Every story has a soundtrack, either real or imagined, and music can play a pretty interesting role in the process of writing one. I almost always want to hear something, but it has to come from a certain distance. Namely, the living room stereo rather than my desktop computer’s speakers. If the source is too close I can easily get caught up in a particularly good set of tunes and there goes any hope of concentration. Paradoxically, music is an accurate barometer of how well the work is going. If I keep hitting the keys for an extended period after the final track has played without even noticing the sonic absence, I’m probably having a good day at the typer.
The songs and albums I turned to most often while writing The Platinum Loop could generally be classified as vintage, culled from various jazz, blues and rock selections with a pulpy throwback feel to them. From the tinny barroom echo of the Stones at their undeniable (and unmatched) creative peak stretching from ‘68 to ‘72, encompassing Beggars Banquet through Exile on Main Street…
…to the boozy rumble of Bobby Blue Bland’s Best of…
…to a softer sultry vibe with Dusty Springfield’s immortal Dusty in Memphis…
…and rounded out with some ’60s mod mayhem courtesy of the soundtrack to Antonioni’s dated widescreen mindbender Blow-Up, a mixed bag of chestnuts from Herbie Hancock, Tomorrow, and The Yardbirds replete with ear-crushing guitar flights by Jimmy Page and Jeff Beck.
Some useful insights can be gained from listening to songs the book’s characters themselves might be apt to hear. In the case of The Platinum Loop’s two shady protagonists looking to score big in 1973 (Gene Hoffman and Floyd Manning) this musical subset could easily include Sinatra, Tom Jones, any number of Brit Invasion artists and, during the book’s final chapters in Tijuana, a smattering of mariachi and traditional Mexican arrangements. I found a primo source of South-of-the-Border inspiration in Calexico’s lush, cinematic sophomore release The Black Light, which sounds something like a Sergio Leone western conceived under the influence of powerful psychedelics.
A three-pack of pre-World War II blues compilations from indie British label Buzzola also got heavy rotation. High Rollers: Vintage Gambling Songs is a particularly apt grouping of tracks for the opening Vegas chapters of my book, knee-deep in tuneful cautionary tales about loaded dice and unlucky turns of the card with titles like “Gambling Man’s Prayer,” “Skin Game,” and “All My Money Gone Blues.” Juice Head Baby: Vintage Songs about Booze and Bars froths with tipsy nuggets along the lines of “Get High,” “Beer Bottle Mama,” and the ridiculously catchy “Looped.” Rounding out the Buzzola trio and adding an always welcome touch of menace to the proceedings, I got a lot of mileage from Diabolical Hoodoo: Vintage Songs of Deviltry, Doom & Hellfire, which haunts the awestruck listener with red-hot numbers like “Lavender Coffin,” “Satan Takes a Holiday,” and the seminal ”Black Cat Bone.” The wealth of artists represented in these compilations is too vast for easy annotation. Better to give them a listen yourself if you’re prepared to happily kiss off the bulk of a weekend; once you get started, it can be hard to stop.
And that about sums up the unofficial soundtrack for The Platinum Loop. It was a real gift to spend so much time in a vintage frame of mind, but I’m also grateful for the chance to mix things up a bit. The book I’m currently completing, Harpoon City, is my first novel with a contemporary setting and its accompanying music is miles away from what I relied on to keep the keys singing last time around. Hope I’m invited to lay out those tunes at the time of that book’s release in the summer of 2012. Writing about this stuff is almost as fun as listening to it.
The Platinum Loop can be purchased here.