One of the more enjoyable assignments of the past months (by far) was being asked by largehearted boy to write liner notes for This Great Escape. By liner notes, really, I mean a song list or a list of songs and music to accompany the reading of this here book I scratched together; although, really, I'm getting this ontologically backwards, since it was music which accompanied my writing of the thing. What I mean is, I listened to this music when I was in deep writing about Michael. Whatever. It's good music. Good music as in Bon Iver, Miles Davis, Tallest Man On Earth, Frank Ocean, The Necks, The Shins and Chopin and more, including Montrealer Patrick Watson.
Here we go:
"Different Trains. Part I, II, III." Composed by Steve Reich. Performed by Kronos Quartet & Pat Metheny. In a book concerned about an actor playing a Gestapo agent on a train in a famous movie, Different Trains was good accompaniment to process. I played the record all the time in the early days – that was about ten to eight years ago. The texture and motion of these pieces set me down on the tracks, so to speak, and got me moving.
"It Never Entered My Mind". Miles Davis Quintet. The first track on Workin' is lazy and melodic and is a nice way to wake up to the blank page and get started (I mean, get workin'). I played a lot of Miles Davis while writing the book. I'm not an aficionado, but I know what I like. There is an earthy texture to the composition and performance on Workin' (same for Kind of Blue). "So What" and " All Blues" deserve equal credit, for helping me tunnel through the darkness.
"I Won't Be Found." The Tallest Man on Earth. Somewhere along the line I began to identify pretty strongly with my subject, the figure of Michael Paryla. The more I found out about him, the more I came to feel this man was a mystery, and unknowable: not really German, not really Canadian, not really Jewish, a displaced person from birth, son of divorced parents, both actors, who overshadowed him, perhaps, for longer than was necessary or healthy. He was buried south of Munich. I went to his gravesite. There, I imagined him singing that line, "Hell, I wont be found."
"Blood Bank". Bon Iver. This song and most others by Bon Iver make me shiver. I listen to Bon Iver whenever I WANT TO FEEL. When Justin Vernon sings, ‘That secret that we know but we don't know how to tell' – I'm sorry, but it cuts very close. I found out tons about Michael Paryla while working on the book, but information is just information: sometimes you need a key, something emotional, that unlocks you and them, and let's you bring all that information and detail into a human focus.
"Nocturne #1 in B flat minor." Composed by F. Chopin and performed by D. Barenboim. I received my first cassette recording of Barenboim playing the Nocturnes when I turned fifteen. This has always been comfort music for me. The melancholia suits many parts of the book, especially perhaps the chapter called The Seagull, wherein friends of Michael from high school recount their memories of him, from their first impressions of him as a fourteen year old boy arriving in Northern Ontario from Germany in 1948, to the version which they had heard told about Michael's death in Hamburg in 1967.
"Gogol". Gonzales, from his record Solo Piano. Piano music like this embodies some kind of profound and true fusion between performer and instrument. I can swear you can hear the piano thinking its way through the emotional landscape of past experiences. I use music like this quite a lot to maintain a level of concentration and contemplative energy.
"Thinkin Bout You." Frank Ocean. Well, literally, the book is a record of my obsession of thinking about him, a distant cousin I never met. However melancholic, there is plenty of humor and playfulness in the book (I hope). Sometimes, you need to change gears, change the energy, float, mix things up, and Frank Ocean does that. I got a kick of thinking here is some music Michael Paryla would not have heard in his lifetime, but here I am listening to "Super Rich Kids" or "Pyramids" and writing about him, and probably this music is coloring my words somehow.
"Simple Song." The Shins. At one point, after coming near to the end of the book, after so many convoluted chapters, I decided I wanted to sum up the life of Michael Paryla in one straight-forward burst of prose. I wrote the chapter, and called it Simple Song. Later, I detonated it, and spred the fragments from those pages throughout the book. That one line in the song, it still gets me, and whenever I hear it now I think of Michael: ‘I know that things can really get tough, when you go it alone." On the other hand, the layered and crazy whizzing guitars during the verses, they crack me up every time I hear them.
"Drive By" The Necks. One hour and seventeen seconds. I'd put this on at the end of a work day and slide into a trance. This track says ‘Keep moving, an hour longer'. It puts to sleep voices of self-criticism, in favor of the detached but aware self that you take on a road trip.
"The Great Escape." Patrick Watson. An eerie, delicate song from a songwriter from Montreal, my birth city and the city where Michael Paryla lived in 1956. During his time at McGill University, Michael landed his first theatre role, playing the part Trepliov in Chekhov's The Seagull. At the end of the play, Trepliov commits suicide. In the book, I wonder aloud if Michael's death from a mixture of barbiturates and alcohol can be seen not as a deliberate attempt to end his life, but as an attempt to escape his life. And I question, whether there is legitimate difference? Escape has many meanings and takes different forms, but this song captures something fundamental about that desire most of us alive people have to sometimes drastically or subtly change ourselves or our reality, for better or worse.