While music is less of a presence in my short story collection, A Man Melting, it was certainly there in the background while I wrote and revised each story. In the lead up to the release date of 2 July, I've decided to post a playlist in three parts, with one song for each of the eighteen stories in my collection.
A word about my selections.
While there are a number of references to musical artists in the collection, most of the time they are only in passing. A song on the radio (Nelly Furtado's 'Maneater') or a bored teen’s Wikipedia fix (Styx, Stones and Serj Tankian). Instead, I've tried to marry each story with a song that both speaks to the content of the story and it's mood. Some matches are more successful than others.
As the manuscript was pretty much completed in 2008 (save for the addition on one story and final edits), I've also tried to stick to songs I would have listened to during that period. Indeed, I wrote about many of these artists on my blog back in 2008, and I'll link to any such posts where applicable.
Part One: Stories One to Six
The story: Aaron’s life story in 3.5 pages featuring imaginary friends, cockroaches and an intrusive narrator.
When Aaron was five and a half he had an imaginary friend called Groucho. They had a great time together, getting into mischief, making potions from cleaning products underneath the washhouse sink, pretending to be aeroplanes in the autumn winds.
But then Groucho had an identity crisis…The song: 'If I could talk I'd tell you' - The Lemonheads
What better way to start a playlist than with a zippy, sub-three-minute pop song... which is the same reasoning behind ‘Seeds’ opening my collection.
If I could talk I'd tell you
If I could smile I'd let you know
You are far and away
My most imaginary friend
The story: Glen returns to Palmerston North for the holidays, gets depressed and considers jumping off his auntie’s balcony.
Leaning out from the balcony, he sized up the jump. It’s only one storey. It’s nothing. I’m going to jump. Young Heart, Easy Living, the slogan for the Manawatu region. Is there anything easy about living with a young heart, always thirsting for something else, something hidden like the river I want to be immersed in right now but I’m still on the balcony? Still sizing it up…The song: ‘Jump’ – Van Halen
When I was younger my mum told me this story the morning after my father’s work Christmas party: When ‘Jump’ came on, my dad climbed on to the banister of the mezzanine level and started miming / performing his daredevil David Lee Roth. People either thought he was drunk or serious about jumping, though he was neither.
I think this story was there, somewhere deep in the back of my mind, when I wrote ‘Manawatu’.
Ah, might as well jump. Jump!
Might as well jump.
Go ahead, jump.
The story: A son reflects on the life of his father, an artist who liked to photocopy famous artworks over and over and over, and what his own future may hold.
My earliest memory of my father is probably like these copies: a string of memories, moving from the original moment — if it ever happened — to my current recollection like a Chinese whisper, changing slightly each time I trawl it up.The song: ‘Diminishing Returns’ – Harvey Danger
Harvey Danger? You know, those one hit wonders responsible for 1998’s ‘Flagpole Sitta’. They released their 2005 album, Little by Little for free on the internet (well before that was the thing to be doing) and that’s how I came across ‘Diminishing Returns’ – a song that seems to speak to the movement away from the original (be it a moment, a parent or a piece of art).
Progress shall be defined
By your position on the bridge
As it burns
When populism, activism, urbanism fail
My cooler head, my cooler head will prevail
When there are no more gods left to anoint
No more noses to bend out of joint
I'm gonna meet you at the point of diminishing returns
Footnote: Photocopier by Fujiya and Miyagi deserves a mention here, but failed to make the list because I hadn’t heard the song in 2008.
4. Oh! So Careless
The story: Penny and Leo go on an overland tour of South-East Africa at a rocky point in their relationship.
And so Penny spent the seven hour drive north through the Drakensburg Ranges with an empty seat next to her. The others played cards, exchanged flight stories, and made iPod playlists which would last three songs on the stereo before being pulled in favour of a fresher mix.The song: ‘Under African Skies’ – Paul Simon
It took me a while to warm to Graceland as an album – I think I felt Simon was riding the coattails of another culture and music, but eventually the songs won out. Like ‘Oh! So Careless’, Africa is merely a setting in ‘Under African Skies’ – both the song and the story are concerned with more than red dirt and giraffes.
This is the story of how we begin to remember
This is the powerful pulsing of love in the vein
After the dream of falling and calling your name out
These are the roots of rhythm
And the roots of rhythm remain
5. Parisian Blue
The story: Megan set out to travel the world with Tessa, but after an almighty argument in Paris, she goes it alone.
In Kampong Som, Megan enjoyed a strange form of celebrity. She was not the only white person, but the others came in hand-holding pairs or giggling, uncountable packs. Perhaps, she wondered on her first day, the lack of females traveling alone was a fluke. A seasonal quirk. She had been to rougher places by herself, after all. But in Dar es Salaam or Khartoum people weren’t surprised — they were perhaps a little offended, but not surprised. Here she stood out.The song: ‘Home’ – Foo Fighters
"Echoes and silence, patience and grace" is both the name of the album (minus an “and”) from which this song is taken, and a line within 'Home'. Echoes and silence are also a big part of the final scene in the story, as are the sense of homesickness (or homelessness) and regret that pervades this song.
Wish I were with you
I couldn't stay
Leads me away
Pray for tomorrow
But for today
All I want is to be home
[And here's my accidental review of Echoes Silence Patience and Grace back in December 2007].
6. The Tin Man
The story: Jason, a “book-shaped kid in a ball-shaped school”, is the victim (or is it beneficiary?) of the school bullies’ latest scheme.
Jason Stride is being wrapped in tinfoil and no one really knows why, it just has to happen. This is often the way with high school: deep down no one really believes it is the real world, so no one insists that every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. Embarrasment can happen without reason, violations can go unpunished and minding your own business can get you wrapped in tinfoil.The song: ‘The Hard Way’ – The Kinks
I listened to a lot of the Kinks in 2008, and I blogged about them four times in a two month span. This song, from School Boys in Disgrace, is from the perspective of a teacher, but it could equally be Jason’s thoughts at the opening of the story about his tormentors.
Boys like you were born to waste,
You never listen to a word I say
And if you think you're here to mess around,
You're making a big mistake,
'Cos you're gonna find out the hard way,
You gonna find out the hard way.
A Man Melting Playlist Part II
A Man Melting Playlist Part III