June 7, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Daniel Saldaña París's novel Among Strange Victimsis an impressive work by a talented young writer.
Bookslut wrote of the book:
"Saldaña París is a Montreal-based poet, essayist, and novelist, born in Mexico City, and, as this darkly humorous and thoughtful novel -- both in the sense of being contemplative and packed full of an onrush of thoughts -- proves, is a welcome infusion of vitality into North American literature.”"
translated by Lizzie Davis
1. Rodrigo González - "Los intelectuales" ("The Intellectuals")
Rodrigo Gonzáles's music has always sent me to a Mexico City that, if not mythological, is at least idealized. Rockdrigo—as the singer was known—sings about the day-to-day affairs of big city life. His lyrics are capable of nailing down types, of encapsulating essences, of evoking the dark underbelly of the streets. In this song, he gently pokes fun at the Mexican intellectuals and their disconnect from reality. Among Strange Victims, in part one especially, also offers a satire with intellectuals as its object, punctuated with comments on the protagonist's workplace environment. (That this person's name is "Rodrigo" is mere coincidence, though it wouldn't bother me if it were read as a thinly-veiled homage to the musician, who died in the 1984 Mexico City earthquake two days after my first birthday.)
2. Frank Sinatra - "Love and Marriage"
There's an obsolete naivete to the lyrics of this song such that, listening to it in 2016, I often get the impression that it had to have been written in jest. But the truth is, for many conservative families in present-day Mexico, matrimonial dogma still stands.
One novel that I consider fundamental to my formation as a reader and writer is Parade's End by Ford Madox Ford. Since I read it, it's been my belief that a narrator must, ideally, undergo two fundamental experiences: war and marriage. To live in Mexico is a kind of war in itself, so I have that much covered. And apart from that, I've endeavored at various points to write about marriage and love—though perhaps from a fairly cynical perspective in the case of this novel. You can't have one without the other.
3. The Magnetic Fields - "Boa Constrictor"
More on love, the fundamental, if at times veiled, theme of Among Strange Victims. The triple album 69 Love Songs is one of the records I've listened to most. This short song conjures a dark and oppressive vision of love in a composition of just eight lines. In an ingenious submission to the romantic model, the irony of the lyrics is in complete opposition to the feeling conveyed by the music. That combination of the ironic and the sentimental is something that's of interest to me in my narratives. I'd like to write about love with a sense of humor that's not always detectable, that can sometimes be read as pure corniness or as a radical inside joke that leaves certain readers out.
4. Thurston Moore - "Mina Loy"
In the middle of my novel, there's a digression—a jump in time to the first years of the twentieth century—that follows two people, Richard Foret and Bea Langley. It's no secret that these characters' lives are based on those of Arthur Cravan and Mina Loy, a pair of poets and lovers whose story has always fascinated me. The title of the book itself comes from an epigraph from the poet/boxer Cravan. To write the section of the book in which these two intermittently appear, I spent several months reading first about Cravan, who initially interested me the most, and then about Loy, who was ultimately a much more complete writer, and whose biography ended up ensnaring me more than Cravan's own did. (Becoming Modern: The Life of Mina Loy, by Carolyn Burke, is a beautiful book.)
One of the groups that most impacted my adolescence and early adulthood was Sonic Youth. This homage from Thurston Moore to Loy is very powerful.
5. Miles Davis - "Go Ahead John"
In 2010, I finished writing Among Strange Victims at a writing residency in Montreal. I'd spent four months there not knowing that three years later I would be living in that same city. They were the four months of good weather, the summer months, and I was listening to jazz almost all the time. Not just because of Montreal's Jazz Festival (where I remember I heard Colin Stetson play for the first time, a couple of days before putting the final period on the last sentence in the book), but also because I put Miles Davis's Jack Johnson on repeat.
In 1916, Arthur Cravan fought against the world champion boxer to whom Davis dedicated this album.
6. Glutamato Yeyé - "Un hombre en mi nevera" ("A Man in My Icebox")
Between 2002 and 2006, while living in the Malasaña neighborhood in Madrid, I became an enthusiast of music from the Madrileñan scene, which, along with heroin and outcasts, proliferated in that neighborhood in the eighties. The singer Glutamato Yeyé had a Hitler-style mustache and long, dirty hair. They were a pretty weak group, to be honest, but "A Man in My Icebox" has fantastic lyrics—about a tiny man who lives in some guy's icebox and whose belongings are eaten away little by little. It's one of the few songs that I mention in Among Strange Victims: Marcelo Valente, the Spanish professor stationed in Mexico who dominates the second part of the book, listens to it obsessively in his youth.
7. Los Rockin Devils - "Bule Bule"
The first CD I ever owned was 16 Big Hits from the Teen Tops: a Mexican rock and roll group that, very loosely, translated North American rock and roll hits from the fifties and sixties. Los Rockin Devils were, in some ways, part of that same generation, which gave rise to a lot of unoriginal groups that, while generally unimpressive, can still be lot of fun if listened to from a historical distance. They have two hits I always go back to: "Bule Bule" and "Perro lanudo" ("Wooly Mammoth").
This is another one of the few songs that comes up in the novel, the one that Professor Velázques, expert in the aesthetic vanguard, listens to when he's young.
8. Marc Ribot - "Todo el Mundo es Kitsch" ("All the World is Kitsch")
I love all Marc Ribot's musical projects, from his latin rhythm group (The Prosthetic Cubans) to his collaborations with John Zorn, and even the sound of his guitar on Tom Waits's Rain Dogs. "Todo el Mundo es Kitsch" ("All the World is Kitsch") is one of the best songs on the album Party Intellectuals, which he released a few years ago with his project Ceramic Dog. Ribot's heavy accent when he sings in Spanish (very pronounced in "La Vida es un Sueño" ["Life is a Dream"], released with The Prosthetic Cubans) gives the song a strange air that I like. Somehow this seems connected to another character from my novel, Jimmy, a gringo expat who devotes himself to modern art and hypnosis in Los Girasoles.
9. José Alfredo Jiménez - "Tu Recuerdo y Yo" ("Your Memory and Me")
An immortal classic of Mexican song, as they say. This one, for me, sums up the spirit of Mexican spite like no other: the bitterness at the cantina, the melodramatic cry baby, the backdrop of impalpable misogyny mingled with a lax Catholicism. I suppose I'm including it here because I'm interested in this postcard, mariachi Mexico as an object of satire and as the setting for my fiction. Cliché is just another tool, and I'm not afraid to use it.
10. Los Saicos - "Demolición" ("Demolition")
In 1964, punk was invented in Peru with "Demolition." There was a time when I listened to this song, with its gorgeous, destructive spirit, to the point of fatigue. I know I'm too boring and sentimental to aspire to write something that transmits an emotion like this hymn from Los Saicos, but I also know, and I've said this before, that I often need to counteract that sentimentality with a certain violence. Punk has given me some tools for doing that. Sometimes when writing I pause to say, out loud, "Let's tear down the train station."
11. Frank Zappa - "Baby Snakes"
I could never make a personal playlist without including Zappa. Zappa is everything. I don't even need to explain why I'm including a Zappa song. A Zappa song justifies itself in every context.
I'll say a couple of things, though. There are times when Zappa reconciles me to the idea of individual talent, something I generally reject. But he does this by making me understand that talent is something I can't think about without relating it to a sense of humor—a sense of humor that's sharp and even offensive at times.
At one point in Among Strange Victims, there's a digression about "the secret life of snakes." Of the many digressions in which Rodrigo finds himself, I think this is my favorite one.
12. Espanto - "Chicos del siglo XX" ("Twentieth-Century Kids")
A song about the premature aging of my generation. The spleen of adulthood, the office work, the obliteration of passions. "Twentieth-century kid, you've suddenly gotten old," the chorus says. If I had to choose just one song for my novel's book trailer, this would be it. And on top of that, I think Espanto is the best Spanish pop group around right now.
13. Daniel Johnston - "True Love Will Find You in the End"
Somehow Daniel Johnston's low-fi, DIY sound heightens all of the emotions. We aren't listening to a heavy-handed production, to a voice that's been equalized or perfected in a studio. Instead, we're faced with the rawness of a love story that's been reduced to its most basic elements. It may not be obvious, but I like to think of Among Strange Victims as a love story with a happy ending—or at least a story with enough ambiguity and strangeness that a more or less happy ending can be imagined.
Daniel Saldaña París and Among Strange Victims 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
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