I’m a big music fan so it’s no surprise that music plays a significant role in M in the Abstract.
Growing up I was exposed to two kinds of music: old timey country (from my father) and 50’s pop (from my mother). I had no appreciation of those genres at the time and so became intensely jealous of those friends who lived in houses where the kids listened to Sharon, Lois and Bram instead of Johnny Cash and Lesley Gore. Oh well, I’ll know better next time.
All of the music mentioned in the book is older; I didn’t want to include something new-ish and have it seem instantly dated in a few years. Here’s a list of songs and performers that appear in M in the Abstract, although some of them went unnamed because I expect you to be able to read my mind.
Where Will the Children Play? by Cat Stevens from Tea for the Tillerman
The first song mentioned, I think. I was never a fan, especially after that business with The Satanic Verses, but this album was well-loved by friends who (for better or for worse) grew up in feel-good neo-hippie homes.
Blue by Joni Mitchell from Blue
I came late to this album and I’m amazed by it. She made a masterpiece out of her trip to Europe.
Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye by Leonard Cohen from Songs of Leonard Cohen
Again, I’m not a huge fan of the music but many people in my life adore the man. This is probably my favourite song from his catalogue. It’s part of a long tradition of building songs out of common sayings. (for an extreme example, try A Chicken With Its Head Cut Off by the Magnetic Fields)
1941 by Harry Nilsson from Pandemonium Shadow Show
Harry was a strange, strange dude. I like this little ditty, even with its odd vocalizations. Points to you if you recognize that the album’s title comes from Ray Bradbury’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes”. Double points to you if you know where that title comes from. P.S. I really wanted to use a line from this song (“Well, in 1941 a happy father had a son”) in the book but couldn’t pull it off.
The Entertaining of a Shy Girl by Donovan from The Hurdy Gurdy Man
This is never mentioned in the book but I always imagined Mary listening to it. (She actually does in a short story I later wrote.) I feel like Donovan forms a link between The Beatles and Nick Drake (see below). If all that you know of his work is what gets played on oldies stations, I recommend checking out this album.
White Light/White Heat by the Velvet Underground from White Light/White Heat
I discovered the Velvets at a pretty young age and instantly loved them. I’ve spent a lot of time ripping them off. Unfortunately, certain music snobs seem determined in their attempts to bully others into appreciating the Velvets. Hipsters ruin everything.
Lavender by Jandek from You Walk Alone
Jandek is at least as famous for his mysterious ways as he is for his music. This one is more listenable than many. It’s playing in the record store.
Be the One by the Ting Tings from We Started Nothing
Growing up in the heyday of New Wave music, I though it was cute to find a band that brought the sound and look into the future without seeming corny or fawning. Someone has this playing on her phone. If you are one of those people (you know who you are) who think this is a bad choice, I say to you ‘hard cheese’. I’m long since past the point of apologizing for my tastes.
Rebel Rebel by David Bowie from Diamond Dogs
If I have anything close to a personal hero, it’s David Bowie. Someone else is listening to this.
Dream Letter by Tim Buckley from Happy Sad
A love letter from an absent father to his young son. The child in question grew up to be the much-loved performer Jeff Buckley, who, like his father before him, died at a tragically young age. Jeff, who died at age 30, managed to outlive his father by two years.
Cello Song by Nick Drake from Five Leaves Left
The late, great Nick Drake. His heart was just too fragile for this world. This is the song that gets the most lip service in the book because I think it’s so wonderful.