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Baby's in Black drops you into a smoke-filled club in Hamburg. Despite the German locale, the band on stage is wailing in English about doing the "hippy hippy shake". Everyone's moving except for the bassist, who looks cooler than James Dean.
The band has been playing for hours, and they will continue for several hours more, as per their contract. They pop pills to stay awake for that long. The group is the Beatles. The year is 1960. The bassist is Stu Sutcliffe.
How Music Works offers many answers to a question that I had never even asked. Now that I've read it I wonder, "How could I have gone so long without this information?" Musician and writer David Byrne crafts such an enticing collection of essays, dropping factoids and anecdotes along the way, that I was equally informed and entertained.
More of a blend of personal experience and hypothesis than a hard-line course in objective facts, Byrne tackles nearly every conceivable aspect of the art form: venues throughout history; the creative process; collaboration; recording; and business.
He was happy enough to share his dinner with the lanky man as they were both seekers. He sought the beauty of the Wisconsin countryside in the early autumn. The fellow who sat down beside him, his wool shirt buttoned tight though the day was a warm one, sought the relief of his misery in the beginning of The Illustrated Man, a collection of short stories by Ray Bradbury.
At last he stripped off his shirt in the heat.
"…he was a riot of rockets and fountains and people, in such intricate detail and color that you could hear the voices murmuring small and muted, from the crowds that inhabited his body. When his flesh twitched, the tiny mouths flickered, the tiny green-and-gold eyes winked and the tiny hands gestured. There were yellow meadows and blue rivers and mountains and stars and suns and planets spread in a Milky Way across his chest. The people themselves were in twenty or more odd groups upon his arms, shoulders, back, sides, and wrists, as well as on the flat of his stomach. You found them in forests of hair, lurking among a constellation of freckles, or peering from armpit caverns, diamond eyes aglitter. Each seemed intent upon his own activity; each was a separate gallery portrait."
He was an Illustrated Man, he explained tiredly. A witch from the past and future had stitched the glowing colors into his flesh forty years ago. He had wanted it done so he could always find a job at a carnival, but the pictures, all eighteen of them, came with a curse, and ultimately no traveling show would hire him and no man or woman would be his friend.
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Fall of Giants by Ken Follett: Follows the fates of five interrelated families--American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh--as they move through the dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women's suffrage.
If you enjoyed the use of different character perspectives and tumultuous historical change over a period of time, here are some other novels you may enjoy:
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
A tale of love and war early this century. The protagonists are Stephen Wraysford, a British businessman, and Isabelle Azaire, a married Frenchwoman. They meet in 1910, she elopes with him, gives birth to his child, then remorse sends her back to her husband. But World War I will bring them together when he returns to France as an officer in the British army. (worldcat.org)
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
The story of a farm family's Depression-era journey from the Dustbowl of Oklahoma to the California migrant labor camps in search of a better life. (worldcat.org)
It sounds almost too perfect to be true. Famed primate expert Jane Goodall had a stuffed toy chimpanzee as a little girl. She went everywhere with it, and together they explored the mysteries of nature.
Me...Jane is Patrick McDonnell’s peacefully expressive interpretation of Goodall’s childhood through his art, actual photographs of Jane, and the drawings of her youth. Jane starts out a very curious young girl, studying all sort of animals around her home. That curious nature leads to many answers.
Only Jonathan Lethem could turn an homage to the classic noir style into a wildly inventive exploration of language, loyalty, and the principles of Zen Buddhism. Lethem’s fascination with noir played a major role in his debut novel, Gun, with Occasional Music. In Motherless Brooklyn, the reader is treated to a gritty interpretation of noir filtered through an unforgettable narrator—Lionel Essrog. As always, Lethem’s writing is superb, and the construction of Lionel’s narrative voice is a rare accomplishment.
Lionel Essrog is an inexperienced detective who has a complicated relationship with language. Lionel is always looking for an antidote – some sensation or substance that will temporarily quell the feral language percolating in his brain. White Castle hamburgers can have therapeutic properties, and fear will work in a pinch. But Lionel’s mind always reverts back to an intricate arrangement of associative tics, repetition, and wordplay.