The Songs from Somewhere Else
Both Levi and I were asked to come up with playlists of songs that might in some way have something to do with either the book, or our feelings about the book, or our approach to working on the book... or something.
So we did.
(In fact, I'd already done it for this piece for Teens on Moon Lane, but changed some for the new list.)
I don't know about Levi, but I spent hours agonising over the right pieces of music, and the right order to put them in, and I spent further hours taking pieces out and swapping them for other pieces, mainly because we'd been asked for five song playlists, and five songs isn't, at the end of the day, very many at all.
As it happens, after those agonising hours of deliberation, our brilliant publicist at Bloomsbury found the playlists impossible to place with anyone and so I've decided to put them here.
I wrote a 'little' essay about my choices, which appears underneath them, Levi decided to let his music speak for itself.
(By the way, you will need to be able to see Spotify to hear the playlists. Mine is on the left, Levi's on the right.)
AF's Unnecessarily Long and In Depth Explanatory Essay...
The playlist begins with one of my all time favourite pieces of music, an exhilarating little thing by Conlon Nancarrow called Toccata for Violin & Player Piano.
Nancarrow is a fascinating composer of the mid-Twentieth Century. He was an American who lived most of his life in Mexico (because he’d joined the Communist Party and travelled to Spain to fight against the Fascists in the Civil War, which meant the USA government would have bullied and harassed him had he stayed there), making music that almost no one heard.
In the days before computers the only way to make music of the rhythmic complexity he wanted to was to spend years punching holes into long sheets of paper that he’d feed into the mechanics of his pianolas, or player pianos – special pianos that played themselves.
Half of the Toccata is played by a live human being (the violin part), but the other half is the player piano – listen to the speed of those notes and imagine how tired the pianist’s fingers would get if they had to try to play it…
It’s here because I love Nancarrow’s story, how he went his own way, regardless of what people thought of him; he made his own art, even during the years when no one wanted to hear it. Also, it’s good to begin with something up beat and exciting.
It’s an optimistic opening, and I think the opening of The Song from Somewhere Else is quite optimistic: a cat has gone missing, but Frank’s putting up posters. She’s hopeful someone will find him.
The optimism doesn’t last long when she meets a certain group of boys at the rec.
Writing The Song from Somewhere Else made me think about when I was Frank’s age, and how I felt and got on with stuff: friends, school, bullies. That leads us to the next item on the playlist…
The second piece is a song by The Bonzo Dog Band called Sport (The Odd Boy), which was written by Vivian Stanshall.
It describes my attitude to sport, particularly at school, quite well. I didn’t get on with it. No one ever explained the rules properly and then got upset when I wasn’t any good.
I was in the bottom set for PE, for all five years of secondary school, which meant the same teacher took me for five years. Every year he was lumbered with the asthmatics and the fat kids and the ones without much coordination. This was what his life had amounted to, and you could see it in his face.
Those of us who were asthmatic or fat or uncoordinated did not benefit much from his leadership.
The song, odd as it is, is much more inspiring than he ever was. At the end it makes me dance.
The song that is the song of the title of the book, is something mysterious that Frank hears by accident. It’s a music unlike anything she has ever heard before, unlike anything she ever imagined.
As an author that’s a very easy description to write, but if someone were to make a film or a play of the book they’d find themselves facing the challenge of deciding what that music actually sounds like. And whatever they chose would be wrong, because the point is that it’s unlike anything any of us have heard.
But if it were like something, then I imagine it would be something long and strange and mysterious, so I’ve picked something a little bit like that for the next pick. This isn’t Frank’s music, even though it is pretty weird.
It’s by another American composer, a chap called Morton Feldman. This piece, called For Frank O’Hara, is actually quite a short piece for Feldman. Some of them last an hour, and his String Quartet II is over six hours long! (Frank O’Hara, by the way, was a poet and a friend of the composer.)
Approaching an abstract piece of music like this can be difficult – there’s no obvious melody or beat to follow, just odd things happening here and there, now and then. My advice is ‘Don’t panic’. Just put it on in the background while you get on with other things.
The best advice I heard for listening to music like this, was to imagine you’re looking at a painting or landscape – imagine you’re letting your eye roam over the picture or the scene and you’re seeing different things in different places: over here are long rolling plains, here a wood, here spotty clouds drift by overhead, here a lion pounces on an orphan, here a river runs, and here it goes over the waterfall and out of sight.
Although it sounds random and strange when you first hear it, if you listen a second time, or a third time, you’ll begin to recognise bits and pieces – you’ll hear that it’s not random at all: it’s the same every time. But it doesn’t matter if you don’t like it – we can all like different things, and that’s fine.
The fourth piece is a song by Suzanne Vega called Small Blue Thing. It’s a beautiful, quite sad, song. It makes me think of Frank, who is a bit of a small blue thing herself. It’s also about having something special, something secret-ish, a keepsake, a treasure, which is what the song from somewhere else is to Frank.
The last piece of music is another instrumental. This time it’s a guitar solo by Frank Zappa called Pink Napkins.
I can almost remember the first time I heard this, years and years ago. It’s such a delicate, light, beautiful thing – quite unlike a lot of the rest of Zappa’s music, which is ugly with hard edges and spikes – that I felt I was floating, among these guitar notes that were like soap bubbles, drifting and popping.
It still makes me feel good and happy. I wish it went on longer.
Again, this isn’t The Song, but maybe hidden away in here, tucked away in some of the snatches of melody that appear and disappear and come back again later… maybe somewhere in there is a hint of what Frank heard.
A lot of the book is quite sad. Frank’s not having the best time, but to me this piece of music is happy, is funny, is full of life, and I think that’s a good way to end the playlist, and hopefully, if you get to the end of the book, you’ll find there’s a happy ending there too. I hope.