Good writing is musical. The most potent use of language, as under the pen of the Joyces and Faulkners of this world, is incantatory and symphonic, a tight structure of sound expertly orchestrated to hit the reader in just the right way. Colum McCann's Let The Great World Spin is a wonder of a novel that exemplifies that kind of writing, at the intersection of literature and music, stunning with every page and melodic in every turn of phrase. I'm not the only one to think so - the book was, after all, the 2009 winner of the National Book Award. Set in 1970s New York City, it delves into the lives of a whole cast of characters, their gritty realities unraveling under the feet of funambulist Philippe Petit as recklessly and beautifully he dances across a tightrope suspended between the Twin Towers.
I'm one of those who feel a great soundtrack is essential to any movie that's worth its while, and sometimes, when a novel hits me the right way, I feel the same way about literature. McCann's novel had me instinctively assembling soundtrack ideas; I sifted through some of my Dad's college-era records, immersing myself in 70s songs and bands. Below you'll find a playlist with some of the songs I found myself listening to while reading the book. Ideally, I hope that you'll read the book, listen to and amend the playlist, but more realistically, I hope that you just enjoy some good music. Have at it!
- Chalkhills and Children - XTC (Oranges and Lemons, 1989)
- The Ugly Underneath - XTC (Nonsuch, 1992)
- Gin Soaked Boy - Tom Waits (Swordfishtrombones, 1983)
- I Found That Essence Rare - Gang of Four (Entertainment!, 1979)
- Lava - B-52's (B-52's, 1979)
- See No Evil - Television (Marquee Moon, 1977)
- True Confessions - The Undertones (The Undertones, 1979)
- Hymn - Patty Smith Group (Wave, 1979)
- You're Running Wild - Emmylou Harris with Rodney Crowell (Elite Hotel, 1975)
- The Needle And The Damage Done - Neil Young (Harvest, 1972)
- Shayla - Blondie (Eat To The Beat, 1979)
- Life on Mars? - David Bowie (Hunky Dory, 1971)
- Blues Run The Game - Simon & Garfunkel (The Columbia Studio Recordings 1964-1970)
- Girl From the North Country - Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash (Nashville Skyline, 1969)