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Archive for the 'The Powell’s Playlist' Category

Soundtrack of Macau: Roger Hobbs’s Playlist for Vanishing Games

The Powell's PlaylistMy new novel, Vanishing Games, is a heist thriller set in the gambling city of Macau, China. I lived there briefly while researching the book and was taken aback by the incredibly eclectic sounds of the city. For those of you who have never been, let me fill you in — Macau is like Las Vegas on pure Chinese meth. The casinos are constantly blasting classic Sinatra. The nightclubs host famous rappers and superstar DJs. The restaurants all play the same style of downtempo house. Macau is dark and loud and lonely and expensive. It's the perfect setting for a dark crime thriller — just walking down the street is an attack on the senses. So here is a small sample of the music I heard there. Listen to these songs while you read my book. You won't regret it.

1. "Sinnerman, Live in New York/1965" by Nina Simone
"Sinnerman" is by far the most important song in Vanishing Games. It's mentioned in the first paragraph. Believe me; if you're ever planning a massive heist on the South China Sea, you ...


Portia Kane’s ’80s Metal Mix

The Powell's PlaylistTwo of Love May Fail's main characters, Portia Kane and Chuck Bass — now in their early 40s — still love the metal music that was popular in their youth. Love May Fail isn't about music, but examining what shapes us in our early years. Primarily, I wanted to underscore the difference a single high school teacher can make in the lives of students even decades after they have left the classroom. As Portia and Chuck attended high school in South Jersey during the late '80s, I present below a big-haired, spandex-adorned, make-up wearing, and wonderfully over-the-top soundtrack that just may have you wanting to dust off your codpiece. (The songs with an asterisk on either side of the title appear in Love May Fail.)

1. *Looks That Kill* by Mötley Crüe
Portia wants to be a good feminist. Unfortunately, her love of '80s metal clashes sharply with her feminist values. She argues that this song actually places the unnamed woman — whose looks "kill" — in a position of power over men. For this reason, Portia considers Looks That ...


I Am Listening: Austin Bunn’s Playlist for The Brink

The Powell's PlaylistWhen I first started writing, I'd give stories to friends and press a mix tape into their hand: when you read this, listen to this. Let me take this moment to apologize to all the friends of my youth for those tapes. I was like that: gushy, curatorial, annoying. It goes without saying that I was also very much not spocking girls in the graveyard like the friends of my youth. I had time on my hands. But if I sold one Dream Academy cassingle, it was worth it.

That shimmering prospect of sync — between story and song — is, I think, an importation from film, and I was trying to ferry its effect to literature. I used to record movie soundtracks off the television and fall asleep to them. (Like John Carpenter's Escape from New York's apocalyptic synth lullaby: "In 1988, the crime rate in New York City rises 400 percent...") Now, as a screenwriter and short filmmaker, I've learned firsthand just how powerful music is. The filmmaker D. W. Griffith said film is like writing with lightning. ...


Kent Russell’s Playlist for I Am Sorry to Think I Have Raised a Timid Son

The Powell's PlaylistI don't listen to music while I write. Frankly, I don't see how anyone can. Since all style is rhythm, and since I cannot write anything that's as clear and simple and still as the truth, needing instead to perpetrate my own Stomp!-style foolishness across the page — I can't be bumping, say, OJ da Juiceman while drafting. I have to apportion all my ear-strength for sussing out the short-long-short-short issuing from the poor soul trapped behind the walls of my skull.

That being said, I listened to music whenever I wasn't writing I Am Sorry to Think That I Have Raised a Timid Son. I'm always listening to music. Is it good music? Jesus, no. It's god-awful music. I understand this, and I take full ownership of the fact. I also understand that there are about seven million white dudes with glasses just wishing that they had this platform from which to broadcast their discretionary taste and consumptive self-worth. They'd post a bunch of Bobby Womack B-sides or something. But me, I use bad pop as my smelling salt. ...


Kazuo Ishiguro’s Playlist for The Buried Giant

The Powell's PlaylistThe eight songs on this playlist didn't "inspire" The Buried Giant, nor did I play them out loud while writing. And with the notable exception of the Arvo Part, the visual landscapes conjured up by these tracks are unlikely to match the setting of the novel. But each of them relates in some significant way — usually at the level of theme or emotion — to what happens in the story. I'm not going to spell out just how — I'll leave that to you. But let me say a little about why each song is special for me.

1. "Hickory Wind" by Emmylou Harris
There's a great subgenre of songs about homesickness, in which we're left unsure just what it is the singer is really missing. A place? A person? Or maybe an era of his or her life spent there? I love it when a song deliberately plays on this ambiguity. "Georgia on My Mind" is a classic example. (Georgia, of course, could be the place or a woman's name.) The wonderful Irish weepie, "The Mountains of Mourne" ...


The Powell’s Playlist: Issa Rae

The Powell's PlaylistI absolutely love writing to music. Even now, as I write this playlist, I'm listening to J. Cole's 2014 Forest Hills Drive. As I wrote my first book, The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, music was in heavy rotation — I needed the perfect balance of music that was upbeat (to stop me from jumping head first out of the glass windows of the coffee shop, where I wrote) and soothingly encouraging (for those moments when I was either blocked or on a roll). Below, you'll find my most frequently played songs.

1. "Flight of the Navigator" by Childish Gambino
I basically had this whole album (Because the Internet) on repeat, but this song in particular fit into the "soothing" category. It's so beautiful and haunting and really helped me during those moments when I needed to just sit back and reminisce.

2. "Haunted" by Beyoncé
The Beyoncé album had just dropped right when I decided to start getting serious about writing this book. I would immediately skip "Pretty Hurts," and this song would put me in the proper ...


The Powell’s Playlist: Irvine Welsh

The Powell's PlaylistWhen I started writing The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, I went through my usual routine of making a music playlist to immerse myself in and help me find the characters. As the two main narrators in the book are women, I decided it would be best to concentrate on female singers and "voices" in general, so I stuck with female recording artists, with a strong bias towards singer-songwriters. They were all helpful to the process, as musicians always are. After a few plays, and along with other research materials, Lucy and Lena started to form in my head.


The Powell’s Playlist: Ned Beauman

The Powell's PlaylistI did have a playlist that I listened to over and over again while I was writing Glow, but three years on I'm a bit bored of those songs, which got their final blast at my book party in London last year. So here are the B-sides, so to speak: other good songs by the same artists.

1. "MTI" by Koreless
This is an extraordinarily simple song that feels like it could carry on into eternity. Koreless was right at the top of my playlist, and with them I managed to achieve a sort of Pavlovian response to put myself into the right mind set.

2. "Far Nearer" by Jamie xx
I deliberately didn't specify what kind of music is being played at the raves in the book, but in my imagination it's futuristic and unbound by genre, just like this song. The last time I went clubbing in London was to see Jamie xx DJing at Dance Tunnel in Dalston.

3. "Obedear" by Purity Ring
I noticed that BJ Novak also put a song from this album on his playlist. Perhaps it has ...


The Powell’s Playlist: Mary Helen Specht

The Powell's PlaylistMigratory Animals is mostly set in Texas during the first years of the most recent recession, when the cast of characters — an eclectic group of college friends now in their 30s — are coming to the realization that, in a world of shrinking resources, a good education is no longer enough to ensure an escape from one's origins. This playlist is chronological, not necessarily from release date but rather from when the songs become important in the characters' lives.

1. "Papa Noel" by Brenda Lee (1958)
This is one of the songs on the curated cassette tape entitled, "Larry Blevins' Christmas Bluegrass Jamboree" that Flannery and Molly's father plays on car trips to Dallas in the novel's flashbacks. Despite the fact that West Texas is not "on the bayou," Flannery always loved this song because it reflected what Christmas was like in the mostly snowless South.

2. "Cannonball" by the Breeders (1993)
The Breeders' show in Lubbock was Flannery's first concert when she was in high school. This band's songs walked the line between catchy and indie while also demonstrating how ...


The Powell’s Playlist: Songs for Not Sleeping by Tim Johnston

The Powell's PlaylistI once told a medical-profession-type lady that I didn't sleep well, that I awoke all through the night and was awake for hours. "What do you do when that happens?" she asked. I said I lie there listening to music and thinking. "Thinking about what?" she asked. I said everything, but mainly about whatever I'm writing. Said she, "Don't worry about not sleeping — you're writing. It's part of your process." And so I awake, I grab my iPod, I listen to that week's or month's playlist, I think, I sit up and flip on the lamp and make fuzzy-eyed notes: the perfect word I couldn't find earlier, a new patch of dialogue, a major plot turn. This here playlist is cobbled together from some of the songs I remember not sleeping to as I scribbled down bits and pieces of Descent.

1. "Young Americans" by David Bowie
This is one of the few songs I never get tired of hearing, and when I was writing the scene in which a bunch of old veterans take my young male protagonist under ...


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