Soundtrack available on Spotify here
Music is the art form that elevates all art forms. Everything is made richer by its presence. Novels included.
I am as influenced by music as I am by stories. Every novel I write I have a soundtrack in mind for it. It’s either the music I listen to while I’m writing it or actual songs that appear in the pages. For Beauty and Freedom (out now on Amazon Kindle) I had an entire soundtrack in mind for it.
Songs play a pivotal role in the story. The novel is about two people living out a moment of calm in their hectic lives. There is a lot of walking done in these pages around the mesmerising streets of Budapest. And Budapest evokes a dark, chic, rebellious nature that I tried to capture with writing and music all at once.
Here is a selection of some of the main songs in the novel and their importance to the story.
Reminder here is the link to the entire Beauty and Freedom playlist.
- The Passenger – Iggy Pop
This song and its rolling chords makes repeated appearances in the novel. First when Christopher goes on a nocturnal walk around Budapest, taking “his leg out for a walk.”
“Bars, people, music; this was the constellation of a Budapest night. Christopher smiled. In his ears the cars whipped by to the music of Iggy Pop. I am the passenger… the sky was made for us tonight.”
This is where we first get introduced to Christopher’s leg – a phantom limb which has, by some psychological derailment, been ‘taken over’ by his father. Christopher’s leg plays a key role in the story as it is what’s making him, essentially, impotent. It is the whole reason he is in Budapest.
Christopher later hears the song in a ruin pub, as Cassandra is kissing a German tourist she has just met. Here the song’s sinister tones come to the fore. Christopher is enraged and disappointed at seeing Cassandra get-off with a total stranger and wishes it could have been him.
- Love Will Tear Us Apart – Joy Division
Beauty and Freedom is a minimalist novel. It relies on Hemingway’s iceberg theory. Most of the action happens between the lines, in the reader’s imagination. So when Love Will Tear Us Apart comes on for Christopher as he’s walking the streets of Budapest, it’s importance resonates beneath the frigid waters of the written word.
Here is a man who can’t have sex – not with his wife or anyone. Of course this puts a strain on his marriage. And he fears he is falling out of love with his wife. Then, walking round Budapest, he encounters a group of beautiful girls.
“As the cry of their chatter began it was impossible to not hear it. Christopher put on the next song. Love Will Tear Us Apart started up. Its melancholic notes, like that of a fly caught in a spider’s web, filled the square.
But it was still impossible not to hear the chatter of the beautiful girls.”
No matter how loud the music is, no matter how much he tries to calm and alienate himself – the chatter of the girls is simply too loud to ignore. He won’t be able to get away from himself that easily!
- Alma – Mariza
Fado enters the novel later on in the novel. The traditional Portuguese music, known as the blues of Portugal, is full of poignant, melancholic voices. Historically sung by women whose husbands were sailors or emigrated to the colonies, left behind, longing, nostalgic, solitary.
One day Cassandra hears a fado song on her Spotify. It resonates with her. She feels that same sense of saudade, of wanting, of being left behind by her rapist father. She reveals to Christopher that going to a fado bar in Portugal is her latest addition on the “new bucket-list”. As Cassandra is restarting her life, finding new purpose, she is writing down ideas for her new self, her new bucket list.
Later on, fado and Cassandra’s bucket list will play an important role in the story.
“She attached the earphones to her phone and soon the space between them was filled with a woman’s lost voice singing fado.
They spent the rest of the day entwined together, hypnotised by the songs of longing and saudade. Cassandra leaned her head on his chest and her free ear listened to the beat of his heart.”
- Zorba’s Dance – Mikis Theodorakis
The titular song from the 1964 film Zorba the Greek film might seem out of place in a novel about cities and sexuality. And yet, the Greek influence in the story is subtle but vital. Cassandra’s father was a Classical scholar and lecturer. Cassandra grew up on an exuberant diet of Greek mythology and culture. And now, that her father has been revealed to be a rapist after his death, she is moving away from everything Greek.
But she doesn’t find it easy. One night, at a ruin pub, Christopher and Cassandra attend a live rock show. As they talk, their conversation as always flowing and ebbing intimately, randomly and passionately, they find themselves talking about the famous final scene from Zorba the Greek.
The two start dancing the Zorba dance during a live concert. It is a euphoric, random moment. And it is also symbolic; no matter how far Cassandra tries to flee her father’s influence, she never quite manages.
“Christopher took Cassandra by the hand and dragged her off her stool. He put her arm around his shoulder and the two of them danced the Zorba dance together.”
- Some Candy Talking – The Jesus and Mary Chain
A song by the Scottish New Wave band The Jesus and Mary Chain can’t go amiss in a story about cities and freedom. If you’ve seen Lost in Translation you’ll know what I mean (future blog coming up on that).
Christopher has a wild past. As a young chef he dabbled in drugs and the necessary hardcore, militant living that comes with professional cheffing. He was always determined to rise to the top of the culinary scene of Malta and he dived into the lifestyle whole-heartedly and unapologetically.
The song comes on as he’s walking around Budapest, at night, communing with his father’s leg – a mixture of old Christopher and new.
“Christopher put his earphones back on and began walking through the labyrinth where everyone was half-human, half-fucking-bull.
I’m going down to the place tonight, to see if I can get a taste tonight, a taste of something warm and sweet, that shivers your bones and rises to your heat.
His walk reverberated like the shrill guitars of The Jesus and Mary Chain. He felt compelled to stop for a beer, to drink from the night’s oasis. But he needed to keep walking. His father insisted. And tonight, tonight, he was indulging him.”
- Nights in White Satin – Moody Blues
A 60’s song that we get to hear during a pivotal karaoke scene. Cassandra is trying to act randomly and do things her father would never approve of. Her father’s idea of music had always been classical, orchestral music. Not anymore for Cassandra. She begs Christopher to take her out for karaoke and he indulges her.
As she watches a group of young Hungarians take to the mic she waxes lyrical and falls into a reflective mood. She asks Christopher all sorts of existential questions. Why are the singing? What are their dreams? Why are they here? Why are we here?
The two get closer and closer during this scene until…
- Perfect Day – Lou Reed
This scene brings together all the tension, doubts and hopes of the novel up to this point. Part of the same karaoke scene – this is where Christopher and Cassandra decide to go sing a duet together.
Christopher chooses Perfect Day. And its words end up being a perfect fit for their story so far. I can’t and won’t go into too much detail – I won’t dare risk spoilers. But suffice it to say this scene is my favourite in the whole novel and the song crowns it fantastically.