I’ve recently realized something about myself: I like to make soundtracks. Sometimes I do it consciously, like when I make a mix for a roadtrip. Most of the time, though, I don’t even realize I’m doing it. I simply start associating a song (or songs) so closely with something that the two become inextricably linked in my mind.
The first time I can remember doing this was a few years ago when I was reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer. I had also recently discovered what has since become one of my favorite songs, “Long Ride Home” by Patty Griffin. One of the story lines in the book is about a woman who finds herself widowed at an early age, with a farm she inherited from a husband she wasn’t getting along with all that well. The song is about someone riding home from a funeral reflecting on the good, and not-so-good times with their spouse. Now I can’t hear the song without thinking about the book, and I can’t think about the book without humming the song.
But for the past week or so I’ve been listening to Mumford and Sons’ Sigh No More on repeat thanks to NPR and a story I heard that made me go home and immediately download the album from iTunes (the whole thing…a rarity in my iTunes collection). These guys are a bluegrass band from Britain. I heard the NPR story and literally thought, “I have never heard of a more perfect combination for me.” I love the banjo. I love folk music. And I love a good Brit.
I listen to it so much that I wake up with the songs in my head. It’s a bit disturbing when your first thought in the morning is, “Let the dead bury their dead/They will come out in droves.”
So Sigh No More is on heavy rotation in my house, which means it has almost always been playing when I’m reading. At the moment, I happen to be reading The Given Day by Dennis Lehane, and I am feverishly trying to finish all 700+ pages of it before I get on the plane in a couple weeks because I don’t want to lug it around. These two things would probably become linked in my mind just because I happen to be reading and listening at the same time, but they also happen to fit together.
The Given Day is about Boston in 1918-1919, during a time of great unrest in the city’s (and the country’s) history. Violence from Bolshevik and anarchist agitators, the Spanish Influenza, a police strike, and of course (a moment of silence, please) the trade of Babe Ruth to the Yankees all converged on the city within a relatively short period of time. And the book follows Danny Coughlin — a cop and the son of Irish immigrants — through this, along with Luther Laurence, a black man on the run from some seedy underworld characters.
In many ways, The Given Day combines the same things I love about Mumford and Sons. It’s based in this distinctly American history but much like American folk music, the history of Boston has its roots set firmly in England and Ireland. And the moody, dark but uplifting sensibility of Sign No More lends itself well to accompanying a book set in some of America’s darkest days.
Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll go back to reading and listening.