Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Musical Journey Of The Hambledown Dream.

The Hambledown Dream is a story populated by journeys - the journeys of individual characters both in the real world and, in the case of one character at least, the place beyond the mortal world.

These journeys are, for the most part, easily defined and solidly constructed. However there is one particular journey that, I guess, underpins the entire experience of The Hambledown Dream and that is it's musical journey.

Music serves the story in a couple of ways. Firstly, there is the music of the guitar - a tool that is a central skill to the characters of Denny Banister and Andy DeVries. Classical guitar is what binds these two men together as a spiritual whole and facilitates their salvation from their respective dilemmas. Secondly - there is a more general musical presence that is less well defined. I wrote much of The Hambledown Dream whilst listening to music. The sound system was invariably on and I definitely gravitated towards music that fired my imagination. But more than that, there was music that inevitably filtered into the story as a way of complimenting the emotion of a particular moment, a particular character. Indeed, in earlier drafts of the manuscript, I actually incorporated the lyrics from certain songs into a number of scenes with a view to obtaining permission to reproduce them from their respective copyright holders. Might I say, what a head%@?! that turned out to be. In the end I dropped the lyrics, however I retained the spirit of some of the songs within the story because their influence was undeniable.

I explored the idea of an "unofficial" soundtrack to The Hambledown Dream several dozen posts back as a way of indulging my musical passion and giving an aural accompaniment to the story. But I never really went beyond throwing a few tracks together and saying 'here you go'. However since the novel's release I have had so many people say to me that they are so intrigued by the music I describe in "The Hambledown Dream" and they then ask where they can get the music.

As part of our effort to bring "The Hambledown Dream" to the notice of book sellers everywhere we put together a media kit which details both the book, myself and my publisher - Michelle Halket of ireadiwrite Publishing. In the kit we have promoted the musical experience of The Hambledown Dream as a playlist so that readers might like to explore the music further. Personally, I would love to be able to offer up an official soundtrack (I have actually put together a CD for my own listening pleasure) but I recognize that the cost involved in realizing this would be extreme. In the absence of this, I have posted the playlist in the Books section and what I will attempt to do here is offer a track by track discussion of the music that inspired "The Hambledown Dream". I will warn readers up front that this article does contain spoilers so I would recommend you actually read the book before reading this.

"Walking On A Dream" by Australian duo Empire of the Sun was a surprise hit in 2008 and the band's sweep of the 2009 ARIA awards was a natural progression for this outfit whose self titled concept album has sold truckloads both here and overseas.

The opening lines of this song struck me when I first began writing the novel - "Walking On A Dream/How Can I Explain/Talking To Myself/Will I See Again?" - so much so that these lyrics I have quoted at the beginning of the novel. To me they signify, very much, the question Denny is faced with at the beginning of the novel when he is close to his inevitable death. In fact they are at the core of what will become Denny's journey throughout "The Hambledown Dream" and I get a little spun out every time I hear this song at just how appropriate it is to Denny. The song itself has a kind of early 80's "Electric Dreams"/"Neverending Story" kind of feel to it but it is extremely polished - a beautiful piece of radio music that is what I've heard described as "musical crack". It is just so bloody ear pleasing.

"Cursed Diamond" by The Black Crowes can be considered to be the introductory refrain for the troubled and destructive Andy DeVries when we first meet him (awake anyway) on the Chicago 'L' train. "Cursed Diamond", from the Black Crowes 1994 album "Amorica", is a gritty and angsty rhythm and blues ballad replete with impassioned lyrics from Chris Robinson and grungy electric guitar riffs from his brother Rich. It's one of my favorite tracks from a band my brother introduced me to some years ago. Now I'm completely hooked on their music. This song in particular accompanies the dark cloud of Andy's existence in the beginning. "I lose myself/I forget myself/Sometimes I fault myself/I might fight myself" - these lyrics that open the song portray an angst driven, conflicted tome characterizing someone whose true nature, though not immediately evident to us, is something far different to the tortured soul we are introduced to.

"Deciso" is the first of three instrumental pieces that feature the extraordinary talent of Australian virtuoso Slava Grigoryan - without a doubt my most favorite classical guitarist. When I began researching classical guitar for the purposes of constructing the musical scenes in the story, I began with Slava Grigoryan...and found that I didn't have to progress much further. His back catalogue represents a vast coverage of the most influential compositions for the guitar and I was able to delve deeper into the origins of the instrument and explore some of it's greatest exponents.

"Deciso" was a particularly useful composition because it served story at a couple of critical junctures. The first movement of Astor Piazolla's famed 'Tango Suite', "Deciso" is designed for a duet. This became particularly important when Andy early visions of this other life become more vivid and he sees himself playing the piece with a stranger who is perhaps less so than he initially seems. It ignites a spark within Andy too - a respect for a talent he has long neglected. It serves as a marker for change. The piece also appears in a scene at the Public House where Andy works when he is challenged to an impromptu pairing with his guitar teacher, Sorrel Veldtman. For a teacher who has long struggled to reach her flawed but brilliant student, "Deciso" is the piece that opens a musical dialogue and simultaneously breaks down a barrier between them.

I have always regarded Jose Felliciano's interpretation of The Doors "Light My Fire" to be the better of the two. And in keeping with the spirit of the guitar, I found it subtly influenced the direction of Sorrel Veldtman's character in the story. First of all, I hint in the introduction to Veldtman at the Conservatory in Chicago, that it is rumored that she once recorded with Felliciano himself. Later in the story, during her surprise pairing with Andy at the Public House, Veldtman launches into an impassioned version of this very track, which captivates the capacity crowd in the bar - including Andy himself, who is playing along with her. 

Listening to Felliciano's "Light My Fire" it is clear that he has given a timeless quality to the track, in stark contrast to The Doors original which, I have to say is my least preferred song in their catalogue. There's something urbane and magical about it. A song that you could quite easily hear somewhere on the rainy streets of Chicago in the evening.

"The Sounds Of Rain Part 3" is the second of the Grigoryan performed pieces that I have included into the soundtrack. Composed by an English friend of Grigoryan, William Lovelady, "Rain" is the piece I chose for Andy as the one he plays when he performs for the very first time at the Public House - surprising everyone there who had previously written him off a lazy, doper with a destructive attitude. I first discovered this piece when Slava Grigoryan performed it live on a show called "The Panel" which was a weekly evening topical chat show. 

His impassioned performance of "Rain" struck me completely dumb and I could totally imagine the vivid imagery the piece evoked through his playing - the simple imagery of falling rain. It was this piece which also helped me to refine one of the central themes in the story. That is the difference between technical brilliance and emotional investment in guitar playing. Andy is portrayed as being technically brilliant however his performances lack an emotional core which prevents him from achieving perfection. This is driven in part, by the lack of emotion we see in him in the beginning and it is this part of his journey - that quest to find an emotional core - which draws us to Andy DeVries.

The Hunters & Collectors classic "Throw Your Arms Around Me" has long been a favorite of mine and many Australian live music lovers - a soulful ballad which has been performed by many artists the world over. I included this track because it is one that I could imagine Andy playing during a raucous live music session in the Public House. The version that appears on the soundtrack however is performed live by Eddie Vedder and it personifies a kind of raw passion that fits with Andy's 'emotional awakening'.

"Come Alive" by the Foo Fighters is an example of a track whose lyrics I actually wanted to include in a critical scene in the story but it quickly became evident that it would cost me a fortune to get the appropriate rights to do so. There is a critical turning point in the story for two of the central characters for whom 'coming alive' bears a particular significance. "Come Alive" - a gorgeously loud, teeth gnashing rock ballad - beautifully illustrates the idea of an individual looking upon their own wretched existence and realizing that unless they take drastic steps to change, they will end up destroying themselves. "Come Alive" also speaks to me of the idea of coming back to life. That is to say - the death of Denny at the beginning does not mean that is the end of his journey. For whatever reason, it has been determined that it is not Denny's time yet and that he has still more to do in this mortal world. His love for Sonya too, will not keep him from her and it is through this troubled vessel that is Andy DeVries that Denny can hope to find his way back to her.

The scene - in which Andy is sitting alone after his disastrous experience at the Warehouse - retains the original spirit of the lyrics, without explicitly mentioning them. Although I do indulge in having Andy play the opening refrain from the song and if you check out the Hambledown release trailer you'll hear what I'm getting at.

Originally, when I wrote the scenes introducing Sonya Llewellyn and Hambledown I had the radio on in the kitchen at home and the Dixie Chicks "Landslide" was playing. Ever since then I have never thought about that introductory scene of Sonya's morning walk along the Hambledown beach and her stopping by the General Store without that song in mind. I even incorporated that song into the scene where Sonya stops by the Store to pick up her coffee and chat with Lionel and Ruth Broadbent. It is playing on a radio in the Store but I dropped it for the sake of moving the plot forward.

"Landslide" talks about about being afraid of changes and being unable to live life alone, which kind of speaks to the portrait of Sonya we are introduced to in the aftermath of Denny's death. She is living in a sort of fugue state where she has drawn the blanket of Hambledown around her shoulders to protect her from the outside world, from the change that has been thrust upon her and from living life without the love of her life.

"But Beautiful" by Australian jazz legend Vince Jones is, in my opinion, quite simply the most beautiful love song ever written and it holds a special significance for me - though not what you might expect. When I was a kid I required surgery to remove a fairly nasty spinal cord tumor that had been discovered at the base of my spine. The night before the operation, unable to sleep, I sat by the window looking out across the city of Melbourne, watching the passenger jets coming in to land at the airport and that song was playing on my Walkman. An incongruous thing for a fifteen year old to be doing I guess but I didn't know what else to do at that point.

Australian Jazz legend, Vince Jones.

I included a description of a jazz quartet playing in the background at an unnamed Williamstown restaurant later in the story and though I didn't expressly reference this piece, "But Beautiful" was firmly in my mind the whole time.

In portraying Sonya, I saw her as someone who is most comfortable in her own company, particularly after putting in long hours at her law practice which is still in a state of partial renovation - even after she opens it. In order to facilitate Sonya's own dream sequences in the novel I constructed a scene where she is relaxing on the sofa in the evening, after a long day. She has a glass of wine in hand and she is listening to quite music filtering from the stereo, thinking about Denny.

Dido's haunting track "Here With Me", from her debut album 'No Angel' has a kind of ethereal quality to it, a dreaminess. And it speaks of the pining for a lost love which fits perfectly with where Sonya is in her journey - her struggle with grief.

The third and final of the Grigoryan pieces I have included on the soundtrack, Joaquin Rodrigo's "Concerto de Anrujuez No. 2" forms the basis for the emotion charged climax of The Hambledown Dream.

Having progressed through to the final round of competition at the International Festival of the Guitar in Melbourne, Australia Andy has submitted this composition as the one he will play although, at this point in the story, he doubts that he will be able to pull it off in the aftermath of his disastrous revelation to Sonya on the Williamstown beach.

Ironically, however, it is his turmoil at this moment that enables him to connect to the emotional core that he has sought for so long and the subsequent performance transcends anything he has previously delivered to an audience.

Said to be written for his gravely ill wife in the aftermath of miscarrying their first child, Rodrigo's "Concerto" is regarded as one of those classical pieces that has found a niche in popular culture and it has been used widely in modern cinema. I did worry that it might be too popular for the final concert scene but I decided that, since it had the capacity to move me to tears, I couldn't not include it.

It has quite a long run at something like 11 minutes, but it has so much in terms of stylistic variation that it really does show case the whole beauty of the instrument.

I put the finishing touches to the final manuscript of The Hambledown Dream during our Christmas Holidays in December 2009. My serioso and our two were vacationing on Kangaroo Island with a friend of ours and during the day I would spend a few hours upstairs on the balcony of our holiday house with the laptop, a glass of wine and my daughter Lucy while the my serioso, her friend and my son went off to the beach in the heat of the day. Lucy and I would put the stereo on and chill out while she sat on my lap and happily babbled away while I finished off the final scenes of the book. Andy is on the roof of the Hambledown beach house, repairing some broken tiles and he looks out across the azure sea before him, the town of Hambledown away to the south. He smiles feeling a strong sense of home.

And it was during these last edits of the manuscript that Zero 7's "Home" played over the stereo. The coincidence could not have been more sublime. It's another of those haunting tracks, ethereal in nature and it stays with you long after it has ended. In effect, "Home" became the 'theme song' for "The Hambledown Dream" and I often indulge myself in the thought that this would be the perfect track for the closing credits of a movie version. I can't help myself.

But it's nice to dream...

So there you go - an interpretation of The Hambledown Dream as a musical journey. It would be an awesome addition to the book itself, having an official soundtrack but in lieu of that I hope this offers you an insight into journey I was on during the writing of the book.


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