pulls Moses into his world and they begin riffing like brothers who'd known each other for years, instead of two strangers who just met.

"Starry Eyes" by Roky Erickson and Lou Ann Barton

This is not the confident pre-crack up Roky of The 13th Floor Elevators attacking Dick Clark and the American Bandstand with their blitzkrieg psychedelia. This is Roky after the fall.

"Starry Eyes" was first recorded in 1975. Twenty years later he recorded this duet with Lou Ann Barton. It bristles with angst and yearning from both sides and adds an extra layer of pain. Roky, with his Buddy Holly hiccup, pleads to Barton "What Can I say/To make you listen/Starry eyes." Barton's Texas-tough but oh-so-vulnerable response, "Starry eyes/Won't you listen/that I'm here being" bleeds with the heartbreaking acceptance that two starry-eyed lovers may never cross that unbridgeable space that could bring them together.

I first imagined this song as one symbolizing the relationship between Absurda and Alchemy. As the book evolved, I heard it as one whose plaintive cries touch Moses and Jay, Salome and Nathaniel and Absurda and Mindswallow – everyone who has been in a relationship and sadly realizes love does not conquer all.

"Self Esteem" by the Offspring
"I'm a Cadillac" by Mott the Hoople

The Offspring anthem is youthful, loud brash, funny. The drooling cadences of the "lalalalalaa…" opening is hilarious and sounds more like the utterances of Spanky of the Little Rascals than Little Richard. The narrator, though, is kind of an insecure twerp. The song is damn clever; Offspring front man, Dexter Holland was almost thirty when the band released the song and he has a degree in molecular biology. The Offspring was clearly aware of the long history of insecure twerp rock songs from the Big Bopper to The Ramones.

Mott's "I'm a Cadillac" sounds as sleek as a big old Caddy rollin' down the road. Mick Ralphs' guitar and voice -- displacing the usual punchy edginess of Ian Hunter – is like a humming engine ready rev up to 100 mph. The singer's dealings with women are still complex, Ralphs sings "loving you is strange" echoing the Bo Diddley penned hit sung by Mickey and Sylvia in the late Fifties. But now, beware, this dude's a Cadillac who's "just holding back."

These are the songs of Ambitious Mindswallow, born Ricky McFinn. Mindswallow was the easiest and most difficult character for me to write. I heard his voice right off the bat. But, at times, because of his prejudice, I literally couldn't get myself to physically write what his voice was telling me. His prejudice, which stems from learned behavior, ignorance and insecurity was essential to the book and I had to do it. As Mindswallow grows from not knowing his own prejudice, to realization, to acceptance, to understanding he changes from an insecure brash young motherfucker to a more insightful, if still often brash man. He fully understands he is a Cadillac, if one that has been tarnished in collisions that he caused, and hurt those he loved most.

"Little Johnny Jewel" by Television (live version on the Blow Up release)
"Hallelujah" by Jeff Buckley (live version recorded in France)

For my money, Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd are equal to any two guitarists in any band. Whether it is "Little Johnny Jewel" or "Marquee Moon" they make mysterious and eerie music that (and yes, I'm mixing more arts metaphors), sounds like a Jackson Pollack canvass – it's beautiful and painful and has a genius that expresses emotions beyond words.

Buckley's version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" just slays me, even after 100 listenings. Buckley inherited his beautiful voice from his dad, Tim (an idiosyncratic songwriter, and who also died tragically). The younger Buckley's voice carries even more tragedy than his father's. Jeff's interpretation of "Hallelujah" feels like the cries of the forsaken Christ on the cross. Cohen's voice carries the weight of an Old Testament angry son of Yahweh.

These songs are for the Insatiables and Alchemy. If the Insatiables could have a sound, I'd want it to be Television meets the Beatles. And Alchemy, who is like Little Johnny -- oh so cool -- would sing like either Jeff Buckley or John Lennon.

"I'm Against It" by Groucho Marx

Because sometimes music should be funny and goofy and no one was funnier, goofier (and more contrary) than Groucho. Groucho's delivery, whether he is singing or making fun of academia, opera or blow hard politicians, is music to my ears. And he, as much as any writer or singer, is someone I hear in my head.

"Albatross" by Fleetwood Mac

This is the Fleetwood Mac of Peter Green, Jeremy Spencer and Danny Kirwan. Green's extraordinary instrumental composition is given its trance-like feel by McVie's bass and Fleetwood's drum beat and timpani. The calming sound of waves quietly reaching shore gives way to Green and Kirwan's guitars, which are at once soaring and sorrowful -- with a sense that tranquility can easily be undone if the mythical bird is not allowed to fly free over the open sea.

Not long ago, I listened to YouTube's one hour loop of "Albatross" after re-reading the final pages -- I'd listened to it over and over while writing the novel's Outro -- I felt the Savants slipping away from me or maybe me from them, and I pictured them, as in Salome's DNA travel or Moses' daymares, wafting into the forever of past and future.

Bruce Bauman and Broken Sleep links:

the author's website

PopMatters review

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

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