February 17, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Matthew Griffin's debut novel Hide is a compassionate and haunting portrait of love, regret, and loss.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Something like a small miracle: a bittersweet portrait of love in the shadows."
I tend to play music as I'm gearing up to write—while I'm sitting at my desk, drinking coffee and waiting for it to kick in and pull me from the pit of existential despair into which I fall, at least for a few minutes, when I first stare at any blank page—or to put myself into a particular mood. Usually the music carries me into the start of the writing, and after the first paragraph or page or so I turn it off, but I have also been known to put a single song on repeat for hours at a time while I'm working, though I at least turn the volume down so I can't hear the words too clearly.
These are the songs which ran through the background—and sometimes the foreground—as I wrote Hide, which tells the story of Frank Clifton, a World War II veteran, and Wendell Wilson, a taxidermist, who fall in love when Frank returns from the war to their North Carolina mill town. For their own safety, they cut ties with the world and carve out a secluded home for themselves, where they live for decades until, at the age of 83, Frank suffers a stroke and their carefully-constructed life together begins to unravel.
Kate Bush - Moments of Pleasure
In a lot of ways, Kate Bush is the governing musical muse of the whole book. My husband and I discovered her music around the same time I started working on Hide, so I was listening to her a lot during the writing process. "Moments of Pleasure," particularly the version from her album Director's Cut, is one of my favorite songs—beautiful and personal and sad, a reflection on people she's lost. It really captures perfectly the feeling I wanted for Hide: the sadness of Wendell slowly losing Frank, and the beauty of the life they've lived together.
Joanna Newsom - Baby Birch
Although Kate Bush took over my listening as I kept working on the book, I probably played Joanna Newsom's Have One On Me album more than anything else while I was working on the very first draft. To start with, we need to be clear that the whole album is a genius masterpiece. But there's a lushness, a tender, trembling quality to "Baby Birch" that especially fit the chapters early in Frank and Wendell's relationship, when they first meet and are too terrified to be honest with one another about their feelings, when the natural world seems to come alive around them, charged with terror and wonder.
Lana Del Rey - Video Games
I feel like I should probably be ashamed of how much I love Lana Del Rey, but I am not ashamed. Lana Del Rey's great, and this song is great. For me, it was the soundtrack to the most passionate moments of the book, when Frank and Wendell are really falling in love, the attraction so powerful they have no choice but to cast caution aside—their hesitating first kiss, the breathless, sacred feeling as Wendell first touches Frank's body, their one romantic trip to the beach together. The song is sexy and aching and full of the obliterating bliss of new love, but with a hint of danger, too, all of which I hope is present in those scenes.
Ben E. King - Stand By Me
This song brings the 1950s and 60s to life for me more than any other, and I listened to it a lot while I was working on the chapters set in those decades. But it also captures the happiness and joy of perseverance, of sticking with someone even as all other things fall away, and in that sense it's really anthemic of Frank and Wendell's relationship as it endures the years.
Patty Griffin - Top of the World
But no relationship can endure for so long unscathed, and this song perfectly renders those tiny, everyday ways we fail ourselves and the people we love. Griffin's dead narrator, looking back on his life with his wife and family, sings:
I wish I'd have known you
I wish I'd have shown you
All of the things I was on the inside
But I'd pretend to be sleeping
When you'd come in in the morning
To whisper goodbye
And go to work in the rain
Now I don't know why
I don't know why
It's a devastating, beautiful song, and it really reflects the toll time and isolation take on Frank and Wendell, until neither can bear to tell the other how hard it's been, how much it hurts, and they turn more and more to silence.
Judy Garland - Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
This is the only song on the list that makes an actual appearance in the novel, when Frank and Wendell visit Frank's family's graves and he forgets why he's there. The version in the book is one of the many tedious covers by vocal-showoff divas, but no one should ever listen to any version except Judy Garland's original. Ideally, in fact, you should just watch the scene from Meet Me in St. Louis in which Judy sings it to comfort the adorable, crying Margaret O'Brien, and then you too should dissolve into weeping, as I do every Christmas when I watch it.
Gillian Welch - I Dream A Highway
Welch's Americana sound is perfect for Hide's rural, Southern setting, and this is a great song for writing to because it's really long and slow and rhythmically repetitive. It's also deeply lonely and full of striking, strange imagery which was evocative for me of Frank's slipping deeper into dementia. Though the book is entirely in Wendell's point of view, I thought this song must feel how it feels for Frank as his memories unravel and warp and close around him, all the while trying to dream his way back to Wendell.
Joni Mitchell - The Sire of Sorrow
Joni Mitchell, y'all. There will never be anyone better. Her rendition of Job's angry cries to the God who has rained ruin on him is epic and brilliant and spiteful, spinning out beyond Job's personal suffering to condemn the general injustice of the universe: "Why do you starve the faithful?" he demands. "Why do you crucify the saints?" It fits Wendell perfectly as the book goes on, giving voice to the outcry he'd never let himself utter: of his anguish as the most beautiful thing in his life is stripped away, of his anger at the world's coldness and transience.
Beyonce - XO
Okay, we've had a few sad songs in a row, and at this point we maybe need a pick-me-up. I also needed a pick-me-up in the last month of revising Hide before I sent it out to agents—I'd spent years toiling on it in solitude, and the prospect of strangers reading it was terrifying, and anyway I tend to doubt myself more with every subsequent revision. And because Beyonce is all-knowing, she released her surprise album at the precise moment I needed it. That album, with its ambition and bravery, and this song, with its exuberant celebration of love in the face of mortality, carried me through that last revision.
Tift Merritt - The Feel of the World
Merritt wrote this song from the perspective of her dead grandfather speaking to her dying grandmother. What I love most about it, and what I also tried to do in Hide, is the way it captures the profundity of physical existence—her grandfather's longing for the touch of the wind, for the sight of his wife, for "the feel of the world in [his] hands." The end of the song, when he sings to his dying wife, "I will take care of you, love, again," gives me chills every time. There are several versions of the song, but my favorite is from Night, Merritt's collaboration with pianist Simone Dinnerstein.
Kate Bush - This Woman's Work
All things begin and end with Kate Bush, and this song, with its refusal to give in to death, its demands for more time, its regret at all the things left unsaid, is the perfect expression of Wendell's feelings as Frank grows sicker and forgets more of their life together. The original version, which rises to a plaintive, heartbreaking climax, is already perfect, but I think Bush's reimagining of it on Director's Cut—slower, softer, her voice less defiant, tempered by age and loss—is even more beautiful and devastating. I remember the first time I heard it, on a winter morning, bright and sunny, just a little snow left unmelted in the grass, as I was getting ready to write. I sat in my office and cried. Then I hit ‘repeat.'
Matthew Griffin and Hide links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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