September 13, 2016
In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.
Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes's stunning debut novel The Sleeping World brings to life post-Franco Spain through the lives of university students.
Booklist wrote of the book:
"Fuentes' ambitious novel does succeed at creating a bleak and disturbing picture of post-Franco Spain."
I listen to music when I write, especially when I'm generating, and trying to evoke a certain aesthetic or range of emotions. Often images or lines from my favorite songs will ease their way into my writing or directly inspire a work. I listen obsessively, the same track or album again and again, trying to reach the root of the song, to carve out just how it moves me so. It's a challenge to try to make writing live up to music—probably an impossible one but I don't know what else I can do.
My first novel, The Sleeping World is set in Spain in 1977 in the transitional period between a forty-year dictatorship and an unknown future. Music was an essential part of both research and writing. I listened to the punk, disco, and rock of that time as well as classic flamenco albums (especially Pedro de Linares' Flamenco Carnival and Bebo Valdez and el Cigala's collaboration Légrimas Negras). In The Sleeping World, the characters skirt the edge of the nascent punk movement, going to underground concerts, buying bootleg copies of The Clash and The Ramones, and deriding the disco on the radio. Having missed the cultural and political upheavals of the 1960s, Spain's youth tried to catch up, to abandon with all speed the social mores the fascist regime rested on. They were forced to create a new space in the vacuum, one that both drew from and destroyed their previous culture. As a writer, for me this transitional space was also a space of grieving, between life and death, mourning losses both named and unspoken. Like the narrator, Mosca, I had just lost my brother and writing this book was a way to write through grief, to find life after it.
The National, High Violet, "Runaway"
We don't bleed when we don't fight
Go ahead, go ahead, throw your arms in the air tonight
We don't bleed when we don't fight
Go ahead, go ahead, lose our shirts in the fire tonight
This song is catalyst. I was in a tiny apartment butted up against the Rocky Mountains in Colorado when my partner first played The National's album, High Violet. I love music—don't we all—but unlike every other interest of mine, I'm extremely passive about how I get it. Just about all the music I love has been handed to me by friends, family, ex's with a fervent look in their eyes and a shrug from me. Luckily, they have good taste. I had never heard The National before but we listened to High Violet on loop for months. I probably heard the song "Runaway" twenty times when the story that became the first chapter of The Sleeping World flooded out of it. The story arrived whole cloth—setting, first and final sentence, all woven together with the song's lyrics. I wanted to capture the specific sense of abandon in this song: it's not a wild free-for all, even in its destructive images there is a sense of melancholic nostalgia. Though this album was made long after the events in my novel take place, it was a model in terms of texture and emotional landscape. I love how the lyrics are both specific and obtuse. Matt Berninger's voice is watchful and distanced. I was aiming for the same with my writing, emotional yet controlled, with a river of longing beneath every word.
Patti Smith, Horses, "Gloria: In Exelsis Deo"
Patti Smith is an important figure to Mosca, the narrator of The Sleeping World. Mosca sees her as a punk idol, a woman in a masculine world who is not objectified, someone who has a harsh, difficult-to-define beauty and whose self expression is rough and unpolished. Mosca says she wants to look like her—and she wants to be like her too—but she's not able to be as expressive and emotional as her heroine. Along with explorations of grief, and the legacy of fascism, gender roles and expectations play a large role in the novel. Patti Smith is the anti-thesis of a fascist conception of femininity: gender-bending, irreverent, delving both anger and sweetness.
Silver Convention, "Fly Robin Fly"
One of those so bad it's great disco singles. It gets into your head as easy as a soda jingle and stays stuck. It was a huge hit in Spain in 1977 and Mosca and her friends would have heard it all the time. The contrast between disco and punk at this time is obviously stark and yet there are connections too. The repetitiveness and simplicity as well as the sense that they are both reactions to vapid consumerism and economic depression. Punk music is throwing sucker punches against this reality (or trying to), while the Silver Convention wants everyone to buy polyester jump suits and dance.
La Banda Trapera Del Río, "La Paja de Diego"
I imagined Las Pasotas, the band in the first chapter of The Sleeping World, are emulating La Banda Trapera Del Río but aren't quite good enough. That's why they're all the way out in Casasrojas. La Banda Trapera Del Río was a Catalonian punk band who sung in both Castilian and Catalan, a language that was outlawed under Franco. They formed in 1976, played a concert for the newly legalized Communist Party in 1977, and released their first album in 1978. Poor, marginalized, and furious, they performed in drag and their lyrics are filthy. I love this track especially for the trash talking in the beginning and the moment teasing flamenco, where the lead singer shouts "Salamanca!" with the characteristic vocal wavering.
Kaka de Luxe, "La Tentación"
On the other side of the Spanish punk scene was Kaka de Luxe, glam rockers and children of diplomats rebelling against the entrenched fascism in Madrid. The band's most famous member, Alaska, starred in Pedro Almodóvar's first film Pepi, Luci, Bom as a queer punk singer and went on to become a sex activist and important figure in the counterculture movement La Movida Madrileña. La Movida was barely beginning in 1977 but its art, fashion, and aesthetics heavily influenced The Sleeping World—especially the photographer Alberto García-Alix. I was interested in the tensions between classes that manifested even in underground art—the push and pull between punk rock and glam, between Madrid and more other cities.
Florence and the Machine, Ceremonials, "Never Let Me Go"
And it's peaceful in the deep
Cathedral where you cannot breathe
No need to pray, no need to speak
Now I am under
This woman can sing grief. I listened to so much Florence and the Machine when writing The Sleeping World—her lung-powered catharsis is a perfect example of Federico Garcia Lorca's duende: "a power, not a work . . . a struggle, not a thought." Her music—like Lorca and flamenco—is all about pushing past the limits of acceptable emotion. That's what I love about punk as well. The aesthetics may seem over the top now, at a time when "serious" art is exemplified by restraint, but the political reality that music was made in warrants the gall and excess.
As in both Lungs and Ceremonials, waterways—rivers, oceans, pools—appear throughout The Sleeping World. They are the past moving into the present, the path into the underworld and, maybe, back out again. This is a redemptive song: a descent that is deeply healing. Like Orpheus, Inanna, and Alice Notley's Alette, Mosca must descend into death in order to live. A movement through grief and loss, a drowning that becomes a gift.
A big thanks to Shit-Fi magazine whose article "Drogas, Sexo, y Un Dictador Muerto: 1978 on Vinyl in Spain" introduced me to early Spanish punk music.
Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes and The Sleeping World links:
also at Largehearted Boy:
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