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August 5, 2016

Book Notes - Tim Murphy "Christodora"


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.

Tim Murphy's Christodora is one of the finest New York novels I have ever read, the book vividly captures the Manhattan of the eighties and nineties.

Booklist wrote of the book:

"[A] perceptive debut novel . . . Murphy vividly recaptures 1980s and '90s New York, dampening any pop-culture nostalgia with reminders of the crude pharmacology and callous bureaucracy imposed upon those struggling with AIDS . . . His multigenerational tale is a clever inversion of the usual addiction-begets-AIDs narrative and a reminder that despite recent medical advances, the disease still finds ways to ravage people's lives . . . It never wavers in its warmth toward its characters, or its insistence upon the possibility of healing."

In his own words, here is Tim Murphy's Book Notes music playlist for his novel Christodora:

Alicia Meyers, "I Want to Thank You"

In my early twenties, I got ahold of a Rhino Records 3-CD set of rare gay club and disco tracks called Give Your Body Up. That set was a portal to me into a New York City club world of the late 70s and early-mid 80s that existed before I moved here in 1991. I became obsessed with this world and ended up being a DJ for several years and really focusing on those rare tracks. This particular track might be my favorite. It has an opening riff that has been sampled by Busta Rhymes, DMX, 50 Cent and others. I love this song because, partly because of Alicia Meyers' smoky voice, it's very cool and sexy with a great bass and drum line underneath but it's also moving and prayerful and sincere. It's the song that introduces one of the characters, Issy Mendes, and I always think that if Christodora were a movie, this would be the song over the closing credits.

Madonna, "Cherish" and "Like a Prayer"

Both of these songs were on the Like a Prayer album, which came out in 1989, which is a pivotal year in Christodora, the year that AIDS activists thought they were going to have a big treatment breakthrough. Hector and Ricky are in love and they hear "Cherish" in a car on the way to an activist meeting. To me, "Cherish" is Madonna's most perfect, summery, sparkling love song. When I hear it, I can only think of the gorgeous Herb Ritts video with the muscle mer-men and the cute little girl and Madonna all splashing in the sea. It's such a happy song, it embodies optimism, which the summer of 1989 was filled with for the activists. I think of Madonna at that time as providing a kind of soundtrack for gay and AIDS activism--her ties to that world were well-known, via friendships with NY artists like Keith Haring--and "Like a Prayer" as a kind of anthem in that moment.

Portishead, "Roads"

"I got nobody on my side/and surely that ain't right." These words snag in Mateo's head when he's listening to this mournful track while stoned with one of his high school girlfriends. I kind of think of the high school Mateo as full of charm and swagger and this song as a window into his innermost heart when he is vulnerable--a boy who feels incredibly alone, motherless and lost deep inside and whose loneliness will lead him to drugs for solace.

Wale, "Lotus Flower Bomb"

When I was living in a rehab house in early 2002, Usher's "U Got it Bad" was always on the radio and we were always singing that song around the house--it was this cheesy love song that united us in the house. I associate it with the feeling of safety and love being in that house, of us having one another's back. Especially the chorus: "You know you got it bad when you're stuck in the house, you don't want to have fun, it's all you think about." We were definitely stuck in the house! But in the book, Mateo is in such a house in 2011. I think their cheesy house song would've been "Lotus Flower Bomb." Plus I love the video and the model in it, Bre Scullark, is so beautiful, I could look at her all day.

k.d. lang, "Miss Chatelaine"

k.d. lang's album Ingénue IS the early 90s for me. When I think back to my first few years in New York, in a bedroom the size of a closet in Chelsea that was back to back with the Old Homestead restaurant so my room always smelled like steak exhaust, I think of this languid, romantic, yearning album, which reflected a lot of my own burgeoning gay desire and longing. I think of "Miss Chatelaine" in connection with the chapter "Darkest Hours," some of which, which related to the song, got cut. This is a very Piaf song with soaring lyrics and I always loved the fact that k.d. was singing this very lush and femme song presumably about another woman.

Pixies, "Here Comes Your Man"

Christodora opens the night of the riots on the Christodora building in the summer of 1988, when Jared and his prep-school buddies are up in the Christodora, drinking and smoking pot and "rhapsodizing about the brilliance of the Pixies' Surfer Rosa" album. I think of the song as the ballad of Jared and Milly's early relationship, in and immediately after college. I do kind of think of the soundtrack of Christodora as this back and forth between gay club music and a kind of '80s and early '90s indie/alt playlist that we would peg as straight, white and collegiate, the world of Jared and Milly. The song to me is also about Jared's insane, doomed love for Milly and maybe a feeling on his part early in their lives that he can save her and make everything okay for her. Like Stevie Wonder's "Superwoman": "I believe I know you very well...and I think I can deal with everything going through your head." To me, that's about the most romantic and beautiful thing you can say to someone who feels like a total freak.

"Lights Out," Santigold

Mateo comes of age in this new, hipster, rapidly gentrifying New York of the late 2000s when the center of gravity is shifting to Brooklyn, where he goes to college (Pratt). I associate this song with that period because for several months I would go running to Santigold's album and something about its energy I associate with a new city and a feeling that there was a new youth guard setting the city's tone, which I felt like--maybe for the first time in my life--I was witnessing as an old folk, because I was just about to turn 40 at that time. I guess I would also put MGMT and Grizzly Bear in this category as well. They just felt like the new kids and I felt like an old!

Kendrick Lamar, "untitled 06"

I was living in L.A. for a few months this winter and listening to Kendrick Lamar's new album untitled unmastered all the time and really fell in love with this track that he does with CeeLo Green. They are celebrating their weirdness and he is also celebrating his girlfriend for loving his weirdness and telling her he loves her for the same reasons: "You stick out like an alien compared to those around you/And that's all right because I like it/You and me are the same/Hopefully I'm invited, hopefully you don't change/Because I know for sure who you are." I mean, is there a more beautiful love song? I love when two weirdos find each other. Later in the book, when Mateo is with Dani, I think, this is the relationship I hope he found.

Pet Shop Boys with Dusty Springfield, "What Have I Done to Deserve This?"

I do mention this song in the book because I vividly remember getting drunk in college at my first gay bar, Club Café/Club Cabaret in Boston, and watching this video and thinking it was just the most intriguing, plaintive song, especially the part where Dusty Springfield sings. I don't think I really understood how profoundly gay the Pet Shop Boys were then. I definitely had the adolescent gay experience of identifying very strongly with certain movies or singers or TV shows like The Golden Girls without really knowing what camp was in an intellectual, gay-studies, Susan Sontag way but just connecting with it on a visceral level and thinking, "I love this sensibility." For example, the puppet Madame. I was both terrified and fascinated by her when I was really young and I didn't really understand that she was supposed to be a drag queen brought to life by a gay man. The same, in fact, for Lady Elaine on Mister Roger's Neighborhood. Such a drag queen!

Elton John, "Candle in the Wind" (for Princess Diana)

I've always been a little put off by how, when Diana died, Elton John quickly repurposed his song about Marilyn Monroe to make it a memorial song for Diana. I have a huge soft spot for Diana, partly because she was one of the first people to visit AIDS patients and hold and hug them. I have a romantic narrative about her life that she was just beginning to come out of royal bondage and find her true fabulousness and purpose when she died. That was 1997, at a very pivotal moment for Milly and for the novel. And in Milly's head, the sadness and media circus around Diana's death conflates with her own travails at that time.

Tim Murphy and Christodora links:

the author's website

Kirkus review
Minneapolis Star Tribune review
Newsday review
Publishers Weekly review
Washington Post review

Out Magazine interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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