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August 24, 2016

Book Notes - Nina Stibbe "Paradise Lodge"

Paradise Lodge

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

Nina Stibbe's novel Paradise Lodge is a smart and charming coming of age novel.

Kirkus wrote of the book:

"Stibbe's deadpan first-person delivery once again balances quirky charm with beady insight...Another deft helping of absurd social comedy and unconventional wisdom from a writer of singular, decidedly English gifts."

In her own words, here is Nina Stibbe's Book Notes music playlist for her novel Paradise Lodge:

My novel Paradise Lodge is set in 1977. The protagonist, Lizzie is 15, a high-school drop out – like I was – and, like me, working at an old peoples’ home. Popular music features more than I had realised when writing it - a quick count finds 18 songs mentioned and even more artists and composers. This is less because Lizzie is pop obsessed, I think, and more because 1977 was a huge year in rock and pop history. And though the music mentioned is mostly easy-listening radio-soul, we also see the impact of punk rock as it barges into the folk of rural Leicestershire. We see how appealing a free lunchtime classical concert could be back then and towards the end there are renditions of - and dances to - various songs of the day - because that’s what we used to do in 1977.

The playlist below isn’t a list of songs you’ll find in the book - I thought that might be a bit dull - but it’s the same sort of kid on the same journey in the same year.

Back then kids like me recorded our music off the radio onto cassette tapes and therefore lived on a diet of ‘easy listening’ rock, pop and soul dished out by BBC Radio. It was fine but a bit sad that we were essentially listening to the same music as our parents - which certainly hadn’t been the case for them.

"Knowing Me, Knowing You" - Abba

This was the best selling record in the UK in 1977. It was on the radio all the time and though there was nothing wrong with it, it was just another tuneful breakup song – albeit Swedish. It appealed to me because the video - directed by Lasse Hallström – was moody and sophisticated and was easy to reproduce in the mirror and the brilliance of Abba was that the sad songs made you feel sad – in a good (-looking) way.

So, I was listening to the same music as everyone’s mum and dad and it felt fine. The posher kids were listening to Rumours by Fleetwood Mac and the clever kids Year of the Cat by Al Stewart and the rest of us weren’t even buying albums, having neither the cash nor the inclination. We just recorded the radio in our bedrooms, illegally, and danced on a Saturday night to songs like:

"Young Hearts Run Free" – Candi Staten

This song would come on at the Working Men’s Club disco and we’d dance and sing along, ignored but word-perfect, in little gaggles. The main thing, for me, about this song was the gorgeous, affecting croakiness of Staten’s voice. She’d obviously been crying - probably because her man has been ‘busy lovin’ every woman that he can.’

'Don't be no fool when love really don't love you' she warned. Actually, glancing at the young men slurping pints of beer at the bar, with their dads and uncles, the warning that; 'you will get the baby but you won't get your man' didn’t sound so bad to me.

"I Wish" – Stevie Wonder

Stevie Wonder was on the radio a lot in the 1970s and I’m ashamed to say we took him for granted. In "I Wish" Stevie reminisces about his school days. I liked the idea of him being ‘sent to the principal’s office down the hall.’ If I’d bought albums back then, I’m not sure I’d have bought Songs in the Key of Life. I did buy it a few years later though and it remains my favourite album. Ever.

"Play that Funky Music" – Wild Cherry

Of course we loved this song and loved to imitate the lead singer. I used to sing it as I swept the grand hall and staircase at the care home and the residents used to love it -particularly my USA-style vocals. The incongruity of it pleased me no end, especially the word ‘funky’ in the context of a bunch of elderly English ladies from the Victorian age.

"Way Down" – Elvis Presley

I didn’t like this song. I didn’t particularly like Elvis - as an artist. But then Elvis died. It was high summer and, in the English Midlands, a hot one again and the people around me united in shock and grief. Some said they didn’t want to live in a world without Elvis and I realised the importance of the man. He was 42.

"20th Century Boy" – T. Rex

By 1977 Marc Bolan, lead singer of T. Rex, was presenting a music show on TV. My older sister had been a fanatic and for a couple of years I’d lived with a poster of him - in a glittery top hat - staring at me in my pyjamas, night after night. The glam rock/hippy thing struck me as a bit fake and unaccomplished, plus, I disliked that he rhymed ‘womb’ with ‘soon’ (and that he even had to use womb at all actually..) But then, just a month after Elvis, Marc Bolan died in a car crash and I suddenly appreciated his importance. It was Elvis all over again. Almost. He was 29.

"Heroes" – David Bowie

(“I, I wish you could swim, Like the dolphins, like dolphins can swim”)

For all his extraordinary and challenging themes David Bowie was fully mainstream by 1977 and actually quite old hat. I’d known and loved him since I was tiny, since before even Space Oddity, because our mother was a real music lover. I include this Bowie song from 1977 here - in tribute to Elvis and Marc Bolan and all their devastated fans back then - because now I know how it feels. I’m not over him yet.

So, we were too self-conscious, too poor, too young, and possibly too rural to have discovered anything edgy for ourselves at that point but it didn’t matter because the punk rock - that had been emerging on the fringes, for cool people in the cities and people older than us – properly arrived and teenagers began to encounter music as complex and bored as they were - and it was heaven. Not that we stopped liking the soft rock, pop and soul that was all around us, we just mixed it up a bit. Some of us started wearing black lipstick and some of us didn’t.

"Something Better Change" - The Stranglers (July 1977)
(A double A-side with "Straighten Out")

Imagine this song after months, years of middle of the road rock, Abba and soft disco. I personally owe it to my brother Tom who brought the album No More Heroes into our house. The Stranglers were a revelation; sophisticated, melodic and angry. The guitar intro and the huge ‘Ugh!’ that starts the sarcastic vocals (including the lyrics “stick my fingers right up your nose” and the petulant shouty ending were so satisfying. This song began my love affair with this band.

"Pretty Vacant" – Sex Pistols (July 1977)

The Sex Pistols were a joy and this in particular - their third single – was on Top of the Pops. We were scandalized and delighted that Johnny Rotten’s phrasing of the word "vacant" - emphasising the last syllable to sound like "c*nt” and we reveled in the stories of them being disrespectful to uptight frumpy presenters at the BBC.

"Psycho Killer" – Talking Heads

In real life Lizzie wouldn’t have heard this song during the time span of Paradise Lodge, as it wasn’t released until December. I’m including here because this band and David Byrne - more than any other - felt like mine.

"Mr. Blue Sky" – Electric Light Orchestra

This was also released too late to legitimately be included (January 1978) but I don’t care, I have to add it because it’s a total joy and you should always end with joy.

Nina Stibbe and Paradise Lodge links:

the author's website

Daily Express review
Financial Times review
Guardian review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
New York Times review
Observer review
Spectator review

The Rumpus interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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