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January 8, 2019

Chris Power's Playlist for His Story Collection "Mothers"


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

Chris Power's brilliant short story collection Mothers is an auspicious debut.

Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book:

"Power's wide-ranging debut is confident, complex, bizarre, poignant, and elegantly crafted―a very strong collection."

In his own words, here is Chris Power's Book Notes music playlist for his short story collection Mothers:

Each morning, after dropping his kids off at school, JG Ballard would pour himself a large whisky and drink it before he started work. It was the ritual that demarcated his writing from his domestic life. Firing up my ‘Work’ playlist performs the same function: a collection of tracks that have become so associated with writing that they immediately open a portal into that space, and are so familiar that they can envelop without distracting.

I could happily bang on about the stalwarts of that playlist, from Pete Swanson to Grouper, Kevin Drumm to Laurie Spiegel, Angela Hewitt to Porter Ricks, but rather than talk about what I was listening to while these stories were in the process of becoming, I decided to build a playlist that responds to what they are.

“Blue Seven” – Sonny Rollins (Mother 1: Summer 1976)
The opening story in the book takes place over a few hot weeks on a housing estate outside Stockholm. Eva, the narrator, doesn’t get on with her mum’s boyfriend, but she does like his records, and she likes the way the reality of her family’s apartment shifts during the frequent parties they throw. The soundtrack of those parties is hard bop, just like this.

“I Want the One I Can’t Have” – The Smiths (Above the Wedding)
“On the day that your mentality catches up with your biology”, Morrissey sings, and the asynchrony of those two elements captures the conflict that’s tearing Liam, the main character in ‘Above the Wedding’, apart.

“I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” – Ella Fitzgerald (The Crossing)
Ann and Jim are on a walking holiday in Exmoor, their first trip away together since they started dating. Perhaps it’s the way they respond to the challenges the landscape throws at them that makes her realize she’s with the wrong person, or perhaps the moorland’s bleak beauty helps her see everything more clearly. Either way, she and Jim aren’t coming home together.

“Take On Me” – a-ha (The Colossus of Rhodes)
This story is the most autobiographical in the book. It’s set in the summer of 1985, and Hunting High and Low is the record (or cassette tape, to be precise) my brothers and I couldn’t get enough of that year.

“Homesick” – The Cure (Mother 2: Innsbruck)
Eva travels to a number of different countries in this story, seemingly fleeing and hunting for something all at once. When she arrives in France she remembers a Frenchman she knew years before, with whom she bonded over The Cure. They liked “the saddest songs best”, and “Homesick” fits into that – admittedly large – cohort.
More than that, the queasy longing of the lyrics – the song’s narrator says he wants to stay, but he also wants to be made to want to stay – speak to the rootlessness and desperation Eva feels at this point of her life as she tries, impossibly, to belong through leaving.

“Pençgâh Solo” – Niyazi Sayin (The Haväng Dolmen)
Whether ‘The Haväng Dolmen’ (it’s Swedish, and pronounced ‘har-veng’) is a ghost story or not is up to you, but it’s certainly structured like one. While I was writing it I happened to be in a bar where this was playing and it blew me away. The music itself is beautiful, but it’s made all the more haunting by the acoustic of the recording; the flute feels so distant that you can’t help but feel plunged into isolation when you listen to it. This made it a perfect companion to the story, in which the narrator comes to feel more and more alone after each uncanny experience he undergoes. From the moment I heard it, it became the only thing I listened to while I worked on this story.

“Grantchester Meadows” – Pink Floyd (Run)
At a certain point in ‘Run’, one of the characters hears a skylark singing as he stands alone in the Swedish countryside. The story has a half-concealed menace to it, and “Grantchester Meadows”, which has the looped song of a skylark woven throughout, shares a similar atmosphere. Roger Waters is singing about idyllic rural scenes, but something about that river “sliding unseen beneath the trees” sets me on edge, as does the “deathly silence” of the countryside he describes.

“Melt” – Leftfield (Portals)
At the end of this story a young man walks the streets of Paris at dawn, with amphetamine, triumph and shame coursing through him. “Melt” is incredibly evocative of that borderline – usually crossed around dawn – where adrenaline meets exhaustion, and the pulse of the club fades away to leave behind the maddening, lonely throb of your heart.

“Man On the Moon” – REM (Johnny Kingdom)
Andy Tower is a stand-up comedian with writers’ block who has become trapped performing the act of an old, dead comedian called Johnny Kingdom at bachelor parties and retirement homes. Kingdom’s act is more about one-liners rather than the conceptual approach adopted by Andy Kaufman, the subject of this song, but I like to imagine the line ‘Andy are you locked in the punch,’ isn’t to do with Kaufman’s love of wrestling, but refers instead to my Andy’s horror of being trapped within another comedian’s act.

“The Winner Takes It All” – Abba (Mother 3: Eva)
In the original version of this story, a man finds this song by chance as he drives toward the hospital where his wife, who he hasn’t seen for many years, is being treated. I quoted the lyrics in the text, but while I was waiting to hear back about copyright clearance, I rewrote the scene just in case any problems arose. As it happened I ended up liking the version without the lyrics better, but either way: what a song. I can’t listen to it too often because it just chews me up and spits me out.

Chris Power and Mothers links:

Atlantic review
Financial Times review
Guardian review
Irish Times review
Kirkus review
New Statesman review

Big Issue North interview with the author
Guardian interview with the author

also at Largehearted Boy:

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